Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Tommaso Campanella and Menocchio are just a few among many great thinkers that were imprisoned, tortured or burnt by the Church for their ideas.
In the dark ages, whoever was contrary to the Church could be caught by the inquisitors. Those who were accused of heresy and blasphemy would often go through intense torture, perpetual incarceration, painful and slow death. Some courageous thinkers, however, dared to tell the world their ideas at the expense of their lives.
Giordano Bruno – Reincarnation and Plurality of the Worlds
Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who not only defended the Copernican model of universe but also argued that the sun was only one sun amongst many others that existed in the space. He believed that there were many other worlds and that they were also inhabited.
He was deeply influenced by Hermeticism and Neoplatonism and therefore he argued that the soul incarnates many times in different bodies in order to evolve and that human life could continue in different planets as well as having its origin in other globes, due to a process known as transmigration of the soul.
He interpreted the Bible according to the Hermetic knowledge and argued that certain concepts such as the virginity of Mary, the Trinity and the Transubstantiation had a symbolic meaning that was different from what it was regularly taught. Giordano Bruno was declared guilty of heresy and blasphemy and he was burnt at the stake in 1600.
Galileo Galilei – Defending Heliocentrism
Galileo Galilei was a mathematician, physicist and astronomer who defended the Copernican model of the universe in which the Earth revolved around the sun and not the opposite as scriptures suggested.
He wrote the book Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems in which he presented both models – heliocentrism and geocentrism – in the form of a dialogue.
The pope Urban VIII had asked Galileo to insert his own version of geocentrism in the book and Galileo did it by using a character named Simplicius (simpleton) who advocated that the Earth was the centre of the universe and did not move. The character however, was said to sound pathetic and it became clear to authorities that Galileo was defending the heliocentrism.
Contradicting the Bible was considered a heresy and he was called to the Holy Office to explain himself. At his trial, he said that the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally as it was not a book of instructions, and that it was written by humans, therefore, it was subjected to mistakes. Galileo was sentenced to jail, his works were prohibited and later on he was kept under house arrest, where he went blind and died in 1642, but not before writing one of his most important books: Two New Sciences.
Tommaso Campanella – Astrology and Occultism
An Italian philosopher, astrologist, theologist, occultist and poet, Tommaso Campanella used his astrological knowledge to compose his philosophical works. He believed that there would be a time in which the society would not need the Church hierarchy and that Christians and non-Christians would live peacefully towards the same goal. He idealized a republic based on natural principles and according to his astrological observations, around 1600 a new order would bring the Age of the Spirit.
This was enough to provoke the rage of the Church and he was condemned to life imprisonment and was tortured, only escaping from the death penalty because he alleged insanity. However, during the twenty seven years he spent incarcerated, he wrote The City of the Sun, Atheism Conquered , Methaphysica, Theologia, and even an attempt to defend Galileo in his book The Defense of Galileo.
Menocchio (Domenico Scandella) – The Cheese and the Worms
Domenico Scandella, also known as Menocchio, was a Friulian miller whose vision of cosmology could be compared to a cheese and its worms. He believed that God was created at the same the everything else was created, and that He emerged from chaos, just like the worms appeared in a cheese.
Menocchio had the pagan influences typical of the peasants of his region but it is also known that he had contact with the teachings of the Quran as well as with Lutheran ideas. This mix of influences led him to believe that all religions had a common source and that what made a religion different from other was only the cultural difference but, since God was inside every person, everyone had access to God, no matter the religion.
He stated that Mary’s virginity, Jesus’ crucifixion, the concept of God as creator of the world, the hell and the gospels were forged and accused the Church of protecting exploiters. Menocchio was captured and accused of heresy and died burnt at the stake in 1599.
Despite the Church’s attempt to stop free thinking and hide the truth, the message of the great thinkers did not die along with their bodies. All the pain caused by torture instruments and the lost years in jail seem insignificant near the greatness of their thoughts.