Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Historical Theology

First Advisor

Paul Robinson

Scripture References in this Resource

gen 1; 1


Serina, Richard J. "Church and Reform in Nicholas of Cusa's Brixen Sermons (1452-58),with Additional Reference to His Roman Reform Sermons and Reformatio Generalis (1459)."Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, 2014.279 pp.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64) played a significant role in the conciliar movement during the Council of Basel (1431-49), but his defection to the papal cause has led many interpreters to marginalize his subsequent views on ecclesiology and church reform. The scholarship has generally regarded his later ecclesiology as strictly papalist and his later reform efforts as authoritarian. This study analyzes the concepts of church and reform he articulated in the course of 167 sermons preached during his residential episcopacy in the Tyrolese diocese of Brixen(1452-58), with additional reference to four reform sermons and a comprehensive reform proposal Cusanus composed while a resident cardinal in Rome in 1459. Employing the methodology of reform ideas pioneered by Gerhard Ladner as a key to analyzing images of reform in the sermons and underscoring the relationship between ecclesiology and reform, it juxtaposes the sermons with the official reform acts as a pastoral complement to the more legislative measures Cusanus took as bishop. While the exigencies of church administration in the fifteenth century necessitated an assertive disposition in service of reform, the sermons provided an avenue for the reforming bishop to work out a metaphysical basis for ecclesiology and church reform from the perspective of a speculative thinker.

The body of this study argues that the concepts of church and reform Cusanus deployed during his residential episcopacy evolve naturally when he encounters repeated obstacles to his jurisdiction and makes recourse to other theological and philosophical sources, above all the Dionysian hierarchies that shape his broader metaphysics and mystical theology. He will increasingly apply the Dionysian hierarchies to his understanding of both the church as a mystical body and personal reform as the imitation of Christ (christiformitas), thereby supplying him with the conceptual apparatus to articulate a view of church reform founded on the illumination mediated downward to the faithful through the ecclesiastical hierarchy that enables all subordinate ranks to ascend toward salvation through mystical union with Christ. He will then apply these Dionysian conceived views of church reform in visitation sermons to the religious of his diocese and in synodal sermons to the diocesan clergy. The ideas Cusanus develops over the course of his tenure at Brixen will come to their fullest expression in the reform sermons he preaches to the Roman clergy in 1459 and the reform proposal he sketches later that year. The resulting concepts of church and reform qualify significantly claims of Cusanus's narrow papalism and authoritarianism with a more nuanced view whereby he seeks to establish church reform on a broader metaphysical and mystical horizon.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.