The Pope and the Heretic by Michael White

I first learned about Giordano Bruno through a tweeter thread about Shakespeare discussing his one of many influences, including this Don Quixote-like miscreant Dominican priest who wrote The Art of Memories, the subject I was and still am keen on to improve my regressing memory. Since then, Bruno has resided in my memory chamber as an enigmatic pariah, a formidable rebel without compromise. So when I came across this book by Michael White, a former member of the 80s pop group Thompson Twins, I knew I had to read it.

White describes Bruno as a martyr of enlightenment, thinking ahead of his time. Unfortunately, Bruno was born into the wrong place at the wrong time, so he suffered from the Catholic Church’s authoritarian rule that dominated the World’s knowledge. However, Bruno’s theory that Jesus was preternaturally a superb magician and therefore not the Son of God, not to mention that the Holy Ghost was the spirit of the World and that Satan would be saved, was sufficient to raise the eyebrows of the ecclesiastical figures. Also, he opined that the stars seen in night skies were actually suns and that there were other worlds in the universe where living beings like humans existed. I speculate such an opinion might have influenced a modern-day belief that we are not alone in this universe because there are extraterrestrial beings. All these ideas were indeed revolutionary. But unlike Galileo, who was said to murmur, “Still, the earth circles round the sun” after he was acquitted of heresy, Bruno was stubborn in his ideas. He proudly defied the Church’s intention to pardon him if he would recant before the death sentence. In his excellent lyrical portrayal of the dramatic confrontation, White sees it as the microscopic representation of the conflict between religion and philosophy, myth and truth, superstition and science.

Notwithstanding White’s admirable wealth of knowledge used in defense of Bruno, I cannot help but think that White’s stance on Bruno overlooks or connives at some facts. The Catholic Church put him at stake on account of his theological errors, deemed dangerous to the spiritual formation of the Church and the Faithful as a priest to the Church. Bruno was not a willing martyr of his ideas but a Simon Magus-like figure trying to trade his knowledge for recognition in the arms of different sects of Christianity, such as Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Episcopalianism, across Europe.

It’s an irony that rather than the man written about, the man writing about him turns out to be a genius in writing. Perhaps White, a former musician, attributes this to his lyrical rhythm of narration drawn from his emulous erudition. Moreover, he writes the language of the general reader in the panoply of academic disciplines, and the reader will find no time for disorientation or disinterest. This book carries a tone of what the Italian anti-Catholic activists campaigned against the Church, with Bruno as the symbol of persecution against what they believed in. Nevertheless, it is worth reading it if you are a proponent of Giordanism or just a curious bystander like me.

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Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcome.

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