Bruno, Giordano
(1548-1600)
   Italian philosopher, famous in his own time for his publications on religion, natural philosophy and magic, but most commonly remembered in later times as a "scientist" burned at the stake in Rome for heresy. Born at Nola in southern Italy, he became a Dominican friar in 1565. In the schools of his order, he ran into trouble when his reading of banned books by Erasmus led to his arrest on suspicion of heresy. Early in 1576 he escaped from custody and began an itinerant career. He moved first to Rome and then north of the Alps to Geneva (where he had a brief and stormy career as professor of theology in the Calvinist university), then to several places in France, including Paris. His publications at Paris dealt with systems of memory (De umbris idearum / On the Shadows af Ideas and Ars memoriae / The Art af Memory) and with the mnemonic writings of the medieval Catalan philosopher Ramon Lull. In these works Bruno rejected traditional Aristotelian psychology and claimed to have invented a far superior new method of learning.
   In 1583 Bruno moved to England, where he lectured on Copernican astronomy at Oxford and then settled in London, publishing additional works on memory and on the cosmological implications of Copernicus' heliocentric theory (especially La Cena de le ceneri / The Ash Wednesday Supper). Other Italian-language publications at London in 1584, including De l'infinita, universa, e mandi/On the Infinite Universe and Warlds and Spaccia della bestia trianfante /Expulsian af the Triumphant Beast, presented his speculations about human nature and his view of the world as an emanation from God. His radical Neo-platonic and Cabalistic thought dismissed traditional Christianity as a muddle of superstitious ideas. His De gli eroici furori /On Heroic Frenzies (1585) continued the exposition of his anti-Christian ideas and extolled Platonic love as the true path to contemplation of God. In the autumn of 1585 Bruno returned to France, where he publicly disputed against the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy. In 1586 he moved to Germany, where he lectured at Wittenberg on Aristotle, then spent periods lecturing at Prague, Helmstedt, Frankfurt, and Zürich.
   Bruno had associated with Calvinists at Geneva and with both Calvinistic Puritans and Anglican theologians at Oxford, but his unconventional ideas alienated both groups. At Wittenberg, although he converted to the Lutheran faith, his radical religious beliefs soon caused him to be excommunicated. While he was at Frankfurt, a Venetian aristocrat invited him to come to Venice and teach his patron his art of memory. He moved there in August 1591. Some biographers have called the invitation itself a trap, designed to lure him back within reach of the Inquisition. About a year after he settled in Venice, his patron had him arrested by the Venetian Inquisition. In 1593 the far more strict Roman Inquisition had him extradited to Rome, where, after seven years of incarceration and a lengthy trial, he was condemned as an unrepentant heretic and burned at the stake early in 1600.
   Bruno probably always thought of himself as a loyal Catholic who wanted to lead a drastic reform of Catholicism. The problem was that he wanted to preserve the authoritarian structures of Catholicism while transforming it into a philosophical religion based not on the Bible or church tradition but on his own peculiar blend of Neoplatonic mysticism and the philosophy of Hermes Trismegistus. Bruno's strong interest in magic rested on his confidence that an understanding of the religion of the Egyptians, transmitted by the Jewish Cabalists, the Zoroastrian oracles, the Hermetic books, and the philosophy of Plato and the Alexandrian Neoplatonists, would lead humanity to a harmonious relationship with God and a control over physical nature that would improve both the eternal destiny and the earthly life of the human race. Although anticlerical historians of the late 19th century attributed his execution to his support of Copernicus and his belief in an infinite universe, thus making him into a martyr of modern science, the real cause of his execution was his speculative philosophical and theological ideas.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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