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Giordano Bruno and the Limits of the Universe


When a thought is powerful, there are no barriers that can hold it back.

Astronomer, philosopher, poet and thoroughly a Renaissance man, Giordano Bruno was born in Nola, Naples, in 1548, under the name of Filippo Bruno, which he changed at the age of 17 ––an age in which it is practically impossible to be serious, according to Rimbaud, another rebel par excellence. Perhaps that was what happened: Bruno took his astronomical and philosophical investigations more seriously than he did the Catholic Church, his ulterior executioner.

At that same age he entered the Dominican Order to study Aristotelian philosophy, and the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Thomism. In 1581 he began a vast periplus across Europe and the emerging ideologies, such as Calvinism —which he severely criticized for restricting intellectual liberty—after his arrival in France, he was accepted by Henry the Third to teach in the prestigious University of Paris. During these years he wrote his first two works: The Shadows of Ideas, and Cantus Circaes. Afterwards he traveled to England to teach the new Copernican Cosmology in the University of Oxford, based on his own ideas, such as the universe being infinite, or that the sun is the largest star in the universe and that it is larger than Earth— although he supported the latter with false arguments or imprecise ones at least. Which, perhaps, makes it all the more interesting: in his context, Bruno was a revolutionary that questioned the convened and traditional form of the universe.

Renaissance thinker Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno, who was a wanderer, a cosmopolitan being, a xi —as Benjamin would put it—, experienced something similar to what Marx did. In fact, his pilgrimage has been practically traced: he traveled across Europe studying and questioning all the traditional knowledge, anchored in the conservationism of the time, but also, was expelled from almost every place he set foot in; for example, in Marburg when he challenged Aristotelian proselytes to a public debate, in the Cambrian College, where he was ridiculed, physically attacked and then thrown out of the country. He was unbearable for his time, a man that was living and thinking in the future, covetous of knowledge and unwilling to leave any problem untouched.

Finally, in 1591, he returned to his land, at first harbored by a Venetian nobleman, who shortly after his arrival betrayed him and handed him over to the Holy Inquisition. This is where the story that catapulted him into the recognition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries began.

First he spent 8 years incarcerated waiting for his trial for blasphemy, heresy and immorality due to his ideas about the solar system and the infinity of the Universe. This whole process was led by Robert Belarmino, who later, in 1616, prosecuted Galileo. In early 1599 the charges were exposed, condemning him to the bonfire, in which he was an exception, since at the time they would first kill someone and then burn them. Giordano Bruno experienced a different fate: he was burnt alive. Perhaps it is important to note that Belarmino was then canonized by the Catholic Church.

The priests in charge of the trial gave him the opportunity to take his ideas back, but on January 20th 1600, Bruno (A Socrates of the Renaissance) reaffirmed them. Then, Pope Clement VIII —who never lived up to his name— ordered he be taken to the secular authorities. That was how the 8th of February of that year he was sentenced and declared: heretic, impenitent, pertinacious and obstinate. The phrase Giordano Bruno uttered in response is notorious: “It may be you fear more to deliver judgment upon me than I fear judgment.”

On February 17th of 1600 Giordano Bruno was burnt in Campo di Fiori; however, his ideas and the emancipatory spirit he embodied has prevailed until this day, despite the evil the Catholic Church performed.

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