Giordano Bruno (Meade)
By T. F. Meade.
THE motto of Galileo was that no man can teach the truth to others; he can only aid them find it. Such an aid was Michael Bakunin. The world will know Bakunin better anon. He was a firebrand burning with the love of truth, and he had to light dull, dead minds. Toiling here or there, in mine, factory or field, he almost immediately divined the man with the most magnetism, the greatest facility of speech; the man the most receptive of ideas and most fired by truth. Bakunin began at once to inoculate him with the virus of revolution. He poured it into him in his magnificent, brilliant, overpowering way, till the man was hot as his mentor. Then Bakunin quit work and locality, and sought new fields.
Thomas Paine so burned. He left England to help America revolt. As soon as it had gained its independence, he set sail for France where revolution was in the throes of birth.
Such scalding blood coursed through the veins of Giordano Bruno. His thought reached far towards the infinite and he longed to fire this world with it. He called himself "The Awakener," believing it to be his mission to announce the truth, not to develop or establish it. To fling away the awful yoke of the time—the Church and the Inquisition—required the courage of Luther, Calvin and Savonarola, and much more, than that of Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler. But Bruno "prayed to be all arms and eyes, a new Briareus and a new Argus, that he might penetrate and embrace the whole of the infinite universe." He had never enough. He loved and sought the truth, and howled it everywhere. "He who drinks of this Elysian nectar," he said, "burns with an ardor that the ocean cannot quench nor the cold of Arctic temper."
Giordano Bruno was born at Nola, Italy, in 1548. He was burned at the stake at Rome in 1600. Entering a Dominican order at the age of sixteen, by 1576 Bruno had questioned one hundred and thirty beliefs of the Church. He probably felt that there was no hope for him when they counted up his heresies and were about to try him; feeling the circumscribing atmosphere of the place and realizing that his best thought could never be heard there, he fled. From then until 1590—in only fourteen years—this remarkable man constructed the pedestal on which the monument of modern philosophy has been erected; he propounded facts, theories and fancies, then held wild and visionary, but which modern science is now approaching. Bruno said: "Difficulty is ordained to deter mean spirits. Rare, heroic and divine men pass over the road of difficulty and compel necessity to yield them the palm of immortality." He continued on his way, always advancing into the fairy realm of the intellect and science until he approached confines which scientists are only now revisiting. He was driven from place to place by the authority of the time, or he found it well to leave—Naples, Genoa, Turin, Venice, Padua, Geneva, Toulouse, Paris, London, Oxford, Wittenberg, Frankfort, Zurich, Rome. But he talked on. He was uttering that splendid cry, still to bring balm to many hearts in the thraldom of "The Wolf of Rome":
"A time shall come, a new desired age, when the Gods shall lie in Orcus and the dread of everlasting punishment shall vanish from the world."
Great men generally believe their age is in sight of a revolution. And posterity believes the great men were chiefly the cause of the revolution, when they only made waves in the stormy sea. Bruno thought his age would see the change and he preached the New World though be was the only one who foresaw and wanted it. He began by rejecting in Christianity the doctrine of a supernatural interference with nature for the benefit of one special person or people. Miracles, he claimed, were impostures or a kind of magic. He hated the way the priests dwelt on the morbid side of Christ's life, his sufferings and death, the religion of hysterics, emotions and ignorance; he propounded a religion of human love and reasoned knowledge.
"The perfecting of the individual soul" was his anarchic slogan. "Evidence, evidence. Observation, observation," he was always asking for and aiming at, and he cautioned, "Doubt all things."
Here is the foundation of the Cartesian philosophy.
It was in the sixteenth century that this man lived— the close of the Dark Ages. Ingersoll calls Bruno the "first star of the morning after the long night." Copernicus dared not give forth his discovery of the heliocentric system, except as a cryptogram in 1543 as he died, and it had to wait to be flung in the teeth of the Church and science, till Bruno—born five years afterwards—boldy proclaimed it. Bruno himself tells us what kind of age it was. He says the monks of Castello in Genoa held up the tail of an ass for the people to kiss, telling them it was the tail of the ass that carried Christ from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. The tail of Balaam's ass was preserved in the Church of St. John Lateran at Rome. Three coals which roasted St. Lawrence were adored in as many Roman churches. The table-cloth on which the Lord's Last Supper was eaten was at Limousin. Murder and suspicion so reigned that it was the custom for the Pope (according to Montaigne), when at mass at St. Peter's, to drink from the chalice by means of an instrument that was a precaution against poison.
Bruno is justly credited with having modified all the sources of modern philosophy, of which he has as high claim to be considered the founder as Bacon or Descartes. He proclaimed the New World while he was laughed to scorn; his theories were to become demonstrations in the hands of Kepler, Huygens, Newton and Herschel; one may trace his ideas filtered through many minds; of the philosophers who represent the main line of development of modern thought on the Continent in the I7th century—Descartes, Gassendi, Spinoza, Leibnitz—there is not one who has not been accused of having borrowed his chief doctrine, without acknowledgment, from Bruno; he propounded the philosophy of the Absolute almost two centuries before Schelling and Hegel; was the forerunner of Immanuel Kant. Thomas Davidson said of Bruno: "His thought has exercised a determining influence on many great minds, as on Descartes, Leibnitz, Kant and Hegel, and through them on Goethe, Coleridge and Emerson, though these last have risen to but one side of Bruno's thought."
During the ignorance and superstition of the time in which Bruno lived, his daring mind figured on the theory of the centre of gravity of the planets; other worlds than ours; the orbits and character of comets; and the imperfect sphericity of the earth. He upheld the Copernican system but went far beyond it in his intuition of the infinity of the universe, of the identity of the earth with the matter of the planets and stars, and of the possibility of such living beings inhabiting them as inhabit the earth. The earth and stars themselves, he said, were living organisms, so there are not seven planets or wandering stars, but myriads such, for every world is in motion. He taught the eternity of matter and he insisted that the earth was not the centre of the universe. His theory of optimism Leibnitz borrowed; and that of the perfectibility of man, Herbert Spencer. Bruno's "Shadow of Ideas" seems to Dr. Brunton to forestall Pasteur's famous doctrine of asymmetry and non-symmetry. Bruno anticipated Lessing's teaching that myths may contain foreshadowings of truths and should be interpreted by the spirit and not by the letter. He speaks of gradual changes brought about on the surface of the earth, the seas and islands, the configuration of the land, the climate in different countries, by the constant if imperceptible operations of natural causes. He descants on the true nature of mountains, which he calls only excrescences as compared to the real mountain, or the large continents that slope upwards from the sea.
Bruno was the first to propound the theory of evolution, in support of which Darwin and Haeckel marshaled so much proof. It was not known to ancient philosophy, though hints of it had been made.
Bruno used to speak of the soul as matter under certain forms, and in many passages he definitely describes monism. No wonder he "paralyzed his audiences at Oxford with astonishment and indignation."
Bruno has been pictured as vulgarly stern, repulsively severe in manner and speech, vituperative and galling, impatient with ignorance and stupidity. It is claimed by many people that this is a necessary fault of some great men at certain times. They are needed to wipe aside the ignorant as one might a row of wooden figures, the argument being that when an obvious truth is hindered in its progress by the dull brute, he ought to be summarily treated. This side of Bruno has overshadowed, through the vehemence with which his enemies have accentuated it, a very beautiful and essential phase of his genius. Bruno was a poet as well as a philosopher, and the combination made him that imaginative, scientific scholar, who enlarged the boundaries of the visible universe, and who delved in the fields of solid thought till he had plunged into the fairyland of romance, and even beyond. His romantic nature led him far from the dry-as-dust spirit of scientists; his thought soared into the empyrean, establishing by his tremendous wealth of learning and exquisite fancy the great nexus between reality and ideality.
Bruno's mysticism is very peculiar. It contains more intricacies and ambiguities than the mysticism of the present day, because it embraced magic, and Bruno has even been accused of allowing the ignorant—and the intelligent, too—to think that he had ponderous secrets locked up in his weighty brain. His mysticism has been compared to that of the Bhagavad Gita. This would open up a tremendous field of research. But with his rationalism, his love of nature, his ideality, his boundless imagination, his scholarship, his undoubted kinship with the Muses, his optimism, his so-called Pantheism, Bruno's mysticism is surely the forecast, the fundament of the transcendentalism of the New England school, which has proved itself the open sesame to the inviting, almost appalling, realm of Christian Science, Mental Science and New Thought. Bruno's bold asseveration that "mind is common to all things in Nature" is the knob of the door of the New Thought. The great door, so long locked—since Bruno's time—swings gingerly open on what seems to be a dark, damp cave, but our eyes are piercing the gloom and we are perceiving that the cave is one of those magnificent rooms entered by Ajib, the Kalendar, in the "Thousand and One Nights," proving to be a glorified garden, itself only the propylaea of a sublime new world.
Giordano Bruno was burned alive February 17, 1600. Many liberals date from this epoch, 1907 being E, M. 307, the year 307 of the Era of Man. He was arrested in May, 1592, in Venice and taken to Rome by the Inquisition. Bruno was not heard of from January, 1593, to January, 1599, having been all that time in a dungeon in the Eternal City. Then he was convicted of heresy on eight counts, and asked to recant. He refused, saying: "I ought not to recant and I will not recant." He was sentenced to die, "with as great clemency as possible and without effusion of blood," the cold-blooded phrase for burning alive. Yet he said calmly to his murderers: "It may be you fear more to deliver the judgment than I to hear it."
His death took place on the Campo di Flora. In 1889 a statue of Bruno was unveiled there. It is just outside the Pope's window in the Vatican. That day the Pope fasted and prayed.
La vita nuova, the New Italy, is represented by Giordano Bruno. The awakening people have established him as their champion, their symbol of liberty, of the intellect, of the pursuit of truth, of a life that spreads out beyond the Alp, beyond the seas—the international brotherhood of man.
Col. Ingersoll pronounced Bruno "one of the greatest men this world has produced. He was nobler than inspired men, grander than the prophets, greater and purer than the Apostles. Above all the theologians of the world, above the makers of creeds, above the founders of religions rose this severe, unselfish and intrepid man. The first of all the world who died for truth without the expectation of reward."
The verdict of Professor Davidson is very striking: "Bruno's thought is of infinite value. It is the loftiest yet attained."
This is high praise. Yet when we look over the life and accomplishments of this wonderful man, when we sound his thought, when we realize the outgrowth of his philosophy, try to compass his idealism, attempt to fathom his realism, his naturalism, his rationalism, and then, too, gaze into the beautiful domain of his fancy and his sublime imaginative power, we approach the possibility that if there has ever been the superlatively great in man it lay in Giordano Bruno.