Religion According to Giordano Bruno
Isis Unveiled, Volume 1, pp.93-98
The Eternal is the Spirit of Fire, which stirs up and fructifies and develops into a concrete form everything that is born of water or the primordial earth, evolved out of Brahma; but the universe is itself Brahma, and he is the universe. This is the philosophy of Spinoza, which he derived from that of Pythagoras; and it is the same for which Bruno died a martyr. How much Christian theology has gone astray from its point of departure, is demonstrated in this historical fact. Bruno was slaughtered for the exegesis of a symbol that was adopted by the earliest Christians, and expounded by the apostles! The sprig of water-lilies of Bhodisat, and later of Gabriel, typifying fire and water, or the idea of creation and generation, is worked into the earliest dogma of the baptismal sacrament.
Bruno’s and Spinoza’s doctrines are nearly identical, though the words of the latter are more veiled, and far more cautiously chosen than those to be found in the theories of the author of the Causa Principio et Uno, or the Infinito Universo e Mondi. Both Bruno, who confesses that the source of his information was Pythagoras, and Spinoza, who, without acknowledging it as frankly, allows his philosophy to betray the secret, view the First Cause from the same stand-point. With them, God is an Entity totally per se, an Infinite Spirit, and the only Being utterly free and independent of either effects or other causes; who, through that same Will which produced all things and gave the first impulse to every cosmic law, perpetually keeps in existence and order everything in the universe. As well as the Hindu Swâbhâvikas, erroneously called Atheists, who assume that all things, men as well as gods and spirits, were born from Swabhâva, or their own nature,1 both Spinoza and Bruno were led to the conclusion that God is to be sought for within nature and not without. For, creation being proportional to the power of the Creator, the universe as well as its Creator must be infinite and eternal, one form emanating from its own essence, and creating in its turn another. The modern commentators affirm that Bruno, “unsustained by the hope of another and better world, still surrendered his life rather than his convictions”; thereby allowing it to be inferred that Giordano Bruno had no belief in the continued existence of man after death. Professor Draper asserts most positively that Bruno did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Speaking of the countless victims of the religious intolerance of the Popish Church, he remarks: “The passage from this life to the next, though through a hard trial, was the passage from a transient trouble to eternal happiness. . . . On his way through the dark valley, the martyr believed that there was an invisible hand that would lead him. . . . For Bruno there was no such support. The philosophical opinions, for the sake of which he surrendered his life, could give him no consolation.”2
But Professor Draper seems to have a very superficial knowledge of the true belief of the philosophers. We can leave Spinoza out of the question, and even allow him to remain in the eyes of his critics an utter atheist and materialist; for the cautious reserve which he placed upon himself in his writings makes it extremely difficult for one who does not read him between the lines, and is not thoroughly acquainted with the hidden meaning of the Pythagorean metaphysics, to ascertain what his real sentiments were. But as for Giordano Bruno, if he adhered to the doctrines of Pythagoras he must have believed in another life, hence, he could not have been an atheist whose philosophy offered him no such “consolation.” His accusation and subsequent confession, as given by Professor Domenico Berti, in his Life of Bruno, and compiled from original documents recently published, proved beyond doubt what were his real philosophy, creed and doctrines. In common with the Alexandrian Platonists, and the later Kabalists, he held that Jesus was a magician in the sense given to this appellation by Porphyry and Cicero, who call it the divina sapientia (divine knowledge), and by Philo Judæs, who described the Magi as the most wonderful inquirers into the hidden mysteries of nature, not in the degrading sense given to the word magic in our century. In his noble conception, the Magi were holy men, who, setting themselves apart from everything else on this earth, contemplated the divine virtues and understood the divine nature of the gods and spirits, the more clearly; and so, initiated others into the same mysteries, which consist in one holding an uninterrupted intercourse with these invisible beings during life. But we will show Bruno’s inmost philosophical convictions better by quoting fragments from the accusation and his own confession.
The charges in the denunciation of Mocenigo, his accuser, are expressed in the following terms:
“I, Zuane Mocenigo, son of the most illustrious Ser Marcantonio, denounce to your very reverend fathership, by constraint of my conscience and by order of my confessor, that I have heard say by Giordano Bruno, several times when he discoursed with me in my house, that it is great blasphemy in Catholics to say that the bread transubstantiates itself into flesh; that he is opposed to the Mass; that no religion pleases him; that Christ was a wretch (un tristo), and that if he did wicked works to seduce the people he might well predict that He ought to be impaled; that there is no distinction of persons in God, and that it would be imperfection in God; that the world is eternal, and that there are infinite worlds, and that God makes them continually, because, he says, He desires all He can; that Christ did apparent miracles and was a magician, and so were the apostles, and that he had a mind to do as much and more than they did; that Christ showed an unwillingness to die, and shunned death all He could; that there is no punishment of sin, and that souls created by the operation of nature pass from one animal to another, and that as the brute animals are born of corruption, so also are men when after dissolution they come to be born again.”
Perfidious as they are, the above words plainly indicate the belief of Bruno in the Pythagorean metempsychosis, which, misunderstood as it is, still shows a belief in the survival of man in one shape or another. Further, the accuser says:
“He has shown indications of wishing to make himself the author of a new sect, under the name of ‘New Philosophy.‘ He has said that the Virgin could not have brought forth, and that our Catholic faith is all full of blasphemies against the majesty of God; that the monks ought to be deprived of the right of disputation and their revenues, because they pollute the world; that they are all asses, and that our opinions are doctrines of asses; that we have no proof that our faith has merit with God, and that not to do to others what we would not have done to ourselves suffices for a good life, and that he laughs at all other sins, and wonders how God can endure so many heresies in Catholics. He says that he means to apply himself to the art of divination, and make all the world run after him; that St. Thomas and all the Doctors knew nothing to compare with him, and that he could ask questions of all the first theologians of the world that they could not answer.”
To this, the accused philosopher answered by the following profession of faith, which is that of every disciple of the ancient masters:
“I hold, in brief, to an infinite universe, that is, an effect of infinite divine power, because I esteemed it a thing unworthy of divine goodness and power, that being able to produce besides this world another and infinite others, it should produce a finite world. Thus I have declared that there are infinite particular worlds similar to this of the earth, which, with Pythagoras, I understand to be a star similar in nature with the moon, the other planets, and the other stars, which are infinite; and that all those bodies are worlds, and without number, which thus constitute the infinite universality in an infinite space, and this is called the infinite universe, in which are innumerable worlds, so that there is a double kind of infinite greatness in the universe, and of a multitude of worlds. Indirectly, this may be understood to be repugnant to the truth according to the true faith.
“Moreover, I place in this universe a universal Providence, by virtue of which everything lives, vegetates and moves, and stands in its perfection, and I understand it in two ways; one, in the mode in which the whole soul is present in the whole and every part of the body, and this I call nature, the shadow and footprint of divinity; the other, the ineffable mode in which God, by essence, presence, and power, is in all and above all, not as part, not as soul, but in mode inexplicable.
“Moreover, I understand all the attributes in divinity to be one and the same thing. Together with the theologians and great philosophers, I apprehend three attributes, power, wisdom, and goodness, or, rather, mind, intellect, love, with which things have first, being, through the mind; next, ordered and distinct being, through the intellect; and third, concord and symmetry, through love. Thus I understand being in all and over all, as there is nothing without participation in being, and there is no being without essence, just as nothing is beautiful without beauty being present; thus nothing can be free from the divine presence, and thus by way of reason, and not by way of substantial truth, do I understand distinction in divinity.
“Assuming then the world caused and produced, I understand that, according to all its being, it is dependent upon the first cause, so that it did not reject the name of creation, which I understand that Aristotle also has expressed, saying, ‘God is that upon whom the world and all nature depends,’ so that according to the explanation of St. Thomas, whether it be eternal or in time, it is, according to all its being, dependent on the first cause, and nothing in it is independent.
“Next, in regard to what belongs to the true faith, not speaking philosophically, to come to individuality about the divine persons, the wisdom and the son of the mind, called by philosophers intellect, and by theologians the word, which ought to be believed to have taken on human flesh. But I, abiding in the phrases of philosophy, have not understood it, but have doubted and held it with inconstant faith, not that I remember to have shown marks of it in writing nor in speech, except indirectly from other things, something of it may be gathered as by way of ingenuity and profession in regard to what may be proved by reason and concluded from natural light. Thus, in regard to the Holy Spirit in a third person, I have not been able to comprehend, as ought to be believed, but, according to the Pythagoric manner, in conformity to the manner shown by Solomon, I have understood it as the soul of the universe, or adjoined to the universe according to the saying of the wisdom of Solomon: ‘The spirit of God filled all the earth, and that which contains all things,’ all which conforms equally to the Pythagoric doctrine explained by Virgil in the text of the Æneid:
Principio coelum ac terras camposque liquentes,
Lucentemque globum Lunæ, Titaniaque astra
Spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus
Mens agitat molem;
and the lines following.
“From this spirit, then, which is called the life of the universe, I understand, in my philosophy, proceeds life and soul to everything which has life and soul, which, moreover, I understand to be immortal, as also to bodies, which, as to their substance, are all immortal, there being no other death than division and congregation, which doctrine seems expressed in Ecclesiastes, where it is said that ‘there is nothing new under the sun; that which is is that which was.'”
Furthermore, Bruno confesses his inability to comprehend the doctrine of three persons in the godhead, and his doubts of the incarnation of God in Jesus, but firmly pronounces his belief in the miracles of Christ. How could he, being a Pythagorean philosopher, discredit them? If, under the merciless constraint of the Inquisition, he, like Galileo, subsequently recanted, and threw himself upon the clemency of his ecclesiastical persecutors, we must remember that he spoke like a man standing between the rack and the fagot, and human nature cannot always be heroic when the corporeal frame is debilitated by torture and imprisonment.
But for the opportune appearance of Berti’s authoritative work, we would have continued to revere Bruno as a martyr, whose bust was deservedly set high in the Pantheon of Exact Science, crowned with laurel by the hand of Draper. But now we see that their hero of an hour is neither atheist, materialist, nor positivist, but simply a Pythagorean who taught the philosophy of Upper Asia, and claimed to possess the powers of the magicians, so despised by Draper’s own school! Nothing more amusing than this contretemps has happened since the supposed statue of St. Peter was discovered by irreverent archæologists to be nothing else than the Jupiter of the Capitol, and Buddha’s identity with the Catholic St. Josaphat was satisfactorily proven.
Thus, search where we may through the archives of history, we find that there is no fragment of modern philosophy—whether Newtonian, Cartesian, Huxleyian or any other—but has been dug from the Oriental mines. Even Positivism and Nihilism find their prototype in the exoteric portion of Kapila’s philosophy, as is well remarked by Max Müller. It was the inspiration of the Hindu sages that penetrated the mysteries of Pragnâ Pâramitâ (perfect wisdom); their hands that rocked the cradle of the first ancestor of that feeble but noisy child that we have christened MODERN SCIENCE.
1. Brahma does not create the earth, Mirtlok, any more than the rest of the universe. Having evolved himself from the soul of the world, once separated from the First Cause, he emanates in his turn all nature out of himself. He does not stand above it, but is mixed up with it; and Brahma and the universe form one Being, each particle of which is in its essence Brahma himself, who proceeded out of himself. [Burnouf: “Introduction,” p. 118.]
2. “Conflict between Religion and Science,” 180.