Monday, May 30, 2005

Giordano Bruno ( 1548 – 1600 )

A Roman Catholic scholar, an astronomer, and philosopher – for suggesting that there exists an infinity of worlds and that many are inhabited – and for reading forbidden books, Bruno was charged with heresy, and even unjustly accused of murder. An ordained priest – he abandoned the Dominican Order in 1578 - challenged papal authority. Bruno was hunted down from land to land, until he turned on his pursuers with fearful invectives - for this he was entrapped at Venice - imprisoned for 6 years in the dungeon of the Inquisition at Rome - then burned alive, his ashes scattered to the winds. For always talking and talking about his ideas and beliefs, Bruno was gagged to prevent him from speaking while being burned alive at the stake. Those personally responsible for Bruno’s death were Pope Clement VIII and his personal theologian Cardinal Robert Bellarmine who was canonized a saint.
Here’s the way biographer Michael White described Bruno’s death in his book: - THE POPE AND THE HERETIC:
On the morning of his execution Giordano Bruno was visited by members of the Brotherhood of Pity of St. John the Beheaded, a group who ministered to any heretic they could in an effort to do what the Inquisition had failed to do: lead the meekly back to the one true faith. From the records of the Brotherhood we learn that, “At the second hour of the night, information came that justice would be done on an impenitent friar in the morning. Hence, at the sixth hour of the night, the Comforters and the chaplain assembled at St. Ursula and went on to the prison in the Tower of Nona, entered the chapel, and offered up the winter prayers. To them was consigned the man, Giordano Bruno, son of Gioan Bruno, an apostate friar of Nola in the kingdom, an impenitent. He was exhorted by our brothers in all love, and two Fathers of the Order of St. Dominic, two of the Order of Jesus, two of the new church and one of St. Jerome were called in. These with all loving zeal and much learning, showed him his error, yet he stood firm throughout and to the end in his accursed obstinacy, setting his brain and mind to a thousand errors and vain-gloryings.
What must Bruno have thought during those final hours? Did he despair, finally? Did he reach the conclusion that he has been wrong all along? Or did he feel vindicated, confident that his thoughts would survive the flames? Did he perhaps wonder if, far away on the alien worlds he imagined, other creatures burned their dreamers too?
At 5.30 a.m. on 19 February, a Thursday and a feast day in Rome, Bruno was led in chains from San. Ursula. He was dressed in a white, ankle-length robe illuminated with the cross of St. Andrew and dotted with painted devils holding their long, barbed tails against a backdrop of crudely daubed crimson flames. The route was crowded with the virtuous and the curious. Much has been made of this burning. A primitive form of newsletter, avvisi e ricordi, had even been printed to inform people of the occasion: “An entertaining judicial burning was expected,” it declared. According to this tabloid of the day, “Bruno has declared he will die a willing martyr and that his soul will rise with the smoke to paradise.” Copies of the newsletter had been passed throughout the excited crowd and trampled upon along the wet road. As the parade moved on Bruno became animated and excited. He reacted to the mocking crowds, responding to their yells with quotes from his books and the sayings of the ancients. His comforters, the Brotherhood of St. John, tried to quiet the exchange, to protect Bruno from yet further pain and indignity, but he ignored them. And so, after a few minutes the procession was halted by the Servants of Justice. A gaoler was brought forward and another two held Bruno’s head rigid. A long metal spike was thrust through Bruno’s left cheek pinning his tongue and emerging through the right cheek. Then another spike was rammed vertically through his lips. Together, the spikes formed a cross. Great sprays of blood erupted onto his gown and splashed the faces of the Brotherhood close by. Bruno spoke no more.
A few minutes later the procession arrived at the site of the execution, campo di fiori, the Field of Flowers where, in one corner, opposite the theatre of Pompeii, the stake had been prepared. The guards led Bruno to the thick wooden post, shoved him up against it and wrapped a thick rope around him, across his shoulders, his chest, his waist and his legs. The faggots ( about which Bruno has once joked ) were piled up to the condemned man’s chin and the torch placed between his feet. The flames caught quickly in the light morning breeze. It has been claimed that many victims of the stake were saved a slow death by arranging a payment to the executioner who would surreptitiously snap their necks as they were tied to the post. We know this did not happened to Bruno for as the fire began to grip, the Brothers of the Pity of St. John the Beheaded tried one last time to save the man’s soul. Risking the flames, one of them leaned into the fire with a crucifix, but Bruno merely turned his head away. Seconds later, the fire caught his robe and seared his body, and above the hissing and crackling of the flames could be heard the man’s muffled agony. After the fire had subsided, what remained of Bruno’s body was smashed to powder with hammers and the ashes were cast to the wind so that no one could save anything of the heretic as a relic. As far as the Inquisition was concerned, they had obliterated Bruno, destroyed his body, banished his memory, his ideas, his writings, his very thought, and he had been consigned to Hell.
The Pope saw nothing that Bruno wrote in prison and the two men never met in private as Bruno had hoped. As Giordano burned that festive Thursday, 19 February 1600, the crowd cheered and waved their banners, children ran as close to the flames as they dared and frightened mothers pulled them back. And when the spectacle was over and the world cleansed of another heretic, Bruno’s ashes settled on ledges and in nearby fields. There the rain carried into the soil molecules that has once composed parts of his body. Over time, the molecules were broken open, their atoms absorbed by plants. The plants were eaten by animals and some found their way to the tables of Rome and beyond. Other elements of Bruno fell into water and were recycled to splash upon the faces of bathers and into drinking goblets. And so, perhaps, on an atomic level at least, the Pope himself was conjoined with the heretic after all.” As Bruno would have it: the universe is infinite, and as one. We are all each other. Everything is everything else.” Poch Suzara

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