Giordano Bruno can, without much doubt, be referred to as the martyr of Freethought. Born in 1548, he was given the named Filippo Bruno and he was born just outside the Italian village of Nola. In many of his works, he is referred to as "The Nolan." The history of the village of Nola is much more intricate than one would expect from a pre-Renaissance town. At one point, all the Nolans had been slaves of the Vandals in North Africa. However, they would gain liberty once a wealthy individual gave all his possessions for their emancipation.
Bruno's legacy began at an early age. In 1565, at the age of seventeen, he decided to join the Dominican monastery of San Domenico in Naples. In 1576, when only twenty-eight years of age, Giordano Bruno renounced his vows and fled from Naples. This was the true beginning of his life, the determination to disregard fanciful notions Christianity and seek out his true path in life. While a monk at his monastery, he was considered by his seniors to be one of the more intelligent of the monks. Upon walking into his room, one would see paintings of celestial bodies. In one play, "The Torch-Bearer," Bruno would mock life as a monk with fervent disgust of such religious organization. Although perhaps it is a vague quote of Bruno, the best few sentences that describe him where when Ingersoll said, "He said to his brother-priests: Come out of your cells, out of your dungeons: come into the air and light. Throw away your beads and your crosses. Gather flowers; mingle with your fellow- men; have wives and children; scatter the seeds of joy; throw away the thorns and nettles of your creeds; enjoy the, perpetual miracle of life." [The Great Infidels, by Robert Green Ingersoll.]
He visited Rome, Noli, Venice, Turin and Padua. At Milan he made the acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney (whom he would dedicate much of his work). After teaching for some time in the university, he went to Chambery, but the ignorance and bigotry of its monks were too great for his patience. He next visited Geneva, but the laws and regulations of John Calvin still existed. Since he would not wish to enjoy the fate of Servettes, he fled. He went to Lyons and then he passed to Toulouse, where he was elected Public Lecturer to the University. In 1579 he went to Paris. The streets were still foul with the blood of the Bartholomew massacres, but Bruno declined a professorship at the Sorbonne, a condition of which was attending mass. Henry the Third, however, made him Lecturer extraordinary to the University. Finally, he had made his way to London where he lodged with the French Ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, Marquis de Mauvissière (1520-1592). In 1582 he had published "Hekatompathia," or "Passionate Centurie of Love," poems inspired by or translated from ancient classical French and Italian writers; and his Latin poem "Amyntas" (1585) was based on Torquato Tasso. The year of 1584 to 1585 was a year where six works on ethics and philosophy were written by Bruno. Perhaps the most incredible and jaw dropping of these works is De Gli Eroici Furori, or, The Heroic Frenzies, published in 1585. The work was dedicated to Sir Philip Sydney... "Dedicated to that most illustrious and excellent knight -- Sir. Philip Sidney."
It was this work that can be described as a defense of compassion with the belief that in the end, as the phrase goes, love conquers all. His words in the play were compelling and beautiful. He goes to such a great and passionate detail of things, that one must stay focused if they wish to understand this genius. In the beginning of the book, he states...
"Dedicated to the Most Illustrious Sir Philip Sidney
"Most illustrious knight, it is indeed a base, ugly and contaminated wit that is constantly occupied and curiously obsessed with the beauty of a female body! What spectacle, oh good God, more vile and ignoble can be presented to a mind of clear sensibilities than a rational man afflicted, tormented, gloomy, melancholic, who becomes now hot, now cold and trembling, now pale, now flushed, now confused, or now resolute; one who spends most of his time and the choice fruits of his life letting fall drop by drop the elixir of his brain by putting into conceits and in writing, and sealing on public monuments those continual tortures, dire torments, those persuasive speeches, those laborious complaints and most bitter labours inevitable beneath the tyranny of an unworthy, witless, stupid and odoriferous foulness!
"What a tragicomedy! What act, I say, more worthy of pity and laughter can be presented to us upon this world's stage, in this scene of our consciousness, than of this host of individuals who became melancholy, meditative, unflinching, firm, faithful, lovers, devotees, admirers and slaves of a thing without trustworthiness, a thing deprived of all constancy, destitute of any talent, vacant of any merit, without acknowledgment or any gratitude, as incapable of sensibility, intelligence or goodness, as a statue or image painted on a wall; a thing containing more haughtiness, arrogance, insolence, contumely, anger, scorn, hypocrisy, licentiousness, avarice, ingratitude and other ruinous vices, more poisons and instruments of death than could have issued from the box of Pandora? For such are the poisons which have only too commodious an abode in the brain of that monster! Here we have written down on paper, enclosed in books, placed before the eyes and sounded in the ear a noise, an uproar, a blast of symbols, of emblems, of mottoes, of epistles, of sonnets, of epigrams, of prolific notes, of excessive sweat, of life consumed, shrieks which deafen the stars, laments which reverberate in the caves of hell, tortures which affect living souls with stupor, sighs which make the gods swoon with compassion, and all this for those eyes, for those cheeks, for that breast, for that whiteness, for that vermilion, for that speech, for those teeth, for those lips, that hair, that dress, that robe, that glove, that slipper, that shoe, that reserve, that little smile, that wryness, that window-widow, that eclipsed sun, that scourge, that disgust, that stink, that tomb, that latrine, that menstruum, that carrion, that quartan ague, that excessive injury and distortion of nature, which with surface appearance, a shadow, a phantasm, a dream, a Circean enchantment put to the service of generation, deceives us as a species of beauty."
Also in the same work, while regarding a serpent who was living in an extremely cold environment, Bruno delivers these passages from the Fifth Dialogue of the First Part of "The Heroic Frenzies"...
"Languid serpent, you writhe, shrink, rise, and sink in that dense humour; and to ease your intense pain, you move from one part of the cold to another.
"If the ice had ears to hear you, you a voice to speak or to reply, I believe you would have an efficacious argument to render it merciful to your torment.
"I am tossed, consumed, burned, scorched in the eternal fire, and in the ice of my goddess neither love of me nor pity finds any place for my delivery. Ah me, because she does not feel how great is the rigor of my ardent flame!
"Snake, you seek to escape, but you are powerless. You cling to your shelter, but it is dissolved. You call back your own forces, but they are spent. Your hope is turned to the sun, but a dense midst conceals it.
"You ask mercy of the laborer, and he hates your sting. You invoke fortune, but senseless, she does not hear you. Neither flight, refuge, force, the stars, man, nor fate can save you from death.
"You are hardened by the cold, while I am liquefied by the heat; I wonder at your rigor, you wonder at my ardor; you lust after the evil I suffer, and I, after your desire.
"Neither can I relieve your distress, nor can you relieve mine. Now, aware enough of our cruel fate, let us abandoned all hope."
One biographer, Dorothea Waley Singer, describes Giordano Bruno and his life and work in the following paragraph...
"THE author of the work here translated was despised and miserable during almost the whole of his tempestuous life course. Unsuccessful in human relations, devoid of social tact or worldly wisdom, unpractical to an almost insane degree, he yet played a crucial part in the reshaping of European thought that began in the sixteenth and took form in the subsequent century. It was particularly in England that his thought developed, and perhaps it was through the Englishman, William Gilbert, that news of him reached his countryman Galileo." [Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought, by Dorothea Waley Singer.]
In 1592, Giordano Bruno had been caught by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. He was currently residing with a wealthy nobleman who had lured him to Venice. The nobleman demanded from Bruno that he tell him the secrets of long lasting memory. In several works, including Ars Memoriae (The Art of Memory) and De Umbris Idearum (The Shadow of Ideas), Bruno wrote methods and techniques of memorization. Bruno had told the wealthy nobleman that he would teach him in good time. Late that night when Bruno slept, the nobleman feared that Bruno would flee his homestead when he awoke, and by morning the nobleman had notified the Inquisition of Bruno's whereabouts. When Bruno woke up, he found himself in the death claws of priestly bigots. Later, had been taken to trial in front of several Inquisitors. Many of the witnesses they called stated that Bruno was secular, and that he never spoke of god or religion. Many of his acquaintances said that he was surely an Atheist. They Inquisitors asked him to explain his life to them. What proceeded was a several hour (some reports indicate two days) explanation of his life in full detail. When they Inquisitors asked him whether he was Catholic or not, he responded by attempting to convince him of his philosophy. He did not beat around the truth, nor did he lie, nor did he state that he would convert, but he attempted to reason with these men. But even Bruno should have known that priests were cruel and greedy, not compassionate or understanding. However, the logical, rational, and tender nature of his philosophy - an embrace of the love of life - was regarded by the priests as heretical and anticlerical. Bruno was thrown in prison and repeatedly tortured by these vindictive minions and beasts of Christ. Seven years would pass of this fate and Bruno would wallow in his prison cell. The year 1600 would come and in February they threatened to end his life unless he recanted. They gave him one week to convert or be executed. To this Bruno is famous for responding, "Perhaps it is you who delivers my sentence with more fear than I receive it." On February 20, they gave Bruno one last chance to recant. They pushed a cross in his face and asked him to kiss it, but he scorned at it. Bruno was then stripped of clothing, tied to a stake, and burned on the Field of Flowers in front of a sizable crowd. Robert Green Ingersoll has said the following of Bruno...
"He was a pantheist -- that is to say, an atheist. He was a lover of Nature, -- a reaction from the asceticism of the church. He was tired of the gloom of the monastery. He loved the fields, the woods, the streams. He said to his brother-priests: Come out of your cells, out of your dungeons: come into the air and light. Throw away your beads and your crosses. Gather flowers; mingle with your fellow- men; have wives and children; scatter the seeds of joy; throw away the thorns and nettles of your creeds; enjoy the, perpetual miracle of life.
"On the sixteenth [twentieth] day of February, in the year of grace 1600, by 'the triumphant beast,' the Church of Rome, this philosopher, this great and splendid man, was burned. He was offered his liberty if he would recant. There was no God to be offended by his recantation, and yet, as an apostle of what he believed to be the truth, he refused this offer. To those who passed the sentence upon him he said: 'It is with greater fear that ye pass this sentence upon me than I receive it.' This man, greater than any naturalist of his day; grander than the martyr of any religion, died willingly in defence of what he believed to be the sacred truth. He was great enough to know that real religion will not destroy the joy of life on earth; great enough to know that investigation is not a crime -- that the really useful is not hidden in the mysteries of faith. He knew that the Jewish records were below the level of the Greek and Roman myths; that there is no such thing as special providence; that prayer is useless; that liberty and necessity are the same, and that good and evil are but relative. He was the first real martyr, -- neither frightened by perdition, nor bribed by heaven. He was the first of all the world who died for truth without expectation of reward. He did not anticipate a crown of glory. His imagination had not peopled the heavens with angels waiting for his soul. He had not been promised an eternity of joy if he stood firm, nor had he been threatened with the fires of hell if he wavered and recanted. He expected as his reward an eternal nothing! Death was to him an everlasting end -- nothing beyond but a sleep without a dream, a night without a star, without a dawn -- nothing but extinction, blank, utter, and eternal. No crown, no palm, no 'well done, good and faithful servant,' no shout of welcome, no song of praise, no smile of God, no kiss of Christ, no mansion in the fair skies -- not even a grave within the earth -- nothing but ashes, wind-blown and priest-scattered, mixed with earth and trampled beneath the feet of men and beasts.
"The murder of this man will never be completely and perfectly avenged until from Rome shall be swept every vestige of priest and pope, until over the shapeless ruin of St. Peter's, the crumbled Vatican and the fallen cross, shall rise a monument to Bruno, -- the thinker, philosopher, philanthropist, atheist, martyr. [The Great Infidels, by Ingersoll, 1881.]
"And yet the Italian agent of God, the infallible Leo XIII., only a few years ago, denounced Bruno, the 'bravest of the brave,' as a coward. The church murdered him, and the pope maligned his memory. Fagot [embers used to burn individuals] and falsehood -- two weapons of the church." [Myth and Miracle, by Ingersoll, 1885.]
George Foote was the author of Infidel Death-Beds. In this work, the author writes about the deaths of most notable infidels. He recorded the death of Bruno...
"THIS glorious martyr of Freethought did not die in a quiet chamber, tended by loving hands. He was literally 'butchered to make a Roman holiday.' When the assassins of 'the bloody faith' kindled the fire which burnt out his splendid life, he was no decrepit man, nor had the finger of Death touched his cheek with a pallid hue. The blood coursed actively through his veins, and a dauntless spirit shone in his noble eyes.
"The Venetian Council transferred him to Rome, where be languished for seven years in a pestiferous dungeon, and was repeatedly tortured, according to the hellish code of the Inquisition. At length, on February 10th, 1600, he was led out to the Church of Santa Maria, and sentenced to be burnt alive, or, as the Holy Church hypocritically phrased it, to be punished 'as mercifully as possible, and without effusion of blood' Haughtily raising his bead, he exclaimed: 'You are more afraid to pronounce my sentence than I to receive it.' He was allowed a week's grace for recantation, but without avail; and on the 17th [20th] of February, 1600, he was burnt to death on the Field of Flowers. To the last he was brave and defiant; he contemptuously pushed aside the crucifix they presented him to kiss; and, as one of his enemies said, he died without a plaint or a groan.
"Such heroism stirs the blood more than the sound of a trumpet. Bruno stood at the stake in solitary and awful grandeur. There was not a friendly face in the vast crowd around him. It was one man against the world. Surely the knight of Liberty, the champion of Freethought, who lived such a life and died such a death, without hope of reward on earth or in heaven, sustained only by his indomitable manhood, is worthy to be accounted the supreme martyr of all time. He towers above the less disinterested martyrs of Faith like a colossus; the proudest of them might walk under him without bending." [Infidel Death-beds, by GW Foote and AD McLaren]
In an anonymously composed writing, an author writes the conversations that take place between dead Atheists and Christ. In it, he writes of Bruno's conversation...
"'What is your name?'
"'Were you a Christian?'
"At one time I was, but for many years I was a philosopher, a seeker after truth.
"'Did you seek to convert your fellow-men?'
"Not to Christianity, but to the religion of reason. I tried to develop their minds, to free them from the slavery of ignorance and superstition. In my day the church taught the holiness of credulity- the virtue of unquestioning obedience, and in your name tortured and destroyed the intelligent and courageous. I did what I could to civilize the world, to make men tolerant and merciful, to soften the hearts of priests, and banish torture from the world. I expressed my honest thoughts and walked in the light of reason.
"'Did you believe the Bible, the miracles? Did you believe that I was God, that I was born of a virgin and that I suffered myself to be killed by the Jews to appease the wrath of God- that is, of myself- so that God could save the souls of a few?'
"No I did not. I did not believe that God was ever born into my world, or that God learned the trade of a carpenter, or that he 'increased in knowledge,' or that he cast devils out of men, or that his garments could cure diseases, or that he allowed himself to be murdered, and in the hour of death 'forsook' himself. These things I did not and could not believe. But I did all the good I could. I enlightened the ignorant, comforted the afflicted, defended the innocent, divided even my property with the poor, and did the best I could to increase the happiness of my fellow-men. I was a soldier in the army of progress.- I was arrested, imprisoned, tried, and convicted by the church- by the 'Triumphant Beast.' I was burned at the stake by ignorant and heartless priests and my ashes given to the winds.
"Then Christ, his face growing dark, his brows contracted with wrath, with uplifted hands, with half averted face, cries or rather shrieks: 'Depart from ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devils and his angels.'" [Resource: Found at www.infidels.org]
From studying the life of this ardent thinker and brave champion, it would be difficult for any one individual to find the right words to sum up his life and philosophy. He had utilized reason and logic and incorporated such concepts into his work. While he used reason, priests used faith. While he debated his philosophy, priests gathered wood that they may consign him to the flames. He had only asked everyone to learn to love, to treat each other well, and to live prosperous and warm lives. His philosophy was compassion, his science was logic, and his courage was insurmountable. There has never been another Freethinker so defiant of wrongs and so bold as Bruno. In a time of barbaric rituals and greedy church officials, he rose above the rest and spoke out against these cruel wrongs. Even when in the dire clutches of the Triumphant Beast, he refused to succumb their vile will. For this end of compassion, he sacrificed his life.