Giordano Bruno (1548 – 17 February 1600), born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, mystic, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer. He is celebrated for his cosmological theories, which went even further than the then-novel Copernican model. He proposed that the stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets and raised the possibility that these planets could even foster life of their own (a philosophical position known as cosmic pluralism). He also insisted that the universe is in fact infinite and could have no celestial body at its “center”.
Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of several core Catholic doctrines. Bruno’s pantheism was also a matter of grave concern. In an inspired speech, Bruno declared the discovery of numberless worlds in the One Infinite Universe. Nothing was more deplorable, declared he, than the habit of blind belief, for of all other things it hinders the mind from recognizing such matters as are in themselves clear and open. It was 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. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people. However, he cautioned that they should not be influenced by the fervor of speech, but by the weight of his argument and the majesty of truth.
The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori. According to the correspondence of Gaspar Schopp of Breslau, he is said to have made a threatening gesture towards his judges and to have replied: “Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it”.
After his death he gained considerable fame, being particularly celebrated by 19th- and early 20th-century commentators who regarded him as a martyr for science. Bruno’s case is still considered a landmark in the history of free thought and the future of the emerging sciences.
In addition to cosmology, Bruno also wrote extensively on the art of memory, a loosely organized group of mnemonic techniques and principles. Historian Frances Yates argues that Bruno was deeply influenced by Arab astrology, Neoplatonism, Renaissance Hermeticism, and legends surrounding the Egyptian god Thoth. Other studies of Bruno have focused on his qualitative approach to mathematics and his application of the spatial paradigms of geometry to language.
In the first half of the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa challenged the then widely accepted philosophies of Aristotelianism, envisioning instead an infinite universe whose center was everywhere and circumference nowhere, and moreover teeming with countless stars. He also predicted that neither were the rotational orbits circular nor were their movements uniform.
In the second half of the 16th century, the theories of Copernicus (1473–1543) began diffusing through Europe. Copernicus conserved the idea of planets fixed to solid spheres, but considered the apparent motion of the stars to be an illusion caused by the rotation of the Earth on its axis; he also preserved the notion of an immobile center, but it was the Sun rather than the Earth. Copernicus also argued the Earth was a planet orbiting the Sun once every year. However he maintained the Ptolemaic hypothesis that the orbits of the planets were composed of perfect circles—deferents and epicycles—and that the stars were fixed on a stationary outer sphere.
Despite the widespread publication of Copernicus’ work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, during Bruno’s time most educated Catholics subscribed to the Aristotelian geocentric view that the earth was the center of the universe, and that all heavenly bodies revolved around it. The ultimate limit of the universe was the primum mobile, whose diurnal rotation was conferred upon it by a transcendental God, not part of the universe (although, as the kingdom of heaven, adjacent to it, a motionless prime mover and first cause. The fixed stars were part of this celestial sphere, all at the same fixed distance from the immobile earth at the center of the sphere. Ptolemy had numbered these at 1,022, grouped into 48 constellations. The planets were each fixed to a transparent sphere.
In 1584, Bruno published two important philosophical dialogues in which he argued against the planetary spheres (Christoph Rothmann did the same in 1586 as did Tycho Brahe in 1587). Bruno’s infinite universe was filled with a substance—a “pure air,” aether, or spiritus—that offered no resistance to the heavenly bodies which, in Bruno’s view, rather than being fixed, moved under their own impetus (momentum). Most dramatically, he completely abandoned the idea of a hierarchical universe.
“The universe is then one, infinite, immobile…. It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infinite and indeterminable, and consequently immobile.”
Bruno’s overall contribution to the birth of modern science is still controversial. Some scholars follow Frances Yates stressing the importance of Bruno’s ideas about the universe being infinite and lacking geocentric structure as a crucial crosspoint between the old and the new. Others see in Bruno’s idea of multiple worlds instantiating the infinite possibilities of a pristine, indivisible One, a forerunner of Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
While most academics note Bruno’s theological position as pantheism, physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein wrote that the theological model of pandeism was strongly expressed in the teachings of Bruno, especially with respect to the vision of a deity which had no particular relation to one part of the infinite universe more than any other, and was immanent, as present on Earth as in the Heavens, subsuming in itself the multiplicity of existence.
Michael White notes that the Inquisition may have pursued Bruno early in his life on the basis of his opposition to Aristotle, interest in Arianism, reading of Erasmus, and possession of banned texts. White considers that Bruno’s later heresy was “multifaceted” and may have rested on his conception of infinite worlds. “This was perhaps the most dangerous notion of all… If other worlds existed with intelligent beings living there, did they too have their visitations? The idea was quite unthinkable.”
William Boulting, in Giordano Bruno: His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom, wrote: “Bruno is the first thinker who based the soul’s duty to itself on its own nature: not on external authority, but on inner light. … Of Bruno, as of Spinoza, it may be said that he was “God-intoxicated.” He felt that the Divine Excellence had its abode in the very heart of Nature and within his own body and spirit. Indwelling in every dewdrop as in the innumerable host of heaven, in the humblest flower and in the mind of man, he found the living spirit of God, setting forth the Divine glory, making the Divine perfection and inspiring with the Divine love. The Eroici is full of the pantings of his soul for intellectual enfranchisement and contact with Truth, the divine object…. The heroic soul, says Bruno, shall seek truth and find it. The time had not then come for Pilate’s question to be put again. Bruno was happily unvexed by the problem of truth… there is a view implicit in the Eroici and in all but the earliest of his philosophical writings, and this is that our truth is a progressive, ideal approximation towards that whole Truth which is one with the inmost nature of Being.”
Thomas Davidson, in “Giordano Bruno”, wrote: “I think I need not say anything more to convince you that Bruno was one of the mighty, one of those strange, incomprehensible, pioneer geniuses that lived centuries before their time, destined, apparently, to lay out the tasks for many succeeding ages. He rose not only above the dogmas and superstitions of half-obsolete mediaeval Catholicism, but, with equal ease and firmness, above the new follies of growing Protestantism. He belongs not to the sixteenth century, but to the nineteenth, and even to the elite of it. Great in philosophy, great in science,— physical and moral, — he was greater still in practice, in life and in death. No man ever labored more or suffered more, in order to be free himself and help others to be so. No one ever met death more firmly and heroically. Among the martyrs for truth and freedom, — those first essentials of manhood, — he occupies the highest place.”
Excerpts from his writings:
“Since I have spread my wings to purpose high,
The more beneath my feet the clouds I see,
The more I give the winds my pinions free,
Spurning the earth and soaring to the sky.”
“That I shall sink in death, I know must be;
But with that death of mine what life will die?
Across the air, I hear my heart’s voice cry:
Where dost thou bear me reckless one? Descend!
Such rashness seldom ends but bitterly’
“Fear not the lofty fall” I answer “rend
With might the clouds, and be content to die,
If God such a glorious death for us intend.”
“The Divine Light is always in man, presenting itself to the senses and to the comprehension, but man rejects it.”
“I understand Being in all and over all, as there is nothing without participation in Being, and there is no being without Essence. Thus nothing can be free of the Divine Presence.”
“If all things are in common among friends, the most precious is Wisdom. What can Juno give which thou canst not receive from Wisdom? What mayest thou admire in Venus which thou mayest not also contemplate in Wisdom? Her beauty is not small, for the lord of all things taketh delight in her. Her I have loved and diligently sought from my youth up.”
“There are countless suns and countless earths all rotating round their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to us because they are smaller and non-luminous. The countless worlds in the universe are no worse and no less inhabited than our earth. For it is utterly unreasonable to suppose that those teeming worlds which are as magnificent as our own, perhaps more so, and which enjoy the fructifying rays of a sun just as we do, should be uninhabited and should not bear similar or even more perfect inhabitants than our earth. The unnumbered worlds in the universe are all similar in form and rank and subject to the same forces and the same laws. Impart to us the knowledge of the universality of terrestrial laws throughout all worlds and of the similarity of all substances in the cosmos! Destroy the theories that the earth is the centre of the universe! Crush the supernatural powers said to animate the world, along with the so-called crystalline spheres! Open the door through which we can look out into the limitless, unified firmament composed of similar elements and show us that the other worlds float in an ethereal ocean like our own! Make it plain to us that the motions of all the worlds proceed from inner forces and teach us in the light of such attitudes to go forward with surer tread in the investigation and discovery of nature! Take comfort, the time will come when all men will see as I do.”
“Time is the father of truth, its mother is our mind.”
“Cause, Principle, and One eternal
From whom being, life, and movement are suspended,
And which extends itself in length, breadth, and depth,
To whatever is in Heaven, on Earth, and Hell;
With sense, with reason, with mind, I discern,
That there is no act, measure, nor calculation, which can comprehend
That force, that vastness and that number,
Which exceeds whatever is inferior, middle, and highest;
Blind error, avaricious time, adverse fortune,
Deaf envy, vile madness, jealous iniquity,
Crude heart, perverse spirit, insane audacity,
Will not be sufficient to obscure the air for me,
Will not place the veil before my eyes,
Will never bring it about that I shall not
Contemplate my beautiful Sun.”
“It is manifest that every soul and spirit hath a certain continuity with the spirit of the universe, so that it must be understood to exist and to be included not only there where it liveth and feeleth, but it is also by its essence and substance diffused throughout immensity. The power of each soul is itself somehow present afar in the universe. Naught is mixed, yet is there some presence. Anything we take in the universe, because it has in itself that which is All in All, includes in its own way the entire soul of the world, which is entirely in any part of it.”
“The universal Intellect is the intimate, most real, peculiar and powerful part of the soul of the world. This is the single whole which filleth the whole, illumineth the universe and directeth nature to the production of natural things, as our intellect with the congruous production of natural kinds.”
“We find that everything that makes up difference and number is pure accident, pure show, pure constitution. Every production, of whatever kind, is an alteration, but the substance remains always the same, because it is only one, one divine immortal being.”
“The Universe is one, infinite, immobile. The absolute potential is one, the act is one, the form or soul is one, the material or body is one, the thing is one, the being in one, one is the maximum and the best… It is not generated, because there is no other being it could desire or hope for, since it comprises all being. It does not grow corrupt. because there is nothing else into which it could change, given that it is itself all things. It cannot diminish or grow, since it is infinite.”
“This whole which is visible in different ways in bodies, as far as formation, constitution, appearance, colors and other properties and common qualities, is none other than the diverse face of the same substance — a changeable, mobile face, subject to decay, of an immobile, permanent and eternal being.”
“Everything that makes diversity of kinds, of species. differences, properties, everything that consists in generation, decay, alteration and change, is not an entity, but condition and circumstances of entity and being, which is one, infinite, immobile, subject, matter, life, soul, truth and good.”
“All things are in the Universe, and the universe is in all things: we in it, and it in us; in this way everything concurs in a perfect unity.”
“Anything we take in the Universe, because it has in itself that which is All in All, includes in its own way, the entire soul of the world, which is entirely in any part of it.”
“The universe comprises all being in a totality; for nothing that exists is outside or beyond infinite being, as the latter has no outside or beyond.”
“This entire globe, this star, not being subject to death, and dissolution and annihilation being impossible anywhere in Nature, from time to time renews itself by changing and altering all its parts. There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the centre of things.”
“When the end comes, you will be esteemed by the world and rewarded by God, not because you have won the love and respect of the princes of the earth, however powerful, but rather for having loved, defended and cherished one such as I … what you receive from others is a testimony to their virtue; but all that you do for others is the sign and clear indication of your own.”
“To a body of infinite size there can be ascribed neither centre nor boundary… Thus the Earth no more than any other world is at the centre.”
“It is then unnecessary to investigate whether there be beyond the heaven Space, Void or Time. For there is a single general space, a single vast immensity which we may freely call Void; in it are innumerable globes like this one on which we live and grow. This space we declare to be infinite, since neither reason, convenience, possibility, sense-perception nor nature assign to it a limit. In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own.”
“When we consider the being and substance of that universe in which we are immutably set, we shall discover that neither we ourselves nor any substance doth suffer death; for nothing is in fact diminished in its substance, but all things, wandering through infinite space, undergo change of aspect.”
“Make then your forecasts, my lords Astrologers, with your slavish physicians, by means of those astrolabes with which you seek to discern the fantastic nine moving spheres; in these you finally imprison your own minds, so that you appear to me but as parrots in a cage, while I watch you dancing up and down, turning and hopping within those circles. We know that the Supreme Ruler cannot have a seat so narrow, so miserable a throne, so trivial, so scanty a court, so small and feeble a simulacrum that phantasm can bring to birth, a dream shatter, a delusion restore, a calamity diminish, a misdeed abolish and a thought renew it again, so that indeed with a puff of air it were brimful and with a single gulp it were emptied. On the contrary we recognize a noble image, a marvellous conception, a supreme figure, an exalted shadow, an infinite representation of the represented infinity, a spectacle worthy of the excellence and supremacy of Him who transcendeth understanding, comprehension or grasp. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of his kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.”
“I cleave the heavens and soar to the infinite.
And while I rise from my own globe to others
And penetrate ever further through the eternal field,
That which others saw from afar, I leave far behind me.”
“While I venture out beyond this tiny globe
Into reaches past the bounds of starry night
I leave behind what others strain to see afar.”
“Divinity reveals herself in all things… everything has Divinity latent within itself. For she enfolds and imparts herself even unto the smallest beings, and from the smallest beings, according to their capacity. Without her presence nothing would have being, because she is the essence of the existence of the first unto the last being.”
“Animals and plants are living effects of Nature; this Nature… is none other than God in things… Whence all of God is in all things… Think thus, of the sun in the crocus, in the narcissus, in the heliotrope, in the rooster, in the lion…. To the extent that one communicates with Nature, so one ascends to Divinity through Nature.”
“Those wise men knew God to be in things, and Divinity to be latent in Nature, working and glowing differently in different subjects and succeeding through diverse physical forms, in certain arrangements, in making them participants in her, I say, in her being, in her life and intellect.”
“If he is not Nature herself, he is certainly the nature of Nature, and is the soul of the Soul of the world, if he is not the soul herself.”
“Of the eternal corporeal substance (which is not producible ex nihilo, nor reducible ad nihilum, but rarefiable, condensable, formable, arrangeable, and “fashionable”) the composition is dissolved, the complexion is changed, the figure is modified, the being is altered, the fortune is varied, only the elements remaining what they are in substance, that same principle persevering which was always the one material principle, which is the true substance of things, eternal, ingenerable and incorruptible.”
“Of the eternal incorporeal substance nothing is changed, is formed or deformed, but there always remains only that thing which cannot be a subject of dissolution, since it is not possible that it be a subject of composition, and therefore, either of itself or by accident, it cannot be said to die.”
“The fools of the world have been those who have established religions, ceremonies, laws, faith, rule of life.”
“Even to have come forth is something, since I see that being able to conquer is placed in the hands of fate. However, there was in me, whatever I was able to do, that which no future century will deny to be mine, that which a victor could have for his own: Not to have feared to die, not to have yielded to any equal in firmness of nature, and to have preferred a courageous death to a noncombatant life.”
“The infinity of All ever bringing forth anew, and even as infinite space is around us, so is infinite potentiality, capacity, reception, malleability, matter.”
“The wise soul feareth not death; rather she sometimes striveth for death, she goeth beyond to meet her. Yet eternity maintaineth her substance throughout time, immensity throughout space, universal form throughout motion.”
“Our philosophy… reduceth to a single origin and relateth to a single end, and maketh contraries to coincide so that there is one primal foundation both of origin and of end. From this coincidence of contraries, we deduce that ultimately it is divinely true that contraries are within contraries; wherefore it is not difficult to compass the knowledge that each thing is within every other.”
“The one infinite is perfect, in simplicity, of itself, absolutely, nor can aught be greater or better, This is the one Whole, God, universal Nature, occupying all space, of whom naught but infinity can give the perfect image or semblance.”
“The single spirit doth simultaneously temper the whole together; this is the single soul of all things; all are filled with God.”
“All things are in all.”
“Before anything else the One must exist eternally; from his power derives everything that always is or will ever be. He is the Eternal and embraces all times. He knows profoundly all events and He himself is everything. He creates everything beyond any beginning of time and beyond any limit of place and space. He is not subject to any numerical law, or to any law of measure or order. He himself is law, number, measure, limit without limit, end without end, act without form.”
“For nature is not merely present, but is implanted within things, distant from none… And while the outer face of things changeth so greatly, there flourisheth the origin of being more intimately within all things than they themselves. The fount of all kinds, Mind, God, Being, One, Truth, Destiny, Reason, Order.”