Giordano Bruno: from the knowledge of the Self to the knowledge of God
Dr. Diego Frigoli*
MATERIA PRIMA Rivista di Psicosomatica Ecobiopsicologica - Inerzia e Trasformazione - Numero V - Marzo 2012 - Anno II
download pdf version
Filippo (Giordano) Bruno was born in Nola, Italy in 1548. His father was Giovanni Bruno, a soldier, and his mother was Fraulissa Savolino. In 1561, he enrolled at the Monastery of Saint Domenico, best known for its famous member, Thomas of Aquinas. Around this time, he took the name Giordano Bruno and within a few years he become a priest of the Dominican Order. He studied the Fathers of the Church and the ecclesiastical rethoric with reference to Aristotle, Ciceronis and Quintilian, but he was not truly appreciated by the Church. Giordano Bruno was a brilliant, eccentric, philosopher, but the life of a Dominican priest in the Catholic Church apparently did not suit him. He left the order in 1576 and started wandering in Europe as a travelling philosopher, lecturing in various universities. His troubles began around 1584 with the publication of his book "Dell Infinito, universo e mondi", his idea about the universe was in contrast with the Catholic Church and in 1593 he was turned over to the Inquisition and charged with heresy.
Bruno had always been interested in getting and analyzing the essence of things, he never gave it up all along his life: even when condemned to death he made a last desperate attempt. His attitude had always been proud and brave as evident in a passage of Sigillo Sigillorum (II, II, pp. 184-85) where Bruno described in minute detail, giving proof of his prodigious memory, an episode of his life when still a baby frightened by an enormous snake coming out from a hole in the wall and menacingly approaching his cradle, had not hesitated to call his father crying that much to get the attention of his whole family.
But Bruno not only had quite an extraordinary memory, he also had a great culture, which became more and more refined along his ecclesiastical education, ranging from the classics such as Summa Theologica of Thomas of Aquinas, the Quatuor books ententiarum of Pietro Lombardo, Summulae of Pietro Ispano to the ancient philosophers as well as the more modern ones. Bruno represented the culture of the time confronting with the best scholars of France and England in the attempt to assert his ideas on the Nature, the Spirit and generally speaking on the mystery of the Unity.
From 1579 to 1592, when he was arrested in Venice, Bruno dedicated his time to an extremely active philosophical research and travelled to quite a number of places. Bruno visited Geneva where at the Geneva Academy presented his studies on the relationship between the Aristotelic philosophy and the Calvinist thought. Then Lyon and Toulouse, where he got the diploma of magister artium, and Paris where he taught mnemonic art, his art of memory, and published between 1581 and 1583 some of his most meaningful works such as De Umbris idearum, Cantus Circaeus, De Compendiosa Architectura et Complemento Artis Lullii and Explicatio triginta sigillorum. In all these works he laid the foundations for his ars reminiscendi distinguishing it from the most known one of Raimondo Lullo he considered too much mechanistic for his metaphysical needs more oriented towards the hermetism and the magic.
The Lullian logic was interpreted by Bruno in a neo-platonic optic, studying the relations between the ideal and the real: Bruno thought he could interpret the reality through the combinatory play of the archetypal ideas. Later, in London, where he spent two years (1583-85) under the protection of the French ambassador and in the circle of the English poet Sir Philip Sidney, he got in touch with the scholars of Oxford and held lectures on the immortality of the soul taking into consideration the most recent metaphysical works with reference to the astronomical doctrines of Copernicus. Bruno also presented his new ideas to the court of Elizabeth I, but he was insulted and considered an atheos: his thought was breaking with the values of the past according to him too much related to the Medieval culture. In London Bruno wrote Sigillus Sigillorum, the Cena delle Ceneri and most of all De l’infinito universo et mundi where he underlined the value of the astronomical revolution of Copernicus and claimed that not only the earth turns around the sun, but also that the sun is just one of its many stars of the infinite world. The radical consequence of his thought is that in the world there is not an absolute top and an absolute bottom, but everything depends on the observer’s point of view anticipating the most recent theories on the relativity. All that was clearly in contrast with the presumption of the humanists, the philosophers and the religious men of the time and even if Bruno was not a scientist like Galileo, whose love for the analysis and witty attitude for investigation had been such to found the experimental physics, he was able to present admirable deep syntheses to highlight “the One in the diversity”.
In 1586 in London, Bruno published Gli eroici furori, where he presented his theory on knowledge. According to Bruno the secret of knowledge is «The impetus and vigor of the intellect which carries the affection away» from the soul causing a sort of Plotinian théosis, of “indiament” where the final object of the research is represented by God, the archetype of unity, in his double representation of “mirror” and “shadow” for His thought cannot be only caught as a reflex of the nature.
In 1585 back in Paris among the French ambassador Michel de Mauvissière’s suite, Bruno published other works on the relationship between the Nature and the World, but because of a number of discussions with the College of the Cambrai he had to leave France for Germany. In 1586 he was in Wittenberg where he got the title of doctor italicus. In the meantime he wrote De lampade combinatoria Lulliana, and most of all Lampas Triginta Statuarum where he deepened in quite an original way his conception on the matter where philosophy and magic, magic and ontology continuously interconnect and constitute the vision of an animated universe guided by the sympathies and the consonances, where it is possible to operate taking part in the process of the metamorphosis of the infinite differences belonging to the nature through the complex dynamics of the affections, and of the analogical images.
Through the imagination Bruno would have liked to understand what cannot be caught by cognition: the world appeared to him a play of specific concordances guided by a universal intellect which produces the natural species, just as our intellect produces the rational species. For him the understanding of the secret connection joining the different natural species meant speculating about the meaning of the work of the Creator. And that implied dealing with another extremely modern concept of his philosophy, the “vital analogy” to be meant as that imaginative expression of the archetype of order defined by the Platonics as “the smith of the world”. But in Wittenberg the Calvinists got control of the religious affairs of the State and once more Bruno was forced to leave. He found refuge in Prague by Rodolfo II, an enlightened sovereign, a lover of the alchemists and of the philosophers of the nature. He published other works on the combinatory art and on the geometry he considered at the basis of the nature: but he soon moved to the Grand-duchy of Brunswick by the Accademia Giulia of Helmstädt where he completed his magic works De Magia Mathematica and De principis rerum, elementi et causis. In 1591 he was in Frankfurt where he wrote De imaginum signorum et idearum; De Monade, numero et figura and Medicina Lulliana. In the first of these last works, Bruno analyzed the themes of De Umbris idearum developing them according to a mnemonic-magic system based on the symbols and the archetypal images able to master the dominant forces of the universe. In De Monade, numero et figura, Bruno dealt with the hard problem of the numbers and the figures of the archetypal images, and claimed that to know the unsolved relationships between the soul and the world reality, the “measure” is to be considered taking into account the physical, the mathematical and the metaphysical aspect. This work is the last one to be accepted by the modern critics which has not been able or has not been interested in Bruno’s building up a mathematical-symbolical philosophy able to deal with the archetypal laws. Bruno was aware of that: «Even if no one will understand that, I will be grateful to a knowledge coming from the nature and by the divinity».
In Medicina Lulliana Bruno considered the learning of medicine in its entirety through a system of concentric wheels orientated to the four cardinal points with on each of them the four elements and factors to be combined as to allow the comprehension of the physical, psychical and spiritual accidents. At the invitation of a Venetian nobleman, Giovanni Moncenigo interested in his art of memory, Bruno returned to Italy as his private tutor. Moncenigo was interested in his art of memory, but in 1592 he denounced Bruno to the Inquisition which accused him of heresy. At first Bruno tried to politically defend his ideas, but Bruno advocated philosophical theories that blended mystical Neoplatonism and pantheism. He believed that the universe is infinite, that God is the soul of the universal world, and that the material things are the manifestations of one infinite principle. The criminal charges were twenty-nine going from the faith in the Trinity to the incarnation of Christ and of his divinity, up the theme of the virginity of Mary, of the infinity of the worlds or of the divinatory art. From 1593 for seven long years Bruno was questioned and “invited” to change his opinions; on 10th September 1599 he was given forty days to “repent”, but Bruno did not do that defending his ideas all the long. Giordano Bruno spent eight years in chains in Castel Sant’Angelo, where he was routinely tortured and interrogated until his trial. Despite that he remained unrepentant, stating to his Catholic Church judge, the Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellarmine «I neither ought to recant, nor will I». Even the death sentence handed down by the Catholic Church did not change his attitude as he defiantly told his accusers: «In pronouncing my sentence, your fear is greater than mine in hearing it».
On 8th February 1600 the sentence was read: he was degraded from all the ecclesiastical orders and condemned to death. Bruno was burned at the stake in Campo dei Fiori on 17TH February 1600. Immediately after the death sentence he was handed down, his jaw was clamped shut with an iron gag, his tongue was pierced with an iron spike and another iron spike was driven into his palate. On 19th February 1600, he was driven through the streets of Rome, stripped of his clothes and burned at the stake. Late in the 19th century, a statue was erected on the site of his martyrdom to the cause of free thought.
The philosophy of Bruno is extremely interesting and actual, his vision of life is full of love for its dionysiac power and infinite expansion. From the love for life was born his interest for the nature, Bruno lived with a religious and lyrical passion spreading his animation throughout the universe. What strikes in Bruno is the rehabilitation of the matter he considered immortal and infinite.
«Continuously changing the nature makes the different forms follow one another, but they are always made of the same matter. What was seed becomes grass, and what was grass becomes spike, then bread and chylós, from chylós to blood, from them seed, from that embryo and man, corpse, ground, stone. We are dealing with something unique but also with the same thing, something that is not stone, not ground, not corpse, not man, not embryo, not blood but after having been blood becomes embryo receiving the essence of the embryo, and after having become embryo receives the essence of the man becoming man».
That is the same conception of “cognition” of Maturana and Varela who see the evolution in terms of complexity and totality. The naturalism of Bruno is a religion of the nature where the matter is a source of actuality not only potentially but concretely, an eternal state changing under the guide of the active power of the creative intellect. The species of the nature are numerous, but each thing is a unit in itself getting to know this unit is the aim of every philosophy. This unique substance is the universe which is one, infinite and immobile. It is not matter because it is neither figurated nor figurable, it is not a form because it is formless, it is so much soul that it is not soul because it is the generative intellect. Today we would call this the absolute conception of the generative monad, the psychosomatic Self. How is it possible to get in touch with this primigenial Intellect, the primigemio primigenial intellecto costituting the world, or better the infinite worlds by means of a play of analogical concordances whose comprehension is precluded by the rational mind? How to decipher the alphabet of the world, how to be able to read the great book of the nature, the signs of the divine notes, to discover the complete correspondence between the original forms and the chain of the human reasons? Bruno gives his solution: by developing through the ars memorandi, an aurea apprehensio of the shadows of the eternal ideas of the nature, by means of the exaltation of the soul driven by a “heroic franzy” for the archetypal research. According to Bruno the most important doctrine to get the concordances and the sympathies among the different forms of the nature, is that of the phantasma, that imagination where the images are to be associated on the basis of specific relations the ecobiopsychology defines as the “vital analogies”. The term “forms” inspiring from its seminal reasons all the matter making it concrete, is part of a broader logic, the imaginary one. The archetypal “ideas” are present as seminal forces in the matter, are intrinsic in God but man has to seek them. This connection with the world and the psyche can today be explored by means of the “active imagination”. The laws of the logic of the comprehension of the “vital analogies” are presented by Bruno in Triginta sigillorum explicatio first through the fantasy, then through the imagination: starting from the perception of the sensible Bruno gets to the intellect to be meant as the supreme aspect of the knowledge.
The love for knowledge up to the heroic frenzy seems to relate Bruno with the mystics, but while they search the mens super-omnia through the faith and the grace. Bruno focuses on the mens insita in omnibus, that is the comprehension of the Divine in the things, by means of the soul, the real imaginatio implying the understanding of the vital analogies. The naturalism of Bruno is not therefore a materialized divine, but divinized matter because the archetype is not infused or intrinsic, but part of life. Searching for this original source is the aim of each man able to distinguish the noble spirits from the vulgar ones because the archetype reveals only to those who look for it and conquer it with the work of the mind enlightened by the heroic love. The process of individuation proposed by Bruno is radical: it is not the mere contemplation of the mystics, but that constant operating enlightened by an active, intellectual and unlimited activity as to allow the eye of the mind perceiving the infinite presence of the creative archetype in the infinite worlds as well as in each living being, in the maximum and in the minimum, as in the deepest abstract truths of the intelligence.
It is clear that the theories of Bruno find today an experimental reality: the idea of infinite world, the theme of the material reality organized on a systemic-complex basis, the holistic vision, the conception of an archetype of the unit which animates things, the idea of the archetypal domain as a moulder of the becoming, the faculty of the imagination as a psychological principle to understand the vital analogies and so on. The limit of Bruno’s conception is that there are more consequences of bold and risky speculations than facts which can be demonstrated, but it could not be so because Bruno had an intellectual vision, an intuitive faculty which can only be denied by those who have not got that. Of course, at the light of the experimental method introduced in the sciences by Galileo and Bacon half a century later, his approach may appear “backward”, but that just with reference to the physical sciences, not concerning the soul and the spirit where his thought is actual and not completely explored with regards to its psychological depth. Bruno made quite an effort to get possess of this time scientifically, of a double truth: that of an archetype at the same time inside and outside man, however not anymore extraneous to the soul when the soul searching for nature can become the nature itself.
Acquilecchia G., Giordano Bruno – due dialoghi sconosciuti e due dialoghi noti, Roma 1957
Adorno F., Gregory T., Vezza V., Storia della filosofia, Vol. II, Laterza, Bari 1973
Bruno G., Opera latina conscripta, Le Monnier, Napoli-Firenze 1899, I, II, 322
Bruno G., De la causa principio et uno, III, Einaudi, Torino 1997
Bruno G., Opere mnemotecniche, Adelphi, Milano 2004
Bruno G, Opere magiche, Adelphi, Milano 2000
Bruno G., Corpus iconograpicum¸ Adelphi, Milano 2001
Garin E., Bruno, Cei, Roma-Milano 1966
Geymonat L., Storia del pensiero filosofico e scientifico, Vol. I, Garzanti, Milano 1981
*Dr. Diego Frigoli - Founder and promoter of the ecobiopsychological thought. Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and Director of the ANEB Institute – School of Specialization in Psychotherapy. Innovator in the study of the imaginary focusing on the symbol in relation to its dynamics between the individual and the collective knowledge.
Translated by Dr.ssa Raffaella Restelli – Psychologist, member of the British Psychological Society (UK), Ecobiopsychological Counselor and expert in ANEB Psychosomatic Medicine. Linguist i
 Acquilecchia G., Giordano Bruno – due dialoghi sconosciuti e due dialoghi noti, Roma 1957
 A philosophical-religious term indicating the ecstatic union with God. It refers to the possibility of experimenting the nature of God in a transcendent context through a platonic love following all the stages of the loved things up to the absolute.
 Opera latinae Conscripta, Napoli-Firenze, Morano Le Monnier, 1889-91, I, II, 322
 Bruno G., De la causa, principio et uno, Einaudi, Torino, 1973, p. 97