Reub's journey

09 July 2010

Bruno's sad episode

My interest in Giordano Bruno began with this imposing statue of him in Campo De Fiori, Rome, the site of his death at the hands of the Roman Inquisition in 1600. I've been reading about him and well, what a guy:

By the time he was 24 Bruno was an ordained priest who had developed a system of mnemonics that made him widely known for his skilled memory; even the Pope demanded a demonstration of his amazing memory. But Bruno was a free thinker and got into big trouble when somebody found the writings of the humanist Erasmus squirreled away in the privy (that classic hiding place). Bruno removed his religious habit and wandered around Switzerland, England and France, writing and teaching.

Things got worse. He competed for a math professorship and lost out to Galileo. His pantheistic views, the fact that he doubted Mary was a virgin, that Jesus was the son of God, and that earth was the center of the universe, got him into major trouble.
He said that stars were suns and could have planets and life of their own. He suspected the existence of atoms, and believed that the universe is infinite. He was excommunicated by both the Lutherans and the Catholics. After almost 8 years in prison, Bruno was sentenced to be burned at the stake in February, 1600. To his judges Bruno made a rude gesture (wonder what that was) and gave the following response:

Maiori forsan cum timore sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam (Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it).

In the year 2000, 400 years after his death, the Vatican issued a statement of regret, calling it "a sad episode."


  1. "...a sad episode." The church history is full of those.

  2. If you try to find out how many people were burned at the stake during the Inquisition, which lasted for more than 300 years, you get a lot of different answers. A fairly unapologetic tone comes from the Catholic church--claiming it was secular officials who did all that burning, not the church: how convenient.

  3. I'm glad you posted this because I knew nothing about him. I don't see how he could have been excommunicated by two churches unless he joined two churches. Any thoughts?

    Some people who were burned were strangled first. Others had bags of gunpowder suspended above their hearts. Still others were burned with green wood piled high so as to prolong the agony. I wonder how it went for Bruno given his contempt for his judges.

  4. Hi Snowbrush:
    According to this article he did embrace Calvinism when he fled Italy after the Erasmus affair:

    He disagreed with a Calvinist professor, and found that the Lutherans were no more forgiving than the Catholics. Until I read this I thought excommunication was just a Catholic thing, but I guess not.

    The above article states that Bruno's tongue was gagged before the burning, but doesn't mention strangling or gunpowder.

    Wikipedia also has a good bio on Bruno.

  5. Any church can excommunicate; some just use another word for it--disfellowship, for example.

    I've been there too, having left a conservative church with the notion that a liberal one would be more loving. Of course, I wouldn't say that Calvinists were ever liberal unless it was in comparison to the opposition.

    I was wondering after reading your post if they still cling to predestination. I actually have a nephew by marriage who is a Presbyterian preacher, but he doesn't appear to have much interest in talking about religion.

    I hadn't heard of gagging, and can but speculate that the municipality had a noise ordinance.

  6. After that remark to the judges it sounds like they really did NOT want to hear anything further from Bruno.

    Predestination. I just looked it up and realized it is more complicated than I thought, very interesting stuff. A quote from the Catholic Dogma: "He who would place the reason of predestination either in man alone or in God alone would inevitably be led into heretical conclusions about eternal election."

    Too bad your nephew, the preacher, doesn't want to talk religion! But maybe he's following that old rule about not discussing politics and religion with family members. I know that in my family discussions like this are disastrous.

  7. Hmmm. Those were the days, weren't they? I'm so glad we don't live during the Inquisition!


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