free-thinker of the 16th century, executed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1600.

In England, Bruno published six books, all in Italian, fully elaborating his philosophical ideas for the first time. He was one of the first philosophers to discuss scientific issues in the vernacular. The very act of publishing in Italian was an open challenge to the Church, which sought to maintain Latin as the language of intellectual discourse and so limit the wider dissemination of ideas. Copernicus's groundbreaking work had been published only in Latin. So afraid were Bruno's printers that not one of them identified himself in the printed texts.

See Giordano Bruno After 400 Years, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/feb2000/brun-f16_prn.shtml

Bruno was burnt at the stake for being a heretic.
His heresy went as follows. He postulated
that the stars were much like our sun but just very far away
(first person on record to say so, so he makes into
the list of most influential astronomers of all times).
He continued this line of thought with the idea that
if they were sun's just like ours they probably
had places like the earth associated with them. If this is the case and other people live on these places then how could those peoples soul's be saved if they never had the opportunity to hear the message of Jesus?.
His conclusion was that God would not permit the souls to go to damnation and so multiple copies of Jesus must
have been born and crucified and resurrected, one for
each star in the heavens. At the point the
church stepped in and said
"right, your firewood mate"

Giordano Bruno di Nola is perhaps best known for being the most famous heretic actually executed by the Catholic Church, or failing that, his rather prescient idea that the stars might be far-off suns, with inhabited worlds circling them much like our own sun. However, in his own time, he was much more noted for his mystical brand of Christianity, which he modestly called Nolanism, and for the fact that he essentially forced the church to execute him, in a manner more reminiscent of the death of Socrates than the suppression of Galileo.

Bruno's mysticism was quite syncretic, cobbled together from odd bits of Neo-Platonism, Egyptian Mythology, hermeticism, alchemical ideas, the Jewish Cabbalism of Luria which was fashionable in Italy at the time, and various semi-suppressed Christian heterodoxies. Nolanism is fantasically complicated, and difficult to explain or even understand. Some claim that its focus on words and their meanings prefigures the modern discipline of semiotics and the works of James Joyce, other that its mystical re-interpretation of Platonic forms is the direct precursor of Jungian archetypes. Bruno has been described as the first post-modern thinker.

The Catholic Church's execution of Bruno for heresy was not a sudden and unexpected strike, but rather a long and complicated drama that, in its defense, the church made many efforts to avoid. When Bruno left Italy to publish his books, the church told him not to return. However, one of Bruno's enemies fed him a false story that the church was no longer actively seeking to suppress his work, and so he returned to Bologna. When he did, the relatively liberal officers of the Italian Inquisition (who were very, very different from their co-officiaries in Spain) felt that they had no choice but to arrest him. They assumed he would do the reasonable thing, recant, and they could deport him and claim a moral victory. However, Bruno simply refused to recant, which caused the church a great deal of consternation. He was held under comfortable house arrest for a year while the Inquisition scratched its head and wondered what to do. Bruno was given three papal audiences where the pope personally asked him to recant, all to no avail. Eventually, the decision was made that if he wouldn't recant, he would have to burnt at the stake, if only as an example, and Bruno entered history.


Thanks to Gorgonzola for pointing out to me that Bruno was executed well before Galileo's run-in with Inquisition, and not the opposite as I originally implied.

Bruno, Giordano, an Italian philosopher, one of the boldest and most original thinkers of his age, born in Nola, about 1550. He became a Dominican monk, but his religious doubts, and his censures of the monastic orders, compelled him to quit his monastery and Italy. He embraced the doctrines of Calvin at Geneva, but doubt and free discussion not being in favor there, he went, after two years' stay, to Paris. He gave lectures on philosophy there, and, by his avowed opposition to the scholastic system, made himself many bitter enemies. He next spent two years in England, and became the friend of Sir Philip Sydney. In 1585 he went again to Paris and renewed his public lectures. After visiting and teaching in various towns in Germany, he returned, in 1592, to Padua, and went afterward to Venice, where he was, in 1598, arrested by the Inquisition and sent to Rome. He lay in prison two years, and on Feb. 17, 1600, was burned as a heretic.


Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

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