Campanella, Tommaso 1568–1639 Italian Philosopher and Writer

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Campanella, Tommaso
Italian philosopher and writer

Tommaso Campanella was one of the great writers and thinkers in Italy in the early 1600s. He spent much of his life in jail because of his unusual religious views and his plots against the government. However, while imprisoned, he produced some of his most noted works, including his vision of the ideal society.

Dangerous Ideas. Giovanni Dominico Campanella adopted the name Tommaso when he entered the Dominican* religious order in 1583. A gifted scholar, he soon became dissatisfied with the works of Aristotle, the philosopher whose writings dominated the schools. He decided to create his own system of philosophy based on Christian sources. Campanella presented his ideas in Philosophy Proven by the Senses (1591).

In Campanella's system, everything that exists contains three parts that he calls primalities: power, knowledge, and love. He linked these three primalities to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This philosophy ran against the popular view that people were made of body and spirit. It also suggested that God was part of everything, including humans—a belief contrary to traditional Christian ideas.

Campanella's writings made him a target of the Spanish Inquisition*. For several years, he was in and out of jail. In 1595, the Inquisition brought him to Rome and forced him to deny what he had written. Two years later he was arrested again and ordered to return to his home in southern Italy. There Campanella became the leader of a political conspiracy* to end Spanish control of the kingdom of Naples. His goal was to found a new state based on the ideals of knowledge, shared wealth, and freedom of conscience.

In 1599 one of Campanella's co-conspirators betrayed him. He was arrested for both heresy* and conspiracy against the Spanish state. The authorities sent him to Naples, where he was tortured, forced to confess, and condemned to death. Campanella knew that it was illegal to execute an insane person, so he pretended to be mad. He escaped the death penalty but remained in jail for nearly 30 years.

Prison Writings. During his imprisonment, Campanella wrote many works of poetry and philosophy. The best known of these is The City of the Sun, written in 1602 and published in 1623. In this work, Campanella described his idea of the perfect society. He saw the government and the Catholic Church uniting to rule a perfect society that promoted education, science, and technology. All people, male and female, would be equal. They would wear white clothing and share property. There would be no marriage, but the community as a whole would raise children.

Campanella believed that the citizens of this ideal state would not need most of the Catholic Church's teachings. Being made of the three primalities, they would be able to understand the nature of God on their own. When he wrote The City of the Sun, Campanella believed that such a society could exist in the real world. At the same time, the same organizations that he expected to rule his ideal state—the government and the church—were keeping him in prison.

Even after a charge of heresy, Campanella had a strong reputation as a theologian*. In 1616 a cardinal asked Campanella to offer his view on the trial of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. Galileo had been accused of heresy for contradicting church teachings about the solar system. Campanella disagreed with Galileo's ideas, but in A Defense of Galileo (published 1622) he argued strongly for the astronomer's right to express his views. This courageous work has become famous as an appeal for freedom of thought.

With the help of Pope Urban VIII, Campanella was released from prison in 1626. After his release, he spent eight years in Rome. When he realized that the pope's protection was weakening, he fled to France, where he was already famous. King Louis XIII granted him a pension, and he continued writing until his death in Paris in 1639.

(See alsoAristotle and Aristotelianism; Inquisition. )

* Dominican

religious order of brothers and priests founded by St. Dominic

* Spanish Inquisition

court established by the Spanish monarchs that investigated Christians accused of straying from the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly during the period 1480–1530

* conspiracy

plotting with others to commit a crime

* heresy

belief that is contrary to the doctrine of an established church

* theologian

person who studies religion and the nature of God

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Campanella, Tommaso 1568–1639 Italian Philosopher and Writer

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