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The heretic - Comments

Sage's Avatar Comment 1 by Sage

"You may be more afraid to bring that sentence against me than I am to accept it."
Just, wow.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 05:53:00 UTC | #224465

theocide's Avatar Comment 2 by theocide

Wow, I can barely remember where I left my keys!

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 05:53:00 UTC | #224466

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 3 by Cartomancer

Rowland apparently doesn't agree, downplaying Bruno's contact with figures like the Elizabethan "magician" Dr. John Dee and arguing that Bruno's idea of magic was "pointedly natural and physical" rather than occult.
I'm not comfortable with applying that distinction to the thought world of sixteenth century Europe. Most Renaissance magi and their medieval predecessors conceived of magic in physical, almost scientific terms. The magical arts were simply the unlocking of the secrets of nature and bending them to the will of the practitioner, a description which could still just about fit science and technology today. "Occult" simply meant "hidden" or "secret", as opposed to apparent and obvious. Furthermore the late medieval and early modern concept of natural science included a spiritual, incorporeal and non-physical dimension which we today would consider the province of metaphysics or religion. It was perfectly reasonable, for instance, to discuss what kind of incorporeal substance the various parts of the human soul consisted of. Peter Abelard in the twelfth century even speculated that daemons achieve their suggestions to the souls of mortals through the alchemical properties of rocks and plants, and Roger Bacon in the thirteenth was convinced that, through magnifying the astrological properties of the right stars with an appropriate optical array of mirrors and lenses, the flaws and weaknesses in the human body could be eradicated and immortality achieved.

Such speculations were commonplace. The attentions of the inquisition were not drawn because one's science was overtly magical, they were drawn because somebody thought you were trying to go beyond what human beings should know and transgress the realm of divine knowledge. Knowledge of the workings of nature was not necessarily a transgression, but sometimes it could be, especially if nobody liked you and you were the sort of non-conforming troublemaker who picked fights all the time (Abelard and Bacon were like this too in their own ways).

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 06:04:00 UTC | #224472

SamKiddoGordon's Avatar Comment 4 by SamKiddoGordon

You wonder what he might have contributed had he lived in another time.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 06:05:00 UTC | #224473

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 5 by rod-the-farmer

When can we expect the decanonisation of Bellarmine ? Oh, they don't do that ? Just a sort of apology they burned Bruno at the stake ? Sorry I asked..

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 06:11:00 UTC | #224476

jshuey's Avatar Comment 6 by jshuey

What amazes me in reading the above is how little the religious have changed in their disdain for and treatment of those who don't share their beloved delusions.

We should all give thanks (though to whom or what I can't say) that neither the Vatican nor the Republican Party of Texas have their own armies.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 06:30:00 UTC | #224487

Ishruul's Avatar Comment 7 by Ishruul

3. Comment #237184 by Cartomancer

HOW DARE YOU!!! Heretic, face the jugment of god by his purifying fire laced with his purifying gasoline and divine motor oil.

Face the new age inquisition (brought to you in part by the Creationism's Fundation for a 15B.C. Modern Age).

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:11:00 UTC | #224503

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 8 by Sargeist


Reading your comment, I was suddenly struck by how the anti-stem cell movement is carrying on those wonderful 16th century traditions!

Also reminded me of the conversation with Richard Leakey in the Darwin programme (whose 3 parts I finally managed to watch back-to-back last night - and it was fab) when he mentions that humans and chimpanzees might be able to, you know... And I suddenly thought to myself: Yeah! Now that would be a brilliant experiment to try. Get some eggs from a human, get some sperm from a chimp (just stand in front of one at the zoo long enough with a cup in front of you should do the trick), mix'em up in a tube, and Bob's your uncle. Great stuff. Then I started thinking about why it is that I really, honestly, do not have any problem at all with that kind of experiment, and yet so many other people would.

Odd, huh?

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:12:00 UTC | #224504

moderndaythomas's Avatar Comment 9 by moderndaythomas


I'll second that. I can imagine a day when reason and enlightenment will have to do more that just converge at a site like this one. I only hope that I'm overreacting some.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:16:00 UTC | #224507

Bruno's Avatar Comment 10 by Bruno

A hero of mine since boyhood, I chose to take his name as my username for this website. "A thorn in their side," indeed.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:32:00 UTC | #224517

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 11 by huzonfurst

Sargeist (#8), it makes me wonder if breeding humans with chimps has already been done in secret. Extreme capitalists would love it for the slave labor potential, and Bushite governments for all the obedient (and expendible) soldiers it might produce.

Wait a tick - where did all these creationists really come from...?

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:46:00 UTC | #224527

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 12 by Sargeist

Hi huzonfirst,

I know you were joking, but I would think that no one in the Western world has done it, if only because of the rather strict laws about animal experimentation.

You also need the human eggs to try it with. The reason I said human eggs and chimp sperm rather than vice versa was that chimp sperm would be easier to get than chimp eggs, I think, again because of the aforementioned laws.

(I am, of course, just guessing and opining about all that stuff)

Of course, fertilising (or trying to fertilise) the egg is not the good bit; doing it under controlled conditions to see what happens in micro detail would be the good bit.

A shame I did not do any biology post-GCSE. I have no idea if different numbers of chromosomes are a barrier to reproduction. I suppose that people with various chromosomal trisomies can reproduce with "normal" people.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:53:00 UTC | #224533

beeline's Avatar Comment 13 by beeline

Wikipedia has this amusing list of things that got him in trouble. Reading it now, it's hard to imagine how he could have been less 'erroneous'.

Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic Faith and speaking against it and its ministers.

Holding erroneous opinions about the Trinity, about Christ's divinity and Incarnation.

Holding erroneous opinions about Christ.

Holding erroneous opinions about Transubstantiation and Mass.

Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.

Believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes.

Dealing in magics and divination.

Denying the Virginity of Mary.

Sounds like a bit of a big-mouth, but he clearly had a clear-mind as well.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:54:00 UTC | #224535

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 14 by Sargeist

Sounds like a bit of a big-mouth, but he clearly had a clear-mind as well.

Noooooo! You've jinxed us all!

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 07:55:00 UTC | #224537

shemp333's Avatar Comment 15 by shemp333

Wow! What a fabulous story, and one I never heard before. Keep articles like this coming!

Richard should consider himself lucky to not have been around in those days....

Most of us as well. We must stay vigilant forever I'm afraid.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 09:01:00 UTC | #224567

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 16 by rod-the-farmer

Bob's your uncle


Bonobo's your uncle.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 09:13:00 UTC | #224572

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 17 by Quetzalcoatl

Sounds like a bit of a big-mouth, but he clearly had a clear-mind as well

And having a clear mind obviously makes him a clear thinker.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 09:33:00 UTC | #224587

Ishruul's Avatar Comment 18 by Ishruul

11. Comment #237242 by huzonfurst

Has you requested, here's the awful, yet funny, truth.

He he! Reality is hilarious, but they should have used great apes, like gorilla, not chimps.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 09:38:00 UTC | #224593

Vaal's Avatar Comment 19 by Vaal

10. Comment #237230 by Bruno

A hero of mine since boyhood

Me too! What a shame he isn't alive today. I am sure that he would be an atheist, and would be a superb ally in the debating halls against the willfully ignorant such as D'souza. Oh, and of course, Mr Robertson :)

This is a man who put his fingers up to the authorities and died an appalling vicious and sadistic death, burned alive with an iron spike forced through his tongue, and yet, the church is trying to canonize the man who murdered him. These are the self same people who have the nerve to preach to the rest of us about morality!

Religion, isn't it wonderful.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 09:44:00 UTC | #224598

Don_Quix's Avatar Comment 20 by Don_Quix

Great article! I've always found Bruno fascinating.

I also learned something new. In my hometown there is a locally well-known Catholic university called Bellarmine University. Up until today, I had no idea that it was named after none other than Saint Bellarmine (aka Cardinal Robert Bellarmine), the inquisitor of Galileo and the (indirect) torturer and murderer of Bruno. Somehow I doubt most of the students at Bellarmine are aware of this either. In fact, I'm sure old Saint Bellarmine is looked upon quite favorably in most Catholic circles.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 09:51:00 UTC | #224603

D'Arcy's Avatar Comment 21 by D'Arcy

Soon, Bruno was offending his neighbors by writing satirical dialogues complaining that England's populace was "second to none that the Earth nurtures in her bosom for being disrespectful, uncivil, rough, rustic, savage, and badly brought up."

So what's changed? Stiff upper lips encouraged by the English public (private) schools, in order to breed a person who could ruthlessly run the British Empire?

As Rowland points out, Bruno, irascible as he was, had committed no crime

But it wouldn't stop the Catholic Church from burning YOU given the chance. It hasn't changed. I can see Donahue with his box of matches, no tinder box, to drag it out.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 11:20:00 UTC | #224677

8teist's Avatar Comment 22 by 8teist

What a wonderful thing the love of christ is .

And the church wonders why people consider them to be a pack of assholes,unfortunately I believe they would return to this sort of behaviour in a heartbeat if they thought they could get away with it.

Another book I have to buy .

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 12:55:00 UTC | #224730

Goldy's Avatar Comment 23 by Goldy

Soon, Bruno was offending his neighbors by writing satirical dialogues complaining that England's populace was "second to none that the Earth nurtures in her bosom for being disrespectful, uncivil, rough, rustic, savage, and badly brought up."

And we still are :-D

"They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit," Malia's mayor, Konstantinos Lagoudakis, said in an interview. "It is only the British people ?quot; not the Germans or the French."

Comment #237499 by richardoakes
Not the Richard Oakes of Blackjack Avion fame, are you?

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 14:25:00 UTC | #224779

Greywizard's Avatar Comment 24 by Greywizard

It took a long time for that to prove true, yet thanks to those idealistic 19th-century students, everyone who comes to Rome to behold the splendor of the Vatican is also presented with a reminder of its bloody, repressive past.

From this it sounds like the Vatican has put its blood repressive past behind it. Not so. It continues in its evil ways. It refuses abortion to little girls. It refuses the condom to people who are threatened with HIV and other diseases. It refuses the comfort of dying to those who are suffering unendurably. No. No. The Vatican continues in its bloody, repressive ways.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 15:03:00 UTC | #224792

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 25 by Border Collie

Well, only four hundred years ago ... from pyros to pedos in just a few short centuries ... I'd say it wouldn't take much for them to move backwards ...
I might start to feel comfortable after four thousand years ...

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 15:05:00 UTC | #224793

Styrer-'s Avatar Comment 26 by Styrer-

What a wonderful piece of writing by Laura Miller. Seriously well-crafted and so engaging that its flow was enough to carry me on a wave of interest until the last full-stop.

And thanks to you, Carto, for the reservations - may I ask if you'd come across Bruno before and if Laura's write-up confirms or counters any opinion of the fellow you'd previously held?

In any case, I raise my glass tonight to Giordano Bruno, a man I'd never heard of before reading this article. To a man whose superbly belligerently brilliant brain is sorely and sadly missed today.

*glasses clink*


Tue, 26 Aug 2008 15:45:00 UTC | #224800

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 27 by Cartomancer

It's quite hard not to come across Giordano Bruno if you're studying intellectual history, though he is rather late for me (I looked at the early modern period as an undergrad, that was about the last time. I get a bit queasy past about 1350). The article seems well-researched, particularly with regard to the more traditional scholastic cast of Bruno's formal studies, and I especially approve of the fact that it attributes his downfall mostly to his own bombastic inability to play by other people's rules. It's a well-worn gripe of mine that people too often think the Renaissance happened out of thin air; that suddenly everyone dropped their shovels, clapped themselves round the head for not realising how frightfully medieval they used to be, then took off writing humanist tracts on civil government and discovering heliocentricity. In this model the persecuted humanistic thinkers like Bruno and Gallileo suddenly become martyrs for forward-thinking rationalism against a corrupt tableau of turgid medieval backwardness. It didn't happen like that. Medieval thought gave way slowly and gradually to change, there was never a flash of lightning and suddenly the renaissance was born. Much of renaissance culture consciously departed from the medieval, and even parodied and demonised the medieval past, but it would never have happened were it not for the underlying medieval sensibilities in the population of Europe as a whole. Aristotelian natural science would never have been superceded were it not for the medieval centuries people spent pressing it to see how far it could go. The search for Greek texts and Greek culture would not have happened were it not for the groundwork done during the middle ages and distinctively medieval developments in literary studies and the grammatical arts. The world was a radically different place in 1500 to how it had been in 500AD, but that's because it had seen a millennium of gradual medieval progress, not a few decades of radical renaissance restructuring. People like Bruno were able to reap the benefits of that progress, progress which included the development of the very universities in which he learned and taught and the orders mendicant which provided him the necessities of life to engage in those studies.

And, as Abelard and Roger Bacon and William of Ockham show, he was not the first and would not be the last prominent intellectual to cause trouble in Europe.

As for the Inquisition as we know it, that was mostly an early modern, not a medieval institution. Medieval inquisitions were decentralised, usually local operations under the control and authority of a bishop. They were usually conducted against mass heretical movements like the Cathars and Waldenses, rather than errant individuals, and although torture was not uncommon from the middle of the thirteenth century, judicial execution was exceedingly rare. It was only with the founding of the centrally run Spanish Inquisition in 1478, and the Papal Inquisition itself in 1542 that inquisitorial scrutiny and incidents such as the execution of Bruno became at all common, mostly in response to the challenge of protestant churches. Even then fewer than 2% of the cases in extant inquisition records ended with execution, and we can be fairly sure this is not selective because the completeness of inquisition records is almost without parallel in continental European sources from the time.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 16:23:00 UTC | #224817

Styrer-'s Avatar Comment 28 by Styrer-

Comment #237540 by Cartomancer on August 26, 2008 at 5:23 pm


Certainly my own battle to retain anything useful from history lessons at school (taught as they were along lines of 'remember this or fail your test') shows itself as 'this or that character started the Renaissance' and 'this or that character represents the end of medieval thinking'. Specific humans identifying peaks of intellectual historical importance, to whom we should pay careful attention and whose birth dates we must remember on pain of E grades, were the mainstay of my high school historical inquiry. There was no intimation - such as you excitingly offer as an alternative - that such historical transitions were difficultly won through the hard-fought battle of little no-names, collectively and anonymously driving themselves forward until such time that one person could claim all the credit, secure his or her place in history and take up predominant place in an 'O' Level syllabus demanding that easy transitions be the compulsory answer to which all students should aspire.

I suspect I would have taken to history rather more willingly had I had a teacher who had your perspicacity and passion. And who was prepared to pedagogically piss all over such 'O' Level requirement.

Finally - if I may ask another question! - your description of the post-1542 inquisition seems not to hold to the oft-offered atheistic point that these were horrendously murderous days. Has, for example, Harris in 'The End of Faith' made too much of those times in service of his argument, in your opinion?


Tue, 26 Aug 2008 17:53:00 UTC | #224845

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 29 by prettygoodformonkeys

(disclaimer: drinking)

I love Bruno even more now.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 18:27:00 UTC | #224863

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 30 by Cartomancer

I have not read Sam Harris on the Inquisition, but I do think that the violence and murderousness imputed to them is routinely exaggerated. Of course the whole project of an inquisition is irredeemably illiberal, unenlightened and totalitarian, however light the touch of its execution happens to be. I have to say that for fear of being misconstrued as an Inquisition apologist. Nevertheless, they do not compare at all unfavourably in terms of violence output with secular law enforcement in the early modern period - the officially sanctioned inquisitors anyway, the mavericks and local amateurs were probably not nearly as circumspect. The early modern period was a considerably bloodier and more violent age in general than today, probably even more so than the middle ages. It was a time of increasing state power, bureaucracy, military expenditure and social control - both secular and religious. I would say that the post-1542 Inquisition was almost certainly a lot more invasive and intrusive than its medieval predecessors, and with an official Index librorum prohibitorum in place also much more of a factor in shaping intellectual culture. But it wasn't the bloody-handed juggernaut it is often made out to be by hollywood, the media and perhaps even by some atheist writers.

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 18:47:00 UTC | #224874