Giordano Bruno (1998)
by John Patrick Michael Murphy
Pope John Paul is compiling a list of harms his church has caused. He is going to apologize next year and freethinkers are anxious to see if he will remember Bruno. Most folks have never heard of Giordano Bruno, who was burned to death in the Square of the Flowers, in down-town Rome, on February 16, 1600, for the crime of thinking. In 1889, when freethinkers and rational religionists erected a statue of him, in the same flowered square where he was murdered by the Catholic Church, they were condemned by Pope Leo XIII. In 1942, Cardinal Mercati claimed the church was right because Bruno deserved it. Since then the Vatican has been silent on the matter.
The Church of Rome mated with the emperors of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries. Church and state became united, and together they set about killing off all other "pagan" superstitions, together with various Christian sects, such as the Gnostics, who sought knowledge rather than faith. Books were burned by the millions, so that, by the 7th century, in all of Christendom, no library existed with over 600 volumes and most of these dealt with the made up lives of pious and useless saints. But knowledge seeped back into Europe, thanks to the Moors with their love of learning, and the Irish monks who would copy any book they could get their hands on, whether the pope liked it or not.
By the 9th century the popes knew the Bible was in error - the world was not flat, as the Bible claimed, but refused to admit it. They knew the Greeks were right - the earth was spherical just like Aristarchus of Samos said in the 2nd century BCE (Before the Common Era). Those who knew kept it quiet until 1453, when Copernicus noised it about before the Vatican could muzzle him. This cheeky Polish astronomer also claimed the earth revolved the sun just as Aristarchus did 1600 years earlier. Copernicus died his way out of trouble just before the Church could grab him. Protestant leaders, like Martin Luther, joined the Catholic Church in condemning the man who tried to move the earth around the sun. The earth remained flat and unmoving for another century. Then a Dominican monk named Giordano Bruno, removed his priestly vestments and became a philosopher to share his knowledge with Europe.
This genius savant claimed that Copernicus was correct - the earth revolved the sun, but went light years beyond the Polish astronomer. Our sun was just a close-by star, he claimed, and the millions of stars have planets about them just as ours does. He claimed this universe of stars was limitless. We are now finding planeted stars as a matter of course. Robert Ingersoll said, "He knew the Jewish records were below the level of the Greek and Roman myth; 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." Bruno did not believe in life after death - perhaps that's why he did so much while he lived.
For these claims, and for the crime of advancing the notion that priests had no right to use violence in attempting to convert disbelievers, Bruno was charged by his former church. The Catholic Church locked him up for 7 years in prisons of the Office of the Inquisition, in Venice, and Rome. His Starr-like prosecutor scoured Europe for his writings. He was offered freedom, if he would recant. He scoffed at the very idea, and told the bishops and priests who condemned him to death, "Perchance your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it." Decades later, Galileo would accept the same offer.
The church destroyed so much knowledge that it took Western civilization almost 1700 years to arrive where the pagan Greeks were, in 300 BCE. Why do we know of Copernicus and Galileo who mistakenly left the sun the center of the universe, but not Bruno, who saw the infinite? Those who control the present control the past. That's why.
Freethinkers will keep his memory fresh whether the pope apologizes or not. We know Robert Ingersoll was right when he said: "Posterity is for the philosopher what the other world is to the devotee."
"Giodano Bruno" is copyright © 1999 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
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