Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Giordano Bruno (Latin: Iordanus Brunus Nolanus; 1548 – 17 February 1600), born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer. He is celebrated for his cosmological theories, which went even further than the then novel Copernican model. He proposed that the stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets and raised the possibility that these planets could even foster life of their own (a philosophical position known as cosmic pluralism). He also insisted that the universe is in fact infinite and could have no celestial body at its “center.”
Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of several core Catholic doctrines (including Eternal Damnation, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and Transubstantiation). Bruno’s pantheism was also a matter of grave concern. The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori.
The end was most horrific, but the years leading up to it were no less painful. His trial lasted almost seven years and Encyclopedia Britannica has a fairly detailed account of the trial:
Bruno’s liberty came to an end when Mocenigo—disappointed by his private lessons from Bruno on the art of memory and resentful of Bruno’s intention to go back to Frankfurt to have a new work published—denounced him to the Venetian Inquisition in May 1592 for his heretical theories. Bruno was arrested and tried. He defended himself by admitting minor theological errors, emphasizing, however, the philosophical rather than the theological character of his basic tenets. The Venetian stage of the trial seemed to be proceeding in a way that was favourable to Bruno; then, however, the Roman Inquisition demanded his extradition, and on January 27, 1593, Bruno entered the jail of the Roman palace of the Sant’Uffizio (Holy Office).
During the seven-year Roman period of the trial, Bruno at first developed his previous defensive line, disclaiming any particular interest in theological matters and reaffirming the philosophical character of his speculation. This distinction did not satisfy the inquisitors, who demanded an unconditional retraction of his theories. Bruno then made a desperate attempt to demonstrate that his views were not incompatible with the Christian conception of God and creation. The inquisitors rejected his arguments and pressed him for a formal retraction. Bruno finally declared that he had nothing to retract and that he did not even know what he was expected to retract. At that point, Pope Clement VIII ordered that he be sentenced as an impenitent and pertinacious heretic. On February 8, 1600, when the death sentence was formally read to him, he addressed his judges, saying: “Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.” Not long after, he was taken to the Campo de’ Fiori, his tongue in a gag, and burned alive.
Such coercion of ideas at the point of death does not seem to be unique to the Catholic Church of the past. The claim of fundamentalist Muslims to kill the apostates, seems to be an approximate replica from the medieval Muslim world.
In modern times, organized religions do not have life and death power over the masses, but, many an examples can be cited about power play, to the maximal degree possible, to ensure conformity from the masses and to keep them in line.
Let me document some additional details of Bruno’s trial and tragic end below.
Bruno defended himself as he had in Venice, insisting that he accepted the Church’s dogmatic teachings, but trying to preserve the basis of his philosophy. In particular, he held firm to his belief in the plurality of worlds, although he was admonished to abandon it. His trial was overseen by the Inquisitor Cardinal Bellarmine, who demanded a full recantation, which Bruno eventually refused. On 20 January 1600, Pope Clement VIII declared Bruno a heretic, and the Inquisition issued a sentence of death. According to the correspondence of Gaspar Schopp of Breslau, he is said to have made a threatening gesture towards his judges and to have replied: 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”).
He was turned over to the secular authorities. On Ash Wednesday, 17 February 1600, in the Campo de’ Fiori (a central Roman market square), with his “tongue imprisoned because of his wicked words”, he was hung upside down naked before finally being burned at the stake. His ashes were thrown into the Tiber river. All of Bruno’s works were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1603. The inquisition cardinals who judged Giordano Bruno were Cardinal Bellarmino (Bellarmine), Cardinal Madruzzo (Madruzzi), Cardinal Camillo Borghese (later Pope Paul V), Domenico Cardinal Pinelli, Pompeio Cardinal Arrigoni, Cardinal Sfondrati, Pedro Cardinal De Deza Manuel and Cardinal Santorio (Archbishop of Santa Severina, Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina).
The measures taken to prevent Bruno continuing to speak have resulted in his becoming a symbol for free thought and speech in present-day Rome, where an annual memorial service takes place close to the spot where he was executed.
The Catholic Church even today approves of exorcisms and evades responsibility, in cases of child abuse: Catholic bishops not obliged to report clerical child abuse, Vatican says. The Church still insists that mothers have no choice, but, to give birth to children with microcephaly and deal with the consequences: Catholic Leaders Say Zika Doesn’t Change Ban on Contraception.
Protestant churches have their own unique ways of exploiting their followers. Just today, I read: African countries clamp down on churches tied to ‘miracle cures.’
I can easily tabulate horror stories of the Muslim clergy also, but, the Western media already does a pretty regular and effective job at that. Let me just link one article here: Indian Mulla ‘Women only fit to deliver children’ and a list of female Nobel Prize Laureates.
The African initiative to clamp down on the ‘miracle cures,’ is needed, in almost every country of the world, regardless of the religion, being exploited by the clergy and leadership.
We need secular governments to write better and well defined bylaws for every organized religion and insist that they stick to them and not fleece their own followers.
Here, I do not find problems only with Christianity, but all religions, including my own religion of Islam. When religion is organized for purposes that it should not, it always leads to troubles, leading fast to catastrophes.
Suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Science + religion: The science-versus-religion opposition is a barrier to thought. Each one is a gift, rather than a threat, to the other
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) January 22, 2017