Monday, January 23, 2006

Great Heretics in History — Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)


Who better to lead off our series on "Great Heretics in History" than Giordano Bruno, ex-Dominican monk who was burned at the stake on order of Pope Clement VIII....

"Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds." — Giordano Bruno, Italian monk of the sixteenth century.

Bruno was born at Nola, near Naples. Originally named Filippo, he took the name Giordano when he joined the Dominicans, who trained him in Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology. Independent in thinking and tempestuous in personality, he fled the order in 1576 to avoid a trial on doctrinal charges and began the wandering that characterized his life.

Bruno visited Geneva, Toulouse, Paris, and London, where he spent two years (1583-85) under the protection of the French ambassador and in the circle of the English poet Sir Philip Sidney. It was a most productive period, during which he composed Ash Wednesday Supper (1584) and On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1584), as well as the dialogue On the Cause, Principle, and Unity (1584). In another poetic dialogue, Gli eroici furori (1585), he praised a kind of Platonic love that joins the soul to God through wisdom.

In 1585 Bruno returned to Paris, then went on to Marburg, Wittenberg, Prague, Helmstedt, and Frankfurt, where he arranged for the printing of his many writings. At the invitation of a Venetian nobleman, Giovanni Moncenigo, Bruno returned to Italy as his private tutor. In 1592 Moncenigo denounced Bruno to the Inquisition, which tried him for heresy. Turned over to the Roman authorities, he was imprisoned for some eight years while questioning proceeded on charges of blasphemy, immoral conduct, and heresy. Refusing to recant, Bruno was burned at the stake in Campo dei Fiori on February 17, 1600. Late in the 19th century, a statue was erected on the site of his martyrdom to the cause of free thought.

Bruno advocated philosophical theories that blended mystical Neoplatonism and pantheism. He believed that the universe is infinite, that God is the universal world-soul, and that all particular material things are manifestations of the one infinite principle. Bruno is considered a forerunner of modern philosophy because of his influence on the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and his anticipation of the theories of monism, later advocated by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Contributed by: Desmond J. Fitzgerald, "Bruno, Giordano," Microsoft Encarta®. Copyright © 1993 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright © 1993 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation



Giordano Bruno was born in Italy in 1548. He joined the Dominican order, but because of a propensity for having his own opinions and daring to voice them, was accused of heresy and left the order at the age of twenty-eight. For the next decade and a half, Bruno traveled across Europe learning, speaking, and publishing his thoughts. All the while, members of the Inquisition in Italy anxiously awaited the return of their hometown boy.

Among Bruno's outrageous beliefs were his assertions that the stars were actually other suns spanning the infinite reaches of space and the entire universe was composed of the same matter. As if that wasn't bad enough, he firmly believed in the heliocentric theories of Copernicus, and said so in a voice so loud they could hear him back in Rome.

And, as if to prove how foolish he was, Bruno returned to Italy. Arrested, tried, and convicted, he was imprisoned in the dungeon of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome for six years. Refusing to recant, he was finally treated to a barbecue, Inquisition-style, in the year 1600. While his heretical beliefs of astronomical theories were not the only crimes for which he was burned at the stake, they most certainly fueled the fire from which Galileo no doubt smelled the smoke.

From Bad Astronomy by Linda Zimmerman. Used with permission.

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1 comment:

  1. Perhaps a lesson can be gleaned from the fate of such a brilliant thinker. As Bruno asserted; there are other suns in other solar systems across this vast universe. Yet; the naysayers and those blinded by their fervent "religiousity" (new word...) would snuff out this glimmer of light for the world for another few hundred years. As the Catholic Church discovered, you cannot hide a light under a bushel for long; our Grand lodges shall discover that truth does not lie idle whilst being covered with dirt.
    How many brothers must be "burned at the stake" before the grisly appetite of ignorance is satiated? How many souls must be sacrificed at the altars of falsehood before the spirit of truth shall move upon our waters? I ask simply this; "How long must we wait to see justice grace our noble order?"
    Bruno spoke his convictions freely and with courage. Are we any less courageous? Have we not passed the tests and trials as free men? Have we not the conviction of our Craft upon our hearts? Or are we still bound by the physical shackles of initiation?
    Shall we slip quietly into that dark night; to be heard from no more?
    Even now, a storm is brewing! Freemasons everywhere are shaking off the scales from their sleepy eyes! The halls of lodges that once heard only trivial chatter of barbecues and benefits are now hearing the voices of discontent. They hear the questions of the curious. "Senior Warden! Do you not hear the cries of those in your charge?! Do they not groan under the burden of ignorance?" Why do YOU sit in silence?!!! Where are these men of courage? Where are the masonic descendants of Franklin, Washington, and others who lived in perilous times?! I tell you that our times are just as precarious!
    This mounting battle to come, it seems will be under familiar signets and banners. I see the cross of red colour and the eternal serpent of wisdom taking the lead assault. Where is your banner planted in this revolution?

    F. Roy Dean Schlipp
    Gentle-Fellow of the Sublime Craft

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