Erasmus’ attitude toward Islam in light of Nicholas of Cusa’s De pace fidei and Cribratio Alkorani

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Nathan Ron


Reading Nicolas of Cusa’s works on Islam reveals a sharp distinction between his De pace fidei (1453) with its tolerant attitude and his Cribratio Alkorani (1461) with its much less tolerant approach.  Some eight years passed from the appearance of De pace fidei until the publication of Cribratio Alkorani. I argue that in the period between the appearances of these books, Cusanus changed his attitude to Islam, and the Turkish threat may have been the reason.

Certain historians have pointed to Desiderius Erasmus’ objection to the waging of crusades and to the term semichristiani, which Erasmus occasionally used in reference to Muslims. According to these historians, the term semichristiani echoed Cusanus’ optimistic view according to which the Turks were «half-Christian». However, I found that Cusanus never used this term in any of his writings, and that the term sits in Erasmus’ writings side by side with manifest contempt and degradation expressed toward the Turks. Thus, Erasmus’ rhetoric and hostile attitude toward the Turks and Islam was far from the moderation and toleration which Cusanus presented in his De pace fidei. In its attitude and spirit Erasmus’ De bello Turcico should be compared to Cusanus’ Cribratio Alkorani rather than to De pace fidei.

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