Bruno, Giordano 1548–1600 Italian Philosopher
Giordano Bruno spent his life challenging traditional views in the fields of philosophy, theology*, and science. He ended his controversial career by being burned at the stake for heresy*.
Born in the Italian city of Nola, Bruno entered the Dominican* order in 1565. By 1572 he had become a priest, but three years later he came under suspicion of heresy for reading the forbidden books of the humanist* Erasmus. He fled the order's residence in Naples and began a long series of travels that occupied much of his adult life.
Bruno passed through Rome and other northern Italian cities before reaching Geneva, Switzerland, where he taught theology. However, Bruno quarreled with Calvinists* in the city and eventually was sued for slander. Bruno left town and traveled through southern France, teaching philosophy and mathematics in the city of Toulouse. He then moved on to Paris, where he lectured and published three works concerned with the art and science of memory. Bruno's works attacked noted philosophers such as Aristotle and promoted his own system of learning and method of memorization.
Bruno next spent several years in England, where he lectured on the theories of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. He expanded on the views of Copernicus in his 1584 work The Ash Wednesday Supper. Bruno argued that space is infinite, with neither center nor boundary, and that multiple worlds exist. Bruno also published several other works that year that criticized traditional religion, which he saw as based on superstition, and discussed his view of the universe as the physical embodiment of God.
After a brief return to France in 1585, Bruno traveled to Germany, where he converted to Lutheranism. He also composed works on the writings of Aristotle and on his own system of thought. His ideas eventually led the Lutherans to excommunicate* Bruno, who had already been cast out of the Catholic and Calvinist religions. In 1591 Bruno returned to Italy at the invitation of a Venetian nobleman who wanted to learn Bruno's art of memory. However the noble soon accused Bruno of such heresies as practicing magical arts, believing in infinite worlds, and rejecting elements of Catholic doctrine. The Roman Inquisition, the arm of the church responsible for identifying and punishing heresy, subjected Bruno to a lengthy trial and executed him.
It is undoubtedly true that Bruno was attracted to magic and other systems of thought at odds with the church. Indeed, he wrote a series of works on magic in the 1580s, which remained unpublished until 1891. His lifelong quest was to question traditional philosophies and religions and to create his own view of God and the world. Many modern readers see him as a martyr for the cause of freedom of thought.
- * theology
study of the nature of God and of religion
- * heresy
belief that is contrary to the doctrine of an established church
- * Dominican
religious order of brothers and priests founded by St. Dominic
- * humanist
Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)
- * Calvinist
member of a Protestant church founded by John Calvin
- * excommunicate
to exclude from the church and its rituals