In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Diritto e teologia alle soglie dell'età moderna: Il problema della potentia Dei absoluta in Giordano Bruno by Massimiliano Traversino
  • Guido Giglioni
Massimiliano Traversino. Diritto e teologia alle soglie dell'età moderna: Il problema della potentia Dei absoluta in Giordano Bruno. Foreword by Diego Quaglioni. Naples: Editoriale Scientifica, 2015. Pp. xxviii + 188. Paper, €22.00.

Let us imagine for a moment that God is a most accomplished cithara player who nevertheless is not playing (non citareggia) because he does not have a cithara; in other words, he is someone who has all the skills to act in the most masterly manner (che può fare), but refrains from acting (ma non fa) due to a lack of material implements. As no bodily counterpart (la potenza passiva de le cose) can match his active power, he finds himself in the awkward situation of not being able to express himself. This is the conundrum that the early modern philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) brings to the attention of his readers in De l'infinito, universo e mondi (On the Infinite, the Universe and the Worlds), one of the several dialogues that Bruno published in London between 1583 and 1585. Bruno's boutade suggests in fact a most grave metaphysical subtext: Can we seriously think of God as an eternal wishful thinker or a perennial debutante who keeps wondering whether the time has come to start dancing? To be sure, God is no Horatian mountain either, labouring at begetting little mice (i.e. the supposedly finite number of finite worlds). This solution would be even more blasphemous. As boundless munificence, God does not betray any sign of jealousy concerning the reality of being (l'omnipotenzia non invidia l'essere). This is a view of God that, in Bruno's opinion, affects every aspect of reality, including human nature. Being power and life, the substance—the one reality beneath all forms of being—has a "vicissitudinous" character, that is, it thrives in mutation and metamorphosis. It is only [End Page 349] when humans reach full awareness of this metaphysical condition that they become "true contemplators of the history of nature" (13), a history which is inscribed in their very being. True contemplation in Bruno's philosophy coincides with inner transformation and final identification with the infinite life of nature (as graphically represented by the myth of Actaeon, who, for having happened upon the naked Artemis in her bath, was transformed into a stag and then ripped apart by his hunting dogs).

Bruno's redefinition of the categories of divine will, infinite power of nature, and human action is at the center of Massimiliano Traversino's contribution to the study of early modern political theology. In positing a universe that is ruled by a will that is absolutely free, Bruno, in Traversino's opinion, displays a number of similarities with Jean Bodin (1530–1596), the French jurist and political philosopher who, in Les six livres de la république (The Six Books of the Republic), defined sovereignty in terms of absolute power, as the faculty of making and enacting laws. Alberico Gentili (1552–1608), Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford, is the other principal character in Traversino's book. The comparative angle brings to the fore the many recurring patterns and parallels with the contemporary philosophy of Bruno. Living in a period of expanding commerce, explorations, and wars, at a time when conflict increasingly turned into an international affair, Gentili was among the major thinkers who in that period were theorizing the legitimacy of the just war and the need of self-defence to guarantee the security of one's country. Carl Schmitt famously characterized sovereignty as a secularized version of an originally theological concept. In the early modern period, the political and religious universalism of the Middle Ages morphed into the politico-theological concerns of national sovereign states. And so a clear interpretative thread runs through Traversino's book: Bodin, Gentili and Bruno all participated in the construction of the modern notion of sovereignty, understood as an autonomous political sphere that was free from religious encroachment and clerical interference. It is certainly no coincidence that the philosophical debate over...