The Catholic Church prides itself on its mercy and compassion in both the past and present. However, in the past they have committed some of the worst atrocities mankind has seen. Of these events, one of the most heinous may have been the execution of Giordano Bruno as they took his life by fire. He was put to death by the Church on February 17th, 1600 in Campo dei Fiori (The Field of Flowers) for his Pantheist beliefs.
Looking at this photograph you can imagine the flames licking around his torso raising blisters on his skin. The terrible suffering and pain he felt as his insides melted and his brains liquefied and ran out of his eyes and ears. Truly, is this what we would call mercy and humaneness by the Pope and the Catholic Church? I judge it as an act of extreme cruelty and that compassion and justice were thrown out savagely as valueless vestiges into the wind.
It is inconceivable to think that it took until the year 1992 for the Pope to publicly admit that the world was round and that it orbited about the sun. This was also an admission that Galileo was right. He received a pardon and apology from the Vatican. In my opinion this earth moving announcement from the Catholic Church was delayed because it meant that fundamentally the Bible was flawed in its teachings. Psalms 43 states, "The world is also established and cannot be moved.” In recent times however, the Catholic Church has admitted that condemning people as heretics and witches was wrong, but many of the Vatican’s victims (including Giordano Bruno) are still waiting for pardon and apology. It is unfortunate that Giordano lived in the 17th century during a time that could not and would not accept his theology and beliefs.
Giordano Bruno was an Italian mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, humanitarian, logician, and occultist. His concepts and ideas anticipated modern science. The most notable of these were his theories on an infinite universe and the multiplicity of worlds in the Copernican heliocentric (Sun-centred) theory. This theory stated that the sun was the center of the Universe and that the planets (including the Earth) revolved around it. His rejection of the then traditional geocentric finite universe of fixed stars (or Earth-centred) theory, that most people believed in and in which the Church supported, made him very unpopular with the Vatican. Giordano’s timing to voice such an opinion could not have been worse. Both the Roman Catholic and Reformed churches were reaffirming rigid Aristotelian and Scholastic principles in their struggle for the evangelization of Europe. In this same period, Martin Luther formed the Protestant Church and sought independence from Papal jurisdiction.
This was not the time to stand and say loudly that the Universe was infinite and that the Earth revolved in three directions. The Catholic Church was reforming and trying to revive Christian law in response to the growth of Protestant popularity. These theories were controversial for the time and contradicted teachings of the Bible. Furthermore, they questioned Aristotle’s philosophy and meant to question the teachings of the Catholic Church itself.
Giordano Bruno was passionate and outspoken about his beliefs. He freely discussed Arianism with anyone who would listen. He denied the divinity of Christ. This resulted in the preparation of a heresy trial against him. In an attempt to escape he fled France to Rome in Febuary of 1576.
Dorothea Waley Singer describes Giordano Bruno as being, “Unsuccessful in human relations, devoid of social tact or wordly wisdom, unpractical to an almost insane degree.” The fact that Giordano lived so close to Rome in Nola showed his inability in expressing himself tactfully. The Inquisition was the prevailing force there, and he gained their attention as his voice was noted. He also had gained a following and was accused of starting a sect. The Catholic Church could not afford further questioning of their teachings and because Bruno questioned both religious and cosmological issues he was arrested. There were 130 charges brought against him including anti-religious, cosmic, and Arian heresy. There were further charges, including sins of the flesh. Bruno enjoyed women a little too much and considered premarital relations not important.
Rome wasted no time in the expedition of Giordano’s trial. Afterwards he was promptly executed by way of being burned alive. He dared to say at his trial, “I believe that it is not physically impossible for a virgin to conceive, but I maintain that the Blessed Virgin did not conceive Christ physically, but through a miracle of the Holy Spirit.”
Truly, I admire this man. His bravado and tenacity makes him a super hero. His misfortune was to live before his proper time. People in his era were incabable of grasping or understanding his intellectual ideals. He had no support when the Inquisition marched him to the gallows.
Giordano, upon hearing what his punishment was, cried out, “Perhaps you deliver my punishment with more fear than I receive it." One has to admire his bravery, courage, and stamina of life. When he was engulfed with flame and his heart was upon the brink of stopping, he stood firm in his beliefs and strong in an everlasting world. His theories influenced 17th-century scientific and philosophical thought. In the 18th century his ideals were absorbed by many philosophers.
It is difficult to absolve the Church in Giordano’s case. After his death, the Pope called Giordano a coward. The Pope’s voice was full of brutality and hypocrisy, as it was them who cowered when confronted with Giordano’s beliefs. It is with this final thought that I consider the Vatican guilty of crimes against humanity.