Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought

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a. The Mediaeval Cosmic Scheme

COSMOLOGY and philosophy are in all ages very closely linked, and Bruno's cosmological views are crucial to all his thought. It is therefore convenient before attempting a survey of his own philosophy to consider the cosmic scheme current in his day.

For many centuries "Aristotelian" cosmological conceptions had, with little modification, dominated European thought. In that tradition, the universe is treated as a series of concentric spheres with a central motionless earth. Immediately enwrapping the earth are "Spheres" of the three other elements, arranged from within outward in order of decreasing density -- Water, Air, Fire. The outermost limit of these is the limit of the mundane or sublunary sphere. Beyond is a further series of seven concentric spheres, each the abode of one planet, moon and sun being reckoned as planets. Outside these planetary spheres is the sphere of the fixed stars. Beyond this again is the sphere of the Primum mobile which has motion imparted to it by divine power, thus causing it to move each of the spheres within. [1]

In several passages accessible to mediaeval writers, Aristotle gives this general view of the universe. [2] He devotes much space to explaining the perfect nature of circular movement, [3] the natural position of the earth as central to the universe and of the elemental spheres just outside it, [4] as well as to the necessity of an unmoved mover beyond the whole. [5] He also explains that the heavenly bodies must themselves be firmly attached to the rotating spheres. [6] In discussing the motions of the planets, he propounds the view that each planet must be moved by several concentric spheres whose equators are, however, not parallel but inclined one to another. He thus attributes fifty-five spheres to the planets (or by another calculation forty-nine). [7]

Aristotle was neither astronomical observer nor mathematician. His relatively simple scheme, integrated into his philosophy, which had become current in the Middle Ages, had been elaborated by certain of his successors among the ancients who were both astronomical observers and constructive mathematicians. Early thinkers right up to Kepler (1609) [8] -- including Copernicus and Tycho Brahe -- believed that all heavenly bodies move in circles. They believed this motion to be "perfect," that is, travelling always equal distances in equal times.

But the Aristotelian scheme in its various presentations was soon found inadequate to explain all the observed motions of the planets. For this purpose two mathematical devices were invoked, the excentric or circle with a movable centre, and the system of the epicycle on a deferent. The excentric circle was the name given to the path of a planet which revolved uniformly about a centre that itself moved in a relatively small circle around the earth. A fundamentally similar device provided for each planet a small circle, known as the epicycle, on which the planet revolved around a centre which was itself carried around a larger circular orbit called the deferent. Thus every point along the circumference of the deferent became in turn the centre of the epicycle.

This mathematical scheme had been brought to highly complicated form by Claudius Ptolemy, the astronomer, geographer and mathematician who lived in Alexandria in the first half of the second Christian century. Ptolemy gave a complete and lucid compendium of the whole range of astronomical science in his time in his Mathematical Syntaxis, better known by the title of the Arabic version, as the Almagest. Ptolemy specifically explains that either of the two mathematical devices described above can be used indifferently, but that where it is necessary to explain two divergent movements, the two methods can be combined (Fig. 6). [9]

During many centuries Ptolemy's scheme worked satisfactorily for astronomical prediction. But with the passage of time, the errors in his Tables gradually accumulated so as to make them seriously inaccurate for astronomical prediction. The difficulty was tackled by a group of astronomers assembled at Toledo by King Alphonso of Castille. They made a fresh series of observations on which were based the "Alphonsine Tables" which were issued about 1270. Thus modified, or with small further modifications, the scheme of Ptolemy remained the generally accepted conception of the universe until Copernicus (1543) (Fig. 7). It is assumed by Elpino in the work here translated, until after his conversion.

What modifications were introduced by Copernicus? {HERE}His great book was, in fact, much less revolutionary than is often supposed. He still maintained the general Ptolemaic view of a series of concentric spheres in circular motion around a motionless centre and limited by a sphere of fixed stars, though he placed the sun instead of the earth as the motionless centre of the universe, and he conceived the earth as occupying one of the rotating planetary spheres. But neither mathematically nor philosophically was the change profound. Copernicus still regarded the stars as really motionless and "fixed" in their unchanging position in the eighth sphere. The universe remained finite and an affair of circles and geometrical constructions. Copernicus believed that the rotation of the earth's sphere carried the earth to perform one revolution around the sun in the course of a year. He further ascribed to the earth a spinning motion around her own centre as the cause of the phenomenon of alternating day and night. All this was accepted by Bruno, but for him it was only a step in the search for a completer and more revolutionary cosmological conception. Bruno writes of Copernicus: "This important, subtle, diligent and mature mind" was ordained to be as the dawn heralding the re-emergence of the sun of the true philosophy. [10] Nevertheless, the universe conceived by Bruno was not merely of different structure but of a completely different order to that pictured by Copernicus.

It was a truly marvellous intuition of Bruno that the new framework which Copernicus had sketched was but a part of a great cosmological pattern. It is true that this pattern had been glimpsed by certain earlier writers. But both critics and followers of Copernicus in the sixteenth century saw in his work a rearrangement of the well-established world scheme. Some might regard the rearrangement with contempt, and some with admiration. To Bruno and to Bruno alone the suggestion of Copernicus entered into the pattern of a completely new cosmological order. In this sense Bruno not only anticipated Galileo and Kepler, but he passed beyond them into an entirely new world which had shed all the dross of tradition. It was a great vision which, from the very nature of the case, could be shared in full neither by his own nor by the succeeding generation.

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b. An Infinite Universe and Infinitely Numerous Worlds

The whole of Bruno's philosophy is based on his view of an infinite universe with an infinity of worlds. He conceived the universe as a vast interrelationship throughout space and time, comprehending all phenomena, material and spiritual. Thence he was led to contemplate the parts under the mode of relativity. The conception of the infinity of the universe renders meaningless the ascription to it of motion, but Bruno conceives each of the infinitely numerous worlds to be moving on its course in relation to other worlds, impelled by its own twofold nature as individual and as part of the whole. All estimates of direction, position and weight within the whole must be relative. Moreover, the cosmological system is illumined by the properties of number. [11]

Bruno was not entirely original in these conceptions. But he saw new implications in them and revealed them with a new vividness. Paradoxically, the two writers who most influenced his cosmological views, Lucretius and Nicolaus of Cusa, occupy opposite philosophical poles. Lucretius denied the validity of theological or metaphysical thinking; Nicolaus sought in his cosmology and even in his physical experiments a reinforcement of his theological views. Bruno was neither astronomer nor mathematician and he was exceptionally devoid of experimental understanding; but contemporary astronomical and mathematical views provide the very fabric of his philosophical system.

The conception of an infinite universe embracing infinitely numerous worlds is familiar in Lucretius. The insurgent fury of the search for truth, the vision of mighty forces uniting in the infinite universe, the passionate rejection of religion imposed by authority, the magnificent diction of the Latin poet are all qualities shared by the Nolan. Bruno's Latin verse constantly echoes the majesty of the Lucretian lines. To Bruno, Lucretius was as a living teacher, and many elements in his philosophywere direct developments from Lucretius. Thus the behaviour of the Lucretianatoms provided something closely akin to Bruno's view of cosmic metabolism [12] and suggested to Bruno the "minimum" and the "discretecontinuum." On another level, Bruno received from Lucretius the visionof the dignity of the human soul. But especially the view of an infiniteuniverse which constituted the field of the ceaseless motion of the Lucretianatoms foreshadows some of Bruno's arguments:


But since I have taught that the most solid bodies of matter fly about for ever unvanquished through the ages, come now, let us unfold, whether there be a certain limit to their full sum or not; and likewise the void that we have discovered, or room or space, in which all things are carried on, let us see clearly whether it is all altogether bounded or spreads out limitless and immeasurably deep.

The whole universe then is bounded in no direction of its ways; for then it would be bound to have an extreme point. Now it is seen that nothing can have an extreme point, unless there be something beyond to bound it, so that there is seen to be a spot further than which the nature of our sense cannot follow it. As it is, since we must admit that there is nothing outside the whole sum, it has not an extreme point; it lacks therefore bound and limit. Nor does it matter in which quarter of it you take your stand; so true is it that, whatever place every man takes up, he leaves the whole boundless just as much on every side. Moreover, suppose now that all space were created finite, if one were to run on to the end, to its furthest coasts, and throw a flying dart, would you have it that that dart, hurled with might and main, goes on whither it is sped and flies afar, or do you think that something can check and bar its way? For one or the other you must needs admit and choose. Yet both shut off your escape and constrain you to grant that the universe spreads out free from limit. For whether there is something to check it and bring it about that it arrives not whither it was sped, nor plants itself in the goal, or whether it fares forward, it set not forth from the end. In this way I will press on, and wherever you shall set the furthest coasts, I shall ask what then becomes of the dart. It will come to pass that nowhere can a bound be set, and room for flight ever prolongs the chance of flight. Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air; land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside. [13]


The poem of Lucretius had been rediscovered in the youth of Cusanus [14] and had doubtless exercised its influence on him. Thus the Lucretian conception of the essential unity and infinity of the universe reached Bruno both directly and through Cusanus. Before considering Nicolaus of Cusa's vision of infinity we will turn for a moment to earlier thinkers. Lucretius himself looks back to Democritus, and there persisted from early Greek thinkers right through to the late Middle Ages a form of thought very different from Aristotelianism and especially from its cosmology as developed by Ptolemy.

From land to land, from century to century, for the most part vaguely or in the form of confused and contradictory rumours, there had travelled the view of a universe infinite and without bound, yet One, a single Whole, embracing an infinity of interrelated parts. Some ancient thinkers had had glimpses of this vision, as had later thinkers, Moslem, Jewish and Christian. Their thought was not unknown to Bruno.

The development of this thought suited well the attitude to which a special appeal was made by the Timaeus of Plato, a work familiar in monastic libraries at least in the partial version of Chalcidius. The Timaeus presents a pantheistic view of the universe as a living creature pervaded by immanent divine soul. The universe of Timaeus was created by God, though a certain antecedent substance is postulated: "Why did the Creator make the world? ... He desired that all things should be like himself. Wherefore he set in order this visible world which he found in disorder." [15] This immanent-transcendent view was especially influential on the Moslem culture that had itself determined much of Western thought in the later Middle Ages.

The Judaeo-Arabian presentation and development of Greek science was of the utmost importance to the rise of science among the Latins. Astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and medicine in Europe bear to this day the imprint of this influence exerted during many centuries. Even more crucial to the development of European thought than any direct achievement of "Arabian" science was the influence of "Arabian" philosophy (the work of Arabic-speaking Persians, Moors, Jews and Christians), and especially the discussion of questions concerning the human soul in its relation to the divine soul and to the universe around man. Free will and predestination, the separate individual existence and the immortality of the soul, the cosmic function of man's spirit, were among the questions that exercised philosophers who used the Arabic tongue.

The consideration of these problems was intimately linked by many of these thinkers with profound changes in the conception of the physical environment of man. The infinity of time and space had been rejected by orthodox Christian thought in mediaeval Europe, but was more or less cautiously set forth in a whole body of Moslem and Jewish writings which were translated into Latin between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. These conceptions were widely canvassed in the universities of North Italy and France and especially in Padua and Paris. Bruno refers to the Aristotelian commentaries of the Persian Muslim Avicenna (980-1037). Often cited by Bruno is the Fons vitae of Avicebron (at that time believed to have been a Moor and now recognized as the Spanish Jewish poet, statesman and philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1O21-1058). This author's neo-platonism was very congenial to Bruno. Again, Bruno often cites the Spanish Moor Averroes (1126-1198). Averroes practised medicine and held the office of judge, but it is his philosophy that has exercised a profound influence on the course of European thought. His view both of the eternity of the world and of the unity of intellect or soul fitted well with Bruno's cosmological thought.

Most remarkable among the students at Padua and most crucial for the development of Bruno's thought was Nicolaus, born in 1401 at Cues in the Rhineland, and usually known as Nicolaus of Cusa or Cusanus (d. 1464). Educated in the Platonic tradition by the Brothers of the Common Life of Deventer, Nicolaus passed at the age of seventeen to Padua, and availed himself of every aspect of the very active intellectual life of that university. He studied law and mathematics, learnt the Greek language and became familiar with much classical literature. He also entered into the study of Arabian scholasticism. He passed to an ecclesiastical career and became Bishop of Brixen in the Tyrol and also Cardinal.

The contrast between the modern bias toward observation and the scholastic interest in ratiocination had declared itself at Padua. [16] No less is the contrast between the mind of Cusanus as revealed in his writings and his actual life course. [17] An ardent advocate of reform in ecclesiastical institutions and of the widest tolerance, he found himself at the Council of Bâle in 1436 forced to decide between loyal acceptance of the Papacy or uncompromising revolt. He decided to support the Papacy and never swerved from this position, though it involved him often in action little in harmony with the exalted thought reflected in his writings. His value was at once recognized in Rome, and henceforward he was continuously preoccupied with political and administrative work. Yet he found time for a vivid intellectual life, the record of which remains for us in his books. His philosophy fertilized the course of thought in Europe, and especially through the works of Bruno. In his exquisite little work, the Vision of God, Cusanus sets out his view of a universe, limitless beyond conception, informed throughout by the spirit of beauty and of perfection. The further the insight he gains into the nature, physical and spiritual, of any part of the boundless universe, the more he is exalted by the vision, the further he is impelled to pursue his adventure of discovery.

The range of the intellectual interests of Cusanus is remarkable. He was widely read in all literature available in his time, of Christian, pagan, Moslem or Jewish writers. He made great though fruitless efforts toward the reform of the Church. He wrote on the calendar, shewing familiarity with a number of astronomical records and writers on the subject. He was deeply involved in the humanist movement and in the revival of classical learning. He had an inkling of the principles of palaeography, and a surprisingly modern taste in manuscripts. Even more remarkable is it that he had an experimental bias, and in his view of the estimation of weight as an instrument to be applied to the systematic investigation of matter, he was one of the pioneers of the experimental era. [18] Despite all this, Cusanus is a true mediaeval in his preoccupation with theological analogy in the interpretation of phenomena.

The most important work of Cusanus is called On Instructed Ignorance [19] and is concerned with the limits of the knowable. In it he constantly returns to the consideration of an infinite universe. Cusanus is fascinated by the infinite in number and by the conception of continuous subdivision. But especially, when he casts his gaze on the heavens he can conceive no limit to them. The universe, he declares, can have no circumference and no centre, for if it had centre and circumference it would be constrained within a limit, and this is totally impossible. Just as the earth cannot be the centre of the infinite universe, so neither can the sphere of the fixed stars nor any other sphere be its circumference, however much, comparing earth and sky, the earth may appear nearer to the centre, and the heaven nearer to the circumference. Therefore, the earth is not the centre of the eighth or of any other sphere. Nor indeed is the very centre of the universe more within our earth than without it. God is both centre and circumference of the universe. Cusanus assures the reader that wherever the observer is placed in the universe, that will appear to him the centre, so that in our minds we must combine centre and zenith. Moreover, the ancients suffering from uninstructed ignorance, could not apprehend that this earth moves. The earth, he further tells us, is not a mathematical measurable part of the universe any more than a hand is an aliquot part of a man. Each is an integral and necessary part of a whole. Just as light, so also does influence pass from star to star. He assumes that other celestial bodies are inhabited. While rejecting the arrogation of a supreme position for our earth, he sees no reason to esteem it altogether vile. "It is impossible," he says, "for man to know whether the region of earth is more or less noble than another [region of the universe].... Perhaps the inhabitants of other stars are nobler than ourselves. We imagine the inhabitants of the sun to partake of its fiery nature and to be more spiritual than the inhabitants of the aqueous moon." The denizens of each, he surmises, are fitted to their habitation. [20] From the Timaeus, Cusanus draws the conception of the whole universe as animated by a single Soul emanating from the Godhead. [21] In the interpretation of this conception, he utilizes the symbolism of the Trinity. [22]

We shall find the influence of Cusanus constantly permeating Bruno's thought. [23] It is noteworthy in connection with Bruno's relation to Copernicus that the latter was quite unaffected by the writings of Cusanus. The cast of mind of Copernicus was utterly different from that of Cusanus. Bruno too had neither the experimental bias nor the Christian mysticism of the Cusan. Moreover, in worldly outlook as in temperament, the ecclesiastical statesman was poles apart from the wandering fugitive, nor was it solely untoward fate that determined Bruno's very different fortune. Yet the cosmic view that evoked those paeans of Bruno was, in essence, the cosmic view of Cusanus. Bruno uses the very phrases of Cusanus and we must believe that he drew from him the first apprehension of his impassioned vision of infinity. The vision is repeated many times in his works. [24] Following Cusanus again, Bruno is clear that in an infinite universe there can be no absolute position, neither higher nor lower, neither centre nor circumference:

 To a body of infinite size there can be ascribed neither centre nor boundary.... Just as we regard ourselves as at the centre of that [universally] equidistant circle, which is the great horizon and the limit of our own encircling ethereal region, so doubtless the inhabitants of the moon believe themselves at the centre [of a great horizon] that embraces this earth, the sun and the other stars, and is the boundary of the radii of their own horizon. Thus the Earth no more than any other world is at the centre; moreover no points constitute determined celestial poles for our earth, just as she herself is not a definite and determined pole to any other point of the ether, or of the world space; and the same is true of all other bodies. From various points of view these may all be regarded either as centres, or as points on the circumference, as poles, or zeniths and so forth. Thus the earth is not in the centre of the universe; it is central only to our own surrounding space. [25] 

With Cusanus too, Bruno accepts the Averroan doctrine of the eternity of the universe. "There are not," Nicolaus had said, "three Times, past, present and future, but one perfect Time." [26] Infinite Time was for Bruno a mode of Infinite Space.

"It is then unnecessary," says Bruno,


to investigate whether there be beyond the heaven Space, Void or Time. For there is a single general space, a single vast immensity which we may freely call Void; in it are innumerable globes like this on which we live and grow. This space we declare to be infinite; since neither reason, convenience, possibility, sense-perception nor nature assign to it a limit. In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own. For there is no reason nor defect of nature's gifts, either of active or of passive power, to hinder the existence of other worlds throughout space, which is identical in natural character with our own space.... Beyond the imaginary convex circumference of the universe is Time. For there is the measure and nature of motion, since similar moving bodies are there. [27]


Bruno thus imagined an infinity of worlds, each finite like our own, and each pursuing its own course within the infinite universe. The inhabitants of Bruno's numberless worlds are, like those of the worlds of Cusanus, in conformity with the conditions of their habitats. [28]

Bruno never uses Christian symbolism. The Wisdom literature appealed strongly to him; and his invocations of the joy and release brought by his cosmic views are reminiscent of certain Old Testament invocations of Wisdom.

In his valedictory address at Wittenberg, Bruno passes easily without any sense of incongruity from Juno and Minerva to his paean of praise of Wisdom with quotations both from the Apocrypha and from the Old Testament. He transfers to Wisdom his conception of infinite unity:


If all things are in common among friends, the most precious is Wisdom. What can Juno give which thou canst not receive from Wisdom? What mayest thou admire in Venus which thou mayest not also contemplate in Wisdom? Her beauty is not small, for the lord of all things taketh delight in her. Her I have loved and diligently sought from my youth up.

I prayed unto the Lord, and besought him and with my whole heart I said, O God of my fathers, and Lord of mercy who hast made all things by thy word, and ordained man through thy wisdom, that he should have dominion over the creatures which thou hast made;

Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne and reject not thy servant. O send her out of thy holy heavens from the throne of thy glory, that being present she may labour with me, that I may know wherein I fail and what is pleasing to thee. For she knoweth and understandeth all things, and she shall lead me soberly in my doings and preserve me in her power. [29]

God, that most fertile Mind, will indeed send Wisdom, but what sort of Wisdom? Only such as can be adapted to our mental vision, in the shadow of light; as from the Sun who cannot be reached nor apprehended, who in himself continueth mysteriously and steadfastly in infinite light, yet his pervasive radiance descendeth to us by the emission of rays and is communicated and diffused throughout all things. For as firstly there is the essence of the sun that can barely be attained by the Mind alone; secondly, the substance of the sun, which occupieth and encompasseth his own orb and liveth where he liveth; and thirdly there is the action or operation of the sun, which comprehendeth all things and is comprehended by all things; in no other way is it possible to consider the threefold sun of the understanding: firstly as the essence of the divine; secondly as the substance of the universe, which is the reflection of the first; thirdly as the light of the perception of those who participate in life and knowledge.


This view is supported by citation from the Cabbala, from the "Orphic theologians," and from Job.


Listen to Job:

Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found easily in the land of the living; The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me. It is hid from the eyes of all living and kept close from the fowls of the air.

That is from the numina, those stars, those fiery gods and watery orbs which course across the firmament and over the space of the ether, as though by their regular flight and speedy circling they make their own orbs.

Destruction and death said, 'We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. God alone understandeth the ways thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof.' [30]

In its second mode, Wisdom is most manifest on the surface and body of all created things, for everywhere Wisdom crieth and on all sides her voice is heard. [31] For what are all those things which we see, stars, animals, bodies and the beauty thereof, but the voices and echoes [vestigia] of Wisdom, the works of the Divine Being [divinitatis] that shew forth his lofty providence, in which as in a book may be read most clearly the story of Divine Power, Wisdom and Goodness? For the invisible things of God are discovered through those things which are understood. This thou hast from Scripture. Wilt thou hear more clearly the voices of the assemblies? The heavens declare the glory of God. [32] ... The third mode is within our spirit; it is situate at the helm of our soul, controlling the rudder of the ship in the wild sea of this surging century where it is a lighthouse of the spirit in the surrounding darkness. These three habitations hath divine Wisdom: the first without building, eternal, indeed the very seat of eternity; the second, which is the firstborn, our visible universe; the third, the nextborn, which is the soul of man. [33]


The infinite universe is thus the ever-recurring theme of Bruno's thought. "The one infinite is perfect, in simplicity, of itself, absolutely, nor can aught be greater or better. This is the one Whole, God, universal Nature, occupying all space, of whom naught but infinity can give the perfect image or semblance." [34] He recounts in detail the reasons for his belief that the universe is infinite, meeting every objection based on argument or observation. Whatever aspect of Bruno's thought we are considering, we shall constantly encounter this overwhelming vision. Its awful majesty alone enabled him to support the eight suffering years that culminated in his death.

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c. Astronomy in the Sixteenth Century with Special Reference to England [35]

Close as was the relationship between the cosmic views of Cusanus and of Bruno, the content of their minds shewed the century that separated them. Bruno lived in the dawning age of men of science. Though he was a man of science neither by temper nor training, nor by capacity, he gives in his works several figures illustrating simple experiments. We recognize also the boy who noted the changed aspect of Mt. Cicada in the observer of the flight of birds. [36] For his close reasoning on simple phenomena must also be based on observation. This attitude is noteworthy as out of tone with his training and the academic atmosphere of his time. But we must not be led astray into the idea that his conception of the 'minimum' had any relation to the invention of the microscope, which was too late to be known to him. Doubtless he is echoing Lucretius when he exclaims concerning the tiny members of animalcula, their heart, nerves and viscera: "The minimum of nature or reality is amazingly smaller than the smallest perceptible minimum. There is no art to define it." [37] His reflections on the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies permeate his works. [38] To him the reflections were always more interesting than observations.

In spite of Bruno's strictures on the backwardness of learning at Oxford, there is evidence of the repercussions of the new astronomy there. Thus in 1576 the question assigned for disputation by candidates incepting as Masters of Art at Oxford was: An terra quiescat in medio mundi. Perhaps we may even detect an echo of Bruno's visit to Oxford of 1583 in the topic of 1588, An sint plures mundi. [39] But London far more than Oxford was a centre of astronomical study and speculation. Copernican views had been discussed there for a generation and several mathematicians resident there had been feeling their way to a conception of a universe devoid of the traditional frontier. The earliest in whom we can trace the new astronomical views is Robert Recorde (1510-1558). His Castle of Knowledge containing the explication of the Sphere both Celestiall and Materiall of 1556 is in the conventional form of a dialogue between a Master and a Schollar. The former, after explaining the Ptolemaic view, glances at the Copernican system by raising the question of "the quietness of the earth" inherent in the Ptolemaic scheme. Almost echoing Copernicus, he reminds his pupil:


Not only Eraclides Ponticus, a great Philosopher, and two great clerkes of Pythagoras schole, Philolaus and Ecphantus, were of the contrary opinion, but also Nicias Syracusius, and Aristarchus Samius, seeme with strong arguments to approue it; but the reasons are to difficulte for this firste introduction, and therefore I will omit them till an other time. And so will I do the reasons that Ptolemy, Theon and others doo alleage, to prooue the earthe to bee without motion; and the rather, bycause those reasons doo not proceede so demonstrablye, but they may be answered fully, of him that holdeth the contrarye. I mean, concerning the circularre motion; marye, direct motion of the centre of the world seemeth more easy to be confuted, and that by the same reasons, whiche were before alleaged for prouing the earthe to be in the middle and centre of the worlde.


The Schollar uses the term "absurdity" of the non-Ptolemaic view and the Master then declares, "That is truly to be gathered; howe bee it Copernicus, a man of greate learninge, of muche experience and of wondrefull diligence in observation hath renewed the opinion of Aristarchus Samius." He warns him, "You are to younge to be a good judge in so great a matter..." and even promises, "At other time, as I sayd, I will so declare his supposition that you shall not only wonder to hear it, but also peradventure be as earnest then to credite it as you are now to condemn it."

Very few months after this work of Recorde, we get a definite opinion from John Dee (1527-1608), who states in a preface to John Feild's Ephemeris anni 1557 [40] that he had persuaded Feild to compile these tables, since the work of Copernicus, Rheticus and Rheinhald had rendered the old tables no longer satisfactory.

Dee was a friend of Leonard Digges (d. circ. 1571), the maker of an early form of telescope. He was also the teacher of Leonard's son Thomas Digges (d. 1595), the first professional astronomer known to us who sets forth the theory of an infinite universe. In 1573 Thomas Digges published in his Alae seu scalae mathematicae, dedicated to Lord Burleigh, the record of a series of observations of the new star in Cassiopeia, discovered the previous year. His exaltation at the discovery is reflected in the preface on "this stupendous creation of God." The incongruity of the Ptolemaic scheme had impressed Digges. He likens the system with its orbs and epicycles to a monstrous picture of a man with head, feet and limbs each taken from the representation of a separate individual. He insists on the need of careful observations to construct a more seemly anatomy of parts joined in perfect proportion and symmetry, and he prophesies that "the paradox of Copernicus" (Paradoxum hactenus explosum) concerning the earth's motion will be firmly demonstrated by observation and not by argument. He is uncertain whether the earth's motion is the sole cause of apparent change of size of the new star. His work is typical of that twilight between the ratiocinatory and the demonstrative, the scholastic and the scientific, the mediaeval and the modern, in which Bruno's stormy and contradictory life-span was passed.

In 1576 came the pronouncement by Thomas Digges for an infinite universe. This was in an "Addition" to a new edition of the Prognostication Everlastinge of his father Leonard Digges. The work of Thomas Digges is introduced by a figure (Fig. 8) showing a universe with central sun, and stars "fixed infinitely up." The figure is followed by a preface "To the Reader" in which Digges explains that among "Sondry faultes that by negligence in printing have crept into my father's Generall Prognostication ... I found a description or Modill of the world and situation of Spheres Caelestiall and Elementare according to the doctrine of Ptolome," and he decides to give the Copernican scheme. He is certain that "Copernicus mente not as some have fondly excused him, to deliuer these grounds of the Earthe's mobility onely as Mathematicall principles, fayned and not as Philosophicall truly auerred." Moreover, Digges declares, "This ball euery 24 hours by naturall, uniforme and wonderfull slie and smooth motion rouleth rounde, making with his Periode our naturall daye, whereby it seems to us that the huge infinite immoueable Globe should sway and tourne about." [41]

The "Addition" itself is entitled A Perfit Description of the Caelestiall Orbes according to the most aunciente doctrine of the Pythagoreans, latelye reuiued by Copernicus and by Geometricall Demonstrations approued. In it Thomas Digges sets forth the Copernican theory of a universe of concentric revolving spheres. But he interpolates a somewhat confused exposition, which is in no way derived from Copernicus, of an infinite universe with stars stretching through endless space (Fig. 8):


Heerein can wee neuer sufficiently admire thys wonderfull and incomprehensible huge frame of goddes woorks proponed to our senses, seinge fyrst thys baull of the earth wherein we moue, to the common sorte seemeth greate, and yet in respecte of the Moones Orbe is very small, but compared with Orbis magnus wherein it is caried, it scarcely retayneth any sensible proportion, so merueilously is that Orbe of Annuall motion greater than this little darcke starre wherein we liue. But that Orbis magnus beinge as is before declared but as a poynct in respect of the immensity of that immoueable heauen, we may easily consider what little portion of gods frame, our Elementare corruptible worlde is, but neuer sufficiently be able to admire the immensity of the Rest. Especially of that fixed Orbe garnished with lightes innumerable and reaching up in Sphaericall altitude without ende. Of whiche lightes Celestiall it is to bee thoughte that we onely behoulde sutch as are in the inferioure partes of the same Orbe, and as they are hygher, so seeme they of lesse and lesser quantity, euen tyll our sighte beinge not able farder to reache or conceyue, the greatest part rest by reason of their wonderfull distance inuisible unto us. And this may wel be thought of us to be the gloriouse court of the great God, whose unsearcheable worcks inuisible we may partly by these his visible coniecture, to whose infinit power and majesty such an infinit place surmountinge all other both in quantity and quality only is conueniente. [42]


While this passage establishes the priority of Thomas Digges among astronomers, it must be remembered that the infinity of the universe had been postulated a century earlier in the philosophical works of Nicolaus of Cusa.

The work of William Gilbert (1540-1603) On the Magnet, [48] which appeared in London in 1600, is usually regarded as the first major work of experimental science by an Englishman. The last part of this book is devoted to a general consideration of the solar system, and Gilbert comes to the conclusion that there is a "magnetic diurnal revolution" of the earth. He postpones discussion of the orbital motion of the earth, though referring to Copernicus as "the first who attempted to illustrate the phenomena of moving bodies by new hypotheses."

While avoiding Copernican discussion, Gilbert betrays that he had been reading Bruno or had held discussion with him or with someone who held similar views concerning the nature of the heavenly bodies. "Who," he asks,


has ever made out that the stars which we call fixed are in one and the same sphere, or has established by reasoning that there are any real and, as it were, adamantine sphaeres? No one has ever proved this, nor is there a doubt but that just as the planets are at unequal distances from the earth, so are these vast and multitudinous lights separated from the Earth by varying and very remote altitudes; they are not set in any sphaerick frames or firmament. The intervals of some are from their unfathomable distance matter of opinion rather than of verification; others less than they are yet very remote, and at varying distances, either in that most subtle quintessence the thinnest aether or in the void.... How immeasurable then must be the space which stretches to those remotest of fixed stars! How vast and immense the depth of that imaginary sphere! How far removed from the Earth must be the most widely separated stars and at a distance transcending all sight, all skill, all thought! How monstrous, then would such a motion be!

It is evident then that all the heavenly bodies, set as if in destined places, are there formed unto spheres, that they tend to their own centres, and that round them there is a confluence of all their parts. And if they have motion, that motion will rather be that of each round its own centre, as that of the Earth is; or a forward movement of the centre in an orbit, as that of the Moon; ... But there can be no movement of infinity and of an infinite body, and therefore no diurnal revolution of that vastest Primum mobile. [44]


In a work that appeared long posthumously in 1651, [45] Gilbert refers to the same theme. In it he wavers between the schemes of Copernicus and of Brahe, inclining to the latter. Two pages of the book are devoted to a discussion of Bruno's astronomical views but the question of infinite space is now hardly mentioned. The book adds something, however, to our knowledge of the relation of Bruno and Gilbert, for it gives a diagram (Fig. 9), undiscussed in the text, which recalls both Bruno's views and the diagram of Digges.

In the minds of some at least of his contemporaries, Gilbert's views were closely associated with those of Bruno. Thus in a letter to Thomas Hariot (1560-1620) from Sir William Lower, dated 21st June, 1610:


Wee ... were a consideringe of Kepler's reasons by which he indeauors to ouerthrow Nolanus and Gilberts opinions concerninge the immensitie of the spheere of the starres and that opinion particularlie of Nolanus by which he affirmed that the eye beinge placed in anie parte of the universe, the apparence would be still all one as unto us here. When I was a sayinge that although Kepler had sayd somethinge the most that mighte be urged for that opinion of Nolanus, yet of one principall thinge he had not thought. [46] ...


Among Hariot's papers there is one on which are noted the words "Nolanus de immenso et mundi." [47] Hariot has been claimed as anticipating Kepler (with whom he corresponded) in speculations concerning the ellipticity of planetary orbits, and as anticipating Descartes on quadratic equations. He was perhaps the first to bring all terms of an equation to one side and equate to zero, and he pointed out that an equation has as many roots as it has powers or dimensions. Hariot made improvements too in mathematical notation. His telescope was said to have a magnification by 50, and he made a great many observations with it. He was a leader of the group that ultimately became the "School of Night." We are thus not surprised to find him considering Bruno's views. Much of Hariot's work remained unpublished, and has been discovered only in the present century.

Turning now to Continental writers on astronomy, we consider first Girolamo Fracastoro, whose name is given to a speaker in the work here translated. Fracastoro was a very influential humanist and physician. [48] He had been a fellow student of Copernicus at the University of Padua. Bruno cannot have met him, as he died when the Nolan was a small child. Though best known for his medical works, Fracastoro made varied contributions to scientific thought. In his work on A Single Centre of the Universe (1538) he opposes certain details in the current Ptolemaic epicyclic scheme of planetary movement. [49]

Bruno cites as sympathetic to the new insurgent astronomical views Palingenio (whom he imagines to be a German), author of the Zodiac of Life. [50] Among eminent Germans Bruno mentions also Paracelsus, "that prince of physicians who ranks alone with Hippocrates." [51] Bruno cites too Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), a figure not unlike Paracelsus and Bruno himself in the unhappiness and misadventures of his life and in the extravagance of his writings. [52]

Bruno adopts the revolutionary deduction of Tycho from the observations in 1572 of a new star and in 1577 of a great comet far more distant than the moon. That such ephemeral bodies could suddenly appear at these distances disproved the current view of the immutable character of the "ethereal regions" and of the bodies within them. "All the stars," says Bruno, "have motion, even those 'fixed' stars of which our sun is one. Nor are the comets in anywise different from other planets but for their apparent difference of position. Whereby their light is sometimes as though exposed to us in a slanting mirror." He even declares, "These things were discovered by me some lustres back and were proved by reason ('interior sense'). But now at last I may accept that they are confirmed by the learned Dane Tycho who by his wise talent hath discovered many things." [53] He quotes Cornelius Gemma's remark in the same sense concerning the comet and cites Roeslin (whom he calls the German physician Helyseus). [54] He refers also to Cardan (1501-76) [55]

He cites too the information of Pico della Mirandola that Leo Hebraeus had invented an instrument whereby he had observed two "motionless" stars occupying positions differing by two degrees from their positions observed later in the same year. [56] For the understanding of such things, says Bruno,


The difficulty proceedeth from a false method and wrong hypothesis -- namely of the weight and immobility of the earth, the position of the primum mobile with the other seven, eight, nine or more [spheres] on which stars are implanted, impressed, plastered, nailed, knotted, glued, sculptured or painted and that these stars do not reside in the same space as our own star, named by us Earth. [57]


Bruno also recalls the observation of a new star in 1585 by Olaus Cimber, and the Landgrave William of Hesse's "renewal to memory" of the observations of Rothmann ten years earlier. In this connection Bruno, who cites both ancient and mediaeval observations, remarks that this confirms Pliny's report of the star seen by Hipparchus in 125 B.C. "Veritas temporis filia," exclaims Bruno, recalling that Aristotle, Aeschylus and Hippocrates of Chios had all asserted that comets are planets. "We now see that comets, planets, and our earth are all one kind." [58]

Graphic Rule

d. Cosmic Metabolism

We turn from the more astronomical to the more philosophical elements of Bruno's cosmic views.

From Lucretius and certain Renaissance Lucretians such as Fracastoro, [59] Bruno drew his conception of what he calls the Minima from which all things are formed. The diverse multiplicity of phenomena he attributed to the grouping of these "minima" which are in eternal motion, constantly leaving yet constantly tending to return to "their own natural body and place." Thus he envisaged an eternal process of what we may call cosmic metabolism. Death was but a stage in this process, while life was a quality inherent to a greater or lesser degree in every part of nature. "From the Minimum everything groweth and every magnitude is reduced to the minimum"; and "the Minimum buildeth up to the many and to the innumerable and infinite." [60]


As Semina are aggregated around bodies, atoms are added to adjacent parts, so the body with its members takes its rise; but as these parts are expelled from the centre, so the bodies, however well knit, are gradually dissolved. [61]

When we consider ... the being and substance of that universe in which we are immutably set, we shall discover that neither we ourselves nor any substance doth suffer death; for nothing is in fact diminished in its substance, but all things, wandering through infinite space, undergo change of aspect. [62]

The universe being infinite, and the bodies thereof transmutable, all are therefore constantly dispersed and constantly reassembled; they send forth their substance, and receive within themselves wandering substance. Nor doth it appear to me absurd but on the contrary most fitting and natural that finite transmutations may occur to a subject; wherefore particles of [elemental] earth may wander through the ethereal region and may traverse vast space now to this body, now to that, just as we see such particles change their position, their disposition and their form when they are yet close to us. Whence we deduce that if this earth be eternal, it is not so by virtue of the stability of any one part or individual, but through vicissitudes of many parts, some being expelled therefrom and their place taken by others. Thus soul and intelligence persist while the body is ever changing and renewed, part by part. This may be observed also in animals which survive only by absorption and evacuation. Whoever considers well, will recognize that we have not in youth the same flesh as in childhood, nor in old age the same as in youth: for we suffer perpetual transmutation, whereby we receive a perpetual flow of fresh atoms, while those that we have received are ever leaving us. [63]


The world is made up of "minima" or "monads" which, though sometimes equated with atoms, are a philosophical rather than a material conception and have in them some of the qualities of the whole. They bear some resemblance to the semina of Bruno's predecessor Fracastoro, being associated with some of the qualities of life. They perhaps provided a suggestion to Leibnitz for his Monads:


Concerning those prime indivisible bodies from which the whole universe was originally composed, we must believe that they undergo certain vicissitudes through the immensity of space whereby they ebb and flow hither and thither. And if, by divine providence, they do not form new bodies nor dissolve the old, they are at least able to do so. For mundane bodies are in fact dissoluble; though either on account of intrinsic quality or through external influence they may persist to eternity, suffering a balanced influx and efflux of atoms; and thus they may remain constant in number, though their corporeal substance be like ours renewed from day to day, from hour to hour, from moment to moment, by the processes of attraction and metabolism [64] of all the parts of the body. [65]


Bruno does not seem consistently to envisage the monad with the specific varied shapes of the Lucretian atoms. [66] In the work here translated, Theophilus asserts that the infinite may contain dissimilar finites, such as earth, water, etc., which unite by the concourse of their innumerable minimal parts or atoms:


There are many dissimilar finite bodies within a single infinity Many continuous parts form a unity; with liquid mud. There throughout and in every part, water is continuous with water, earthy matter with earthy matter; wherefore, since the concourse of the atoms of earth, and the atoms of water, is beyond our sensible apprehension, these minima are then regarded as neither discrete nor continuous; but as forming a single continuum which is neither water nor earth...; the infinite universe may be regarded as a single continuum in which discreteness is no more introduced by the interpolation of ether between the large celestial bodies than it can be within the mud, by the interposition of air among the dry and the watery particles; the difference being solely in the fineness and subtlety of the parts of the mud exceeding our sensible apprehension, as against the greatness, size and sensible qualities of the members of the universe. And thus contrary and diverse mobile parts converge to constitute a single motionless continuum. [67]


Bruno's conception of matter is, like that of Cusanus, illuminated by analogy both from geometry and from number. Following the fantasy of Raymund Lull, he uses as symbols of thought geometric figures with numbers. Congenial to Bruno too are the analogies drawn by Cusanus from the growth of endless mathematical series, arising from Unity. [68] Bruno finds in mathematical theory support for his conception of the indivisible atom or monad. [69] His vision is most clear in the great poems.


The minimum is the substance of all things, and thou wilt at length find it the same and the greatest of all. Here is the monad, the atom: and the whole Spirit extending hence upon every side; it is without bulk, its whole essence constituting all things by its symbols. If thou examinest the matter, this it is, with its substances. Since indeed the minimum thus reneweth all things, so that nothing is spread beneath it nor is there aught else. Were there no monad, there would be nought of number for it doth constitute species, building up every kind. For it is the prime basis in all things, that as it were whence God and the parent nature and art do elaborate on high, that which reigneth over every kind and resideth in every kind.... Number is the accident of the monad but the monad is the essence of number; thus the atom entereth into composition and the atom is the essence of the composite.... For the substance for the building of all bodies is the minimum body or the atom, and for building a line or a surface, the minimum is the point. [70]


Graphic Rule

e. Inherent Necessity

All motion, and indeed all changes of state, Bruno ascribes to the inevitable reaction of a given body to its environment. He does not conceive merely an external environment acting on an inner nature, but rather regards the force leading to change in a given body as a function of the nature of the body itself, a nature which, of course, includes reaction in a particular manner to a particular environment. He thus conceives the phenomena of the universe or Nature as a synthesis of freely developing innate forces impelling to eternal growth and change.

He speaks constantly of the heavenly bodies as "animalia" pursuing their course through space. An "animal" for Bruno is that which is endowed with anima. Not only all life but all being he regards as in some sort animated. In the work here translated he expounds his view that this anima constitutes the raggione or inherent law which, in contradistinction to any outward force or constraint, is responsible for all phenomena and above all for all motion. It is true that the raggione of every part is influenced by the raggione of all other parts. But it is this ultimate nature, rather than the detailed behaviour, of each part which suffers this influence.


The individual, [71] whether corporeal or incorporeal, is never completed; and among eternally pursuing individual forms, seeking eternally nevertheless those to pursue, resteth never content.... Thus is the infinity of All ever bringing forth anew, and even as infinite space is around us, so is infinite potentiality, capacity, reception, malleability, matter. [72]


All motion and all matter in its diverse modes are the expressions of a rigorous Necessity but this Necessity is an inward force, not an outward constraint. This is Bruno's version of the Nature Philosophy that made such an appeal to the men of the Renaissance. Often cited with admiration by Bruno is the work of Bernardino Telesio (1509-1588) who founded the Academy at Cosenza. His great work was entitled On the Nature of Things. [73] Telesio had his own version of the conceptions of the pre-Socratics; he cites the authority of Parmenides for his view that Cold and Heat are the ultimate fundamental elements. Telesio rejects the Aristotelian distinction between Form and Matter. This and his vitalism -- the view that every material thing is endowed with power of feeling -- brings him near to Bruno's Nature Philosophy. He says too that the heavenly bodies rotate because it is their nature to do so.

Bruno resolves problems of individual will in something like a universal pantheism. He remarks that David of Dinant [74] was no fool to regard matter as divine. We may recall that Bruno at his final trial was pathetically certain that if only he himself could make his judges understand, they would welcome his philosophy:


If then spirit, soul, life, is in all things, and to a varying extent filleth all matter, it must assuredly be the true act and the true form of all things.... Thus only the external forms of things change and dissolve again, for they are not things in themselves but appertain to things, not substance but accident, and circumstance of substance. [75]

The Prime Origin is not that which moveth, but itself still and immobile, it giveth the power to generate their own motion to innumerable worlds, to great and small animals throughout the vast space of the universe, each with a pattern of mobility, of motion and of other accidents, conditioned by his own nature. [76]


Bruno's vision of all things impelled to action according to their essential nature fitted his assertion of man's inborn right to follow the dictates of his own soul: [77]


So thou mightest say that the atom in nature is constant and that no one figure appertaineth thereto. Thus the divine nature of the soul is perceived, nor doth any passion or change take place therein. To whatever fate she is subject, coming to the part of a composite whole, she hardly remaineth for one moment affected by the same fate, yet she remaineth steadfast as a single entity ... for the judgement-halls of inexorable fortune dwell in the soul. [78]


Such passages manifest the contemporary mood of individualism that found expression in religion, in politics, in observation of nature and in philosophy. [79]

These views had spread from Platonist humanism in Italy to Aristotelian humanism in France. They profoundly influenced the mathematician and theologian, Jacques Lefèvre of Étaples (1455-1537), who edited the first complete edition of Cusanus [80] which Bruno declares to be "a glory to France." [81] Lefèvre had also edited the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

The forces assailing the autonomy of the human will were on the one hand ecclesiastical authority, and on the other, belief in astrology and in the pagan conception of Fortuna or Fate. To none of these did Bruno yield obedience. His doctrine of Inner Necessity is, of course, incompatible with the cruder astrology. [82] His use of personification of the heavenly bodies is merely parable and symbol, "the Shadows of Ideas." [83]

Bruno greatly praises a pupil of Lefèvre, Charles de Bovelles (1470-1533) who was also deeply under the influence of Lull. Like his teacher, De Bovelles was a prolific writer of diversified talent. He produced the first Geometry published in the French language. His work On Wisdom presents an extraordinary combination of mediaeval thought with insurgent humanism. The discussion of macrocosm and microcosm and of the functions of the angelic hosts is in full mediaeval style. Elaborate figures and tables of qualities are reminiscent of Lull while the use of symbolism based on the Trinity often recalls Cusanus. De Bovelles strengthens his argument with quotations from Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. But the grand theme of the work is that Man has been endowed by God with Mind whereby he may through Wisdom attain to unity with the Godhead himself. [84]

Bruno may have derived from these writers and from Lucretius inspiration toward his doctrine of Inherent Necessity, though surely he had need of naught beyond his own burning conviction of the human birthright. In the work here translated, the conception is revealed that not merely man, nor even only living things, are imbued with this inward urge. In Bruno's thought everything on earth, everything throughout the universe, is endowed with an immanent urge or impulse in conformity with its own inward nature. This which we have called Inherent Necessity impels it to mould its own development, its environment, its destiny.


That which resideth in the small, may be seen in the great, and it appeareth that the part hideth everywhere in the whole. [85]

Necessity, Fate, Nature, Design, Will all ordered justly and without error converge in the One. [86]

God, since his nature is utterly perfect ... and since he acteth without restraint, he acteth freely; thus will concurreth with goodness, and goodness with necessity. Wherefore since the best doth exist in every species, he impelleth [agit] of necessity one and no other; and since he cannot be other than good, he cannot work [facere] otherwise than as he worketh. Therefore by the necessity of his nature he worketh good, and yet better; and of two contraries, the worse could not be object or subject either of his power or of his will or of necessity. Beware then that priest who would rank either divine freedom or our own freedom as merely contingent and possible. [87]


This theme of immanent necessity is, it will be noticed, one of Bruno's arguments for the infinity of the universe, since he cannot accept that the Infinite Nature of God is consistent with the creation of a finite universe. His majestic conception gives a universal cosmic free will. As regards man, it links the problem of free will with the problem of knowledge. For the spontaneity and productivity of knowledge become the ultimate guarantees of human creative power. We are thus introduced also to a new ethic, In the Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast the old celestial bodies are banished from heaven. A new moral philosophy is heralded, and the basis will be "Sinderesi," [88] as Bruno calls it. His supreme law is in fact the Inner Light.

Graphic Rule

f. Coincidence of Contraries

For the further elements of Bruno's philosophy his most important source was Nicolaus Cusanus. Again we observe the same views submitted to the crucible of two very different minds. In both writers, closely associated with belief in the infinity of the universe was the doctrine of the Coincidence of Contraries. The subject-object relationship similarly was envisaged by both writers as a process of admixture culminating in identity. They both cite Pseudo-Dionysius (fifth century) who held that God transcends all contraries. [89] His work was commented on by Johannes Eriugena (d. 877); by St. Thomas (1225-1274); by Albertus Magnus (1193-1280); by Meister Eckhart (d. circ. 1327) and by Marsillio Ficino (1433-1499). All these writers except Eckhart are cited by Bruno. Cusanus gave the doctrine a new slant and a new emphasis. Following but developing the views of Pseudo-Dionysius on the Hierarchy of the Cosmos, Cusanus saw Salvation as the Line of Unification between Contraries.

The usual mediaeval view of the Cosmos was a hierarchy from God, through the world of Pure Intelligences and Heavenly Powers (comprising the Circle of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; the Circle of Dominations, Virtues and Powers; the Circle of Principalities, Archangels and Angels) down to Man. All Being, it was conceived, radiates from God through the Intelligences and Heavenly Powers to Man, and thence back to God. This cosmic hierarchy is expounded in detail by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) from whom it is quoted by Albertus. It had, however, been set forth centuries earlier by Pseudo-Dionysius and interpreted by Eriugena. The cosmic hierarchy came to be regarded as the archetype of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Cusanus accepted this usual mediaeval view but here too we find the extraordinary dualism which pervaded his whole life. For he sought to combine the mediaeval conception of a cosmic hierarchy with an entirely different cosmic conception with which he came at last to be entirely imbued. In De docta ignorantia and in De coniecturis he considers how man may attain to knowledge of God -- the Infinite, the Maximum. Between finite and infinite, he reiterates, there can be no proportional relationship. Therefore the finite intellect cannot attain to ultimate truth. [90]

So Cusanus turned from the rational theology of the schoolmen to that mystical theology wherein he found expression for the poetical and emotional side of his nature. Yet he did not wholly submerge his powerful intellect in his ecstatic vision. "Wisdom is the son of God and where it is received there is received also Filiation to God." [91] He propounded the view that since infinity cannot be grasped by mere feeling, there is needed the amor dei intellectualis, the love of that which we have recognized and known as good. Thus, he says, knowledge and ignorance become One and at last by the Visio intellectualis we even attain to a glimpse of Infinity. [92] Now for Cusanus the instrument of this Visio intellectualis is Mathematics, which provides a new logic applicable to the infinite. [93]

As old at least as Aristotle is the problem: How can there be a relation between finite and infinite? Between physical and metaphysical, between experience and thought? Finite understanding, says Cusanus, can never reach absolute truth, but can approach ever nearer thereto even as a triangle by infinite multiplication can approach ever nearer to the perfection of circular form. [94] Empirical knowledge, he observes with Plato, is founded on ideal conception, yet it never comprises the whole truth of the ideal conception. The conditioned and finite tends toward the infinite which it never reaches. Thus may be realized "how the Providence of God uniteth Contraries." [95]

As regards theology, Cusanus found that this process leads to informed (that is conscious) ignorance; as regards experience, it leads to ignorant knowledge. For experience forbids true knowledge, and true knowledge is itself relative, always aiming at greater truth. Experience, says Cusanus, is really hypothesis, conjecture. In this conception of Conjecture he finds the link between Creator and Creation, Idea and Manifestation. "Conjecture is a positive assertion in place of truth, having some part in truth." Single truth can only be manifested to us in difference, but there is no difference which does not in some sort attain to and have part in this unity. [96] Thus instead of identity or opposedness, we have infinite interrelationship.

From these thoughts and not on physical but on metaphysical grounds, the De docta ignorantia and the De coniecturis develop the idea both of the motion of the earth and of the relativity of all motion. The infinity of the universe is envisaged as bound up with the identity of contraries. The same thought recurs repeatedly in his works. In the De pace fidei the conception is applied to differences of belief. Cusanus describes the vision "of a certain man in Constantinople" who prayed to the Creator that persecution on account of difference in religious rite should be moderated. The King of Heaven and Earth spoke, saying that the groans of the oppressed had reached him as sad ambassadors from the kingdom of this world. The Archangel pointed out that the whole earth is populated by the descendants of one man: "There cannot be a great multitude without great diversity.... Thou didst send to the nations various Prophets and masters, some at one time, some at another." [97] In the vision, representatives of many peoples speak in turn, and finally there is concluded a "concord of the mode [rationis] of all religions." [98] Several times Cusanus refers to the promise that through Abraham all peoples of the earth shall be blessed: "Therefore the children of Abraham are those who believe in God in so much as they are justified by Faith." [99] The identity of contraries culminating in the godhead is set forth again and again by Cusanus. [100] He found in the Christ idea the reconciliation between all contraries, between finite and infinite, between sense-perception and soul. "Unus Christus ex omnibus," he exclaims. [101]

Bruno's teaching on the coincidence of contraries was closely similar to that of the Cusan, though presented without mystic theological interpretation:


Our philosophy ... reduceth to a single origin and relateth to a single end, and maketh contraries to coincide so that there is one primal foundation both of origin and of end. From this coincidence of contraries, we deduce that ultimately it is divinely true that contraries are within contraries; wherefore it is not difficult to compass the knowledge that each thing is within every other -- which Aristotle and the other Sophists could not comprehend. [102]

All power and act which in origin is complicated, united and one is in other things explicate, dispersed and multiple. The universe, the great image, the figure, the only-begotten nature, is also all that it can be through the species and principal members and content of all matter; to which naught can be added and from which naught is wanting, of form complete and unique. But it is not yet all that it can be owing to differences, modes, qualities, individuality: [103] indeed it is but an umbra of the primal act and primal power. Wherefore power and act are not in it absolutely the same, for no part thereof is all which it can be.... [104]


Among many passages we may recall from the De immenso Bruno's magnificent lines proclaiming that the potentiality of all parts is in the Whole and in each part ("All things are in all"). [105] This is the real basis of his view of the Identity of Opposites, and he fortifies himself with the support of such names as Anaxagoras, Anaxamines and "the divine Parmenides," as well as of Plato's Timaeus and the Neo-Platonists. We have seen that various works current in Paris during Bruno's first visit were in harmony with the doctrine of the coincidence of contraries. [106]

Light is thrown on Bruno's doctrine of the Identity of Contraries also by his cosmological speculation. At the close of Dialogue I of the work here translated, he contrasts terrestrial motion derived from the infinite First Cause with terrestrial motion from motive impulse intrinsic to the finite earth herself. The former is instantaneous and therefore, being circular, is indistinguishable from complete stillness; the latter, being "within time and in a certain succession, is distinct from immobility." He adds, "Thus it is that we can say that God moveth all: and thus should we understand that He giveth the power of self motion to all which moveth."

Now the first half of the explanation would seem to suggest that the effects of God as First Cause are fused into an infinite effect which comprises all possible change or motion and is thus equivalent to no change or motion. The second half expresses the more usual view of God, the creator of Nature and of immutable Natural Law. In the second Dialogue of the same work, the implications of this twofold conception are further developed. Bruno refers to his work On Cause, Prime Origin, and the One which is concerned with the relation between Finite Cause and Infinite First Principle, the two attributes being fused in the Divine Creator. [107]

Drawing mathematical analogies, Bruno claims (for example in On Cause, Prime Origin and the One) that corruption of one is generation of another, hatred of opposition is no other than love of the convenient, heat and cold are merely relative terms; while the physician seeks ever the contrary antidote to arrive at health:


In conclusion, he who would know the greatest secrets of nature should regard and contemplate maxima and minima of opposed bodies. For profound magistery [magia] it is to be able to reach the contrary, after having found the point of union. [108]

The One Infinite is perfect; simply and of itself nothing can be greater or better than it. This is the one Whole everywhere, God, universal nature. Naught but the infinite can be a perfect image and reflection thereof, for the finite is imperfect; every sensible world is imperfect, wherefore evil and good, matter and form, light and darkness, sadness and joy unite, and all things are everywhere in change and motion. But all things come in infinity to the order [rationem] of Unity, Truth and Goodness; whereby it is named universum.... Wherefore as rational and irrational in the animal are indifferent, being a single truth, so in the infinite, in the maximum, hot and cold are assuredly one throughout the universe; and we have often shewn them coincident in the minimum as in the maximum. [109]


In a later chapter we shall observe that a doctrine akin to the coincidence of contraries has in modern times taken a form that would indeed have surprised Pseudo-Dionysius and all those who inspired Bruno in this view. But we do not suggest that Marx was a direct disciple of Bruno! Nor indeed would we attribute to direct influence of Bruno each of the other and different streams of thought that lead to the vision of all-embracing Unity.

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g. Bruno's Synthesis of Universal Relativity [110]

Let us consider the implication of Bruno's conception of a single infinite continuum comprising atoms discrete yet continuous, [111] an infinitely vast cosmos whose innumerable parts exert no absolute constraint one on another. Each, in obedience to the law of its own being, obeys its own intrinsic urge. Yet all are intimately interrelated by the immanence throughout each one of the universal spirit whereby all are fused into a single universal whole. Bruno is thus led to the conception of the identity of subject-object, which to him was bound up with the coincidence of contraries, [112] All life, indeed all Being, he regards as an expression, we had almost said a free expression, of Immanent Necessity, and since the whole is infinity, we can form no absolute concept of the mode or motion of any part, but we can observe the relationship of part to part. Our world of sense-perception is then built not on absolute values, but on certain observed relationships. Once more we are with the great problems of the relationship between Cause and Effect, Subject and Object, Innate Necessity. Can we attain to a synthesis of his views on these great themes?

Bruno constantly reiterates that on the one hand the immediate interpretation of our sense-data may lead us far astray, while on the other hand our imagination, though it also may set us on a right track, may similarly be completely deceptive. Only by enthroning reason as arbiter can we reconcile imaginative experience with sense-perception and derive profit from both:


No corporeal sense can perceive the infinite. None of our senses could be expected to furnish this conclusion; for the infinite cannot be the object of sense-perception; therefore he who demandeth to obtain this knowledge through sense is as one who would desire to see with his eyes both substance and essence. And he who would deny the existence of a thing merely because it cannot be apprehended by the senses nor is visible, would presently be led to the denial of his own substance and being. There must then be some measure in the demand for evidence from sense-perception, for this we can accept only in regard to sensible objects; and even then it is not above all suspicion unless it cometh before the court aided by good judgement. It is for the intellect to judge, yielding due weight to factors absent and separated by distance of time and space. And in this matter our sense-perception sufficeth us and yieldeth us adequate testimony, since it is unable to gainsay us. Moreover, sense advertiseth and confesseth his own feebleness and inadequacy by the impression it giveth us of a finite horizon, an impression which is ever changing. Since then we have experience that sense-perception deceiveth us concerning the surface of this globe on which we live, much more should we hold suspect the impression it giveth us of a limit to the starry sphere.

Of what use then are the senses to us?

Solely to stimulate our reason, to accuse, to indicate, to testify in part; not to testify completely, still less to judge or condemn. For our sense-perceptions, however perfect, are never altogether undisturbed. Wherefore truth is in but very small degree derived from the senses as from a frail origin, and doth by no means reside in the senses.

Where then resideth truth?

In the sensible object as in a mirror. In reason, by process of argument and discussion; in the intellect, either through origin or by conclusion; in the mind, in its proper and vital form. [113]


Bruno heralds the change, which became explicit in the work both of Kepler and of Descartes, by which discussion of the nature of material reality yields place to the conception of an Order of the Universe. For Bruno's passionate assertion of the infinity of space was not merely denial of boundary. He conceived Infinite Space as the field of all motion, the vehicle of an Infinite Power which is the expression of the Infinite Life of the Universe:

 Thus the heaven, the infinitely extending air [aria], though part of the infinite universe, is not therefore a world or part of worlds; but is the womb, the receptacle and field within which they all move and live, grow and render effective the several acts of their vicissitudes, produce, nourish and maintain their inhabitants and animals; and by certain dispositions and orders they minister to higher nature, changing the face of single being through countless subjects. [114]

It is manifest that each of these innumerable worlds which we see in the universe is not therein as in a containing position or in an interval or space; but rather in that which comprehendeth, conserveth, the universal motor and efficient cause: which cometh thus to be completely contained within each of these worlds, to be as the whole soul of every part thereof. [115]


Bruno gives much space to combating Aristotle's arguments against the Void. Nor was there in Bruno's mind any sharp distinction between the three infinities of Space, Time and Matter. They merge into one another as does his conception of Infinite Space, Nature and the Infinite World Soul.


The Minimum is the substance of all things and thou wilt await it at length as the largest of all things. This is the Monad, this is the atom, the whole spirit that is poured hence on all sides, without form, disposing all things by its tokens [signis], the total essence and substance, this it is if at length thou examinest the matter. [116]

The universal Intellect is the intimate, most real, peculiar and powerful part of the soul of the world. This is a single whole which filleth the whole, illumineth the universe and directeth nature to the production of suitable species: this is concerned with the production of natural things, as our intellect with the congruous production of rational kinds. This is called by the Pythagoreans the motive force and mover of the universe, as said the poet:

"Mind moveth the whole form and mixeth itself throughout the body." [117]


And again:


For nature is not merely present, but is implanted within things, distant from none; naught is distant from her except the false, and that which existed never and nowhere -- nullity. And while the outer face of things changeth so greatly, there flourisheth the origin of being more intimately within all things than they themselves. The fount of all kinds, Mind, God, Being, One, Truth, Destiny, Reason, Order. [118]

Thus the single spirit doth simultaneously temper the whole together [contemperat]; this is the single soul of all things; all are filled with God. [119]


Souls, like light or sound, are diffused in all directions through space; they do not impede one another but influence one another: [120]


It is manifest ... that every soul and spirit hath a certain continuity with the spirit of the universe, so that it must be understood to exist and to be included not only there where it liveth and feeleth, but it is also by its essence and substance diffused throughout immensity as was realized by many Platonists and Pythagoreans. Thus it is that [the individual soul] doth apprehend most distant species, in an instant and without motion, nor doth the eye or aught therefrom suddenly advance to the stars, nor aught suddenly from the stars to the eye. The power of each soul is itself somehow present afar in the universe, inasmuch as the substance which is not included in the living body is yet exceedingly connected and attached thereto. Therefore certain impediments being removed, suddenly and at once it hath present to it the most remote species which are not joined to it by motion. Naught is mixed, yet is there some presence. Indeed experience teaches us somewhat of these things. For if a nose hath been cut off and one is implanted from another body, on the day when the first owner thereof doth die, as his body putrefieth so also doth the implanted nose putrefy. [121] Thus it is manifest that the soul can be diffused far beyond the body throughout the whole horizon of the nature thereof. Thus doth it happen that it knoweth not only the members belonging to itself but even all those with which it hath contracted any use, participation or communion.... Even so if a person doth prick his finger or any part of his body, he feeleth it not only in that part but throughout all his members.

Thus since the soul of the individual is continuous with the soul of the universe, it is not impossible that it may be carried to bodies which do not interpenetrate with it ... as if innumerable lamps are lit and together give the effect of one light, nor doth the one light impede or weaken or exclude the other.

Similarly when many voices are diffused throughout the same space, even as with light [visualibus] rays. Or as we say popularly, the rays are spread out to receive the same visible whole, where all penetrate the same medium, some in straight lines and some obliquely, yet they do not on that account interfere one with another; so the innumerable spirits and souls diffused through the same space interfere not at all with one another, nor doth the diffusion of one impede the diffusion of the infinity of others. [122]


Thus the Lucretian universe of innumerable minimal parts or atoms in perpetual concourse and discourse became for Bruno the symbol of the spiritual universe of an infinity of monads, infinitely numerous elements of the universe, each pursuing the development congruent to its inner nature. And to Bruno the universe like all its parts had the quality of life. This quality the parts derive from the Whole and in some sense share with the Whole. Thus the World Soul too is for Bruno an infinite continuum in which all things partake; yet in another sense discontinuous and divisible and even (on the analogy of number though not with unvarying consistency) infinitely divisible.

This conception again was symbolic of his view of the human soul, every individual soaring to the uttermost height of thought and spiritual development congruent with his own nature, every individual imbued with the divine spirit whereby the whole infinity of discrete and independent souls is yet fused into a vast Whole, transcending their discrete separateness, a Unity encompassing time and space, comprehended within infinite space and eternal time, a universal relativity within the immensity of the World Soul, governed by Mind, or, as he sometimes says, Wisdom.

The infinite universe of Bruno's conception was inevitably regarded by him as what we may call a synthesis of infinite relativity. All things and all thoughts and all individual souls have for him their individual and absolute value, yet each can be appraised only in relationship to the others, and the absolute value of each is merged in its relationship to the infinite whole:


These philosophers [Pythagoras and Solomon] discovered their friend Wisdom when they discovered this Unity. For Wisdom, Truth and Unity are one and the same. [123]


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