Seminar on Giordano Bruno
Mukto-Mona Dhaka Contact
Published on February 13, 2007
Organized by Shiksa Andolan Manch (A platform for Education Movement)
(Shiksa Andolan Manch is a movement recently launched by a group of teachers of all categories from primary to university level, guardians, journalists and persons of many other professions. The slogan of the movement is “Universal, Equal, Secular, Scientific and unilateral Education System”, based on rationalism, universal humanism and tradition, history and pluralistic culture of Bangladesh).
Under the auspices of Shiksa Andolan Mancha (Platform for Education Movement) a seminar was held remembering Bruno’s sacrifice of his life for the sake free thinking, liberalization of thought, secularism, tolerance, scientific & intellectual inquisitiveness based on reason, logic and rationalism. It was held on 29th April 2005 at the auditorium of Institute of nutrition and food science, Dhaka University at 4 p.m. The title of the seminar was : ‘Brunor Atmatyag O Yuktibad’ in Bangla i.e. Sacrifice of Bruno and Rationalism’. It was presided over by Prof. Ajoy Roy, a renowned physicist and president of the Shiksa Andolan Mancha. Prof Roy is also the honorary member of Mukto-Mona Advisory Board.
Despite nor’ west stormy afternoon, the seminar was well attended, not less than 200 audience. The keynote speaker was Dr. Shahidul Islam, Professor of Applied Chemistry, Rajshahi University and an educationist, a secular humanist. The title of his paper was – “Why Bruno sacrificed his life (Brnoke keno jiban bisarjan dite holo?)”. The paper reading was then followed by lively discussions in which participated well known intellectuals and rationalist thinkers including such personalities like theoretical physicist Prof. Harun ar Rashid, Philosopher Muzaffar Hosen, President of Vijnan Chetana Parisad, Aechitect Dr. Muniruzzaman of BUET, Dr. Arsad Momen of Physics department, RU, and litterateur Selina Hosen.
Prof. Rashid said that although he did not know much of Bruno, but his sacrifice for rationalism and scientific mind, and his immortal speech ‘Perhaps you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it.’ Prof. Muzaffar Hosain of Biggan Chetana Parisad thanking Shiksa Andolan Manch for a timely seminar on Bruno, when the country has been engulfed with fundamentalism and obscurantism let loose by the Islamic Mullahs, called upon the younger generation to cultivate rationalism and free thinking. Dr. Moniruzzaman opined that we must learn from Bruno’s teachings when he said nothing should taken as accepted without questioning. That is the basis of rationalism. Though in time scale ‘we are 400 yrs ahead of Bruno’s time the condition of Bangladesh so far irrationalism, ignorance and fundamentalism are concerned is no better. So teachings ob Bruno might inspire us.
The floor was then thrown open for discussion in which young participants took part in a very lively manner. The president then took the floor winding up the discussion, who answered many questions and queries arose in the deliberations of various speakers. The seminar was declared closed after not les than two hours lively deliberations.
Who is Bruno ?
(Based on presidential speech delivered by Prof. Ajoy Roy)
“Time is the father of Truth, its mother is mind”
- Giordano Bruno
Bruno was a philosopher, a scientist and a great rationalist of medieval period having no faith in any traditional religions. He flourished in during later part of 16th century. He was born in a village called Nola near to Naples city in Italy in 1548. The time was synchronized with the publication of Great Copernicus’ famous work on heliocentric model of our solar system contained in the book entitled ‘de Revolutionnus Orbium Celestum’ i.e. Revolution-Orbit of the Celestial Bodies that heralded the dawn of the new astronomy. He grew as a Dominican orthodox in his early life and adopted the name Giordano. His worldly name before he entered the Order of St. Dominic. He continued his novitiate and education at Naples finally being ordained as a priest in 1572. As a novitiate in the St. Dominic he not only studied church doctrines and literature, but spent considerable time in studying old Greek Philosophical works as well as works of contemporary European thinkers with equal devotion. In here he first came in contact with unorthodox work of Copernicus, which was to have such a profound impact on his life. Copernican Heliocentric system of the then Universe not only challenged Church’s cosmological views, but also the social order of hierarchy envisaged in feudalism. The earlier perfect Ptolemaic Geocentric system of the Universe, with the Earth at the center, reinforced the rigid of feudal order with serfs at the bottom and the Pope at the pinnacle. The dangerous implication of the Copernican view of the Universe was that if the Church’s credo of infallibility could be challenged in the cosmological arena then its social position was also cast into doubt. Bruno’s interest outside the Orthodox Church literature came to the notice of the Church authorities, and since then he was kept under strict surveillance of Dominic authority. His originality of views and critical attitude on accepted theological doctrines invited unpleasant notice of the authority. This created resentment against the authoritarian view of the Church in him, and finally after 4 years of priesthood he left the order in 1576. A formal accusation of heresy was brought against him. He escaped to Rome. There he studied with deep devotion philosophical literatures (forbidden) of various schools annotated by Erasmus, a famous Dutch humanist philosopher. He remained outspoken critic of Church’s orthodox views and mysteries of faith. This was brought to the notice of the Church at Rome, and the accusations were renewed at the convent of the Minerva. However before he was denounced to ecclesiastical authorities he fled away from Rome roaming about in Italy for three years. He spent the rest of his life until he was captured in Venice, an independent state outside Roman domain, wandering Europe discussing and promoting his philosophical ideas. He finally went to Geneva (1579), the city then dominated by Calvin sect of Protestantism. It is rumored that he did accepted the Calvinist faith, but soon being disillusioned started criticizing the doctrine in Bruno’s characteristic style. He had also come in conflict with academicians for their erroneous views and mistakes while delivering lectures. This annoyed the Calvin himself who was known for his intolerance and agony, which led him to leave the city. He then traveled to Toulouse, Lyons in France, and ultimately to Paris in 1581. But again he moved to England, and for a time at least enjoyed the favour of Queen Elizabeth and the friendship of Sir Philip Sydney. To the latter he dedicated one of his best book ‘II spacio della bestia trionfante’ (The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast), a most bitter and critical treatise against the doctrines of the Catholic Church, published in 1584. As he was denied to lecturing in Oxford University, he published another famous book ‘Cena delle ceneri’ (Ash Wednesday Supper), criticizing the Oxford professors’ narrow knowledge of Philosophy, saying that they knew more about beer than about Greek. He once again returned to Paris in 1585 but only to move to Germany (1587), wither he showed similar attitude to local academicians as to Oxford professors. In Helmstadt, he was excommunicated by the Lutherans. He spent some time in literary activity at Frankfort before he returned to finally Venice in 1591 at the invitation of Zunus Mocenigo, who wished to learn Bruno’s famous system of memory training. But it was only a trap, as his disciple denounced him to the Venetian inquisition.
Bruno Faces Inquisition
Bruno was arrested on May 13 1592, and his trial before the Venetian inquisitors first took refuge in the principle of ‘two-fold truth’, saying that the errors imputed to him were held by him ‘as a philosopher, and not as an honest Christian’; later however he solemnly abjured all his errors and doubts in the matter of Catholic doctrine and practice. At this stage the Roman inquisition intervened and asked the Venetian inquisition hid extradition, which was obliged after some hesitation. This was in February 1593.
Last Seven years of Bruno in the prison of Roman Inquisition
Bruno was kept in prison for seven years, for what reason, the historians tried in vain to unearth the reason of long detention without trial. It was however believed that during his long seven years of detention he was interrogated on all aspects of his life and his philosophical views. In the spring of 1599, at last the trial was begun before a commission of the Inquisition. The Inquisition formally brought as many as eight specific charges of heresy. But the church till today has not revealed those acts of heresy committed by Bruno. However according to limited and indirect records available Bruno was indicted for his ‘atheistic’ views and for the publication of the ‘Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast’. He refused to recant. After the accused had been granted several terms of respite in which to retract his errors, he was finally condemned in January 1600. He was handed over to the secular power on 8th February 1600 for punishment befitting to his crime of heresy. Many opines that he was not condemned for his defence of Copernican theory, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological ‘errors’, among which were the following : that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skilful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, that the Devil will be saved, etc.
The Tragic Pronouncement
The inquisition delivered its most inhuman historical verdict on January 20, 1600, stating “We hereby, in these documents … pronounce sentence and declare the aforesaid Brother Giordano Bruno to be an impenitent and pertinacious heretic, and therefore to have incurred all the ecclesiastical censures and pains of the Holy Canon…. We ordain and command that thou must be delivered to the Secular Court … that thou mayest be punished with the punishment deserved, though we earnestly pray that he (the Roman Governor) will mitigate the rigour of the laws concerning the pains of thy person, that thou mayest not be in danger of death or of mutilation of thy members.
“Furthermore, we condemn, we reprobate and we prohibit all thine aforesaid and thy other books and writings as heretical and erroneous, containing many heresies and errors, and we ordain that all of them which have come or may come in future into the hands of the Holy Office shall be publicly destroyed and burned in the square of St. Peter before the steps and that they shall be placed upon the Index of Forbidden books.”
Despite the false note of concern about Bruno’s physical well being, the Inquisition’s verdict was a death sentence. Thus more than 400 years ago, the Catholic Church executed Giordano Bruno, Italian Philosopher and scientist, for crime of heresy. After the verdict was pronounced, he was taken from his cell in the early hours of the morning of February 16, 1600 to the Piazza dei Fiori in Rome and burnt alive at the stake. To the last, the Inquisitors were afraid of the preaching of Bruno who was known throughout Europe as a bold speaker and a brilliant unusual thinker. In a peculiar twist to the gruesome affair, the executioners were ordered to tie his tongue so that he would be unable to address those gathered.
Unlike Bruno, Copernicus was a cool headed person. He knew his theory of heliocentric system of Universe would not be accepted to the public of the Unenlightened Europe, unless he could convince the Church. He therefore undertook to carry the gist of his work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestum Libri to different churches of Europe including that of Rome to convince them that the Earth was not the center of the universe, but a mere planet like others revolving around the Sun, the center of the solar system. Though Copernicus formulated his theory thirty years earlier- he did not dare to publish until the year of his death, 1543. Needless to say the Church authority was not convinced. Even a century later, a very old, tired and physically tortured Galileo, understandably afraid of the torture that awaited him unless he knuckled under, recanted his blasphemous confirmation of Copernican system of the universe.
Between Copernicus and Galileo in time, we find the most fascinating character of Giordano Bruno from Nola. Unlike Copernicus, Bruno did not believe in soft-pedaling what he believed to be the truth. He was flamboyant, vain and loud. Denouncing his earlier faith, he set off around Europe as a wandering teacher of philosophy. And unlike Galileo, he not did not fear torture and death, but his last words on the subject- literally his last words on the subject, (pointing to his panel of judges) were defiant : “Perhaps you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it.”
Work of Bruno
Written between 1583-85 while in England
The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast (II Spacio Della Bestia Triofante)
The Ash Wednesday Super (La Cena Delle Ceneri)
Cabala of the Steel like unto Pegasus with the Addition of the Ass of Cyllene (Cabala del cavallo pegaseo con i’agguiuntadell’asino cillenico)
On Heroic Frenzies (De gli eroici furori)
Cause, Principle and Unity (Della causa, principio, et uno)
On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (Dell’ infinito universo e dei mondi)
Written between 1581-83 while in France
Great Key- art of remembering (Clavis Magna)
The Torch Bearer (II Candelaio)
Shadows of Ideas (De umbris idearum)
De Compendiosa Architetura
De Triplici Minimo
De Monade, Numero et Figura
The Holy Church and its tormenting institution the Inquisition will be remembered as symbol of arch-reaction. But Bruno has withstood the test of time. In him we discover a true Renaissance man with a passionate love for all aspects of human learning. He courageously participated with great energy in the intellectual turbulence of his time. His insights made an important contribution to the ideas that laid the basis for modern science. His stubborn refusal to bow to the authority, power and repressive methodology of the Catholic Church, the most powerful institution of his day, will no doubt continue to inspire us for centuries to come.
Bruno was the forerunner of what we call today rationalism. To him reason and logic form the basis for determining truth, not the religious dogma. His rationalism finds expression in one of his latest book ‘De Triplici Minimo’ (1591): “He who desires to philosophise must first of all doubts all things. He must not assume a position in a debate before he has listened to the various opinions, and considered and compared the reasons for and against. He must never judge or take up a position on the evidence of what he has heard, on the opinion of the majority, the age, merits, or prestige of the speaker concerned, but he must proceed according to the persuasion of an organic doctrine, which adheres to real things. And to a truth that can be understood by the light of reason.”
In his writings Bruno had expounded a system of philosophy in which the principal elements could be identified as ‘neo-Platonism’, materialistic monism, rational mysticism, and the naturalistic concept of the unity of the material world. It is said that from the influence of neo Platonism he derived his concept of monism. On the other hand from pre-Socratic philosophical influence he formulated the materialistic interpretation of the One. And from the Copernican principle he had learned to identify the material One with the visible, infinite, heliocentric universe.
His attitude towards Aristotle may be illustrated by his reiterated assertion that the natural philosophy of the Stagirite is vitiated by the predominance of the dialectical over the mathematical mode of conceiving natural phenomena. He wanted to reform Aristotelian philosophy, but not in the way his contemporaries, Ramus and Patrizzi proposed to do. His feeling towards Scholastic school of philosophy was one of deep contempt if not hatred. He had however a high degree of regards for Albert the Great and St. Thomas.
We may summarise his system of thought calling it as materialistic pantheism, to some it may look incoherent- not surprising in the context of medieval thought. To Bruno- God and the world are one; matter and spirit, body and soul are two phases of the same substance; the universe is infinite; beyond the visible world there is an infinity of other worlds, each of which is inhabited; this terrestrial globe has a soul; in fact each and every part of it, mineral as well as plant and animal, is animated; all matter is made of the same elements (no distinction between terrestrial and celestial matter); all souls are akin. No doubt the attempt to grand unification – a scientific continuity among all the phenomena of nature is an important manifestation of the modern spirit, and interesting in a time when Bruno was alive. We can appreciate how Bruno’s attempt to establish a unitary concept of nature commanded the admiration of such men as Spinoza, Jacobi, and Hegel.
Roman Catholic Church condemned him as heretic, and the Protestant divine termed him as “a man of great capacity, with infinite knowledge, but not a trace of religion.”
Bruno’s cosmological outlines have found expression in his three famous book namely, The Ash Wednesday Supper, ‘Cause, Principle and Unity’, and ‘On the Infinite Universe and Worlds’, which together present a brilliant anticipation of subsequent scientific and philosophical developments. In some respects, particularly in the concept of unlimited universe, and other worlds, his conclusions boldly arrived at by mere intuition surpassed the work of his successors such as Galileo and Kepler. In Ash Wednesday Super he was the first to argue with firm conviction and reason that universe is infinitely large- containing an infinite number of words similar to the earth, and not limited by a fixed starry sphere, as conceived by Copernicus, Galileo or even Kepler. He argued that even Sun was not the center of the universe, as if the sun were observed from any stars it would look no different from them. Harriot, a noted mathematician of medieval period, a great proponent of Bruno’s infinite universe once wrote to Kepler in 1608 discussing Bruno’s concept of infinite universe, who outright rejected the idea. Bruno was well ahead of his time.
Giordano Bruno was neither Copernicus nor Galileo in the scientific sense. His vision of universe was, however, not based on any scientific observations like puzzling over retrograde motion of planets in their orbits, nor on the telescopic observations of celestial bodies as did Galileo, but his method was more of intuitive based on already known scientific facts, and of a philosophical, aesthetic stance. His idea of relative ness and absoluteness in the universe view may be understood from his own utterance (Cause, Principle and Unity):
This entire globe, this star, not being subject to death, and dissolution and annihilation being impossible anywhere in Nature, from time to time renews itself by charging and altering all parts. There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative to change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things.