A Martyr Theosophist1
Lucifer, October, 1888
“My name is Giordano, of the family of Bruno, of the city of Nola, twelve miles from Naples. There I was born and brought up. My profession has been and is that of letters, and of all the sciences. My father’s name was Giovanni, and my mother was Francesca Savolini; my father was a soldier. He is dead, and my mother also. I am forty-four years old, having been born in 1548,”
were his words before the tribunal of the Inquisition in Venice in 1592, on entering those dungeons which he only left for the torture-chamber and the stake.
In Nola, where Bruno passed the early years of his life, still lingered the atmosphere of the old occult school of Pythagoras. And the mantle of the Samian fell upon Giordano Bruno. His early years were passed in a time of social and political disorganization; all Italy was in disorder. The Inquisition stood grimly firm, ready to play its part, through all turmoils and devastations. In order to gain opportunities for study, Bruno entered the Dominican convent in Naples when he was fifteen years old. But under the friar’s robe beat the heart of the indomitable enthusiast and philosopher.
In Naples he remained till his twenty-eighth year; until his daring and unfettered spirit rousing the fear and hostility of the monks, he was compelled to flee to Rome and thence to Genoa, narrowly escaping the warrant for his arrest.
For some time Bruno earned his bread by teaching the children in the little town of Nola, but after five months he was again obliged to flee, taking refuge first at Turin and afterwards at Venice. There he composed several works, but these, and everything else he wrote in Italy, were destroyed by the murderous Inquisition. Italy was no longer safe, and Bruno took refuge in Geneva amongst the adherents of the new Reformed Church. Their intolerance, however, was only second to that of Rome; he crossed over into France, and for some time lectured in Paris as Doctor of Philosophy. On the conversion of Henri III., Bruno crossed to England, where he met many of the Elizabethan worthies; Sir Philip Sydney, to whom he dedicated “Gli Eroici Furori,” Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke and, perhaps, also, Shakespeare. In 1585 Bruno returned to Paris, and then passed through Germany and Austria, resting finally at Frankfort. While there the treacherous scheme which led up to his martyrdom was being devised at Venice. Gregory XIV. was then Pope. Mocenigo, the infamous tool of the more infamous Inquisition, was the Judas who betrayed him with a kiss. Inviting Bruno to Venice, he treated him with every mark of esteem, while secretly plotting his betrayal and murder. One morning Mocenigo threw aside the veil, and Bruno was cast into the dungeon of the Inquisition. Before the Inquisitors the full nobility and grandeur of his character came out. Instead of weakly pleading for pardon, he boldly, and yet calmly, faced his torturers in their tribunal.
“Being interrogated, he gave details of his life, and expositions of his philosophy. He spoke of the universe, of the infinite worlds in infinite space, of the divinity in all things, of the unity of all things, the dependence and inter-dependence of all things, and of the existence of God in all.”
He was carried to Rome, and there he passed eight years in dungeons and torture-chambers. On the 17th February, in the year 1600, the fiendish engine of the Inquisition finally struck its victim. Hearing his sentence of death, Bruno said:
“You, O Judges! feel perchance, more terror in pronouncing this judgment, than I do in hearing it.”
Rome was full of pilgrims from all parts, come to celebrate the jubilee of Pope Clement VIII. Bruno was hardly fifty years old at this time; his face was thin and pale, with dark, fiery eyes; the forehead luminous with thought, his body frail, and bearing the signs of torture; his hands in chains, his feet bare, he walked with slow steps in the early morning towards the funeral pile. Brightly shone the sun, and the flames leaped upwards and mingled with his ardent rays; Bruno stood in the midst with his arms crossed, his head raised and his eyes open. When all was consumed, a monk took a handful of the ashes and scattered them in the wind. A month later, the Bishop of Sidonia presented himself at the treasury of the Pope and demanded two scudi in payment for having degraded Fra Giordano the heretic!
Not less remarkable than the purity and heroism of his life, were the grandeur and nobleness of his philosophy.
“He taught that everything in Nature has a soul, one universal mind penetrates and moves all things; the world itself is a sacrum animal. Nothing is lost, but all transmutes and becomes.”
“The primal idea of Pythagoras, which Bruno worked out to a more distinct development, is this: numbers are the beginnings of things; numbers are the cause of the existence of material things;2 they are not final, but are always changing position and attributes; they are variable and relative. Beyond and above this mutability, there must be the Immutable, the All, the One.
“The Infinite must be one, as one is the absolute number; in the original One is contained all numbers; in the One is contained all the elements of the Universe.
“One is the perfect number; it is the primitive monad. As from the One proceeds the infinite series of numbers which again withdraw and are resolved into the One; so from Substance, which is one, proceed the myriads of worlds; from the worlds proceed myriads of living creatures; and from the union of one with the diverse is generated the Universe. Hence the progression from ascent to descent, from spirit to that which we call matter; from the cause to the origin, and the process of metaphysics, which, from the finite world of sense rises to the intelligent, passing through the intermediate numbers of infinite substance to active being and cosmic reason.
“From the absolute One, the sum of the sensible and intellectual world, millions of stars and suns are produced and developed. Each sun is the centre of as many worlds which are distributed in as many distinct series, in an infinite number of concentric centres and systems. Each system is attracted, repelled, and moved by an infinite eternal passion, or attraction; each turns round its own centre, and moves in a spiral towards the centre of the whole, towards which centre they all tend with infinite passional ardour. For in this centre resides the sun of suns, the unity of unities, the temple, the altar of the universe, the sacred fire of Vesta, the vital principle of the Universe.
“That which occurs in the world of stars is reflected in the telluric world; everything has its centre, towards which it is attracted with fervour. All is thought, passion, and aspiration.
“From this unity which governs variety, from this movement of every world around its sun, of every sun around its centre sun—the sun of suns—which informs all with the rays of the spirit, with the light of thought—is generated the perfect harmony of colours, sounds and forms. That which in the heavens is harmony becomes, in the individual, morality, and in companies of human beings, law. That which is light in the spheres becomes intelligence and science in the world of spirit and of humanity.
“Through the revolution of the worlds through space around their suns, from their order, their constancy and their measure, the mind comprehends the progress and conditions of men, and their duties towards each other, the Bible, the sacred book of man, is in the heavens; there does man find written the word of God.
“Human souls are lights, distinct from the universal soul, which is diffused over all, and penetrates everything. A purifying process guides them from one existence to another, from one form to another, from one world to another. The life of man is more than an experience or trial; it is an effort, a struggle to reproduce and represent upon earth some of that goodness, beauty, and truth, which are diffused over the universe and constitute its harmony. Long, slow, and full of opposition is this educational process of the soul. Through struggle is man educated, fortified, and raised.
“Through the midst of cataclysms and revolutions humanity has one guiding star, a beacon which shows its light above the storms and tempests, a mystical thread running through the labyrinth of history—the religion of philosophy and of thought. The vulgar creeds would not and have not dared to reveal the Truth in its purity and essence. They covered it with veils and allegories, with myths and mysteries, which they called sacred; they enshrouded thought with a double veil, and called it Revelation. Humanity, deceived by a seductive form, adored the veil, but did not lift itself up to the idea behind it; it saw the shadow, not the light.
“Speaking of the Immortality of the Soul, Bruno maintained that nothing in the universe is lost, everything changes and is transformed; the soul transmigrates, and drawing round itself atom to atom, it reconstructs for itself a new body. The spirit that moves all things is one; everything differentiates according to the different forms and bodies in which it operates.
“In place of the so-called Christian perfections (resignation, devotion, and ignorance), Bruno put intelligence and the progress of the intellect in the world of physics, metaphysics, and morals; the true aim being illumination, the true morality the practice of justice, the true redemption the liberation of the soul from error, its elevation and union with God upon the wings of thought.”
This idea is fully developed in “Gli Eroici Furori,” to which, in the present translation, we refer our readers.
In the works of this noble philosopher and hero we find all that is vital in the Secret Doctrine of the ages; and more, we find a divine harmony with the one truth, for ever eternal in the heavens. When Bruno’s courage, and dauntless bravery in the face of danger, torture, and death, are more clearly reflected in the present generation of mystical thinkers, when they are more ready to emulate his earnestness, sincerity, and unflinching resolution, then we shall have less hesitation than at present in calling this martyr-hero a “Theosophist.”
1. “The Heroic Enthusiasts” (Gli Eroici Furori), of Giordano Bruno, translated by L. Williams. (George Redway, London, 1887.)
2. Vide “Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan,” in the “Secret Doctrine.”