BRUNO, Giordano

Remembered best as a Renaissance magician and as a victim of intellectual intolerance, during his life, Giordano Bruno fashioned a Neoplatonic natural philosophy that saw the universe as an infinite, organic, and living emanation from God. Although his works are magical in sentiment, they prefigured many of the tenets of modern science, rejecting tradition and espousing rationalism.
Little is known of Bruno's earliest years following his birth in the Neapolitan town of Nola in 1548. By 1565 he entered the famous Dominican house of San Domenico Maggiore, and despite early suspicions of heresy, Bruno's superiors allowed his ordination as a priest in 1572. Fears soon resurfaced, and a trial was initiated against him. After escaping to Rome, he found himself once again subject to an investigation. By 1576 he had left the Dominican order and had fled to points north.
Thus began a fifteen-year period of wandering. Bruno's open rejection of contemporary religious ideas and received philosophical traditions brought him into trouble with both secular and religious authorities, be they Catholic or Protestant. In 1581 his life became a bit more stable—although no less contro-versial—when he received the protection of King Henri III of France. In Paris he published on the arts of memory, turning to a deeply magical understanding of the problem. Moving to England as part of the French embassy of 1583, he remained there and wrote his most systematic works, six Italian dialogues that argued in detail for a new understanding of the cosmos—a magical, infinite universe of multiple worlds harmoniously united by emanations from God.
The final fifteen years of Bruno's life comprised more of the same. He de­parted England in 1585 and traveled widely through Germany and Bohemia, continuing to publish on old themes as well as new ones, most notably, an atomic theory on the nature of matter. By 1591 he took up residence in the relatively liberal Republic of Venice upon the invitation of a powerful patrician. Within a year Bruno's protector denounced him to the Inquisition. He was im­prisoned in Rome for the last eight years of his life, determined to convince church authorities that his views were correct. Finally, he refused to recant and was burned for heresy in 1600.
Since Bruno's ideas were so radical, it is hard to measure any direct influence upon his contemporaries. He defended the heliocentricity of Nicolaus Coperni­cus* and extended it into a theory of an infinite universe, arguing that the Bible had no astronomical authority. He advanced a monistic metaphysics of the world in which form and matter combined through a generative force manifesting itself in every living thing. He outlined a moral theory of virtue, elevating philosoph­ical reason and relegating religion to a secondary role for the instruction of the ignorant. He rejected Aristotelian physics in favor of atomism. He used reason to concoct a mysterious blend of magical spiritualism.
Although certain parallels can be found in the works of Galileo* and Johannes Kepler,* most contemporaries were either unaware of his work or rejected him out of hand. Abrupt and intolerant in his tone, Bruno found few disciples. While modern scientists might find aspects of Bruno's thought in harmony with their own, his works appealed to few contemporaries beyond a small group of like-minded Neoplatonists. Yet Bruno's elaboration of universal harmonies is not wholly unlike Isaac Newton's later, more prosaic one.
H. Gatti, Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science, 1999.
F. A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 1964.
Edmund M. Kern

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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