It was 416 years ago today that the Roman Catholic Church through the Roman Inquisition murdered the freethinker Giordano Bruno by burning him alive. The Roman Catholic Church had held Bruno a prisoner from 1593 until they murdered him on February 17, 1600. In all probability the Christians tortured him during that long period of imprisonment in an attempt to get him to recant. They failed.
What they wanted him to recant was his claims that Jesus was not the son of God; Mary was not a virgin; the Catholic communion bread does not turn into the physical body of Jesus, as well as a few other theological points. The Catholic Church also wanted Bruno to say he was wrong about cosmological statements he had made such as: the Earth is not the center of the Universe; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; stars are suns that have their own planets orbiting them; the Universe is infinite. He bravely refused to lie, which would have saved his life and would have let him avoid the profoundly physically painful death of being burned alive. We all owe the freethinker Bruno a lot, not only for being correct about his arguments that upset Christianity, but also for giving us an example of principled raw courage. The Deist Thomas Paine could have been thinking of Giordano Bruno when Paine wrote, “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” (This also applies to the last person murdered by the Spanish Inquisition for heresy, Cayetano Ripoll.)
When Bruno was taken from his prison cell early in the morning on that Thursday and paraded through crowded streets to his execution spot in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori, he did not go silently. When the faithful yelled at him and called him a fool he yelled back with quotes from his books which showed how foolish Christianity and the Bible are. This angered the Christian authorities. They had the procession stopped and two jailers held Bruno’s head still while a third drove a long metal spike through Bruno’s left cheek, through his tongue and through his right cheek. Then a second spike was driven vertically through his lips making a cross and silencing Bruno. Even though they silenced him, the truth remained, and remains, the truth.
When they finally arrived at the site where they would burn Giordano Bruno alive, they tied him to a stake and then piled wood up to his chin. A flaming torch was then placed between Bruno’s feet which ignited the wood they had surrounded him with. One Christian clergyman tried one last time to get him to repent by braving the flames and putting a crucifix near his face, but Bruno simply turned his face away from the ungodly and superstitious symbol.
After Bruno’s body was burned, his ashes were dumped into the Tiber river.
The Roman Catholic Church made a saint out of one of Bruno’s primary inquisitors, Cardinal Bellarmine. (In 1616 Bellarmine ordered Galileo to stop promoting the Copernican theory that the Earth orbits the Sun.) The Church refuses to see the evil they did against Bruno. In 2000 when Pope John Paul apologized for the ungodly, heartless and brutal mass murders the Roman Catholic Church committed through its Inquisitions, the Church insisted that Giordano Bruno had strayed too far from Catholic dogma and doctrine to be granted a Christian pardon.
Giordano Bruno left us with a shining example of standing up to ignorance and cruelty no matter what the cost. He also put it in sincere and inspiring words when he wrote: “Oh difficulties to be endured, cries the coward, the feather-head, the shuttlecock, the faint-heart. The task is not impossible, though hard. The craven must stand aside. Ordinary, easy tasks are for the commonplace and the herd. Rare, heroic, and divine men overcome the difficulties of the way and force an immortal palm from necessity. You may fail to reach your goal, but run the race nevertheless. Put forth your strength in so high a business. Strive on with your last breath.” Giordano Bruno practiced what he preached.
Two good books about this amazing hero of free-thought and progress are The Pope and the Heretic by Michael White and Giordano Bruno: Philosopher Heretic by Ingrid D. Rowland.
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