The Trial, Opinions, and Death of Giordano Bruno
ON Saturday, the 23d of May, 1592, Giovanni Mocenigo, son of the late excellent Marcantonio Mocenigo, addressed to the Father Inquisitor of Venice a letter containing charges of heresy against Giordano Bruno, the Nolan. Among other things, he alleged that Bruno had said “ that it is a great blasphemy to say, as Catholics do, that bread is changed to flesh; that he is hostile to the mass ; that no religion satisfies him ; that Christ was a good-for-nothing, and did wretched tricks to seduce the people, and ought to have been hanged ; that there is no separating God into persons; that the world is eternal; that worlds are infinite, and God makes an infinite number of them continually; that Christ wrought apparent miracles and was a magician, and so were the Apostles ; that Christ showed that he died unwillingly, and evaded death as long as he could ; that there is no punishment of sins; and that souls created by the agency of nature pass from one animal into another, and that as the brutes are begotten of corruption, so also are men. Further, he has denied that the Virgin could have borne a child; he asserted that our Catholic faith is full of blasphemies against the majesty of God ; that he wished to give himself to the diviner’s art, and draw the whole world after him ; that St. Thomas and all the doctors were blockheads compared with himself. Therefore, urged by my conscience and by command of my Emperor, I have denounced this Bruno to the Holy Office. Suspecting that he might depart, I have locked him up in one of my rooms, at your requisition; and because I believe him possessed of a demon, I pray you to take speedy resolution concerning him.”
Two days later, this Mocenigo, of whom we know no more than that he belonged to one of the illustrious families of Venice, and was thirty-four years of age, added to his accusations : " On that day when I had Giordano Bruno locked up, on my asking him if he would teach me what he had promised, in view of the many courtesies and gifts he had had from me, so that I might not accuse him of the many wicked words which he had said to me, both against our Lord and against the Holy Catholic Church, he replied that he was not afraid of the Inquisition, because he offended nobody in living as he chose; and then that he did not remember to have said anything bad to me, and that even if he had said it he had said it to me alone, and that he did not fear that I could harm him in this way, and that even should he come under the hand of the Inquisition, it could at the most force him to wear his friar’s gown again.”
On May 29, Mocenigo, who had in the mean time, at the suggestion of the Inquisition, dredged in the slimy depths of his memory for other charges, informed the Father Inquisitor that he had heard Bruno say “ that the forms which the Church now uses are not those which the Apostles used, because the Apostles, by preaching and by example of a good life, converted the people ; but that now he who will not be a Catholic must suffer the rod and punishment, because force is used, and not love; that the world could not go on thus, because now only ignorance, and not religion, is good; that the Catholic religion pleased him more than the others, but that it had need of great formalities, which was not right; but very soon the world would see itself reformed, because it was impossible that such corruption should endure. He told me, too, that now, when the greatest ignorance flourishes which the world ever had, some glory in having the greatest knowledge there ever was, because they say they know what they do not understand, — which is, that God can be one and three, — and that these are impossibilities, ignorances, and most shocking blasphemies against the majesty of God. Besides this, he said that he liked women hugely, and that the Church committed a great sin in calling sin that which is according to nature.”
After these charges, we hear no more of this latter-day Judas, Giovanni Mocenigo. Honest we can hardly deem him, for he confesses that he intended to betray Bruno long before he did betray him, and only delayed till he should gather sufficient damning evidence against him. And so we dismiss him to join the despicable crew of those who were traitors to their lords and benefactors.
The Inquisition examined four other witnesses. Two booksellers, Ciotto and Bertano, deposed that they had known Bruno at Frankfort-on-the-Main, whither they went to attend the famous bookfairs ; that they had not heard him say aught which caused them to believe he was not a Catholic and a good Christian ; but that he had the reputation of being a philosopher, who spent his time in writing and " in meditating new things.” Andrea Morosini, a gentleman of noble birth, testified that during the recent months Bruno had been at his house, whither divers gentlemen and also prelates were wont to meet to discuss letters, and principally philosophy ; but that he had never inferred from Bruno’s remarks that he held opinions contrary to the faith. Finally, Fra Domenico da Nocera, of the order of preachers, deposed that “ one day, near the feast of Pentecost, as I was coming out of the sacristy of the Church of John and Paul, a layman, whom I did not know, bowed to me, and presently engaged in conversation. He said he was a friar of our province of Naples, a man of letters ; Fra Giordano of Nola, his name. So we sought out a retired part of the aforesaid church. Then he told me how he had renounced the gown ; of the many kingdoms he had traversed, and the royal courts, with his important exercises in letters ; but that be had always lived as a Catholic. And I asking him what he was doing in Venice, and how he was living, he said that lie had been in Venice but very few days, and was living comfortably ; that he proposed to get tranquillity and write a book he had in his head, and to present it to his Holiness, for the quiet of his conscience and in order to be allowed to remain in Rome, and there devote himself to literary work, to show his ability, and perhaps to obtain a lectureship.”
So far as we know, the Holy Office examined no other witnesses. That tribunal of the Inquisition at Venice was composed, in 1592, of the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Taberna; of the Patriarch, Monsignor Lorenzo Priuli ; of the Father Inquisitor, Giovanni Gabriele da Saluzzo, a Dominican ; and of three nobles appointed by the state, and called the savii all’eresia (sages in heresy), who reported all proceedings to the Doge and Senate, and stopped the deliberations when they deemed them contrary to the laws and customs of the state, or to the secret instructions they had received. These three sages were, in that year, Luigi Foscari, Sebastian Barbarigo, and Tomaso Morosini.
Before this tribunal, which sat at the prison of the Inquisition, appeared the prisoner, Giordano Bruno, on Tuesday, May 26, 1592. He was a small, lean man, in aspect about forty years old, with a slight chestnut beard. On being bidden to speak, he began : —
“ I will speak the truth. Several times I have been threatened with being brought to this Holy Office, and I have always held it as a jest, because I am ready to give an account of myself. While at Frankfort last year, I had two letters from Signor Giovanni Mocenigo, in which he invited me to come to Venice, as he wished me to teach him the art of memory and invention, promising to treat me well, and that I should be satisfied with him. And so I came, seven or eight months ago. I have taught him various terms pertaining to these two sciences; living at first outside of his house, and latterly in his own house. And, as it seemed to me that I had done and taught him as much as was necessary and as was my duty in respect to the things he had sought me for, and deliberating, therefore, to return to Frankfort to publish certain of my works, I took leave of him last Thursday, so as to depart. He, hearing this, and doubting lest I wished to leave his house to teach other persons the very sciences I had taught him and others rather than to go to Frankfort, as I announced, was most urgent to detain me; but I none the less insisting on going, he began at first to complain that I had not taught him all I had agreed, and then to threaten me by saying that if I would not remain of my own accord he would find means to compel me. And the following night, which was Friday, seeing me firm in my resolution of going, and that I had put my things in order and arranged to send them to Frankfort, he came when I was in bed, with the pretext of wishing to speak to me ; and after he had entered, there followed his servant Bortolo, with five or six others, who were, as I believe, gondoliers of the sort near by. And they made me get out of bed, and conducted me up to an attic, and locked me in there, Master Giovanni saying that if I would remain and instruct him in the terms of memory and of geometry, as he had wished hitherto, he would set me at liberty ; otherwise, something disagreeable would happen to me. And I replying all along that I thought I had taught him enough and more than I was bound, and that I did not deserve to be treated in that fashion, he left me till the next day ; when there came a captain, accompanied by certain men whom I did not know, and had them lead me down to a store-room on the ground-floor of the house, where they left me till night. Then came another captain, with his assistants, and conducted me to the prison of this Holy Office, whither I believe I have been brought by the work of the aforesaid Ser Giovanni, who, indignant for the reason I have given, has, I think, made some accusation against me.
“ My name is Giordano, of the Bruno family, of the city of Nola, twelve miles from Naples; I was born and brought up in that town ; my profession has been and is that of letters and every science. My father’s name was Giovanni, my mother’s Fraulissa Savolina; he a soldier by profession, who died at the same time with my mother. I am about forty-four years old, being born, according to what my people told me, in the year 1548. From my fourteenth year I was at Naples, to learn humanity, logic, and dialectics, and I used to attend the public lectures of a certain Sarnese; I heard logic privately from an Augustinian father, called Fra Theofilo da Vairano, who subsequently lectured on metaphysics at Rome. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I put on the habit of St. Dominic at the convent of St. Dominic at Naples. After the year of probation I was admitted to the profession, and then I was promoted to holy orders and to the priesthood in due time, and sang my first mass at Campagna, a town in the same kingdom. I lived there in a convent of the same order, called St. Bartholomew, and continued in this garb of St. Dominic, celebrating mass and the divine offices, and obedient to the Superiors of the said order and of the priors of monasteries, till 1576, the year after the Jubilee. I was then at Rome, in the convent of the Minerva, under Master Sisto de Luca, procurator of the order, whither I had come because at Naples I had been brought to trial twice : the first time for having given away certain representations and images of the Saints and kept only a crucifix, wherefore I was charged with spurning the images of the Saints ; and again for saying to a novice, who was reading The History of the Seven Joys in verse, what business he had with such a book, —to throw it aside, and to read sooner some other work, like The Lives of the Holy Fathers; and this case was renewed against me at the time I went to Rome, together with other charges, which I do not know. On this account I left the order and put off the gown.
“ I went to Noli, in Genoese territory, and stayed there about four months, teaching small boys grammar, and reading lectures on the sphere [astronomy] to certain gentlemen ; then I went away, first to Savona, where I tarried about a fortnight, and thence to Turin. Not finding entertainment there to my taste, I came to Venice by the Po, and lived a month and a half in the Frezzaria, in the lodging of a man employed at the Arsenal, whose name I do not know. Whilst I was here, I had printed this work [On the Signs of the Times], to make a little money for my support; I showed it first to Father Remigio de Fiorenza. Departing hence, I went to Padua, where I found some Dominican fathers, acquaintances of mine, who persuaded me to wear the habit again, even if I should not choose to return to the order; for it seemed to them more proper to wear that habit than not. With this view I went to Bergamo, and had made a garment of cheap white cloth, and over it I put the scapular, which I had kept when I left Rome. Thus attired I set out for Lyons; and at Chambery, going to lodge with the order, and being very decently entertained, and talking about this with an Italian father who was there, he said to me, ‘ Be warned, for you will not meet with any sort of friendliness in these parts ; and you will find less the farther you go.’ So I set out for Geneva. There I lodged at the hostelry ; and, a little after my arrival, the Marquis de Vico, a Neapolitan who was in that city, asked me who I was, and whether I had gone there to settle and to profess the religion of that place. I replied to him, after giving an account of myself and the reason why I had left the order, that I did not intend to profess that religion, because I did not know what it was ; and that therefore I wished to abide there to live in liberty and to be safe, rather than for any other purpose. Being persuaded to put off that habit in any case, I took these clothes, and had a pair of hose made and other things ; and the marquis, with some other Italians, gave me a sword, hat, cloak, and other necessary articles, and, in order that I might support myself, they procured proof-reading for me. I kept to that work about two months, going, however, sometimes to preaching and sermons, whether of the Italians or of the French who lectured and preached there ; among others, I heard more than once Nicolo Balbani, of Lucca, who read the Epistles of St. Paul and preached on the Evangelists. But when I was told that I could not stay long in that place unless I should accept its religion, because I would have no employment from them, and finding too that I could not earn enough to live on, I went thence to Toulouse, where there is a famous university. Having become acquainted with some intelligent persons, I was asked to lecture on the sphere to divers students, which I did —with other lectures on philosophy — for perhaps six months. At this point, the post of ‘ ordinary ’ lecturer in philosophy, which is filled by competition, falling vacant, I took my doctor’s degree, presented myself for the said competition, was admitted and approved, and lectured in that city two years continuously on the text of Aristotle’s De Anima and other philosophical works. Then, on account of the Civil War,, I quitted and went to Paris, where, in order to make myself known and to give proof of myself, I undertook an ‘ extraordinary ’ lectureship, and read thirty lectures, choosing for subject Thirty Divine Attributes, taken from the first part of St. Thomas. Later, being requested to accept an ‘ ordinary ’ lectureship, I would not, because public lecturers in that city go generally to mass and the other divine offices, and I have always avoided this, knowing that I was excommunicated because I had quitted my order and habit; and although I had that ‘ ordinary ’ lectureship at Toulouse, I was not forced to go to mass, as I should have been at Paris. But conducting the ‘ extraordinary ’ there, I acquired such a name that the king, Henry III., sent for me, and wished to know whether my memory was natural or due to magic art. I satisfied him, both by what I said and proved to him, that it was not by magic art, but by science. After this I published a work on the memory, under the title De Umbris Idearum, which I dedicated to his Majesty, — on which occasion he made me ‘ lecturer extraordinary,’ with a pension ; and I continued to read in that city perhaps five years, when, on account of the tumults which arose, I took my leave, and with letters from the king himself I went into England to reside with his ambassador, Michael de Castelnau. In his house I lived as a gentleman. I stayed in England two years and a half, and when the ambassador returned to France I accompanied him to Paris, where I remained another year. Having quitted Paris on account of the tumults, I betook myself to Germany, stopping first at Mayence, an archiepiscopal city, for twelve days. Finding neither here nor at Würzburg, a town a little way off, any entertainment, I went to Wittenberg, in Saxony, where I found two factions, — one of philosophers, who were Calvinists, the other of theologians, who were Lutherans. Among the latter was Alberigo Gentile, whom I had known in England, a law-professor, who befriended me and introduced me to read lectures on the Organon of Aristotle; which I did, with other lectures in philosophy. for two years. At that time, the son of the old duke having succeeded his father, who was a Lutheran, and the son being a Calvinist, he began to favor the party opposed to those who favored me; so I departed, and went to Prague, and stayed six months. Whilst there, I published a book on geometry, which I presented to the Emperor, from whom I had a gift of three hundred thalers. With this money, having quitted Prague, I spent a year at the Julian Academy in Brunswick ; and the death of the duke 1 happening at that time, I delivered an oration at his funeral, in competition with many others from the university, on which account his son and successor bestowed eighty crowns of those parts upon me; and I went away to Frankfort to publish two books, — one De Minimo, and the other De Numero, Monade, et Figura, etc. I stayed about six months at Frankfort, lodging in the convent of the Carmelites, — a place assigned to me by the publisher, who was obliged to provide me a lodging. And from Frankfort, having been invited, as I have said, by Ser Giovanni Mocenigo, I came to Venice seven or eight months ago, where what has since happened I have already related. I was going anew to Frankfort to print other works of mine, and one in particular on The Seven Liberal Arts, with the intention of taking these and some other of my published works which I approve — for some I do not approve — and of going to Rome to lay them at the feet of his Holiness, who, I have understood, loves the virtuous, and to put my case before him, with a view to obtain absolution from excesses, and permission to live in the clerical garb outside of the order. ... .I said I wish to present myself at the feet of his Holiness with some of my approved works, as I have some I do not approve, meaning by that that some of the works written by me and sent to the press I do not approve, because in them I have spoken and discussed too philosophically, unbecomingly, and not enough like a good Christian; and in particular I know that in some of these works I have taught and maintained philosophically things which ought to be attributed to the power, wisdom, and goodness of God according to the Christian faith; founding my doctrine on sense and reason, and not on faith. So much for them in general; concerning particulars. I refer to the writings, for I do not now recall a single article or particular doctrine I may have taught, but I will reply according as I shall be questioned and as I shall remember. . . .
“The subject of all my books, speaking broadly, is philosophy. In all of them I have always defined in the manner of philosophy and according to principles and natural light, not having most concern as to what, according to faith, ought to be believed ; and I think there is nothing in them from which it can be judged that I professedly wish to impugn religion rather than to exalt philosophy, although I may have set forth many impious matters based on my natural light.
I have taught nothing directly against Catholic Christian religion, although [I may have done so] indirectly ; as was judged at Paris, where, however, I was allowed to hold certain disputes under the title of One Hundred and Twenty Articles against the Peripatetics and Other Vulgar Philosophers (printed with permission of the Superiors) ; as it was permitted to treat them by the way of natural principles, without prejudice to the truth according to the light of faith, in which manner the books of Aristotle and Plato may be read and taught, which are in similar fashion indirectly contrary to faith,—nay, much more so than the articles propounded and defended by me in the manner of philosophy: all these can be known from what is printed in my last Latin books from Frankfort, entitled De Minimo, De Monade, de Immense et Innumerabilibus, and in part in De Compositione Imaginum. In these particularly you can see my intention and what I have held, which is, in a word, I believe in an infinite universe,— that is, the effect of infinite divine power ; because I esteemed it unworthy of the divine goodness and power that, when it could produce besides this world another, and infinite others, it should produce a single finite world : so I have declared that there is an infinite number of particular worlds similar to this of the earth, which, with Pythagoras, I consider a star, like which is the moon, other planets, and other stars, which are infinite; and that all these bodies are worlds, without number, which make up the infinite university in infinite space, and we call this the infinite universe, in which are numberless worlds: so that there is a double infinitude, that of the greatness of the universe, and that of the multitude of the worlds, — by which indirectly it is meant to assail the truth according to faith.
“ Moreover, in this universe I place a universal Providence, in virtue of which everything lives, vegetates, moves, and reaches its perfection ; and I understand Providence in two ways : one in which it is present as the soul in all matter, and all in any part whatsoever, and this I call nature, the shadow and footprint of the Deity ; the other in the ineffable way with which God, by essence, presence. and power, is in all things and over all things, not as a part, but as Soul, in a manner indescribable. In the Deity I understand all the attributes to be one and the same substance, — just as theologians and the greatest philosophers hold ; I perceive these attributes, power, wisdom, and goodness, or will, intelligence, and love, by means of which things have first being (by reason of the will), then orderly and distinct being (by reason of the intelligence), and third, concord and symmetry (by reason of love) ; this I believe is in all and above all, as nothing is without participation in being, and being is not without its essence, just as nothing is beautiful without the presence of beauty ; so nothing can be exempt from the divine presence. In this manner, by use of reason, and not by use of substantial [theological] truth, I discern distinctions in the Deity.
“ Regarding the world as caused and produced, I meant that, as all being depends on the First Cause, I did not shrink from the term ‘ creation ; ’ which I believe even Aristotle expressed, saying that God is, on whom the world and nature are dependent: so that, according to the explanation of St. Thomas, be the world either eternal or temporal according to its nature, it is dependent on the First Cause, and nothing exists in it independently.
“Next, concerning that which belongs to faith—not speaking in the manner of philosophy — about the divine persons, that wisdom and that son of the mind, called by philosophers Intellect and by theologians the Word, which we are to believe took upon itself human flesh, I, standing within the bounds of philosophy, have not understood it ; but I have doubted, and with inconstant faith maintained, — not that I recall having shown a sign of it in writing or in speech, excepting as in other things indirectly one might gather from my belief and profession concerning those things which can be proved by the reason and deduced from natural light. And then concerning the divine spirit in a third person, I have been able to comprehend nothing in the way in which one ought to believe ; but in the Pythagorean way, conformable to that way which Solomon points out, I have understood it to be the soul of the universe, or assistant in the universe, according to that saying in the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘ The Spirit of the Lord filleth the world; and that which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice.' 2 This seems to me to agree to the Pythagorean doctrine explained by Vergil in this passage of the Æneid : 3 —
‘ Principio caelum ac terras camposque liquentes, Lucentemque globum Lunæ Titaniaque astra, Spiritus intus alit, tptamque infusa per artus Mens agitat molem.’
“ I teach in my philosophy that from this spirit, which is called the Life of the Universe, the life and soul of everything which has life and soul springs; that it is immortal, just as bodies, so far as concerns their substance, are all immortal, death being nothing else than division and coming together; this doctrine seems to be expressed in Ecclesiastes, where it says, ‘ There is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new?’ and so on.”
Inquisitor. “ Have you held, do you hold and believe, the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one in essence, but distinct in person, as is taught and believed by the Catholic Church ? ” Bruno. ” Speaking as a Christian, and according to theology, and as every faithful Christian and Catholic ought to believe, I have indeed had doubts about the name ‘ person ’ as applied to the Son and the Holy Spirit; not understanding these two persons to be distinct from the Father, except as I have said above, speaking in the manner of philosophy, and assigning the intelligence of the Father to the Son, and his love to the Holy Spirit, but without comprehending this word 1 persons,’ which in St. Augustine is declared to be not an ancient but a new word, and of his time : and I have held this opinion since I was eighteen years old till now, but in fact I have never denied, nor taught, nor written, but only doubted in my own mind, as I have said.”
Inquisitor. " Have you believed, and do you believe, all that the Holy Mother Catholic Church teaches, believes, and holds about the First Person, and have you ever in anywise doubted concerning the First Person? ”
Bruno. “ I have believed and held undoubtingly all that every faithful Christian ought to believe and hold concerning the First Person. Regarding the Second Person. I declare that I have held it to be really one in essence with the First, and so the Third; because, being indivisible in essence, they cannot suffer inequality, for all the attributes which belong to the Father belong also to the Son and Holy Spirit : only I have doubted, as I said above, how this Second Person could become incarnate and could have suffered ; nevertheless I have never denied nor taught that, and if I have said anything about this Second Person, I have said it in quoting the opinions of others, like Arius and Sabellius and other followers of theirs. I will tell what I must have said, and which may have caused scandal and suspicion, as was set down in the first charges against me at Naples, to wit: I declared that the opinion of Arius seemed less pernicious than it was commonly esteemed and understood, because it is commonly understood that Arius meant to say that the Word is the first thing created by the Father; whereas I declared that Arius said that the Word was neither creator nor creature, but midway between creator and creature,— as the word is midway between the speaker and the thing spoken, — and therefore that the word was the firstborn before all creatures, not by which but through which everything has been created, not to which but through which everything is referred and returns to the ultimate end, which is the Father. I exaggerated on this theme so that I was regarded with suspicion. I recall further to have said here in Venice that Arius did not intend to say that Christ, that is the Word, is a creature, but a mediator in the sense I have stated. I do not remember the precise place, whether at a druggist’s or bookseller’s, but I know I said this in one of these shops, arguing with certain priests who made a show of theology : I know not who they were, nor should I recognize them if I saw them. To make my statement more clear. I repeat that I have held there is one God. distinguished as Father, as Word, and as Love, which is the Divine Spirit, and that all these three are one God in essence ; but I have not understood, and have doubted, how these three can get the name of persons, for it did not seem to me that this name of person was applicable to the Deity ; and I supported myself in this by the words of St. Augustine, who says, ‘ Cum formaline proferimus hoc nomen personae, quamlo loquiiuur de divinis, et necessitate coacti utimur ; ’ besides which, in the Old and New Testaments I have not found nor read this expression nor this form of speech.”
Inquisitor. “ Having doubted the Incarnation of the Word, what has been your opinion about Christ ? ”
Bruno. “I have thought that the divinity of the Word was present in the humanity of Christ individually, and I have not been able to understand that it was a union like that of soul and body, but a presence of such a kind that we could truly say of this man that he was God, and of this divinity that it was man; because between substance infinite and divine and substance finite and human there is no proportion as between soul and body, or any other two things which can make up one existence; and I believe, therefore, that St. Augustine shrank from applying that word ‘person’to this case: so that, in conclusion, I think, as regards my doubt of the Incarnation, I have wavered concerning its ineffable meaning, but not against the Holy Scripture, which says ‘the Word is made flesh.’ ”
Inquisitor. “What opinion have you had concerning the miracles, acts, and death of Christ ? ”
Bruno. “ I have held what the Holy Catholic Church holds, although I have said of the miracles that, while they are testimony of the divinity [of Christ], the evangelical law is, in my opinion, a stronger testimony, because the Lord said ‘ he shall do greater than these ’ miracles; and it occurred to me that whilst others, like the Apostles, wrought miracles, so that, in their external effect, they seemed like those wrought by him, Christ worked by his own virtue, and the Apostles by virtue of another’s power. Therefore I have maintained that the miracles of Christ were divine, true, real, and not apparent; nor have I ever thought, said, nor believed the contrary.
“ I have never spoken of the sacrifice of the mass, nor of transubstantiation, except in the way the Holy Church holds. I have believed, and do believe, that the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ takes place really and in substance.”
Inquisitor. “ Did you ever say that Christ was not God, but a good-fornothing, and that, doing wretched works, he ought to have expected to be put to death, although he showed that he died unwillingly ? ”
Bruno. “ I am astonished that this question is put to me, for I have never had such opinions, nor said such a thing, nor thought aught contrary to what I said just now about the person of Christ, which is that I believe what, the Holy Mother Church believes. I know not how these things are imputed to me.” At this he seemed much grieved.
Inquisitor. “In reasoning about the Incarnation of the Word, what have you held concerning the delivery of the said Word by the Virgin Mary? ”
Bruno. “ That it was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of Mary as Virgin ; and when any one shall find that I have said or maintained the contrary, I will submit myself to any punishment.”
Inquisitor. “ Do you know the import and effect of the sacrament of penance ? ”
Bruno. “ I know that it is ordained to purge our sins ; and never, never have I talked on this subject, but have always held that whosoever dies in mortal sin will be damned. It is about sixteen years since I presented myself to a confessor, except on two occasions: once at Toulouse, to a Jesuit, and another time in Paris, to another Jesuit, whilst I was treating, through the Bishop of Bergamo, then nuncio at Paris, and through Don Bernardin de Mendoza, to reënter my order, with a view to confessing; and they said that, being an apostate, they could not absolve me, and that I could not go to the holy offices, wherefore I have abstained from the confessional and from going to mass. I have intended, however, to emerge some time from these censures, and to live like a Christian and a priest; and when I have sinned I have always asked pardon of God, and I would also willingly have confessed if I could, because I have firmly believed that impenitent sinners are damned.”
Inquisitor. “ You hold, therefore, that souls are immortal, and that they do not pass from one body into another, as we have information you have said ? ”
Bruno. “ I have held, and hold, that souls are immortal, and that they are subsisting substances, that is rational souls, and that, speaking as a Catholic, they do not pass from one body into another, but go either to paradise, or to purgatory, or to hell; but I have, to be sure, argued, following philosophical reasons, that as the soul subsists in the body, and is non-existent in the body [that is, not an integral part of it], it may, in the same way that it exists in one, exist in another, and pass from one to another; and if this be not true, it at least seems like the opinion of Pythagoras.”
Inquisitor. “Have you busied yourself much in theological studies, and are you instructed in the Catholic resolutions?”
Bruno. “ Not a great deal, having devoted myself to philosophy, which has been my profession.”
Inquisitor. “ Have you ever vituperated the theologians and their decisions, calling their doctrine vanity and other similar opprobrious names? ”
Bruno. “Speaking of the theologians who interpret Holy Scripture, I have never spoken otherwise than well. I may have said something about some one in particular, and blamed him, — some Lutheran theologian, for instance, or other heretics, — but I have always esteemed the Catholic theologians, especially St. Thomas, whose works I have ever kept by me, read, and studied, and honored them, and I have them at present, and hold them very dear.”
Inquisitor. " Which have you reckoned heretical theologians ? ”
Bruno. ” All those who profess theology, but who do not agree with the Roman Church, I have esteemed heretics. I have read books by Melanchthon, Luther, Calvin, and by other heretics beyond the mountains, not to learn their doctrine nor to avail myself of it, for I deemed them more ignorant than myself, but I read them out of curiosity. I despise these heretics and their doctrines, because they do not merit the name of theologians, but of pedants; for the Catholic ecclesiastical doctors, on the contrary, I have the esteem I should.”
Inquisitor. “ How, then, have you dared to say that the Catholic faith is full of blasphemies, and without merit in God’s sight ? ”
Bruno. “ Never have I said such a thing, neither in writing, nor in word, nor in thought.”
Inquisitor. “ What things are needful for salvation ? ”
Bruno. “Faith, hope, and charity. Good works are also necessary; or it will suffice not to do to others that which we do not wish to have done to us, and to live morally.”
Inquisitor. “ Have you ever denounced the Catholic religious orders, especially for having revenues? ”
Bruno. “ I have never denounced one of them for any cause; on the contrary, I have found fault when the clergy, lacking income, are forced to beg; and I was surprised, in France, when I saw certain priests going about the streets to beg, with open missals.”
Inquisitor. “ Did you ever say that the life of the clergy does not conform to that of the Apostles?”
Bruno. “ I have never said nor held such a thing ! ” And as he said this he raised his hands, and looked about astonished. In answer to another question, he continued, “ I have said that the Apostles achieved more by their preaching, good life, examples, and miracles than force can accomplish, which is used against those who refuse to be Catholics ; without condemning this method, I approve the other.”
Inquisitor. “ Have you ever said that the miracles wrought by Christ and the Apostles were apparent miracles, done by magic art, and not real ; and that you have enough spirit to work the same or greater, and wished finally to make the whole world run after you ? ”
Bruno (lifting up both his hands). " What is this ? What man has invented this devilishness ? I have never said such a thing, nor has it entered my imagination. O God, what is this? I had rather be dead than that this should he proposed to me ! ”
Inquisitor. ” What opinion have you of the sin of the flesh, outside of the sacrament of matrimony ?”
Bruno. ” I have spoken of this sometimes, saying, in general, that it was a lesser sin than the others, but that adultery was the chief of carnal sins, whereas the other was lighter, and almost venial. This, indeed, I have said, but I know and acknowledge to have spoken in error, because I remember what St. Paul says. However, I spoke thus through levity, being with others and discussing worldly topics. I have never said that the Church made a great mistake in constituting this a sin. . . .
“ I hold it a pious and holy thing, as the Church ordains, to observe fasts and abstain from meat and prohibited food on the days she appoints, and that every faithful Catholic is bound to observe them; which I too would have done except for the reason given above; and God help me if I have ever eaten meat out of contempt [of the Church]. As for having listened to heretics preach, or lecture, or dispute, I did so several times out of curiosity and to see their methods and eloquence, rather than from delight or enjoyment; indeed, after the reading or sermon, at the time when they distributed bread according to their form of communion, I went away about my business, and never partook of their bread nor observed their rites.”
Inquisitor. “From your explanation of the Incarnation there follows another grave error, namely, that in Christ there was a human personality.”
Bruno. ” I recognize and concede that these and other improprieties may follow, and I have stated this opinion, not to defend, but only to explain it; and I confess my error such and so great as it is ; and had I applied my mind to this adduced impropriety and to others deducible from it, I should not have reached these conclusions, because I may have erred in the principles, but certainly not in the conclusions.”
Inquisitor. " Do you remember to have said that men are begotten of corruption, like the other animals, and that this has been since the Deluge down to the present ? ”
Bruno. “I believe this is the opinion of Lucretius. I have read it and heard it talked about, but 1 do not recall having referred to it as my opinion; no more have I ever believed it. When I reasoned about it, I did so referring it to Lucretius, Epicurus, and their similars, and it is not possible to deduce it from my philosophy, as will readily appear to any one who reads that.”
Inquisitor. ” Have you ever had any book of conjurations or of similar superstitious arts, or have you said you wished to devote yourself to the art of divination ? ”
Bruno. " As for books of conjurations, I have always despised them, never had them by me, nor attributed any efficacy to them. As for divination. particularly that relating to judicial astrology, I have said, and even proposed, to study it to see if there is any truth or conformity in it. I have communicated my purpose to several persons, remarking that, as I have examined all parts of philosophy, and inquired into all science except the judicial, when I had convenience and leisure I wish to have a look at that, which I have not done yet.”
Inquisitor. “Have you said that the operations of the world are guided by Fate, denying the providence of God ? ”
Bruno. ” This is cannot be found either in my words or in my writings ; on the contrary, you will find, in my books, that I set forth providence and free will. ... I have praised many heretics and also heretic princes, but not as heretics, but only for the moral virtues they possessed. In particular, in my book De la Causa, Principio et Uno, I praise the Queen of England, and call her ‘ divine; not as an attribute of religion, but as a certain epithet which the ancients used also to bestow on princes ; and in England, where I then was and wrote that book, it is customary to give this title ‘ divine ’ to the Queen; and I was all the more persuaded to name her thus because she knew me, for I often went with the ambassador to court. I acknowledge to have erred in praising this lady, who is a heretic, and especially in attributing to her the epithet ‘divine.’ ”...
Inquisitor. “Are the errors and heresies committed and confessed by you still embraced, or do you detest them ? ”
Bruno. “ All the errors I have committed, down to this very day, pertaining to Catholic life and regular profession, and all the heresies I have held and the doubts I have had concerning the Catholic faith and the questions determined by the Holy Church, I now detest; and I abhor, and repent me of having done, held, said, believed, or doubted of anything that was not Catholic ; and I pray this holy tribunal that, knowing my infirmities, it will please to accept me into the bosom of the Holy Church, providing me with remedies opportune for my safety and using me with mercy.”
Bruno was then requestioned concerning the reason why he broke away from his order. He repeated, in substance. the testimony already given, adding that his baptismal name was Philip.
Inquisitor. ” Have you, in these parts, any enemy or other malevolent person, and who is he, and for what cause ? ”
Bruno. “ I have no enemy in these parts, unless it be Ser Giovanni Mocenigo and his followers and servants, by whom I have been more grievously offended than by any other man living, because he has assassinated me in my life, in my honor, and in my goods,—having imprisoned me in his own house, confiscating all my writings, books, and other property; and he has done this, not only because he wished me to teach him all I knew, but also because he wished that I should not teach it to any one else ; and he has always threatened my life and honor if I did not teach him what I knew.”
Inquisitor. “ Your apostasy of so many years renders you very suspicious to the Holy Faith, since you have so long spurned her censures, whence it may happen that you have held sinister opinions in other matters than those you have deposed; you can, therefore, and ought now to purify your conscience.”
Bruno. “ It seems to me that the articles I have confessed, and all that which I have expressed in my writings, show sufficiently the importance of my excess, and therefore I confess it, whatsoever may be its extent, and I acknowledge to have given grave cause for the suspicion of heresy. And I add to this that I have always had remorse in my conscience, and the purpose of reforming, although I was seeking to effect this in the easiest and surest way, still shrinking from going back to the straitness of regular obedience. . . . And I was at this very time putting in order certain writings to propitiate his Holiness, so that I might be allowed to live more independently than is possible as an ecclesiastic. . . .
“ Beginning with my accuser, who I believe is Signor Giovanni Mocenigo, I think no one will be found who can say that I have taught false and heretical doctrine ; and I have no suspicion that any one else can accuse me in matters of holy faith. It may be that I, during so long a course of time, may have erred and strayed from the Church in other matters than those I have exposed, and that I may be ensnared in other censures, but, though I have reflected much upon it, I have discovered nothing ; and I now promptly confess my errors, and am here in the hands of your excellencies to receive remedy for my salvation. My force does not suffice to tell how great is my repentance for my misdeeds, nor to express it as I should wish.” Having knelt down, he said : “ I humbly ask pardon of God and your excellencies for all the errors committed by me ; and I am ready to suffer whatsoever by your prudence shall be determined and adjudged expedient for my soul. And I further supplicate that you rather give me a punishment which is excessive in gravity than make such a public demonstration as might bring some dishonor upon the holy habit of the order which I have worn ; and if, through the mercy of God and of your excellencies, my life shall be granted to me, I promise to make a notable reform in my life, and that I will atone for the scandal by other and as great edification.”
Inquisitor. ” Have you anything else to say for the present ? ”
Bruno. “ I have nothing more to say.”
This is the confession and apology of Giordano Bruno, taken from the minutes of the Inquisition of Venice, so far as I have been able to interpret the ungrammatical, ill-punctuated report of the secretary. The examinations were held on May 26 and 30, June 2,3, 4, and July 30; and as there were, consequently, many repetitions of statement, I have condensed where it seemed advisable. From Bruno’s lips we hear the explanation of his philosophical system, his doubts, his belief, and his recantation of any opinions which clashed with the dogmas of Catholicism. Was his recantation sincere ? Before answering this question, let us glance at his opinions as he expressed them freely in his works ; for upon Bruno’s value as a thinker must finally rest the justification of our interest in him. True, the romance of his strange vagabond career and the pathos of his noble death will always excite interest in his personality ; but the final question which mankind asks of prophet, philosopher, poet, preacher, or scientist is, “ What can you tell us concerning our origin and our destiny ? ”
Be warned at the outset that Bruno furnished no complete, systematic reply to this question. He did not, like Spinoza, reduce his system to the precision of a geometrical text-book, all theorems and corollaries ; nor, like Herbert Spencer, did he stow the universe away in a cabinet of pigeon-holes. He is often inconsistent, often contradicts himself. Perhaps his chief merit is that he stimulated thought on every subject he touched, and that he made sublime guesses which experiment, toiling patiently after him, has established as truths. Like all searchers after truth, his purpose was to discover the all-embracing Unity. Our reason shows us an unbridgeable chasm between matter and mind ; the world of ideas and the outward world are in perpetual flux ; nature is composed of innumerable separate objects, yet a superior unity pervades them. Life and death subsist antagonistically side by side: what is the substance, greater than both, which includes both ? What is the permanence underlying this shifting, evanescent world ? Conscience likewise reports the conflict between good and evil : what is the cause anterior to both? Many solutions have been offered ; perhaps the commonest is that which, taught by the Manicheans and adopted by early Christians, announces that there are two principles in the universe, — one good, God, the other evil, Satan. But insuperable difficulties accompany this view. If God be, as assumed, all-powerful, why does he not exterminate Satan ; if he be just, why does he permit evil to exist at all ? Bruno, as we have seen in his deposition, proclaims that God is one and indivisible, the Soul of the universe; that his attributes are power, wisdom, and love ; that he is in all things, yet above all things, not to be understood, ineffable, and whether personal or impersonal man cannot say ; that nature is his footprint, God being the nature of nature ; that since every material atom is part of him, by virtue of his immanence in nature, it is eternal, and so are human souls immortal, being emanations from his immortal spirit; but whether souls preserve their identity, or whether, like the atoms, they are forever re-composed into new forms, Bruno does not decide. This, speaking broadly, is pantheism; and pantheism is a system from which we are taught to recoil with almost as much horror as from atheism. “ That is mere pantheism ! ” exclaimed John Sterling, aghast, at one of Carlyle’s conclusions. “And suppose it were pot-theism? If the thing is true ! ” replied Carlyle, — a reply not to be taken for valid argument, perhaps, yet worthy of being pondered. As a pantheist, then, we must classify Bruno, — in that wide class which includes Spinoza, Goethe, Shelley, and Emerson. Within man is the soul of the whole,” says Emerson ; “ the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one.” The Inquisition in 1600 would have burned Emerson for those two sentences.
Coming to details, we find that Bruno shakes himself free from the tyranny of Aristotle, — a mighty audacity, to measure which we must remember that upon Aristotle’s arbitrary dicta the fathers and doctors of the Catholic Church had based their dogmas. Though a pagan, he had been for fifteen hundred years the logical pillar of Christendom, uncanonized, yet deserving canonization along with St. Thomas and St. Augustine. Bruno dared to attack the mighty despot in his very strongholds, the Sorbonne and Oxford, and by so doing helped to clear the road for subsequent explorers of philosophy and science. Equally courageous was his championship of the discoveries and theories of Copernicus. Bruno, we may safely say, was the first man who realized the full meaning of the Copernican system, — a meaning which even to-day the majority have not grasped. He saw that it was not merely a question as to whether the earth moves round the sun, or the sun moves round the earth; but that when Copernicus traced the courses of our solar system, and saw other and yet other systems beyond, he invalidated the strong presumption upon which dogmatic Christianity was reared. According to the old view, the earth was the centre of the universe, the especial gem of God’s creation ; as a final mark of his favor, God created man to rule the earth, and from among men he designated a few— his “chosen people”—who should enjoy everlasting bliss in heaven. But it follows from Copernicus’s discoveries that the earth is but one of a company of satellites which circle round the sun ; that the sun itself is but one of innumerable other suns, each with its satellites; that there are probably countless inhabited orbs ; that the scheme of salvation taught by the old theology is inadequate to the new conceptions we are bound to form of the majesty, justice, and omnipotence of the Supreme Ruler of an infinite universe. The God whom Bruno apprehended was not one who narrowed his interests to the concerns of a Syrian tribe and of a sect of Christians on this little ball of earth, but one whose power is commensurate with infinitude, and who cherishes all creatures and all things in all worlds. Copernicus himself did not foresee the full significance of the discovery which dethroned the earth and man from their supposed preëminence in the universe; but Bruno caught its mighty import, and the labors of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Herschel, and Darwin have corroborated him.
Inspired by this revelation, Bruno was the first to envisage religions as human growths, just as laws and customs are human growths, expressing the higher or lower needs and aspirations of the people and age in which they exist. His famous satire The Expulsion of the Beast Triumphant4 has a far deeper purpose than to ridicule classic mythology, or to satirize the abuses of Romanists and Protestants, or to scoff at the exaggerated pretensions of the Pope. Under the form of an allegory, it is a prophecy of the ultimate passing away of all anthropomorphic religion. It shows how the god whom men have worshiped hitherto has been endowed by them with human passions and attributes, “ writ large,” to be sure, but still unworthy of being associated with that Soul of the world which is in all things, yet above all things. The Beast Triumphant of the allegory is this personification of human qualities in the popular representation of the deity. Jove discovers that he is growing old ; that he and the Olympian gods must wane and perish just as mortals do ; and that Fate, to whom he and they are subjected, will establish a nobler god in his place. Smitten with remorse for past wrong-doing and negligence, he determines that his latter reign, at least, shall be worthier. So he calls a conclave of the gods, and they decide to expel from the heavens all those evidences of their sins and caprices that have too long dwelt there in the constellations. The Bears, Little and Great, the Archer, Perseus, Andromeda, Hercules, Cassiopeia, and all the other symbols of the human and bestial degeneracy of the gods are dispatched: in their stead is summoned, first, Truth, “ whom the talons of detraction do not reach, whom the venom of envy does not poison, whom the darkness of error cannot veil; ” then, Prudence, who in heaven is providence and on earth foresight; then, Wisdom, and Law, and Justice, and other virtues.
One might detach a series of remarkable short essays on the principal virtues and vices, from Bruno’s allegory; but I have room to quote only a few passages which illustrate his cardinal principles, Everywhere he assails the doctrine that faith, without good works, can lead to salvation. " It is an unworthy, stupid, profane, and blameworthy thing,” he says, “ to believe that the gods seek the reverence, fear, and love, the worship and respect, of men for other good end and utility save of men ; because, being most glorious in themselves, and as glory cannot be added to them from outside, they have made laws not so much in order to receive glory as to communicate it to men ; therefore, in so far as laws and justice depart from the goodness and truth of Law and Justice, by so far they fail to order and approve, especially that which consists in the moral actions of men towards each other.” Celibacy and other rules of the Catholic Church Bruno denounces, “because no law which is not fitted to the practice of human society ought to be accepted.” Contrary to the Jesuits, and those who urge that there are occasions on which it is justifiable to break faith or dissemble, he declares that that “ is the law of some brutish and barbarous Jew or Saracen, and not of a civilized and heroic Greek or Roman.” Of the doctrine of original sin he says: “ It is against all law that, through the fault of their father, the sheep and their mother be punished. 1 have never found such a judgment except among wild savages, and I think it was first found among the Jews, a people so pestilent, leprous, and generally pernicious that it merits to be blotted out rather than born.” He rebukes the worship of idols, “ whereby men seek the deity, of whom they have no understanding, in the refuse of dead and inanimate things ; ” but he points out how different this worship is from that of the Egyptians and others who venerated animals. In those animals, he says, they saw a partial revelation or expression of God. One creature, the eagle for instance, personified magnanimity; another, the serpent, personified sagacity. So they revered not the mere outward body, but the divine attribute made manifest in it. “ Jove was a king of Crete, a mortal man, whose body has rotted or was burned. Venus was a mortal woman, a most delightful queen, and beyond expression beautiful, in Cyprus. Men did not adore that Jove as if he were the deity, but they adored the divinity as it showed itself in Jove. Thus the eternal beings, without in the least supposing any impropriety against what is true of their divine substance, have temporal names, differing in different times and among different nations ; for you can learn in histories that Paul of Tarsus was called Mercury, and Barnabas the Galilean was called Jove, not because they were believed to be those gods themselves, but because men deemed that that divine virtue which Mercury and Jove had in other times was found at present in these men, through the eloquence anti persuasion which were in one, and the useful effects which proceeded from another.”Bruno cites the discovery of new races in America as evidence that mankind are not all descended from Adam and Eve: wherefore, since the Mosaic cosmogony is too narrow to explain the creation and growth of mankind, the Hebrew scheme of human destiny and redemption is inadequate. He ridicules the idea of a “chosen people.” As if the “deity is wholly a mother to the Greeks, and but a step-mother to other peoples, so that nobody can get the favor of the gods except by grecianizing, that is making himself Greek! As if the biggest rascal and poltroon there is in Greece, because he belongs to the [supposed] people of the gods, is incomparably better than the most magnanimous and just man who may have issued from Rome in the time when she was a republic, or from any other race, however superior in customs, sciences, strength, justice, beauty and authority! ” Over and over again Bruno derides the assertion that, in order to be saved, we must despise our divinest guide, Reason, and be led blindly by Faith, reducing ourselves so far as we can to the level of donkeys. His satire La Cabala del Cavallo Pegaseo, which supplements The Beast Triumphant, is a mock eulogy of this “ holy asininity, holy ignorance, holy stupidity, and pious devotion, which alone can make souls so good that human genius and study cannot surpass them.” “ What avails, O truth-seeker,” lie exclaims in one of his linest sonnets. “ your studying and wishing to know how nature works, and whether the stars also are earth, fire, and sea? Holy donkeydom cares not for that, but with clasped hands wills to remain on its knees, awaiting from God its doom.”
Here is a passage which socialists have pitched upon as proof that Bruno sympathized with their theories ; but it occurs in a very clever plea which Idleness makes to persuade the gods that he is entitled to a seat among the celestials : “ All magnify the golden age, and yet they praise and call virtuous that wretch Industry, who put an end to it. Industry, who discovered meum and tuum ; who has divided and granted to this man and to that not only the earth, which belongs to all her creatures, but the sea also, and perhaps even the air; who has framed laws against the pleasures of others, and has caused that what sufficed for all has become too much for some and too little for others, whereby some are surfeited, and others perish of hunger. Industry, who has crossed the seas to violate the laws of nature, mixing up peoples whom the benign mother separated, and to propagate the vices of one race in another; because virtues are not so easily propagated, unless we call goodness and virtues those qualities which by mistake and custom are so called and esteemed, although their fruits are condemned by every sense and natural reason : such as the open ribaldry and follies and malignities of the usurping proprietary laws of meum and tuum and of the ‘ more just man,’ who was the stronger possessor; and of the ‘more worthy,’ who was the most eager and industrious, and the first occupant of those bounties and members of the earth which nature, and consequently God, gave impartially to all.”
In another place. Bruno explains that evil is relative. “ Nothing is absolutely bad,” he says, “ because the viper is not deadly and poisonous to the viper, nor the lion to the lion, nor dragon to dragon, nor bear to bear ; but each thing is bad in respect to some other, just as you, virtuous gods, are evil towards the vicious.” Again he says, “Nobody is to-day the same as yesterday.” The immanence of the universal soul in the animal world is thus illustrated : " With what understanding the ant gnaws her grain of wheat, lest it should sprout in her underground habitation ! The fool says this is instinct, but we say it is a species of understanding,” These are some of Bruno’s characteristic opinions. Their influence upon subsequent philosophers has been much discussed. His conception of the universe as an " animal ” corresponds with Kepler’s well-known view. Spinoza, the great pantheist of the following century, took from him the idea of an immanent God, and the distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata. Schelling, who acknowledged Bruno as his master, found in him the principle of the indifference of contraries; Hegel, that of the absolute identity of subject and object, of the real and the ideal, of thought and things. La Croze discovers in Bruno the germs of most of Leibnitz’s theories, beginning with the monad. Symonds declares that “ he anticipated Descartes’s position of the identity of mind and being. The modern theory of evolution was enunciated by him in pretty plain terms. He had grasped the physical law of the conservation of energy. He solved the problem of evil by defining it to be a relative condition of imperfect energy. . . . We have indeed reason to marvel how many of Bruno’s intuitions have formed the stuff of later, more elaborated systems, and still remain the best which these contain. We have reason to wonder how many of his divinations have worked themselves into the common fund of modern beliefs, and have become philosophical truisms.” 5 Hallam, who strangely undervalued Bruno, states that he understood the principle of compound forces.
From this review of Bruno’s opinions, and from his own interpretation of them, we come now to that perplexing question, “ Why did he recant? How could he, who was so evidently a freethinker and a rationalist, honestly affirm his belief in the Roman Catholic dogmas ? ” His confession seems to be straightforward and candid : had he wished to propitiate the Inquisitors, he needed only not to mention his philosophic doubts about the Incarnation and the Trinity; he needed only to admit that there were errors in his writings that he no longer approved, and to throw himself on the mercy of his tribunal. What then was the motive? Was it physical fear? Did life and liberty seem too tempting to him who loved both so intensely; preferable to death, no matter how great the sacrifice of honor ? Did he simply perjure himself ? Or was he suddenly overcome by a doubt that his opinions might be, after all, wrong, and that the Church might be right ? He testified, and others testified, that before he had any thought of being brought to trial he had determined to make his peace with the Pope, and to obtain leave, if he could, to pass the remainder of his life in philosophical tranquillity, Did the early religious associations and prejudices, which he supposed had long ago ceased to influence him, unexpectedly spring up, to reassert a temporary tyranny over his reason ? Many men not in jeopardy of their lives have had this experience of the tenacious vitality of the doctrines taught to them before they could reason. Did it seem to him a huge Aristophanic joke that a church which then had but little real faith and true religion in it should call any one to account for any opinions, and that therefore the lips might well enough accept her dogmas without binding the heart to them? Many men, of unquestioned sincerity, have subscribed in a “ non-natural sense ” to the Thirty-nine Articles of Anglicanism ; did Bruno subscribe to the Catholic Articles under a similar mental reservation? Or, believing, as he did, that every religion contains fragments of the truth, could he not honestly say he believed in Catholicism, at the same time holding that her symbols had a deeper significance than her theologians perceived, and that the truth he apprehended was immeasurably wider ? — just as a mathematician might subscribe to the multiplication table, knowing that it is not the final bound of mathematical truth, but only the first step towards higher and unlimited investigations. Throughout his examination Bruno was careful to make the distinction between the province of faith and the province of speculation. “ Speaking after the manner of philosophy,” he confessed he had reached conclusions which, “ speaking as a Catholic,” he ought not to believe. This distinction, which we think uncandid and casuistical, was nevertheless admitted in his time. All through that century men had argued “ philosophically ” about the immortality of the soul; but “ theologically ” such an argument was impossible, because the Church assumed the immortality of the soul to be an indisputable fact. But, we ask, can a man honestly hold two antagonistic, mutually destroying beliefs ; saying, for instance, that his reason has disproved the Incarnation, but that his faith accepts that doctrine ? Or was Bruno unaware of his contradictions? Of how many of your opinions concerning the ultimate mysteries of life do you, reader, feel so sure that, were you suddenly seized, imprisoned, brought face to face with a pitiless tribunal, and confronted by torture and burning, you — one man against the world—would boldly, without hesitation, publish and maintain them ? Galileo, one of mankind’s noblest, could not endure this ordeal, although the evidence of his senses and the testimony of his reason contradicted the denial which pain and dread wrung from him. Savonarola, another great spirit, flinched likewise. These are points we are bound to consider before we pronounce Bruno a hypocrite or a coward.
The last glimpse we have of him in Venice is when, “having been bidden several times,” he rose from his knees, after confessing his penitence, on that 30th of July, 1592, The authorities of the Inquisition at Rome immediately opened negotiations for his extradition. The Doge and Senate demurred; they hesitated before establishing the precedent whereby Rome could reach over and punish Venetian culprits. Time was, indeed, when Venice allowed no one, though he were the Pope, to meddle in her administration ; but alas ! the lion had died out in Venetian souls. At last, “ wishing to give satisfaction to his Holiness,” Doge and Senators consented to deliver Bruno up; the Pope expressed his gratification, and said that he would never give the republic “ bones hard to gnaw.” So Bruno was taken to Rome. In the ‘‘list of the prisoners of the Holy Office, made Monday, April 5,1599,” we find that he was imprisoned on February 27,1593. What happened during almost seven years we can only surmise. Doubtless the Inquisitors searched his books for further heretical doctrine. We hear that they visited him in his cell from time to time, and exhorted him to recant, but that he replied that he had nothing to abjure, and that they had misinterpreted him. A memorial which he addressed to them they did not read. Growing weary of their efforts to save his soul, they would temporize no more; on a given day he must retract, or be handed over to the secular arm. That day came : Giordano Bruno stood firm, though he knew the penalty was death.
We cannot tell when he first resolved to dare and suffer all. Some time during those seven years of solitude and torment, he awoke to the great fact that
Mere existence he could purchase with the base coin of cowardice or casuistry ; but that would be, not life, but a living shame, and he refused. Who can tell how hard instinct pleaded, — how the thoughts of freedom, how the longings for companions, how the recollections of that beautiful Neapolitan home which he loved and wished to revisit, how the desire to explore yet more freely the beauties and the mysteries of the divine universe, came to him with reasons and excuses to tempt him from his resolution? But conscience supported him ; he took Truth by the hand, turned his back on the world and its joy and sunshine, and followed whither she led into the silent, sunless unknown. Let us dismiss the theory that he was impelled by the desire to escape in this way from an imprisonment which threatened to be perpetual; let us dismiss, and contemptuously dismiss, the insinuation of an English writer, that Bruno’s purpose was, by a theatrical death, to startle the world which had begun to forget him in his confinement. To impute a low motive to a noble deed is surely as base as to extenuate a crime. Bruno had no sentimental respect for martyrs ; but on the day when he resolved to die for his convictions, he proved his kinship with the noblest martyrs and heroes of the race.
On February 8, 1600, he was brought before Cardinal Mandruzzi, the Supreme Inquisitor. He was formally degraded from his order, sentence of death was pronounced against him, and he was given up to the secular authorities. During the reading, he remained tranquil, thoughtful. When the Inquisitor ceased, he uttered those memorable words, which still, judging from the recent alarm in the Vatican, resound ominously in the ears of the Romish hierarchy : “ Peradventure you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.” After nine days had been allowed for his recantation, he was led forth, on February 17, to the Campo di Fiora, — once an amphitheatre, built by Pompey, and now a vegetable market. When he had been bound to the stake, he protested, according to one witness, that he died willingly, and that his soul would mount with the smoke into paradise. Another account says that he was gagged, to prevent his uttering blasphemies. As the flames leaped up, a crucifix was held before him, but he turned his head away. He uttered no scream, nor sigh, nor murmur, as Hus and Servetus had done; even that last mortal agony of the flesh could not overcome his indomitable spirit. And when nothing remained of his body but ashes, these were gathered up and tossed to the winds.
Berti, to whose indefatigable and enlightened researches, extending over forty years, we owe our knowledge of Bruno’s career,6 says justly that Bruno bequeathed to his countrymen the example of an Italian dying for an ideal, — a rare example in the sixteenth century, but emulated by thousands of Italians in the nineteenth. To us and to all men his death brings not only that lesson, but it also teaches that no tribunal, whether religious or political, has a right to coerce the conscience and inmost thoughts of any human being. A man’s deeds, so far as they affect the community, should be amenable to its laws, but his opinions should be free and inviolable. We can grant that the Torquemadas and Calvins and Loyolas were sincere, and that, from their point of view, they were justified in persecuting men who differed from them in religion ; for the heretic, they believed, was Satan’s emissary, and deserved no more mercy than a feverinfected rag ; but history admonishes us that their point of view was not only cruel, but wrong. No man, no church, is infallible : therefore it may turn out that the opinions which the orthodoxy of yesterday deemed pernicious have infused new blood into the orthodoxy of to-day. Bruno declared that the universe is infinite and its worlds are innumerable ; the Roman Inquisition, in its ignorance, knew better. Galileo declared that the earth moves round the sun; the Inquisition, in its ignorance, said, No. It burned Bruno, it tortured Galileo ; yet, after three centuries, which do we believe ? And if the Roman Church was fallible in matters susceptible of easy proof, shall we believe that it. or any other church, is infallible in matters immeasurably deeper and beyond the scope of finite demonstration ? Cardinal Bellannine, ail upright man, and perhaps tlie ablest Jesuit of any age, was the foremost Inquisitor in bringing Bruno to the stake and Galileo to the rack ; but should a scliool-boy of ten now uphold Bellarmine’s theory of tlie solar system, lie would be sent into the corner with a fool’s-cap on his head.
Strange is it that mankind, who have the most urgent need for truth, should have been in all ages so hostile to receiving it. Starving men do not kill their rescuers who bring them bread; whereas history is little more than the chronicle of the persecution and slaughter of Ihose who have brought food for the soul. Doubtless, the first savage who suggested that reindeer-meat would taste better cooked than raw was slain by his companions as a dangerous innovator. Ever since that time, the messengers of truth have been stoned, and burned, and ganched, and crucified ; yet their message has been delivered, and has at last prevailed. This is, indeed, the best encouragement we derive from history, and the fairest presage of the perfectibility of mankind. The truth, once uttered, is indestructible ; once sown, it will ripen for the harvest. The records of all martyrdoms but show us how futile — how ludicrous, we might say. were it not so tragic — is every attempt to destroy ideas by destroying the body of the man who proclaims them. Ideas can never be expelled except by better ideas. The fire kindled round the body of Giordano Bruno is as a beacon light drawing posterity to read his doctrines ; it brings them out of that very oblivion into which the Roman Church wished to plunge them. Thanks to his fortitude, and to that of scores of other martyrs since his time, we have become so tolerant that we no longer put to death those who differ from us in religion; we may persecute them by subtle social processes, but we do not punish their heresies through the flesh. Nevertheless, in political matters there are still parts of Europe where to hold that a constitutional monarchy is preferable to an autocracy, or that a republic is more desirable than a despotic empire, subjects one to the peril of imprisonment, of exile, even of death. But this intolerance, founded on the old notion of the divine right of kings, and that other intolerance which poisons any church which arrogates infallibility, will surely pass away ; not in our time, perhaps not for several generations, but if not sooner, then later, irrevocably and forever. Absolute freedom of conscience is indispensable to an enlightened, spiritualized civilization.
The study of the works of Giordano Bruno, which has been revived and deepened during this century, is one evidence of a more general toleration, and of a healthy desire to know the opinions of all kinds of thinkers. One reason why Bruno has attracted modern investigators is because so many of his doctrines are in tune with recent metaphysical and scientific theories ; and it seems probable that, for a while at least, the interest awakened in him will increase rather than diminish, until, after the republication and examination of all his writings, a just estimate of his speculations shall have been made. Much will undoubtedly have to be thrown out as obsolete or fanciful ; much as flippant and inconsistent; much as vitiated by the cumbrous methods of scholasticism and the tedious fashion of expounding philosophy by means of allegory and satire. But after all the chaff has been sifted and all the excrescences have been lopped off, something precious will remain.
The very diversity of opinions about the upshot and value of his teaching insures for him the attention of scholars for some time to come. Those thinkers who can be quickly classified and easily understood are as quickly forgotten ; but those who elude classification, and constantly surprise us by turning a new facet towards us, and provoke debate, are sure of a longer consideration. And see how conflicting are the verdicts passed upon Bruno. Sir Philip Sidney and that fine group of men who just preceded the great Shakespearean company were his friends, and listened eagerly to his speculations. Hegel says: “His inconstancy has no other motive than his great-hearted enthusiasm. The vulgar, the little, the finite, satisfied him not; he soared to the sublime idea of the Universal Substance.” The French philosophes of the eighteenth century debated whether he were an atheist; the critics of the nineteenth century declare him to be a pantheist. Hallam thought that, at the most, he was but a “ meteor of philosophy.” Berti ranks him above all the Italian philosophers of his epoch, and above all who have since lived in Italy except Rosmini, and perhaps Gioberti. Some have called him a charlatan ; some, a prophet. Finally, the present Pope, in an allocution which has been read recently from every Romish pulpit in Christendom, says that “ his writings prove him an adept in pantheism and in shameful materialism, imbued with coarse errors, and often inconsistent with himself ; ” and that “ his talents were to feign, to lie, to be devoted wholly to himself, not to bear contradiction, to be of a base mind and wicked heart.” As we read these sentences of Leo XIII., and his further denunciation of those who, like Bruno, ally themselves to the devil by using their reason, we reflect that, were Popes now as powerful as they were three centuries ago, they would have found reason enough to burn Mill and Darwin, and many another modern benefactor.
Bruno’s character, like his philosophy, offers so many points for dispute that itcannot soon cease to interest men. He is so human — neither demi-god nor demon, but a creature of perplexities and contradictions — that he is far more fascinating than those men of a single faculty, those monotones whom we soon estimate and tire of. His vitality, his surprises, stimulate and excite us. In an age when the growing bulk of rationalism casts a pessimistic shadow over so many hopes, it is encouraging to know that the rationalist Bruno saw no reason for despair ; and when some persons are seriously asking whether life be worth living, it is inspiring to point to a man to whom the boon of life was so precious and its delights were so inexhaustible. At any period, when many minds, after exploring all the avenues of science, report that they perceive only dead, unintelligent matter everywhere, it must, help some of them to learn that Bruno beheld throughout the whole creation and in every creature the presence of an infinite and endless Unity, of a Soul of the world, whose attributes are power, wisdom, and love. He was indeed “a Godintoxicated man.” Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Aquinas spun their cobwebs round the border of the narrow circle in which, they asserted, all truth, mundane and celestial, was comprehended ; Bruno’s restless spirit broke through the cobwebs, and discovered limitless spaces, innumerable worlds, beyond. To his enraptured eyes all things were parts of the One, the Ineffable. “ The Inquisition and the stake,” says Mr. Symonds, “ put an end abruptly to his dream. But the dream was so golden, so divine, that it was worth the pangs of martyrdom. Can we say the same for Hegel’s system, or for Schopenhauer’s, or for the encyclopædic ingenuity of Herbert Spencer ? ” By his death Bruno did not prove that his convictions are true, but he proved beyond peradventure that he was a true man ; and by such from the beginning has human nature been raised towards that ideal nature which we call divine.
William R. Thayer.
- “Who was a heretic” is written on the margin of the original procès-verbal.↩
- Chap. I. v. 7.↩
- Book VI. 724-27.↩
- This, the most famous of Bruno’s works, was until recently so rare that only two or three copies of it were known to exist. Hence numerous blunders and misconceptions by critics who wrote about it from hearsay. Outwardlly, it reminds one of Lucian’s dialogue Zeus in Heroics, with which Bruno was undoubtedly acquainted, and which has been translated by Froude in his Short Studies on Great Subjects.↩
- From J. A. Symomts’s Renaissance in Italy: The Catholic Reaction, chap, ix., which gives the best account of Bruno yet published in English.↩
- See the last edition of Berti’s work : Giordano Bruno da Nola ; Sua Vita e Sua Dottrina, 1889. This excellent biography deserves to be translated into English.↩