The Pope and the Heretic: The True Story of Giordano Bruno, the Man Who Dared to Defy the Roman Inquisition

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9780060186265: The Pope and the Heretic: The True Story of Giordano Bruno, the Man Who Dared to Defy the Roman Inquisition

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was a mystic, philosopher and scientist whose ideas were decades ahead of their time. A proponent of a unificatory vision of science, he was both a champion of the occult as Newton would be after him, and a torch-bearer for the sort of holistic dreams that Leonardo had cherished before him. As such he is perfect material for the third in Michael White's loose trilogy of science biographies - after Newton, the last sorcerer, and Leonardo, the first scientist, we have Bruno, science's first martyr. THE POPE AND THE HERETIC re-creates not just the vibrancy of intellectual life at the height of the Renaissance but also the horrific cost of pursuing ideas which ran counter to the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. After almost eight years' imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Inquisition, Bruno was burned at the stake for his beliefs - or rather, his refusal to accept that intellectual investigation was limited by the dictats of Rome. His life and martyrdom are the subjects of this fascinating book.

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Product Description:

Giordano Bruno challenged everything in his pursuit of an all-embracing system of thought. This not only brought him patronage from powerful figures of the day but also put him in direct conflict with the Catholic Church. Arrested by the Inquisition and tried as a heretic, Bruno was imprisoned, tortured, and, after eight years, burned at the stake in 1600. The Vatican "regrets" the burning yet refuses to clear him of heresy.

But Bruno's philosophy spread: Galileo, Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens, and Gottfried Leibniz all built upon his ideas; his thought experiments predate the work of such twentieth-century luminaries as Karl Popper; his religious thinking inspired such radicals as Baruch Spinoza; and his work on the art of memory had a profound effect on William Shakespeare.

Chronicling a genius whose musings helped bring about the modern world, Michael White pieces together the final years -- the capture, trial, and the threat the Catholic Church felt -- that made Bruno a martyr of free thought.

Review:

The Pope and the Heretic asks why, on the morning of February 19, 1600, following years of hideous torture, philosopher Giordano Bruno was led out to a stake in the middle of the Field of Flowers in Rome, to burn to death. This lucid and illuminating book is an attempt to find the answer.

One reason, carefully and cleverly teased out by Michael White, author of the bestselling Leonardo: The First Scientist, is the era that Bruno was unfortunate enough to live and work in. The late 16th century was a time of savage religious and ideological conflict across Europe. A ruthlessly honest, determinedly original, exuberantly syncretist thinker like Bruno, willing to question the theological and historiographical verities espoused by the Vatican, was a noisome thorn in the flesh of a Roman Catholic Church already wrestling with Protestant dissent.

Another reason, not elided by White, was Bruno’s intellectually pugnacious personality. As White says, "If he had applied more cunning, as did Erasmus, he may have lived to enjoy old age. Instead, Bruno actually courted danger and controversy, confronting his enemies head-on."

A third reason for Bruno’s terrible fate was the Inquisition. This institution could have been expressly designed to root out someone like Bruno, who was cheerfully willing to add a dash of occultism and Greek philosophy to the pure dogma of Catholic thought. The Inquisition certainly relished Bruno’s demise: after his charred corpse was brought down from the stake, the remaining flesh was pulverised with gavels and the ashes hurled to the wind, as if to nullify for all time Bruno’s repellent heresies.

The Inquisition failed, of course. Bruno’s original and clairvoyant contributions to the fields of psychology and theology continue to resonate to this day. This elegantly concise, pleasingly readable book is a fitting memorial to such a remarkable thinker. --Sean Thomas

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