Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600) was an Italian philosopher, astronomer, satirist, occultist, mystic, and martyr, who was burned at the stake as a heretic; born Filippo Bruno, in Nola, Italy, he often called himself Il Nolano (The Nolan).
Bruno, a philosopher in the true sense, was born in 1548 in Nola, a small Italian town. He fought against the darkness of bigotry, ignorance, superstition and fanaticism of the Middle Age at the cost of his life. His struggle was to free minds from bigotry and superstitions for the advent of the Renaissance, the rebirth of ancient wisdom in Europe, the renewal of
the ancient philosophy.
He lived in a time when vices had replaced the throne of virtues. Folly, nonsense and vice were at the power. The light, which made the minds of the ancestors divine and heroic, was almost diminished. He was faced with the resistance of ignorant who believed that change would always be bad. He wrote:
"Do you know how powerful the habit of believing and being brought up on certain opinions since childhood, in shutting off the most obvious things from the understanding?"1
His name was not mentioned for a long time due to fear of the authorities. He was burnt at the stake on 17th of February 1600, in the great square of Flowers in Rome. His message has re-echoed in all the corners of western world.
He defended the idea of constant change that we find in Heraclitus and Greek philosophy. Everything in the universe is constantly changing. Our planet changes constantly; climatic changes, geological changes, the continents and the oceans. We change constantly; our body, our emotions and thoughts. The reason of constant change is to reach perfection. If we do not strive to improve, we will not be in harmony with nature. Each and every being
keeps changing to improve and come closer to perfection. For Bruno, everything in the universe is interdependent. The universe is an intertwined web of many causes and effects. All things are effects of some causes that is why all things are not real
because they depend on something else to exist. And everything in the universe are composite and at the same time dissoluble. Time is the number of this constant change and constant motion, which can be experienced by only a body. Where there is no body, there is no motion and therefore no measurement of motion, which means there is no time2.
1. The Ash Wednesday Super, Bruno G.
2. On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, Bruno Giordano.
Stars and Their Planets
He made interesting explanations about our solar system and the other suns and the planets around them. He described the almost circular movements of the earth and stars and went beyond Copernicus with the movement of the solar system and the planets of other suns because Copernicus was still defending the fixed heavens where other stars are located. He said that stars are some other suns around which many other planets are orbiting. This was a revolutionary idea about the cosmos. Our solar system is not the only solar system and the sun is no longer at the centre of the universe but one of the many centres. The planets around our sun are not the only planets in the universe. For Bruno, other suns and their planets are inhabited by various types of beings; some more
intelligent than us, some less.
An Infinite Universe
The universe was infinite for Bruno. There is infinite number of worlds with infinite number of beings living on them. Each world is finite within the infinite universe. The infinite universe is immobile because there is nothing beyond it, nowhere to move to. The unity of the universe is stable in its oneness and so remains forever. This is the basic characteristic of the universe that unites everything within itself. Beyond the multiplicity of forms and things, there lies the principle of unity, which is a key to understanding the similarities among different things such as between men and animals, men and plants, our planet earth and other planets, our sun and the other suns. With this unity, the Greek philosophers could declare a basic principle of ancient philosophy;
"Know yourself so you can know the universe."
A Living Universe
He described a living universe, which we find in Plato as well, a universe like an enormous animal where infinite solar systems are like the cells of an enormous body. In this universe, all things are alive, as all parts of our bodies alive. The celestial bodies were the great living creatures for Bruno as it was in the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato. These celestial beings were more than living beings. They are divinities such as the deities Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Apollo, which are associated with the planets and the sun. In this living body, there is a continuous process of corruption and generation of forms. Bruno explains corruption and generation of forms as same because they derive from the same principle. The end of a corruption is the beginning of the generation of another thing so corruption is a generation and generation is a corruption.
Coincidence of Opposites
The principle of Unity behind all these various worlds and beings reconciles opposites. The reconciliation helps us to clear away doubts and conflicts. The 16th century, when Bruno lived, was a period of extreme violence especially politically and religiously. Bruno, with the idea of coincidence of opposites, wanted to reconcile different Christian groups. He wanted to show that what seems opposite in the appearance is not opposite in essence. Isn't the maximum heat and minimum cold wholly one, asks Bruno. Is it not from the limit of maximum heat that we obtain the point of departure in the movement toward cold? The extreme of an opposite is an approach to the other side of the opposite. All things are composed of contraries where we find continuous transformations from one opposite to another; day follows night and night follows day, summer comes after winter and vice versa. There is no delight without its contrary, which is pain. When both contraries are in excess, they become vices and soul falls into discord. Vice is a deviation from its own nature whose perfection is in unity. In the middle where the extremes meet and become
one and indifferent, is virtue. Virtue is the house of temperance, the condition of a strong soul, which does not give way to one opposite for the other.
Fighting against Ignorance
Bruno was a heroic spirit who fought against the ignorance and bigotry of his time. He vividly described the conditions of his time in his book Cause, Principle and Unity;
"Blind error, greedy time, adverse fortune, deaf envy, vile rage, hostile zeal, cruel hearts, perverse spirits, bizarre passions will not suffice to obscure the ait before me, nor place the veil before my eyes, nor ever stop me from beholding my beautiful sun."3
He described his spirit that enabled him to go through the troubled times as;
- Not throw up my hands (not easily give up).
- Not surrender to despair.
- Not succumb before the swift flood of criminal falsehood with which I have been furiously attacked, envy of the ignorant, the presumptions of sophists, the depreciation of the malicious, the bad mouthing of varlets, and the insinuations of mercenaries.
"All valuable things are difficult to obtain. Narrow and thorny is the way of beatitude…"4
They say there is a mysterious relation between the difficult and the good. You have to make effort and work hard to get the good but it is easy to get the evil without any effort or work. In other words, it's easy to miss the target but difficult to hit it.
3. Cause, Principle and Unity, Bruno Giordano.
4. The Ash Wednesday Super, Bruno Giordano
Pedantry has never been more exalted for governing the world than in our day said Bruno. Pedantry is a sign of dark ages when man tends to follow just the forms and rules instead of the spirit or the essence behind things. Philosopher questions everything as well as the conventions found in a society or religion.
Philosophy for Bruno
The true philosopher's country was all the world for Bruno. The Philosopher lives beyond countries, borders like a citizen of the world. An idea we find in the Stoics. The world citizen feels himself responsible for humanity and believes in unity of humanity. In one of his books, he calls philosophy "My beloved mother, philosophy…" which is like a mother who looks after her children as philosophy does in the chaos of life. Interestingly the Buddhists also represent the perfect wisdom (prajnaparamita) as a goddess, the mother of all Buddhas. He wanted to give real meaning and value back to philosophy though it was in the hands of pedants, sophists, the ignorant and bigots. Their philosophy was a mere intellectual occupation without the aim to discover truths and to change the life. For Bruno, the best philosophy is that which brings about the perfection of the human intellect most easily and eminently, and must closely corresponds to the truth of nature. Philosophy is the means to perfect human intelligence so the person can express his own nature, his real Self. For true philosophy, music or poetry is also painting, and true painting is also music and philosophy, and true poetry or music is a kind of divine wisdom and painting. Philosophy as in the past was considered to be a discipline that connects other disciplines such as art, science and religion. Without being a philosopher, it should be difficult to
be a painter, poet, musician or a scientist.
"I hold worldly repute and hollow success without truth to be hateful to God, most vile and
dishonourable. But I thus exhaust, vex and torment myself for love of true wisdom and zeal for true contemplation."5
5. On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, Bruno Giordano.
This was Bruno's goal for life. He wasn't interested in titles, honours or worldly powers but wisdom and dedicated his life to the search for wisdom. Bruno revived the ancient wisdom, which was the backbone of Greek and Roman civilisation. He had struggled to return the Goddess of Wisdom to Europe which had lost it long before. His fight against ignorance, pedantry, fanaticism and corruption has become an inspiration for many to continue his fight. May the philosophy be with us again in our long journey towards wisdom.
The Ash Wednesday Supper, Giordano Bruno
(translated by E.A. Gosselin & L.S. Lerner, Toronto
Cause, Principle and Unity, Giordano Bruno
(translated by Richard J. Blackwell Cambridge
Heroic Frenzies, Giordano Bruno (translated by
Paulo Eugene Memmo, Jr, 1964)
On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, Giordano
On the composition of Images, Signs and Ideas,
Cosmology of Giordano Bruno, Paul Henri
Michel, Paris 1962.
“To one who is about to behold the Daughter of the Sun, she who is learned in magical lore, and who comes forth from the hidden places; you shall go as a free man into the House of Circe, not bound by the fetters of Night.”
From Giordano Bruno: Cantus Circaeus.
“Bruno’s magic memory system thus represents the memory of the Magus, one who both knows the reality beyond the multiplicity of appearances through having conformed his imagination to the archetypal images, and also has powers through this insight. It is the direct descendant of Ficino’s Neoplatonic interpretation of the celestial images, but carried to a much more daring extreme.”
- Francis A. Yates; Giordano and the Hermetic Tradition.
ANCIENT LANDMARKS FROM THE NEOPLATONISTS TO HPB THE Neoplatonic School of Alexandria was founded in 193 A.D. by Ammonius Saccas. Its object was to reconcile the religious and philosophical systems…Continue