Giordano Bruno

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Giordano Bruno (1548, Nola, Italy – February 17, 1600, Rome), a.k.a. Bruno Nolano or Bruno the Nolan, was an Italian philosopher, astronomer/astrologer, and occultist burned at the stake as a heretic, popularly regarded as a martyr to the cause of freedom of thought because his ideas went against the Church doctrine.


He was born named Filippo in Nola, in Campania, the son of Giovanni Bruno, a soldier. In 1565 he took the name Giordano on becoming a Dominican friar at the Monastery of Saint Domenico near Naples. In 1572 he was ordained a priest.

He was interested in philosophy and was an expert on the art of memory; he wrote books on mnemonic technique, which Frances Yates contends may have been disguised Hermetic tracts. The writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus were, in Bruno's time, recently rediscovered and at that time were thought to date uniformly to the earliest days of ancient Egypt. They are now believed to date mostly from about 300 A.D. and to be associated with Neoplatonism. Bruno embraced a sort of pantheistic hylozoism, and not the Trinity.

In 1576 he left Naples to avoid the attention of the Inquisition. He left Rome for the same reason and abandoned the Dominican order. He travelled to Geneva and briefly joined the Calvinists, before he was excommunicated for his adherence to Copernicanism and forced to leave for France.

In 1579 he arrived in Toulouse, where he briefly had a teaching position. At this time, he began to gain fame for his prodigious memory. Bruno's feats of memory were apparently based, at least in part, on an elaborate system of mnemonics, but many of his contemporaries found it easier to attribute them to magical powers.

For seven years, he enjoyed the protection of powerful French patrons, including Henry III. During this period, he published 20 books, including several on memory training, such as Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper, 1584), and De l'Infinito, Universo e Mondi (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, 1584). In Cena de le Ceneri he defended the theories of Copernicus, albeit rather poorly. In De l'Infinito, Universo e Mondi, he argued that the stars we see at night were just like our Sun, that the universe was infinite, with a "Plurality of Worlds", and that all were inhabited by intelligent beings (see the Drake equation). These two works are jointly known as his "Italian dialogues." In 1582, Bruno penned a play summarizing some of his cosmological positions, titled Il Candelaio ("The Torchbearer").

In 1583, he went to England with letters of recommendation from Henry III. In 1585 he returned to Paris. However, his 120 theses against Aristotelian natural science and his pamphlet against the Roman Catholic mathematician Fabrizio Mordente soon put him in ill favor. In 1586, following a violent quarrel about "a scientific instrument", he left France for Germany, where he taught on Aristotle at Wittenburg. After moving to Prague in 1588, he was excommunicated by the Lutherans, whereupon he traveled to Frankfurt and then Italy. He was turned over to the Inquisition, arrested May 22, 1592, and extradited for trial in Rome in 1593.

He was declared a heretic and handed over to secular authorities on January 8, 1600 and burned at the stake on February 17 1600 in Campo de' Fiori, a popular Roman square. Since 1889, there has been a monument to Bruno on the site of his execution.

The world of science has long claimed Bruno as a martyr. It is said that, like Galileo Galilei, his Copernicanism was a factor in his heresy trial, but, unlike Galileo, some of his theological beliefs were also a factor. Also, unlike Galileo, he refused to renounce his beliefs.

In fact, the precise charges of heresy on which Bruno was condemned are unknown, as the official record has long been lost. In Galileo's case we have the formal judgment of the Inquisition declaring that "The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical". In Bruno's, the role (if any) of his heliocentric teachings and belief in an infinite unverse is not a matter that can be conclusively proved on either side.

Bruno's Cosmology

Bruno affirmed that the universe was homogeneous, made up everywhere of the four elements (water, earth, fire, and air), rather than having the stars be composed of a separate quintessence. Essentially, the same physical laws would operate everywhere, although the use of that term is anachronistic. Space and time were both conceived as infinite. There was no room in his stable and permanent universe for the Christian notions of divine Creation and Last Judgement.

Under this model, the Sun was simply one more star, and the stars all suns, each with its own planets. Bruno saw a solar system of a sun/star with planets as the fundamental unit of the universe. According to Bruno, infinite God necessarily created an infinite universe, formed of an infinite number of solar systems, separated by vast regions full of Aether, because empty space could not exist. (Bruno did not arrive at the concept of a galaxy.)

Bruno's cosmology is marked by infinitude, homogeneity, and isotropy, with planetary systems distributed evenly throughout. Matter follows an active animistic principle: it is intelligent and discontinuous in structure, made up of discrete atoms. This animism (and a corresponding disdain for mathematics as a means to understanding) is the most dramatic respect in which Bruno's cosmology differs from what today passes for a common-sense picture of the universe.


  • Couliano, Ioan. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
  • Yates, Frances. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Document Source

  • This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.