978-0-06-093388-3 / 9780060933883

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


Publisher:Harper Perennial



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About the book:

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 Brunos 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 Brunos 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 Brunos 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 Brunos repellent heresies.

The Inquisition failed, of course. Brunos 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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