restricted access Chapter 4. Venice: Giordano Bruno, Cesare Cremonini, and Marcantonio De Dominis
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115 C h a p t e r 4 Venice: Giordano Bruno, Cesare Cremonini, and Marcantonio De Dominis Three Venetian cases deserve separate treatment, both for their political, religious , and philosophical importance and the copiousness of their documentation , and for the tenacity with which the Inquisition pursued them, albeit with markedly different results. These are the trials of Giordano Bruno, apostate Dominican and natural philosopher; Cesare Cremonini, long-time professor of philosophy at Padua and denier of the soul’s immortality; and Marcantonio de Dominis, whose unquiet career began in Croatia, took him to England and then back to Rome, before it ended in the burning of his corpse. Giordano Bruno Giordano Bruno’s case has given anticlerical historians almost as much ammunition as Galileo’s.1 After wandering over much of Europe for a decade, Bruno returned to Venice in 1591, when his troubles with the Inquisition began in earnest. The first denunciation came in a letter from his host, Giovanni Mocenigo , on 23 May 1592.2 Mocenigo lodged a long list of accusations that began with Bruno having said that transubstantiation was blasphemy and included perhaps his most famous claims, that the universe was eternal and infinite and that he was a species of magus. One of the charges that interested his judges most concerned the assertion that Christ was a “tristo,” in part because he had tried to avoid death, as well as a magus, and Bruno further raised doubts about the virgin birth, together with launching a number of anti-clerical sallies. Mocenigo offered the names of two witnesses, both booksellers, “Ciotto” and chapter 4 116 Giacomo Bertano, especially the second, and also handed in three unnamed books by Bruno.3 Two days later Mocenigo wrote again, perhaps inadvertently revealing one of his motives, that Bruno had refused to teach him the secrets (of the ars memoriae) as promised. Mocenigo had tasked Bruno with some of his accusations and duly reported his failure to reply to all but the charge that he was an apostate religious.4 That same day Mocenigo appeared before the inquisitor , Giovanni Vincenzo Arrigoni, to authenticate his denunciations; both letters were registered the next day.5 Again that same day both the witnesses Mocenigo named were examined and Bruno—by then imprisoned—also underwent his first interrogation.6 The Sienese Giovanni Battista Ciotti, whose shop was “at the sign of the Minerva” near the church of San Zulian, had recently been in a little trouble with the Inquisition in Rome and would be again.7 Ciotti did not do Bruno much damage while throwing a good deal of light on Mocenigo’s sour grapes. Ciotti had introduced the two. The only substance of his interrogation was the titles of three of Bruno’s books. He ended first with a character reference and then with negative gossip drawn from his acquaintance with Bruno in Frankfurt. He confirmed but did not sign his deposition.8 The Antwerper Bertano (Jakob van Brecht), like Ciotti, had first known Bruno in Frankfurt, but, unlike his fellow printer, van Brecht emphasized that everyone in the German city was a heretic and that Bruno had read heretical books there. Then he, too, offered the same kind of character witness as Ciotti had.9 Again, the only substance to his examination was the titles of three other of Bruno’s books. Neither printer did much damage.10 Bruno’s first interrogation contained mostly biographical information, together with an account of how he had met Mocenigo.11 Three days later Mocenigo returned to the attack. Now he remembered other of Bruno’s criticisms of the church, especially for its departure from the apostolic model in both government and wealth. He also alleged that Bruno believed in universal salvation and in living according to nature.12 Bruno’s second constitutus on 30 May, once again, contained mostly biographical information , as well as the startling revelation that he had meant to present himself and some of his works to the pope.13 This resolution was supported by the examination of a Neapolitan Dominican who had attended the order ’s general chapter in Venice and spoken to Bruno.14 No time was lost in examining the suspect again twice on 2 June. The first time the topic was his books and teaching. In both cases, Bruno launched what would be his steady defense.15 Both concerned “materia filosofica,” which by implication did not properly belong to the Inquisition’s jurisdiction.16 He had never...