April 6, 2010

Martyr to Free Thought

Giordano Bruno was born in 1548 at Nola, Italy, near Naples. Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar, a philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and was a proponent of the infinity of the universe. He was a contemporary of Galileo, and both of these early visionaries expanded on the Copernican cosmological model, identifying the sun as just another of an infinite number of independently moving heavenly bodies. Bruno was the first to conceptualize the universe as a continuum where the stars are similar to our Sun. His free thinking ways and teachings found rocky ground as his work brought him into collision with orthodox opinion and led him to a heretic's death.

Bruno, named Filippo at birth, assumed the name Giordano upon becoming a Dominican friar.
while in convent he started doubting church dogma, and began professing the necessity of free thought and Christian liberty. It wasn’t long before he found himself in trouble with church authorities. His first sin was possessing and reading two books on the church forbidden list, compounded when he began discussing openly his doubts of the divinity of Jesus. By 1576, the Inquisition began preparing the try Bruno for heresy.

Bruno fled, moving around northern Europe before returning to Italy when offered the Chair of Mathematics at Padua by the Venetian patrician, Giovanni Mocenigo. But in 1592 Mocenigo betrayed him to the inquisition. He was arrested and transferred to Rome in 1593 where he remained imprisoned for seven years.

Bruno argued that his ideas were philosophical, not theological. The Church did not accept this. He was twice given 40 days to recant but did not. After a long trial, Pope Clement VIII ordered Bruno to be sentenced as a heretic. He was burned at the stake on the 17th of February, 1600.

Giordano Bruno's writings and books survive him, and they also survived being placed on the Church’s forbidden list. He lives today as yet another example of how religious zealotry tends to smother knowledge and learning.

Explaining his bent toward free thought, Bruno once wrote "Who so itcheth to Philosophy must set to work by putting all things to the doubt." He was an influence on enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century, including Thomas Paine, and by his writings helped build the foundation of democratic political philosophy.

"It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people."

Bruno's earliest work, De Umbras Idearum (The Shadows of Ideas), was published around 1581, followed quickly by Ars Mernoriae (Art of Memory). In these books he observed that ideas are only the shadows of truth… a concept novel in his day, and apparently just as novel today.

In his book De la Causa, principio et uno (On Cause, Principle, and Unity) we find the following prophetic utterance:

"This entire globe, this star, not being subject to death, and dissolution and annihilation being impossible anywhere in Nature, from time to time renews itself by changing and altering all its parts. There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things."

Bruno thought of the Bible as a book that only the ignorant could take literally. The Church's methods were unfortunate, encouraging ignorance. He wrote: "Everything, however men may deem it assured and evident, proves, when it is brought under discussion to be no less doubtful than are extravagant and absurd beliefs." He coined the phrase "Libertes philosophica," Which can be interpreted “The right to think.”

Giordano Bruno was declared a heretic by the Inquisition and burned at the stake on February 17, 1600; his ashes dumped into the Tiber River. He thus joined the early martyrs for modern science and free thought. Today a monument placed at the site of his execution memorializes the life of this early free thinker.

We seldom hear of Bruno, while others, such as Galileo Galilei, garner much more attention. Galileo very nearly met the same fate, except that he recanted his heresy and spent his final years under house arrest instead. The two great minds were contemporaries, and Galelio must surely have read the writings of Bruno and would have been aware of his death at the stake.

Theocratic dogma has claimed many lives over the centuries, destroyed many curious minds and quashed much discovery. There is no way of knowing just how much additional scientific progress mankind might have accomplished were it not for religious repression. We see this in our history books, and we know that it was wrong.

Why then, after all these hundreds of years, do we continue to allow the repression?


Anonymous said...

Why, indeed!
Excellent, Sir.
If only some of Friar Bruno's ilk were leading the catholic church today. . .

One Fly said...

God does not like what you wrote!

Old Weird Libra said...

Not having personal acquaintance with One Fly, I cannot assess his personal acquaintance with the God in whose name he speaks.