The process of Giordano Bruno



Celestino of Verona deposed against Giordano, because he suspected he had been falsely reported by Giordano and made all the charges against him in a written text. (Dixit se deponere contra Iordanum, quia suspicatur se calumniose delatum fuisse ab ipso, et detulit omnia contra Iordanum in scriptis). ( Detulit dixisse:) He declared that Giordano had said:


That Christ sinned mortally during his prayer in the garden, by challenging the will of the Father, while he said "Father, put this chalice away from me."

 That Jesus was not put on the cross, but was hung on two boards placed at right angles, as they used to do at those times and it was named gallows.

That Christ was a dog, a bloody dog: he said that the one who ruled this world was a traitor, because he did not know how to govern well and raising his hands he gave the sky the finger.

There is no hell and no one is condemned to eternal punishment, but eventually everyone gets saved according to the prophet: Nunquid in aeternum irascetur Deus ("God's wrath does not last forever").

 There are more worlds; all the stars are worlds and to believe that it only exists this world  indicates great ignorance.

That, dead bodies, souls transmigrate from one body to another.

That Moses was a very clever magician... and pretended he had spoken with God on Mount Sinai and that the law he gave the Hebrew people was false.

That all prophets were cunning men, false and liars...

That to appeal to the saints is ridiculous and it should not to be done.

That Cain was a good man and that he rightly killed his brother Abel, who was a butcher of animals.

That if he is forced to return to be a brother of Saint Dominic, he will blow up the monastery where he is and, this done, he wants to return immediately to Germany or England among heretics to live more comfortably in his own way...

That the one who has made the breviary, or has ordered it, is a stupid dog, shameless...

That of the Church believes nothing can be proved.


The allegations are very serious, because Brother Celestino also appeals to other three detained by the Venetian Inquisition to confirm them. The new set of accusations, mostly new compared to those Mocenigo, had the effect of restarting the process, just at the moment when, after his strong and theatrically effective gesture of contrition of Venice, Bruno's hopes of a relatively painless solution were stronger. All his previous strategy and the advantages gained were canceled suddenly.


But the most serious thing is this : it collapses the pillar of the defense of Bruno, who until then had consisted in the fact that there was only a single witness: Mocenigo. The position becomes desperate when the three witnesses, called by Friar Celestino, confirm, at least in part, the charges: Fray Giulio da Salò, the Neapolitan carpenter Francesco Vaia and Mateo Silvestris. Vaia involves another potential witness, Francesco Graziano, whom the inquisitors heard in the last months of 1593. We are facing one of those typical chains of evidence and successive implications the courts of the Inquisition were so clever to assemble in their long and patient inquiries. [85]


Some of the accusations are serious. The position becomes desperate. The Court questioned Bruno for eight sessions. Giordano vehemently rejects the allegations more offensive and irreverent; others, that were said in jest, and others, without sacrilegious or blasphemous intent.


But Bruno is sinking, he feels besieged from all fronts, judges, witnesses; his situation is more than desperate. He knows that two witness's concurrent prosecutions produce an unobjectionable accusation, even if the defendant denies. He must submit his final written defense and argue against what emerges from the repetitive stage of the process.


Bruno's theory of the infinity of the universe and the affirmation of the eternity of the world contradicts the creation of the world by God, according to the Scriptures, and the theory of double truth of Averroes had already been condemned by the Church in the thirteenth century.


Bruno in the interrogations could admit the expiry of the world as composed and added of certain structures, which does not mean to admit the expiration of the constituent matter, for although the worlds are born and die, there is an immutable cosmic substance. However, this argument failed to convince the Court, according to Eduardo Vinetea.


Mocenigo attacks again in 1594. He was reported to mock of the Sovereign Pontiff, as in Circeus Cantus the pig figure represents the Pope, and the triumphant beast symbolizes Sixtus V, but dethroned. Bruno does not have other choice, adamantly refuses that all.


At the end of 1594, finishing the regular procedure, it would only be sentencing. But the commissioner draws the Court's attention, he informs that the books in the hands of the Holy Office are few and that most of them are not known by the censors and they need to get them. This turn in the trial will be deadly for Bruno.


The sovereign pontiff in person requests a list of the missing books and to pass them into the hands of the Court. When they got a list of new documents (De predicamenti Dio, Cantus Circaeus, De mínimo, De Monade, De la causa), the sentence is suspended, waiting for the new books and the teaching stated on them, which takes place between 1595-1597. The Dominican Paolo Isaresi della Mirandola, a consultant to the Holy Office, is the one who decides that Bruno's books have to be examined by theologians in order to extract suspicious proposals and to submit them to censorship.

The second censure mentioned by Schoppe refers to Bruno's accession to the preadamite belief, in which only Jews descended from Adam and Eve, while the other men would descend from two ancestors created by God: Hénok and Leviatán. This seems to have been taken from a rabbinic tradition that was echoed in the pages of Julian the Apostate.

Of these ten charges, until now, only were confirmed the fifth, on eternity and infinity of the world (censorship b and d), and, indirectly, the sixth, about the doctrine of the soul (censorship e). These censorships show clearly that the punctum dolens (trigger point) of the process is now focused on the doctrine of universal animation, both for the issue of the anima mundi (world soul) that was identified with the Holy Spirit, and for the definition of the individual soul. In any case, the defense of Bruno had shown that he could force obviously opportunistic confessions (like the denial of the eternity of the world, or the granting of future immortality of the human soul) next to contrived arguments about the human rational soul and the earth globe.


Probably the interrogations concerning censorship and the review of the responses of the accused occupied the whole year 1597. It is from that time, i.e., 1598, when they ordered the compilation of a brief systematic summary that was declared absolutum (absolute). We have one copy for Mr. Marcello Filonardi, advisor to the Holy Office, that has been identified with the Sommario (summary) found by Mercati. This summary, only useful for consultants, is not very detailed compared to the full text of the Venetian documents. It is like a summary of the charges and of great practical value to the court and, thanks to its publication by Mercati in 1942, has provided us with the core of the Roman trial, because the original documents were removed from the Vatican Archives by Napoleon and lost forever.


A new obstacle emerged in 1598, the journey of Clement VIII for the Council of Ferrara, in whose cortege was included Bellarmine. This paralyzes the activity of the Holy Office until December, 19th, when the Pope returned to Rome. It is January 1599, eighty months later from the beginning, when the process enters the final stretch. The charges of the indictment are grouped in three main sections.


Between March 1596 and December 1597 it was produced the censorship of books and he is Paolo Isaresi della Mirandola, a Dominican and consultant to the Holy Office, who decides that Bruno's books have to be reviewed by theologians in order to extract and submit proposals to censorship. It is time to end the ambiguities of Bruno and perhaps torture is necessary, confirming or denying the allegations. Bruno responses around such censorship were:


The first censorship was about the generation of things and the eternity of the world exposed in De minimo. In his statement he affirms two real and eternal principles from which all things are born, namely the soul of the world and the "materia prima".


 The second censorship plays another aspect of the same accusation: the doctrine of the infinite universe. Based on the absolute freedom and omnipotence of God it must be deduced, as De Infinito, that the first Being should carry out an infinite creation, because an infinite cause must have an infinite effect. There was also the need for the existence of innumerable worlds, containing things like gender and species of those we see in ours.


The following concerns the human soul and individuality. The individual soul follows the universal principle, that is, the anima mundi, that is why the soul doest not pre-exist the individual, it exists only with his life and after death. Here Bruno acknowledged by granting the court and for reasons of prudence the individualized existence post mortem (after death) of the human soul, excluding, therefore, the human soul of its return to the universal soul for a new animation. Already in Cabbala of Pegasus' Horse, had solved the problem of the relationship between individual souls and the universal soul, denying that the souls had absolute individuality.


 The fourth, contained in De Causa, relates to information from Bruno on the substance in the world: nothing is generated and nothing is corrupted, i.e., nihil novum sub sole (nothing new under the sun), emblem inspired in Solomon or Pythagoras. On the other hand the first species of things, spirit and light, water and land, are incorruptible and without substantial mutation; only compound beings are subject to corruption, according to the union, temperament and complexion.

Next censorship was on the movement of the earth and his enthusiastic adherence to the Copernican hypothesis presented in The Supper of the ashes and De Infinito. He claims to have demonstrated the manner and cause of motion of the earth and the immobility of the firmament, with certain arguments and authorities that do not involve injury to the authority of the divine Scriptures. A good intelligence would be able to admit the truth of both.


The sixth censorship, in relation to the previous one, is on the strange assertion that the stars are also angels, animated bodies and rational, because in heaven they reveal the glory and power of God. Angels are messengers and interpreters of the divine voice. This statement was developed in The Supper of the Ashes and in The infinite.


More serious was in the Supper, the attribution to land not only a sensitive soul, but intellective as ours. The Earth should be considered as a rational animal who gives great examples of its intelligence in moving around the sun and around the axis of its poles.


The eighth and final censorship thesis, related to De cuasa, asserts that the soul resides in the body as the pilot on the ship, objecting to the definition adopted by the Council of Vienna in 1312. He claims that as his way of philosophizing does not understand that the soul is a form, but a spirit in a body, as a resident at home or a captive in his prison. In no passage of Scripture the soul is called "form", while the fathers and the Bible say that it binds to the body in many other ways different from what Aristotle meant.


Two more censures are known from the famous letter from Caspar Schoppe, young Lutheran converted to Christianity, who writes from Rome to Conrad Rittershausen, his former law professor, on February, 17th, 1600, after attending in person on the 8th and the 16th of that month to the public condemnation and execution.


The statement that identifies the anima mundi and the Holy Spirit had already been discussed, but this time it is based on the words of Moses, who had said that the efficient intellect, called Spirit by him, covered the waters. [86]


End of March 1597. Bruno knows that there is another test to overcome, perhaps he knows it since the beginning of the process. Few days have passed since the last questioning. The minutes of the session says: Interrogetur stricte (be strictly questioned), which means: torment be applied. It has arrived the hour of the paralyzing terror, of the deep anguish, extreme pain. Since hours ago the twilight fills his cell, he heard knocks on his door that opens, voices that tell him to follow along the dark corridors leading to a staircase that leads to the secret torture-chamber, where there are numerous machines of pain.


Nolan's case is one of the most intricate with which Inquisition was found for the wide en deep preparation of the accused, who was escaping from the subtle Inquisition networks with the skill of an eel.


On January 12, 1599, Cardinal Bellarmine, a young and learned theologian, who a few years later will be the main person in the Galileo affair, has the suggestive idea to extract from the minutes and the Sommario a set of heretical propositions, on which he invites Bruno to take action and to abjure from them. It comes to making him go through a narrow path that ends with the play of subtle distinctions and evasive answers. The charges of the indictment are grouped into two main groups.


The first and most abundant group contains the whole series of libertine statements, profane words and gestures, disciplinary infractions and everything related to subversive activities in the political-religious field.


The second set of allegations is concerning the speculative novelties of Bruno's system : the doctrines of the infinite and eternal universe, the movement and circulation of souls. The doctrine of the anima mundi and the human soul as the pilot of the ship, i.e., the metaphysical foundations of Nolan philosophy.


Eight heretical propositions, extracted from the books of Bruno by Tragagliolo and Bellarmine, were read within the congregation. The answers given by Bruno will be worth in resolving the ambiguities. But the text of the eight propositions has been lost, which has led to create a myth about the intervention of Cardinal Bellarmine, despite their incorporation into the process eight years after the beginning.


Contrary to some opinions, Bruno and Bellarmine did not know themselves or had discussed theological issues in Germany. It was, therefore, their first meeting and it did not have any reason to be hostility between them.


On January, 18th, 1599, Bruno was brought before the Congregation that read the list of the eight propositions with the formal indication that within six days he should decide on the retraction. Bruno is willing to recant, and he submits a reporting. Once heard and gathered the congregation on February, 4th, it was decided that Beccaria, general of the Dominicans, Belarmino and Tragagliolo, declare that the eight propositions are heretical and contrary to the faith, not by virtue of a recent definition, but under the agreement of the Fathers of the Church, and that they are censured and condemned by the Church. [87]


Bruno clearly senses: he can accept that the recantation would guarantee his life, could receive a long sentence in prison or be relegated to a convent of his order. He knows it is not a relapsus, that means, it is the first time he gets a conviction. If, however, he does not abjure, undoubtedly he knows that they will condemn him to death as unrepentant.

He is decided to recant on the condition that his errors are considered only ex nunc (from now on), from now it implies that the Church had not previously expressed a clear opinion on the issues involved. Under this premise, his case would be much milder and with less damaging consequences for him because they would be issues the Church would speak about for the first time, which is equivalent to admit that his doctrinal position had not been against the Church, but it would be from now.


But this subtlety is not helpful. The judges insist that all errors and heretical statements are such from the beginning to Catholic doctrine. We cannot forget that the Church believes in platonic universals, which are meta-historic and momentous; historicism does not fall within its doctrinal categories. The church does not understand that good and evil can be defined socio-historically, it does not admit the truth and the moral of situation or the historical moment of each society; for her, cultural relativity is blasphemy. The church only conjugates eternal, complete and absolute ideas, which do not exist.


Bruno is called before the judges and they invited him to recant, or accept as erroneous the eight propositions presented by Bellarmine. After much thought, analysis and reflection, Giordano decided to recant, his life was at stake. He surrenders, admits his defeat.


"And you now recognize these eight propositions as heretical and be willing to hate them and recant in place and time that pleases the Holy Office, not just those eight propositions, but also you are ready to obey on the others you are reproached for."


He remembers the cold and triumphant look of Cardinal Bellarmine. Whirlwind and winds go through his mind; yes, he has escaped death, but as a thinker, actor and guidance of the spiritual and political reform, as envisioned by him, all this was dying with his abjuration. His salvation involves the destruction of his entire life as a freethinker; that is the dilemma that burns him as much as the strings of torture.

On the fifth of April he delivers a letter in which he expressed reservations on two of the eight propositions. Another pause in the proceedings. On August, 24th, in the presence of Pope Clement VIII, they go back to discuss the two proposals. The reading of Acts shows the doubts of the inquisitors and, to get out of the crisis, all they suggest the use of torture, also graviter and repeated, to obtain an admission of guilt. If Bruno, in the second graviter torture, the most terrible, does not confess, he must be considered innocent.


The Pope finally ordered to invite him to abjure new proposals and he grants him other forty days. Six days later, he shows humbly willing to admit his mistakes and to proceed with a full retraction. He delivers, at the same time, a memorial to Clement VIII, in which he argues again in favor of some of his thesis. All, Pope and judges, are deeply irritated by the stubbornness of Giordano Bruno. They grant him another 40 days for a total and unconditional retraction. The inquisitors, after eight years of pressure, interrogations and tortures designed to bring down the strongest and tallest towers, they refuse to accept that Bruno, alone and helpless, go undaunted defending his right to think freely, guided by the natural light of intelligence.


Knowing the inquisitors of his international prestige, of his intellectual capacity, of his vast knowledge and of the international scandal that lies ahead, they meet for the twenty second time with Bruno, they invite him again to repent and call on two key members of the Order of Saint Dominic to convince him. But Bruno, now, is definitely decided: there is nothing to retract; the accusations are merely the result of the misunderstanding of the judges of the Court.


On January, 20th, 1600, Clement VIII, knowing the failure of the last two attempts, ordered the issuance of a death sentence and that the prisoner be delivered to the secular justice (tradatur Curiae secularization) as a stubborn and unrepentant heretic. On February, 8th, for the first time, Bruno goes out of the palace of the Inquisition and he is brought to the home of Cardinal Madruzzi in Piazza Navona, near the Church of St. Agnes, to hear the death sentence. There is a great crowd both inside and outside, and the deafening hum stops only when they read the sentence:

"[...] we have reached the undersigned sentence. Invoked the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most glorious Mother ever Virgin Mary, in this and other trials that reached this Holy Office and that are opposing Rev. Giulio Monterentii, doctor in law, tax attorney of the mentioned Holy Office, on one hand and you brother Bruno, defendant interrogated, prosecuted, convicted, unrepentant, stubborn and obstinate on the other: because of all this our definitive sentence, on the advice and opinion of the reverend fathers teachers of sacred theology and doctors of both laws, our consultants, we utter in these writings, we say, we pronounce, we feel and declare that you, brother Giordano Bruno, are an unrepentant, stubborn and obstinate heretic [...] you must be delivered to secular Court and for that we deliver you to the Court of Yours, Monsignor Governor of Rome, here today, to punish you with appropriate penalties, asking him that he want to effectively mitigate the rigor of the law in the penalty of yourself, that be with not life-threatening or member mutilation".

Bruno listens in silence, kneeling before his judges. Small, thin, gaunt, with dark and unkempt beard, exhausted from nearly 2,800 days in prison for deprivation, for deprivations, for torture, for a concern that lasted seven years and never shared with anyone, comforted by no one, Bruno gets up, with proud and fiery eyes. Then he straightens up, looking round with a fierce and menacing look, filled with unbridled contempt, and he pronounces the final words of which we have a safe testimony. These are harsh words, arising from a spirit that dominates that of the judges and of the presents, which is beyond his imminent death. These are prophetic words that, although no one understand them, announce the future of the Church and perhaps of humanity. "Maybe you are more afraid of pronouncing my sentence, than me of receiving it." .


In a page of the "Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast", Bruno, the hero of a Renaissance defeated by the obscurantism of the Counter Reformation, with prophetic intuition, he seemed to have sensed what kind of world had condemned him; it is one of his most beautiful pages and, at the same tine, most bitterly true:


The darkness will be preferred to light, death will be judged more useful than the life, nobody will look up to heaven, the religious will be considered insane, the wicked will be judged prudent, the strong mad, the bad good. And believe me that they will decide the death penalty for anyone who is devoted to the religion of the mind; because they will find new justices, new laws, nothing will be find holy, nothing religious: it will not hear anything worthy of heaven or celestial. It will only remain pernicious angels that, mixed with men, will force the wretched to the audacity of all evil, as if it were justice; they will give matter for wars, robberies, fraud and all other things contrary to soul and natural justice: and this will be the old age, the disorder and the irreligion in the world. [88]


And it was delivered to the secular arm. Miguel Angel Granada reproduces the description of a witness on the implementation, on February, 17th, 1600, in the Piazza del Campo dei Fiori where: "stripped of his clothes and undressed and tied to a stick... with the tongue anchored in a wooden press so that he could not speak... was burnt alive…"