Nicholas of Cusa and Daniel’s 2,300 days
The following is LeRoy Froom’s discussion of Nicholas of Cusa’s interpretation of the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:13-14, which he correctly explained as representing 2,300 years, that began in the third year of Belshazzar, the date of the vision (c. 550 B.C.), [Dan. 8:1] and ended about 1750 A.D.
The PROPHETIC FAITH OF OUR FATHERS
The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation
by Le Roy Edwin Froom
VOLUME II. REVIEW AND HERALD. 1948
As traced in Volume I, the time prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse were recognized
as slowly but inexorably fulfilling. This was gradually perceived as the predicted events
were progressively identified. Many centuries were required for full development, and
consequently for clear recognition. Moses and Ezekiel had long before given the inspired
key to all prophetic time measurement; namely, that the prophetic time unit is always a
day for a year, just as on a map one inch may stand for one hundred miles. In the
application of this basic principle the fulfillment of the prophesied seventy weeks of years-
which were to extend from the time of Persia to the Messiah-was first seen to be exactly
accomplished in the baptism and death of Christ in connection with the seventieth week.
These sublime transactions sealed forever for the Christian church the “year-day”
principle already recognized by the Jews. Joachim of Floris, in the twelfth century, had seen
the 1260-day period to be so many year-days. This great advance was slowly accepted.
Meanwhile, the anonymous De Semine (1205) interpreted the 2300 days as twenty-three
hundred years, approximating the year-day principle. Then in 1292 Villanova, in addition
to using this prophetic time unit in the 1290- and 1335-day periods, seems to have been
the first Christian writer to apply this established canon of measurement to the longest of
the great time prophecies of Daniel-a prophetic period embracing all others-the 2300 days
of Daniel 8:14. This was destined to be of utmost interest and importance in later centuries.
Finally in 1440 Cusa gave a more definite B.C. and A.D. dating to the period, and
through his greater prominence he established the principle in the minds of the prophetic
expositors who followed him. To Cusa, then, we now turn our attention, first to note the
caliber and type of the man who gave currency to this new step in the application of time
prophecy, and then to observe his precise statements.
The Baha’i Faith interprets the prophecy of the 2300 days and the 70 weeks in the same
manner as the Seventh-day Adventists, with the period ending in the year 1844. In Baha’i
belief, 1844 marked the end of the old world and the start of the millennial period. This
meant the end of the Islamic age, the end of the prophetic cycle of all religions, and the
inauguration of the common era where the fulfillment of prophecies would occur for all
religions. For the Baha’i, the promise of the return of God’s Messenger was fulfilled in this
year by the appearance of the Bab, followed 19 years later by Baha’u’llah.
Methodist theologian and historicist Adam Clarke proposed an alternative to the 1844
date as used by Seventh-day Adventists and followers of Baha’ı Faith. Clarke viewed
Daniel 8 as a separate vision from Daniel 7. In his 1831 commentary on Daniel 8:14, he
states that the 2,300-year period should be calculated from 334 BC, the year Alexander
the Great began his conquest of the Persian Empire. His calculation ends in the year
1966, where he links to Daniel 7:25.
II. Cusa-Scholar, Philosopher, Churchman, and Reformer
NICHOLAS OF CUSA (Nicholas Cusanus, de Cusa, von Cusa, or Nicholas Krebs of Cusa)
-theologian, mathematician, scientist, and scholar-Often credited by later writers with establishing the year-day principle as applied to the 2300 days-derived his name from the place of his birth, Cusa, or Cues (Kues), near Treves, or Trier. His father was a boatman named Krebs (Krypffs). Not wishing to follow his father’s vocation, he left home and found employment with the count of Manderscheid, who sent him first to school at Deventer, and then to the University of Padua. He studied law, as well as Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, and in later years, Arabic. At the age of twenty-three Cusa became a Doctor of Laws. But he turned from law to theology, which he studied at Cologne, likewise becoming a Doctor of Theology. After holding several ecclesiastical benefices, he was present as archdeacon of Liege at the Council of Basel.
I. CHAMPIONS AUTHORITY OF COUNCILS OVER THAT OF POPE.
-In 1432 the Council of Basel (convoked in 1431, and continuing intermittently until 1449)
became a constitutional battle over the absolutism of the pope versus conciliar supremacy.
Cusa, taking the antipapal side along with the Bohemian Hussites, was among the most distinguished champions of the authority of the general council over that of the pope, although he later changed his views. The battle was fought with pen as well as by debate, Cusa there
issuing his famous De Concordantia Catholica (Concerning Catholic Harmony), dedicated to
the council in 1433. In this-one of the ablest works of its kind-he contended that Peter had
no more authority than the other apostles, that all bishops are equal, and that ecclesiastical
authority is not confined to the Roman See. The Basel council renewed the decrees
of Constance concerning the superior authority of the councils-which, of course, threatened
the very foundations of the Papacy. Cusa, having been won over to the adherents
of the pope, was entrusted with a number of important missions by the church, being sent
to Constantinople to bring about a union of the Eastern and Western churches, for the
reunion of Christendom took precedence over all other church objectives. The Greek
emperor John VIII (Palaeologus, 1425-1448) and his leading prelates were prevailed upon to
attend the Council of Florence (1439), which was a continuation of the Council of Ferrara
(1438), to which place the Council of Basel had been transferred.
2. PRESSES REFORM OF ECCLESIASTICAL ABUSES.
-Cusa came back to Germany as papal delegate to the diets between 1441 and 1446.
In 1447 he arranged the concordat of Vienna, and in recognition of his services was created
a cardinal. About 1450 he was made bishop of Brixen, in the Tyrol, and travelled throughout
the larger part of Germany, insisting on reforms of ecclesiastical abuses. In 1451, pursuant to
the purpose of effecting reforms, he prohibited all “bleeding Hosts.” He preached in the
vernacular, and in Magdeburg secured the condemnation of the sale of indulgences for money.
At Salzburg he effected reforms in the convents, and established a thirty-three-bed hospital
at Cues, to which he bequeathed his manuscript library and his scientific instruments.
He protested against the despotism and covetousness of the church, predicting that it
would sink still deeper, to the point of extinction, before rising triumphantly again. “Cusa
was one of the first to break with Scholasticism, and revealed the influence of the ideas
on faith that he received during his early schooling at Deventer. Though remaining a son
of the church, Cusa definitely influenced Faber Stapulensis, who was himself a French
forerunner of Luther on justification by faith.”
3. DENOUNCES SCHOLASTICISM; EXPOSES FORGED CONSTANTINE “DONATION.”
-Cusa, whom Dollinger denominates the most profound thinker of his time, denounced
perverted Scholasticism in De Docta Ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance). He held that man’s
wisdom lies in recognizing his ignorance, and that escape from skepticism lies in sensing
the reality of God. Of liberal views and wide mental horizon, he facilitated the transition
from Middle Age scholastic theology to the Renaissance. He was interested in the Jews,
and sought to lead them to a recognition of the Trinity. Cusa’s De Concordantia Catholica, presented to the Basel assembly, was recognized as one of the ablest works of the Middle Ages. In it he favoured the subservience of the pope to the council, “and insisted on
reformation of the church. He and two other men (Reginald Pecock and Lorenzo Valla),
in the middle of the fifteenth century, proved on historical grounds that the Donation of
Constantine was a forgery.” He made little use, however, of the discovery.
Christopher B. Coleman says:
“Nicholas Cusanus some seven years earlier  in his De concordantia catholica
covered part of the same ground even better than Valla did, and anticipated some of
his arguments. But Valla’s treatise is more exhaustive, is in more finished and effective
literary form, and in effect established for the world generally the proof of the falsity of the
4. ANTICIPATED FEATURES OF COPERNICAN THEORY BY A CENTURY.
-In the field of science Cusa presented to the Council of Basel in his Reparatio Kalendarii
(Restoration of the Calendar), published 1436, a proposed correction of the Julian calendar
similar in method to the one later adopted by Gregory XIII. Moreover, Cusa anticipated Copernicus
in part by nearly a hundred years in holding that the earth is not the center of the universe,
but is in motion, and that the heavenly bodies do not have strictly spherical form or circular
orbits.” He was likewise conspicuous as a mathematician, stressing arithmetical and
geometrical complements, the “quadrature of the circle,” and so forth. Schaff calls him
the “most universal scholar of Germany.” “These were the intellectual attainments and the
achievements of this scholar of the fifteenth century, who was influential in establishing
the application of the year-day principle to the 2300 days.”
III. Setting and Circumstances of Application to 2300 Days
Cusa’s works fill a large volume. The title page of the standard Latin edition (1565) of the
Opera is in the usual eulogistic strain of the times. But it is of interest, as it discloses the
publisher’s evaluation. Translated, it reads: “The Works of Doctor Nicolas of Cusa, Cardinal,
Doctor of Each Law, a Man Unequalled in Every Philosophy. In which the very many mysteries
of Theology, Unapproachable apart from the Spirit of God, already veiled and neglected for
so many Centuries, are unveiled. Moreover there is no topic of ordinary Theology which is not handled.” “Likewise, Many Difficulties in Philosophy, especially in Mathematics, which, as being
beyond the capacity of the human mind, absolutely no one has dared to approach before
this author, are explained and demonstrated.”
But the Coniectura Domini Nicolai de Cusa, ‘(Conjecture Concerning the Last Days),’
though only a few pages in length, has aroused exceptional interest.
1. GLIMPSES OF FUTURE REVEALED THROUGH PROPHECY.
An epitome of the opening paragraphs must suffice. Cusa first declares that the whole
world depends upon the will of Almighty God; that the present belongs to us, but the future
is known only to Him; that it is not for us to define what belongs only to God; and that we
are not to seek a knowledge of the future simply from curiosity. Nearly all, he says, who up
to now have written on the calculation of times have been deceived by some erroneous
conjecture. Nevertheless, it is our privilege to know something of the future. Yet he does
not think it reprehensible to investigate the Scriptures with a spirit of meekness, to
conjecture the future and thereby he strengthened and encouraged in our pilgrimage. It is
our duty to seek the truth, although it is not possible to know the whole truth, for it is veiled in enigmatic figures.
2. JUBILEES OF CHURCH LIKE YEARS OF CHRIST’S LIFE
-As Christ is the source of knowledge concerning the future, it is therefore necessary
to go back to Christ and His life-the church being the mystical body of Christ, which He
left as His seed, and also His bride. After His work upon earth Christ ascended to heaven,
and the church must ultimately follow Him there. As Eve was Adam’s bride, so the church is
Christ’s bride, and must finally be united with Him in heaven, perfected by her wanderings
through the earth. Cusa then presents the conjecture that out of the earthly life of Christ truth
is to be read concerning the future of the church. Christ was Lord of the Sabbath, in whom
we may find the key of the jubilee years-the Sabbath in which time will find its rest.
Wrote Cusa: “All time is unrolled in periods of seven, as seven days, seven years, seven
times seven years, which are forty-nine. Hence the fiftieth year is after a wearisome
revolution of time, a sabbathkeeping in which all slavery ceases and returns to liberty.” As
fifty years of the church comprise a jubilee, so one year of our lord’s life may represent a
jubilee period. because Christ is the sun of righteousness, and the church is the follower ot
him, so one “solar revolution” or year, so to speak, in the life of our Lord, may correspond
to “one revolution in the journeying of the church.” thus “more than fifty jubiletos lead to
the resurrection of the church.” Such was Cusa’s “conjecture” as he calls it. In 1452, when
he wrote it, he states that there were already twenty-nine jubilees in the past. (so, on the
basis of this speculation, the end would come about 2502.)
3. LAST-TIME ELIJAH PREACHERS PARALLEL JOHN THE BAPTIST
-Cusa suggests that as John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ’s first advent, so
likewise men in the last days, arising in the spirit of Elijah, would prepare the way for the
last things. Cusa’s words are impressive:
“Moreover there was then John the Baptist baptizing in the wilderness and washing by
his teaching the filthiness of sinners, that he might prepare for the lord a perfect people.
for in the same spirit of Elijah, in which he [John] himself bore testimony to the light of truth,
namely to Christ, we believe that next there ought to rise up disciples of the same spirit,
and in them themselves Elijah will manifest himself in their teaching, who with his finger
points out to the world Christ and the truth of life and righteousness. and they will wash
the body of Christ, namely, the church, so that the spirit of God may descend upon it just
as visibly as it descended above Christ in the form of dove-like simplicity.”
4. PERSECUTION BY ANTICHRIST FOLLOWS WORLD-WIDE EVANGEL.
-Cusa then speaks of the persecution of the church, incited by the spirit of antichrist,
almost destroying the church, and separating the church from the world. he adds: “also
the spirit of the firmness of Elijah will endure persecution among the foremost preachers
themselves, as in the case of John, because the allurement of the harlot of this world,
which was the cause of the death of John, will not suffer them to live, but the number of
the faithful will be steadily increased, and will be successively enlarged by the light of the
doctrine until the fortieth jubilee. And there will be made in the very signs and prodigies
explanations of the life of Christ, handed down in the Gospels. And there will not be a
dwelling in the world without the knowledge of Christ and of the faith. After this the satanic
spirit of Antichrist will stir up persecution against the body of Christ which is the church, and
there will be a final tribulation. than which there has never been another greater, which is
explanatory of the story of the passion of Christ. And the church itself will seem to be
extinguished, because of the holy apostles, the sowers of the word of God, will forsake
them and flee. Neither after the year 1700 of our Lord’s birth, and before the year 1734.
Moreover after that time will be the ascension of the church, Christ the bridegroom coming
to judgment, but when He will come no one will know. For that advent will be unknown
beforehand to all, as to the exactness of the time; just as his [first] advent into the world was
unknown to all as to the exactness of its time. Then the saints who know, that He will come
and will not tarry, will pray that the Desire of all nations may come.” Then, all enemies having
been put under the Lord’s footstool, and with all the earth as His possession, the faithful will
say, “Come, Lord,” knowing that “the day of redemption draws near, which will come without a
sign as a thief in the night; just as the flood came, so Christ discloses what the future will be.”
5. AFTER JUDGMENT, BRIDE TO REIGN IN ETERNAL GLORY.
– Finally will come “eternal peace,” with the church-bride in glory reigning with Christ. But that
hour is not yet.
So Cusa continues:
“But not yet is the end at hand, in order that the bride may be restored from every wrinkle and
spot, worthy of the Bridegroom, who is the Lamb without spot. And then He will come to judge
the living and the dead, and the world by fire. And He will receive His bride in glory, to reign
eternally with himself. Anyone will be able from the delineations of the evangelists to explain
these conclusions more particularly, and hence it is enough now concerning this.”
6. SECOND ADVENT IN 34TH JUBILEE, POSSIBLY BY 1734
– 0n the basis of this analogy of the history of the church with the symbolic years of Christ’s
life-and with the final events of Christ’s life likewise paralleled in the life of the church
-Cusa applies his theory of the thirty-fourth jubilee as perhaps falling between 1700 and 1734.
He stresses, however, that no one knows the exactness of the time: “As the Christian
considers this alone, apart from rash judgment, what is involved in those things which Christ
did, and which were done concerning Christ, after the twenty-ninth year, even to the day of
his resurrection from death, one year of the Lord, by extending into a jubilee, anyone will be
able in a very similar way to foresee what will happen in the church; so that thus in the
thirty-fourth jubilee from the resurrection of Christ, Antichrist having been cast down, by
the justice of God he will look for the victorious and glorious resurrection of the church.
And this will be after the year 1700 of our Lord’s birth, and before the year 1734. Moreover
after that time will be the ascension of the church, Christ the bridegroom coming to judgment,
but when He will come no one will know. For that advent will be unknown beforehand to all,
as to the exactness of the time; just as his [first] advent into the world was unknown to all as
to the exactness of its time. Then the saints who know, that He will come and will not tarry,
will pray that the Desire of all nations may come.” Then, all enemies having been put under
the Lord’s footstool, and with all the earth as His possession, the faithful will say, “Come, Lord,” knowing that “the day of redemption draws near, which will come without a sign as a thief in the night; just as the flood came, so Christ discloses what the future will be.”
7. GRIEVOUS OPPRESSION OF CHURCH PREDICTED BY DANIEL.
-After asserting the presence of Christ with the church “even to the consummation of the
ages,” Cusa then turns to the bearing of Daniel’s prophecy, noted by Christ in these words:
“He [Christ] predicted that before its (the Church’s) glorious resurrection there would
come in the last days an oppression of the church than which there has been none greater,
as in the last days of his flesh it was done with him. And so he turned our attention to two
things, namely to the similitude of the flood, and to the saying of Daniel the prophet.”
8. 2300 YEARS FROM DANIEL’S VISION TO END BY 1750.
– Extending his conjectures based on speculative jubilee periods paralleling the thirty-four years
of Christ’s life, and citing Philo on the flood of water coming in the thirty-fourth jubilee after the first Adam, Cusa conjectures the end of sin about 34 jubilees after Christ, and 2300 years from Daniel:
“So we conjecture that in the 34th jubilee after the second Adam will come the consuming
of sin through the fire of the Holy Spirit. In the same way it was opened up to Daniel in
what way the last curse would be after the sanctuary shall be cleansed and the Vision
fulfilled; and this after 2300 days from the hour of the going forth of the word. Whence
in the third year of king Belshazzar this revelation was made to him, in the first year of
Cyrus the king who, according to Jerome, Africanus, and Josephus, lived about 559 years
before Christ, then it is established that the resurrection of the church according to the
predicted number by resolving a day into a year, according to the unfolding made to the
prophet Ezekiel, [will be] 1700 after Christ and before 1750; which agrees with what had
been set forth.”
Cusa dated it from the time when he understood the prophecy to have been given-in the
last year of Babylon or the first year of Persia-which he believed to be about 559 B.C. Cusa
looked for the “sanctuary,” which he understood to be the church, to be cleansed from error
2,300 years after this time. Moreover, it is desirable to note that this view advanced by
Cusa was consistently held by him over a period of years. There is no available evidence
to indicate precisely when he reached that conclusion. It is first recorded in a sermon
preached in 1440-a full decade before Cusa became a cardinal in 1450. It was put into
formal or permanent form in his Conjectura, appearing afterward in his Opera. And there is no record or suggestion of any repudiation or change of view in the twelve years remaining before his death in 1464, at the age of sixty-three. So the interpretation introduced was deliberate, consistent, and mature. Here is a sentence from that 1440 sermon, showing
the year-day application and the beginning date, 559 B.C.: “In like manner, he exactly
agrees with Daniel, “he held that the 2300 days-a day for a year-from the going forth of
the word, are future, and [that] was 559 years before Christ.”
9. SAYS DATING DERIVED INDEPENDENTLY.
-Cusa closes his treatise by referring to the recognized periods from Adam to the Flood,
from the Flood to Moses, Moses to Christ, and Christ to the end-the last beginning with the
resurrection of Christ, and frequently called the “end of the ages.” Cusa adds that there
are different chronologies (Hebrew and Septuagint) and different interpretations of Daniel,
over which “many have wearied themselves”-each having his opinion, and none agreeing with
the other in the exposition of the prophetic “times.” But concerning the uniqueness of the
exposition he has here propounded on the 2300 days, Cusa adds: “I have carefully followed
the writings of these persons, and I have found nothing in them concerning the consideration
advanced.” The “writings of these persons” that he read must have included the prior exposition
advanced by Arnold of Villanova.
10. LITTLE APPLICATION OF THE BEAST SYMBOLS RECORDED.
-So far as we know, Cusa did not apply the beast symbols of Daniel and John to the Papacy, and
his only prophetic symbol reference of which we have record concerns the first beast of Revelation
13-which comes up out of the sea-with his number 666. With others, Cusa thought this
might apply to Mohammed and his work, as it came into prominence about A.D. 666. Cusa
lived to see the conquests of the Turks and the fall of Constantinople in 1453, happenings
which doubtless revived this old Catholic position in his mind.
The fall of Constantinople, which caused a large number of Greek scholars to take refuge
in Italy, together with the newly discovered art of printing, helped to stimulate the revival
of letters and art called the Renaissance. During the same time, however, the papal chair
sank to new depths of iniquity. And Cusa, after sensing the failure of all reform councils,
and fathoming the despotism and covetousness of the Papacy as the cause of the corrup-
tion, foresaw its still deeper degradation.” But although Cusa refuted a number of errors in
the Catholic Church and longed sincerely for a reform, he was one of the most prominent
cardinals of his time and became, near the end of his life, the vicar general of the papal
states. Yet in the wide scope of his universal spirit he longed and worked for a union of all
religions, in order that religious wars and persecution might cease. He expressed these
thoughts in his De Pace seu Concordantia Fidei (On Peace or the Harmony of Faith):
“Thou, O Lord and King of the universe, Thou art sought under different forms in different
religions. Thou art called by different names, because in Thy real being Thou art unknown