BRUNO, Giordano (1548-1600), Iordanvs Brvnvs nolanvs De vmbris idearvm : implicantibus artem quaerendi, inueniendi, iudicandi, ordinandi, & applicandi : ad internam scripturam, & non vulgares per memoriam operationes explicatis. Parisiis [Paris]: Apud Aegidium Gorbinum, sub insigne Spei, è regione gymnasij Cameracensis, 1582.
Original citation: Opera omnia (all works).
Condemned: February 8, 1600.
§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;
§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;
§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;
§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics;
§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.
About three hundred years after Giordano Bruno’s death in the year 1600, the German Alois Riehl wrote of the tumultuous historical context into which the notorious philosopher from the town of Nola, in the former Kingdom of Naples, was born:
It is the time of the Catholic reaction [to] and the creation of modern science. At the instigation of Ignatius Loyola, and at the special desire of Caraffa, [Pope] Paul III, by the Bull of 21st July 1542, instituted the Roman Inquisition on the pattern of the Spanish, and in the spring of 1543 there appeared Nicholas Copernicus’ work, De Orbium Coelestium Revolutonibus, Libri VI. Under the constellation of these two events, Bruno was born in 1548: their subsequent interaction determined the tragic fate of the philosopher. (1905: 13)
Now, more than four hundred years since Giordano died, many might call the erstwhile Dominican friar-turned-heretic a progressive visionary. In fact, in many circles of Italian and other European progressives and radicals, they indeed do.
Among Bruno’s many less-controversial and indeed enlightened beliefs — by modern, Western standards, at least — robustly and unequivocally expressed through his writings and teachings, were the following:
- The universe is vast and likely infinite;
- Sexual intercourse can be, as Maude Lebowski once put it several centuries later, “a natural, zesty enterprise,” and is not necessarily a sin;
- The planet Earth is but one celestial body and must seem like a tiny star from the perspective of other planets;
- The essence of good living is treating others with respect — you know, the old “Golden Rule.”
Taken in a different light, however, Giordano Bruno was also out of his ever-living mind and all but begging to be persecuted by the hyper-reactionary Holy See. He defiantly admitted to, of all parties, the Inquisition that “monks were all donkeys and should be deprived of income.” He also allegedly joked to them about the absurdity of a literal virgin birth and repeatedly asserted that in general Rome was full of superstitious morons who greatly misunderstood the true teachings of the Apostles (Ambrosini 1969: 196). The Catholic Church, reeling from the mounting repercussions of the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517 with Martin Luther, was not exactly in the mood to tolerate such an outspoken eccentric. Bruno fled Italy and spent many years writing, speaking, and socializing throughout western Europe, including a stay at Oxford, where he was quite popular for reasons similar to those discussed in a previous post.
For all of these reasons and several more, it may not come as a surprise that, after his long sojourn, once he returned to the Apennine Peninsula Bruno was captured by the Venetian Inquisition, handed over to the Roman one, and imprisoned for seven years in the dungeons of Castel Sant’Angelo. Throughout this entire time he was interrogated and tried as a heretic, refusing throughout to recant his statements or to repent whatsoever. In early 1600 he was finally condemned. Reportedly unrepentant to the end, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake on February 17, 1600 — nine days after any and all of his works were condemned — in the Campo de’ Fiori, where a statue in his honor today stands.
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