“Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.” “Maybe you who condemn me are in greater fear than I who am condemned.” “It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Giordano Bruno
I was always fascinated by the Hermetic knowledge. In the fact, It is one of the most important movements in the history of mankind. Especially, in 16th-century Italy, in the midst of the Renaissance, two powerful movements took hold. The first, the Hermetic Movement, was inspired by an ancient set of books housed in the library of Cosimo de’ Medici and written by the Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus. The movement expounded the return of the “true religion of the world” based on a form of natural magic that could draw down the powers of heaven and incorporate them into statues and physical structure. The other movement, the Heliocentric Movement launched by Copernicus, was a direct challenge to the Vatican’s biblical interpretation of the geocentric world system. Declared a heresy by the Pope, those who promoted it risked the full force of the Inquisition.
Exploring the meeting point of these two movements, we can find the most outspoken philosophers, alchemists, and scientist of the Renaissance, such as Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Tommaso Campanella, called for the Hermetic Reformation of the Christian religion by building a magical utopic city, The City of the Sun, an architectural version of the heliocentric system.
And here, I want to tell about Giordano Bruno, who was one of them, though his knowledge, his thoughtfulness, his genius, and after all, his courage makes him an extraordinary person.
Of course, we must wonder about these great thinkers, who so brave and fearless, standing tall towards their fates. But as I read about Giordano Bruno’s last hours, I had to think about Socrates’s:
The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live. Which is better? Only God knows. Or: To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know? Socrates
I had heard about Bruno many years ago, but I got to know him better by Robert Bauval‘s book: Vatican Heresy, with Chiara Hohenzollern. A highly recommended read. Bruno had a horrible end: a young Jesuit novice from Breslau, Germany, named Kaspar Schoppe was present at Bruno’s trail. It was Schoppe who reported his latest hours and famous words. Schoppe, a Protestant, had recently converted to Catholicism.
With Bruno were a few priests from Company of Mercy and Pity, whose morbid duty was to lead heretics to their place of execution. Also, in this morose procession were two Dominicans and two Jesuit monks who goaded Bruno and reminded him of his errors and heresies. At one stage, Bruno cried out: “I die a willing martyr, and my soul will rise with the smoke to Paradise.” To shut him up, a metal spike was pushed through his cheeks and another spike through his lips. Blood then gushed all over him. He then was tied to a wooden stake and burned alive.
According to Schoppe, “When the image of our Savior was shown to him before his death, he angrily rejected it with averred face.” Apparently, when Bruno was agonizing in the flames, one of the Dominican monks brandishes a crucifix (Schoppe’s “image of our Savior”) in his face. But Bruno, in an act of amazing defiance, managed a last surge of energy while his limbs were roasting in the flames: he swung his head away in total revulsion.
A while before, Bruno had written these words, which would fit well as an epitaph for him.
I have fought… it is much… victory lies in the hands of Fate. Be that with me as it may, whoever shall prove conqueror, future ages will not deny that I did not fear to die, was second to none inconstancy, and preferred a spirited death to a craven life.
He, Giordano Bruno, was distinguished for outstanding ability, his taste for free thinking and forbidden books soon caused him difficulties. He took many travels around Europe. France, England, Germany. In France, he even met Henry III. His talents attracted the benevolent attention of the King, and the King Henry III summoned him to the court. Bruno subsequently reported:
“I got me such a name that King Henry III summoned me one day to discover from me if the memory which I possessed was natural or acquired by magic art. I satisfied him that it did not come from sorcery but from organized knowledge; and, following this, I got a book on memory printed, entitled The Shadows of Ideas, which I dedicated to His Majesty. Forthwith he gave me an Extraordinary Lectureship with a salary.
In London, England, Bruno took up residence in the house of the French ambassador through the recommendation of Henry III. in June 1583, just a few months after his arrival, he somehow got himself invited to the University of Oxford to debate his radical views with a group of scholars. Though, it wasn’t so successful.
In Germany, he failed to obtain a teaching position at Marburg but was granted permission to teach at Wittenberg, where he lectured on Aristotle for two years. However, with a change of intellectual climate there, he was no longer welcome and in 1588 went to Prague, where he obtained 300 Talers from Rudolf II, but no teaching position. He went on to serve briefly as a professor in Helmstedt but had to flee again when he was excommunicated by the Lutherans.
Obviously, his life was nowhere in a great danger. But he did have decided for the false choice and got back to Italy: At the time the Inquisition seemed to be losing some of its strictness, and because the Republic of Venice was the most liberal state in the Italian Peninsula, Bruno was lulled into making the fatal mistake of returning to Italy.
With his death, we lost another great genius and thinker in our history. What a shame, what a loss! When we will learn.