During the Italian Renaissance, the self-unfrocked and controversial Dominican monk Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) emerged as its most important philosopher. To a significant degree, this reputation is due to his daring conception of time within a bold cosmology. Bruno challenged all earlier models of our universe, from the geostatic and geocentric viewpoint of the Aristotelian perspective to the God-embraced and Christ-centered worldview of Nicholas of Cusa. As a result of his rejection of previous ideas in astronomy, philosophy, and theology, Bruno presented a new and astounding cosmology that foreshadowed, in a general way, our modern conception of time in terms of physical relativity and the present interpretation of this material universe in terms of ongoing evolution.
Dissatisfied with empirical evidence and personal experience, Bruno used thought experiments, rational speculation, and his own powerful imagination to envision the essential characteristics of this dynamic universe. He rejected both Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology. Likewise, he was not content with the models of reality that were presented by Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei. Going beyond all earlier models of a finite and closed universe, Bruno argued that the cosmos is eternal in time, infinite in space, and endlessly changing. For him, time had no beginning and will have no end in the flux of nature; it stretches forever into the past and forever into the future. Consequently, in such a universe, there is no fixed or privileged point of reference.
Rejecting the biblical account of Creation as having taken place over 6 days, Bruno saw cosmic creation as an endless process throughout eternal time. For him, there is no static or absolute framework within which to judge the passing of events to be long or short compared with other events; the length of time is relative to an arbitrary temporal framework within the eternity of time. Throughout cosmic history, the universe has created an infinite number of stars, comets, planets, moons, galaxies, and island universes. In fact, there has even been time for life forms and intelligent beings to emerge on countless other planets strewn throughout the universe. Therefore, our own species occupies neither a special place nor a central position within cosmic reality. In Bruno’s sweeping and liberating vision, our human species is merely a fleeting speck in the incomprehensible vastness of sidereal history.
For Bruno, God is nature. Therefore, God is eternal, infinite, and endlessly creating new objects, events, and relationships throughout cosmic history. Ultimately, the Brunian cosmology is grounded in a mysticism that unites, in a divine reality, eternal time and infinite space. In 1600, Bruno was a victim of both religious and political intolerance. Having been found guilty of infidelity and heresy, he was burned alive at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori of central Rome. Today, an impressive statue of this iconoclastic thinker stands on the very spot where he died. He is best remembered for his perspective on time and unorthodox insights into the composition of our universe.
See also Bruno and Nicholas of Cusa; Eternity; God and Time; Infinity; Mysticism; Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus); Spinoza, Baruch de; Xenophanes
Bruno, G. (1964). Cause, principle, and unity. New York: International Publishers.
Greenberg, S. (1950). The infinite in Giordano Bruno. New York: Kings Crown Press.
Mendoza, R. G. (1995). The acentric labyrinth: Giordano Bruno’s prelude to contemporary cosmology. Shraftsbury, UK: Element Books.
Michel, P. H. (1973). The cosmology of Giordano Bruno. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Roland, I. D. (2008). Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/ Heretic. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.