Monday 17 February 2020

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Public Domain
Giordano Bruno, the Italian Dominican friar who was also a philosopher, mathematician, cosmologist, poet, pantheist and polymath, died on this day in 1600. His death was no ordinary one: he was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori, having been found guilty by the Roman Inquisition on charges of denial of certain core Catholic doctrines.

A martyr for science, Bruno has never been accorded the kind of posthumous 'pardon' that has been extended to others, who were similarly persecuted by the Inquisition, such as Galileo Galilei. This is on the grounds, apparently, that Bruno's sentence did not arise out of any scientific conclusions that he reached but rather, a retribution for certain stances that he held that were deemed to be heretical.

In 1942, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati, archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and Librarian of the Vatican Library from 1936 until his death in 1957, upon discovering a number of lost documents relating to Bruno's trial, concluded that the Church was perfectly justified in condemning him!
On 20 January 1600, Pope Clement VIII declared Bruno a heretic and the Inquisition issued a sentence of death. According to the correspondence of Gaspar Schopp of Breslau, he is said to have made a threatening gesture towards his judges and to have replied: Maiori forsan cum timore sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam ("Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it")Wikipedia

Monument to Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori square - Rome, Italy - 6 June 2014 rectified
daryl_mitchell from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada / CC BY-SA
The writings and discourses of Giordano Bruno grew greatly in influence and stature in the years following his death. That this influence can be found in the works of John Toland (1670-1722) is easily attested to (see, for example Ricorso). It hardly needs asserting that Toland would have been drawn to Bruno, even if he himself had not narrowly escaped a similar fate, when copies of his Christianity not Mysterious were publicly burned by the common hangman in Dublin, in 1697, having been denounced in both the Irish and English parliaments.

Toland is considered as among the first to have come to regard Bruno as an atheist. An account by Toland of Bruno's De l'infinito, universo e mondi ('On the Infinite Universe and Worlds', first published in London in 1584) appears in A Collection of Several Pieces of Mr. John Toland ..., published by Pierre des Maizeaux shortly after Toland's death in 1722. Here, Bruno developed the Copernican system and was the first to postulate that the stars were objects like our sun, which may themselves have exoplanets.

Today, monuments to Bruno stand in many places, including the site of his execution in Campo de' Fiori in Rome. Asteroids and a crater on the far side of the moon have been named in honour of his contributions to astronomy and cosmology.

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Milestones and Anniversaries

Further Reading

  • An Account of the Courts of Prussia and Hanover: Sent to a Minister of State in Holland by John Toland (The Manuscript Publisher, 2013)
  • Letters to Serena by John Toland (Four Courts Press, 2013)
  • Nazerenus by John Toland (Voltaire Foundation, 1999)
  • Physic without Physicians byJohn Toland (The Manuscript Publisher, 2020)
  • Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland by John Toland (The Manuscript Publisher, 2013)