Giordano Bruno: Philosopher / Heretic by Ingrid D. Rowland

Giordano Bruno was a 16th century Italian priest and free-thinker. At the age of 28, he left the monastery where he’d lived for 11 years because he was about to be indicted for questioning the divinity of Jesus and owning the banned writings of Erasmus. He then wandered around Europe for 25 years, studying, writing, teaching and trailing controversy wherever he went.

Bruno had a lot of radical opinions. He is best known today for his belief that the Sun is merely one among an infinite number of stars, all of which are circled by their own inhabited planets. He reasoned that God wouldn’t have created anything less than an infinite universe full of other worlds and people. He also believed that everyone, sinners or not, would eventually receive God’s grace (God’s free and unmerited favor).

In 1592, although it’s unclear why, he returned to Italy. He must have thought the Inquisition would no longer be interested in him. Unfortunately, he soon got into trouble with a local dignitary, who had Bruno arrested as a blasphemer and a heretic. The religious authorities in Venice imprisoned and investigated him for a year before transferring him to Rome, where he was imprisoned and interrogated for another seven years.

Bruno cooperated with the Inquisition to some extent, but questioned the Inquisition’s authority and ultimately refused to recant all his beliefs. He was burned at the stake in 1600. Almost three centuries later, over the objections of the Vatican, the city government erected an impressive statue of Bruno in the square where he was executed. 

Bruno, being the person he was and living the life he did, deserves a better biography than this. The author’s descriptions of Bruno’s life and thought are clear enough, but she goes off on tangents way too often. As soon as you think you’re finally going to learn more about Bruno, you get observations on architecture, church history or the life of someone Bruno met in his travels.