Infomotions, Inc.Giordano Bruno / Pater, Walter, 1839-1894



Author: Pater, Walter, 1839-1894
Title: Giordano Bruno
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): bruno; pater; italian; monk; hart; infinite; walter
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Title: Giordano Bruno

Author: Walter Pater

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GIORDANO BRUNO, PARIS: 1586.+
WALTER HORATIO PATER

     "Jetzo, da ich ausgewachsen,
     Viel gelesen, viel gereist,
     Schwillt mein Herz, und ganz von Herzen,
     Glaub' ich an den Heilgen Geist." -- Heine+

[234] IT was on the afternoon of the Feast of Pentecost that news of
the death of Charles the Ninth went abroad promptly.  To his
successor the day became a sweet one, to be noted unmistakably by
various pious and other observances; and it was on a Whit-Sunday
afternoon that curious Parisians had the opportunity of listening to
one who, as if with some intentional new version of the sacred event
then commemorated, had a great deal to say concerning the Spirit;
above all, of the freedom, the independence of its operation.  The
speaker, though understood to be a brother of the Order of St.
Dominic, had not been present at the mass--the usual university mass,
De Spiritu Sancto, said to-day according to the natural course of the
season in the chapel of the Sorbonne, by the Italian Bishop of Paris.
It was the reign of the Italians just then, a doubly refined,
somewhat morbid, somewhat ash-coloured, Italy in France, more Italian
still.  Men of Italian birth, "to the great suspicion of simple
people," swarmed in Paris, already "flightier, less constant, than
the girouettes on its steeples," and it was love for Italian fashions
that had brought king and courtiers here to-day, with great eclat, as
they said, frizzed and starched, in the beautiful, minutely
considered dress of the moment, pressing the university into a
perhaps not unmerited background; for the promised speaker, about
whom tongues had been busy, not only in the Latin quarter, had come
from Italy.  In an age in which all things about which Parisians much
cared must be Italian there might be a hearing for Italian
philosophy.  Courtiers at least would understand Italian, and this
speaker was rumoured to possess in perfection all the curious arts of
his native language.  And of all the kingly qualities of Henry's
youth, the single one that had held by him was that gift of
eloquence, which he was able also to value in others--inherited
perhaps; for in all the contemporary and subsequent historic gossip
about his mother, the two things certain are, that the hands credited
with so much mysterious ill-doing were fine ones, and that she was an
admirable speaker.

Bruno himself tells us, long after he had withdrawn himself from it,
that the monastic life promotes the freedom of the intellect by its
[235] silence and self-concentration.  The prospect of such freedom
sufficiently explains why a young man who, however well found in
worldly and personal advantages, was conscious above all of great
intellectual possessions, and of fastidious spirit also, with a
remarkable distaste for the vulgar, should have espoused poverty,
chastity, obedience, in a Dominican cloister.  What liberty of mind
may really come to in such places, what daring new departures it may
suggest to the strictly monastic temper, is exemplified by the
dubious and dangerous mysticism of men like John of Parma and Joachim
of Flora, reputed author of the new "Everlasting Gospel," strange
dreamers, in a world of sanctified rhetoric, of that later
dispensation of the spirit, in which all law must have passed away;
or again by a recognised tendency in the great rival Order of St.
Francis, in the so-called "spiritual" Franciscans, to understand the
dogmatic words of faith with a difference.

The three convents in which Bruno lived successively, at Naples, at
Citta di Campagna, and finally the Minerva at Rome, developed freely,
we may suppose, all the mystic qualities of a genius in which, from
the first, a heady southern imagination took the lead.  But it was
from beyond conventional bounds he would look for the sustenance, the
fuel, of an ardour born or bred within them.  Amid such artificial
religious stillness the air itself becomes generous in undertones.
The vain young monk (vain of course!) would feed his vanity by
puzzling the good, sleepy heads of the average sons of Dominic with
his neology, putting new wine into old bottles, teaching them their
own business--the new, higher, truer sense of the most familiar
terms, the chapters they read, the hymns they sang, above all, as it
happened, every word that referred to the Spirit, the reign of the
Spirit, its excellent freedom.  He would soon pass beyond the utmost
limits of his brethren's sympathy, beyond the largest and freest
interpretation those words would bear, to thoughts and words on an
altogether different plane, of which the full scope was only to be
felt in certain old pagan writers, though approached, perhaps, at
first, as having a kind of natural, preparatory kinship with
Scripture itself.  The Dominicans would seem to have had well-
stocked, liberally-selected, libraries; and this curious youth, in
that age of restored letters, read eagerly, easily, and very soon
came to the kernel of a difficult old author--Plotinus or Plato; to
the purpose of thinkers older still, surviving by glimpses only in
the books of others--Empedocles, Pythagoras, who had enjoyed the
original divine sense of things, above all, Parmenides, that most
ancient assertor of God's identity with the world.  The affinities,
the unity, of the visible and the invisible, of earth and heaven, of
all things whatever, with each other, through the consciousness, the
person, of God the Spirit, who was at every moment of infinite time,
in every atom of matter, at every [236] point of infinite space, ay!
was everything in turn: that doctrine--l'antica filosofia Italiana--
was in all its vigour there, a hardy growth out of the very heart of
nature, interpreting itself to congenial minds with all the fulness
of primitive utterance.  A big thought! yet suggesting, perhaps, from
the first, in still, small, immediately practical, voice, some
possible modification of, a freer way of taking, certain moral
precepts: say! a primitive morality, congruous with those larger
primitive ideas, the larger survey, the earlier, more liberal air.

Returning to this ancient "pantheism," after so long a reign of a
seemingly opposite faith, Bruno unfalteringly asserts "the vision of
all things in God" to be the aim of all metaphysical speculation, as
of all inquiry into nature: the Spirit of God, in countless variety
of forms, neither above, nor, in any way, without, but intimately
within, all things--really present, with equal integrity, in the
sunbeam ninety millions of miles long, and the wandering drop of
water as it evaporates therein.  The divine consciousness would have
the same relation to the production of things, as the human
intelligence to the production of true thoughts concerning them.
Nay! those thoughts are themselves God in man: a loan, there, too, of
his assisting Spirit, who, in truth, creates all things in and by his
own contemplation of them.  For Him, as for man in proportion as man
thinks truly, thought and, being are identical, and things existent
only in so far as they are known.  Delighting in itself, in the sense
of its own energy, this sleepless, capacious, fiery intelligence,
evokes all the orders of nature, all the revolutions of history,
cycle upon cycle, in ever new types.  And God the Spirit, the soul of
the world, being really identical with his own soul, Bruno, as the
universe shapes itself to his reason, his imagination, ever more and
more articulately, shares also the divine joy in that process of the
formation of true ideas, which is really parallel to the process of
creation, to the evolution of things.  In a certain mystic sense,
which some in every age of the world have understood, he, too, is
creator, himself actually a participator in the creative function.
And by such a philosophy, he assures us, it was his experience that
the soul is greatly expanded: con questa filosofia l'anima, mi
s'aggrandisce: mi se magnifica l'intelletto!

For, with characteristic largeness of mind, Bruno accepted this
theory in the whole range of its consequences.  Its more immediate
corollary was the famous axiom of "indifference," of "the coincidence
of contraries."  To the eye of God, to the philosophic vision through
which God sees in man, nothing is really alien from Him.  The
differences of things, and above all, those distinctions which
schoolmen and priests, old or new, Roman or Reformed, had invented
for themselves, would be lost in the length and breadth of the
philosophic survey; nothing, in itself, either great or small; and
matter, [237] certainly, in all its various forms, not evil but
divine.  Could one choose or reject this or that? If God the Spirit
had made, nay! was, all things indifferently, then, matter and
spirit, the spirit and the flesh, heaven and earth, freedom and
necessity, the first and the last, good and evil, would be
superficial rather than substantial differences.  Only, were joy and
sorrow also to be added to the list of phenomena really coincident or
indifferent, as some intellectual kinsmen of Bruno have claimed they
should?

The Dominican brother was at no distant day to break far enough away
from the election, the seeming "vocation" of his youth, yet would
remain always, and under all circumstances, unmistakably a monk in
some predominant qualities of temper.  At first it only by way of
thought that he asserted his liberty--delightful, late-found
privilege!--traversing, in mental journeys, that spacious circuit, as
it broke away before him at every moment into ever-new horizons.
Kindling thought and imagination at once, the prospect draws from him
cries of joy, a kind of religious joy, as in some new "canticle of
the creatures," a new monkish hymnal or antiphonary.  "Nature"
becomes for him a sacred term.  "Conform thyself to Nature"--with
what sincerity, what enthusiasm, what religious fervour, he enounces
the precept to others, to himself!  Recovering.  as he fancies, a
certain primeval sense of Deity broadcast on things, in which
Pythagoras and other inspired theorists of early Greece had abounded,
in his hands philosophy becomes a poem, a sacred poem, as it had been
with them.  That Bruno himself, in "the enthusiasm of the idea," drew
from his axiom of the "indifference of contraries" the practical
consequence which is in very deed latent there, that he was ready to
sacrifice to the antinomianism, which is certainly a part of its
rigid logic, the purities of his youth for instance, there is no
proof.  The service, the sacrifice, he is ready to bring to the great
light that has dawned for him, which occupies his entire conscience
with the sense of his responsibilities to it, is that of days and
nights spent in eager study, of a plenary, disinterested utterance of
the thoughts that arise in him, at any hazard, at the price, say! of
martyrdom.  The work of the divine Spirit, as he conceives it,
exalts, inebriates him, till the scientific apprehension seems to
take the place of prayer, sacrifice, communion.  It would be a
mistake, he holds, to attribute to the human soul capacities merely
passive or receptive.  She, too, possesses, not less than the soul of
the world, initiatory power, responding with the free gift of a light
and heat that seem her own.

Yet a nature so opulently endowed can hardly have been lacking in
purely physical ardours.  His pantheistic belief that the Spirit of
God was in all things, was not inconsistent with, might encourage, a
keen and restless eye for the dramatic details of life and character
for humanity in all its visible attractiveness, since there, too, in
[238] truth, divinity lurks.  From those first fair days of early
Greek speculation, love had occupied a large place in the conception
of philosophy; and in after days Bruno was fond of developing, like
Plato, like the Christian platonist, combining something of the
peculiar temper of each, the analogy between intellectual enthusiasm
and the flights of physical love, with an animation which shows
clearly enough the reality of his experience in the latter.  The
Eroici Furori, his book of books, dedicated to Philip Sidney, who
would be no stranger to such thoughts, presents a singular blending
of verse and prose, after the manner of Dante's Vita Nuova.  The
supervening philosophic comment re-considers those earlier physical
impulses which had prompted the sonnet in voluble Italian, entirely
to the advantage of their abstract, incorporeal equivalents.  Yet if
it is after all but a prose comment, it betrays no lack of the
natural stuff out of which such mystic transferences must be made.
That there is no single name of preference, no Beatrice or Laura, by
no means proves the young man's earlier desires merely "Platonic;"
and if the colours of love inevitably lose a little of their force
and propriety by such deflection, the intellectual purpose as
certainly finds its opportunity thereby, in the matter of borrowed
fire and wings.  A kind of old, scholastic pedantry creeping back
over the ardent youth who had thrown it off so defiantly (as if Love
himself went in for a degree at the University) Bruno developes,
under the mask of amorous verse, all the various stages of
abstraction, by which, as the last step of a long ladder, the mind
attains actual "union."  For, as with the purely religious mystics,
union, the mystic union of souls with each other and their Lord,
nothing less than union between the contemplator and the
contemplated--the reality, or the sense, or at least the name of it--
was always at hand.  Whence that instinctive tendency, if not from
the Creator of things himself, who has doubtless prompted it in the
physical universe, as in man?  How familiar the thought that the
whole creation longs for God, the soul as the hart for the water-
brooks!  To unite oneself to the infinite by breadth and lucidity of
intellect, to enter, by that admirable faculty, into eternal life--
this was the true vocation of the spouse, of the rightly amorous
soul--"a filosofia e necessario amore."  There would be degrees of
progress therein, as of course also of relapse: joys and sorrows,
therefore.  And, in interpreting these, the philosopher, whose
intellectual ardours have superseded religion and love, is still a
lover and a monk.  All the influences of the convent, the heady,
sweet incense, the pleading sounds, the sophisticated light and air,
the exaggerated humour of gothic carvers, the thick stratum of pagan
sentiment beneath ("Santa Maria sopra Minerva!") are indelible in
him.  Tears, sympathies, tender inspirations, attraction, repulsion,
dryness, zeal, desire, recollection: he finds a place for them all:
knows them all [239] well in their unaffected simplicity, while he
seeks the secret and secondary, or, as he fancies, the primary, form
and purport of each.

A light on actual life, or mere barren scholastic subtlety, never
before had the pantheistic doctrine been developed with such
completeness, never before connected with so large a sense of nature,
so large a promise of the knowledge of it as it really is.  The eyes
that had not been wanting to visible humanity turned with equal
liveliness on the natural world in that region of his birth, where
all its force and colour is twofold.  Nature is not only a thought in
the divine mind; it is also the perpetual energy of that mind, which,
ever identical with itself, puts forth and absorbs in turn all the
successive forms of life, of thought, of language even.  But what
seemed like striking transformations of matter were in truth only a
chapter, a clause, in the great volume of the transformations of the
Spirit.  To that mystic recognition that all is divine had succeeded
a realisation of the largeness of the field of concrete knowledge,
the infinite extent of all there was actually to know.  Winged,
fortified, by this central philosophic faith, the student proceeds to
the reading of nature, led on from point to point by manifold lights,
which will surely strike on him, by the way, from the intelligence in
it, speaking directly, sympathetically, to the intelligence in him.
The earth's wonderful animation, as divined by one who anticipates by
a whole generation the "philosophy of experience:" in that, the bold,
flighty, pantheistic speculation became tangible matter of fact.
Here was the needful book for man to read, the full revelation,
the detailed story of that one universal mind, struggling, emerging,
through shadow, substance, manifest spirit, in various orders of
being--the veritable history of God.  And nature, together with the
true pedigree and evolution of man also, his gradual issue from it,
was still all to learn.  The delightful tangle of things! it would be
the delightful task of man's thoughts to disentangle that.  Already
Bruno had measured the space which Bacon would fill, with room
perhaps for Darwin also.  That Deity is everywhere, like all such
abstract propositions, is a two-edged force, depending for its
practical effect on the mind which admits it, on the peculiar
perspective of that mind.  To Dutch Spinosa, in the next century,
faint, consumptive, with a hold on external things naturally faint,
the theorem that God was in all things whatever, annihilating, their
differences suggested a somewhat chilly withdrawal from the contact
of all alike.  In Bruno, eager and impassioned, an Italian of the
Italians, it awoke a constant, inextinguishable appetite for every
form of experience--a fear, as of the one sin possible, of limiting,
for oneself or another, that great stream flowing for thirsty souls,
that wide pasture set ready for the hungry heart.  Considered from
the point of view of a minute observation of nature, the Infinite
might figure as "the infinitely little;" no blade [240] of grass
being like another, as there was no limit to the complexities of an
atom of earth, cell, sphere, within sphere.  But the earth itself,
hitherto seemingly the privileged centre of a very limited universe,
was, after all, itself but an atom in an infinite world of starry
space, then lately displayed to the ingenuous intelligence, which
the telescope was one day to verify to bodily eyes.  For if Bruno
must needs look forward to the future, to Bacon, for adequate
knowledge of the earth--the infinitely little; he looked back,
gratefully, to another daring mind, which had already put the earth
into its modest place, and opened the full view of the heavens.
If God is eternal, then, the universe is infinite and worlds
innumerable.  Yes! one might well have supposed what reason now
demonstrated, indicating those endless spaces which sidereal science
would gradually occupy, an echo of the creative word of God himself,

"Qui innumero numero innumerorum nomina dicit."

That the stars are suns: that the earth is in motion: that the earth
is of like stuff with the stars: now the familiar knowledge of
children, dawning on Bruno as calm assurance of reason on appeal from
the prejudice of the eye, brought to him an inexpressibly
exhilarating sense of enlargement of the intellectual, nay! the
physical atmosphere.  And his consciousness of unfailing unity and
order did not desert him in that larger survey, making the utmost one
could ever know of the earth seem but a very little chapter in that
endless history of God the Spirit, rejoicing so greatly in the
admirable spectacle that it never ceases to evolve from matter new
conditions.  The immovable earth beneath one's feet! one almost felt
the movement, the respiration of God in it.  And yet how greatly even
the physical eye, the sensible imagination (so to term it) was
flattered by the theorem.  What joy in that motion, the prospect, the
music, the music of the spheres !--he could listen to it in a
perfection such as had never been conceded to Plato, to Pythagoras
even.

     "Veni, Creator Spiritus,
     Mentes tuorum visita,
     Imple superna gratia,
     Quae tu creasti pectora!"

Yes! the grand old Christian hymns, perhaps the grandest of them,
seemed to blend themselves in the chorus, to deepen immeasurably
under this new intention.  It is not always, or often, that men's
abstract ideas penetrate the temperament, touch the animal spirits,
affect conduct.  It was what they did with Bruno.  The ghastly
spectacle of the endless material universe, infinite dust, in truth,
starry as it may look to our terrestrial eyes--that prospect from
which Pascal's faithful soul recoiled so painfully--induced in Bruno
only the delightful consciousness of an ever-widening kinship [241]
and sympathy, since every one of those infinite worlds must have its
sympathetic inhabitants.  Scruples of conscience, if he felt such,
might well be pushed aside for the "excellency" of such knowledge as
this.  To shut the eyes, whether of the body or the mind, would be a
kind of dark ingratitude; the one sin, to believe directly or
indirectly in any absolutely dead matter anywhere, because involving
denial of the indwelling spirit.  A free spirit, certainly, as of
old!  Through all his pantheistic flights, from horizon to horizon,
it was still the thought of liberty that presented itself to the
infinite relish of this "prodigal son" of Dominic.  God the Spirit
had made all things indifferently, with a largeness, a beneficence,
impiously belied by any theory of restrictions, distinctions,
absolute limitations.  Touch, see, listen, eat freely of all the
trees of the garden of Paradise with the voice of the Lord God
literally everywhere: here was the final counsel of perfection.  The
world was even larger than youthful appetite, youthful capacity.  Let
theologian and every other theorist beware how he narrowed either.
The plurality of worlds! how petty in comparison seemed the sins, to
purge which was the chief motive for coming to places like this
convent, whence Bruno, with vows broken, or obsolete for him,
presently departed.  A sonnet, expressive of the joy with which he
returned to so much more than the liberty of ordinary men, does not
suggest that he was driven from it.  Though he must have seemed to
those who surely had loved so lovable a creature there to be
departing, like the prodigal of the Gospel, into the furthest of
possible far countries, there is no proof of harsh treatment, or even
of an effort to detain him.

It happens, of course most naturally, that those who undergo the
shock of spiritual or intellectual change sometimes fail to recognise
their debt to the deserted cause: how much of the heroism, or other
high quality, of their rejection has really been the growth of what
they reject?  Bruno, the escaped monk, is still a monk: his
philosophy, impious as it might seem to some, a new religion.  He
came forth well fitted by conventual influences to play upon men as
he was played upon.  A challenge, a war-cry, an alarum; everywhere he
seemed to be the creature of some subtly materialized spiritual
force, like that of the old Greek prophets, like the primitive
"enthusiasm" he was inclined to set so high, or impulsive Pentecostal
fire.  His hunger to know, fed at first dreamily enough within the
convent walls as he wandered over space and time an indefatigable
reader of books, would be fed physically now by ear and eye, by large
matter-of-fact experience, as he journeys from university to
university; yet still, less as a teacher than a courtier, a citizen
of the world, a knight-errant of intellectual light.  The philosophic
need to try all things had given reasonable justification to the
stirring desire for travel common to youth, in which, if in nothing
else, that whole age of the [242] later Renaissance was invincibly
young.  The theoretic recognition of that mobile spirit of the world,
ever renewing its youth, became, sympathetically, the motive of a
life as mobile, as ardent, as itself; of a continual journey, the
venture and stimulus of which would be the occasion of ever new
discoveries, of renewed conviction.

The unity, the spiritual unity, of the world :--that must involve the
alliance, the congruity, of all things with each other, great
reinforcement of sympathy, of the teacher's personality with the
doctrine he had to deliver, the spirit of that doctrine with the
fashion of his utterance.  In his own case, certainly, as Bruno
confronted his audience at Paris, himself, his theme, his language,
were the fuel of one clear spiritual flame, which soon had hold of
his audience also; alien, strangely alien, as it might seem from the
speaker.  It was intimate discourse, in magnetic touch with every one
present, with his special point of impressibility; the sort of speech
which, consolidated into literary form as a book, would be a dialogue
according to the true Attic genius, full of those diversions, passing
irritations, unlooked-for appeals, in which a solicitous missionary
finds his largest range of opportunity, and takes even dull wits
unaware.  In Bruno, that abstract theory of the perpetual motion of
the world was a visible person talking with you.

And as the runaway Dominican was still in temper a monk, so he
presented himself in the comely Dominican habit.  The eyes which in
their last sad protest against stupidity would mistake, or miss
altogether, the image of the Crucified, were to-day, for the most
part, kindly observant eyes, registering every detail of that
singular company, all the physiognomic lights which come by the way
on people, and, through them, on things, the "shadows of ideas" in
men's faces (De Umbris Idearum was the title of his discourse),
himself pleasantly animated by them, in turn.  There was "heroic
gaiety" there; only, as usual with gaiety, the passage of a peevish
cloud seemed all the chillier.  Lit up, in the agitation of speaking,
by many a harsh or scornful beam, yet always sinking, in moments of
repose, to an expression of high-bred melancholy, it was a face that
looked, after all, made for suffering--already half pleading, half
defiant--as of a creature you could hurt, but to the last never shake
a hair's breadth from its estimate of yourself.

Like nature, like nature in that country of his birth, the Nolan, as
he delighted to proclaim himself, loved so well that, born wanderer
as he was, he must perforce return thither sooner or later, at the
risk of life, he gave plenis manibus, but without selection, and,
with all his contempt for the "asinine" vulgar, was not fastidious.
His rank, unweeded eloquence, abounding in a play of words, rabbinic
allegories, verses defiant of prosody, in the kind of erudition he
professed to despise, with a shameless image here or there, product
not of formal method, but of Neapolitan improvisation, was akin to
[243] the heady wine, the sweet, coarse odours, of that fiery,
volcanic soil, fertile in the irregularities which manifest power.
Helping himself indifferently to all religions for rhetoric
illustration, his preference was still for that of the soil, the old
pagan one, the primitive Italian gods, whose names and legends haunt
his speech, as they do the carved and pictorial work of the age,
according to the fashion of that ornamental paganism which the
Renaissance indulged.  To excite, to surprise, to move men's minds,
as the volcanic earth is moved, as if in travail, and, according to
the Socratic fancy, bring them to the birth, was the true function of
the teacher, however unusual it might seem in an ancient university.
Fantastic, from first to last that was the descriptive epithet; and
the very word, carrying us to Shakespeare, reminds one how
characteristic of the age such habit was, and that it was pre-
eminently due to Italy.  A bookman, yet with so vivid a hold on
people and things, the traits and tricks of the audience seemed to
revive in him, to strike from his memory all the graphic resources of
his old readings.  He seemed to promise some greater matter than was
then actually exposed; himself to enjoy the fulness of a great
outlook, the vague suggestion of which did but sustain the curiosity
of the listeners.  And still, in hearing him speak you seemed to see
that subtle spiritual fire to which he testified kindling from word
to word.  What Parisians then heard was, in truth, the first fervid
expression of all those contending apprehensions, out of which his
written works would afterwards be compacted, with much loss of heat
in the process.  Satiric or hybrid growths, things due to hybris,+
insolence, insult, all that those fabled satyrs embodied--the
volcanic South is kindly prolific of this, and Bruno abounded in
mockeries: it was by way of protest.  So much of a Platonist, for
Plato's genial humour he had nevertheless substituted the harsh
laughter of Aristophanes.  Paris, teeming, beneath a very courtly
exterior, with mordent words, in unabashed criticism of all real or
suspected evil, provoked his utmost powers of scorn for the
"triumphant beast," the "constellation of the Ass," shining even
there, amid the university folk, those intellectual bankrupts of the
Latin Quarter, who had so long passed between them gravely a
worthless "parchment and paper" currency.  In truth, Aristotle, as
the supplanter of Plato, was still in possession, pretending to
determine heaven and earth by precedent, hiding the proper nature of
things from the eyes of men.  Habit--the last word of his practical
philosophy--indolent habit! what would this mean in the intellectual
life, but just that sort of dead judgments which are most opposed to
the essential freedom and quickness of the Spirit, because the mind,
the eye, were no longer really at work in them?

To Bruno, a true son of the Renaissance, in the light of those large,
antique, pagan ideas, the difference between Rome and the Reform
would figure, of course, as but an insignificant variation upon [244]
some deeper, more radical antagonism between two tendencies of men's
minds.  But what about an antagonism deeper still? between Christ and
the world, say!  Christ and the flesh?--that so very ancient
antagonism between good and evil?  Was there any place for
imperfection in a world wherein the minutest atom, the lightest
thought, could not escape from God's presence?  Who should note the
crime, the sin, the mistake, in the operation of that eternal spirit,
which could have made no misshapen births?  In proportion as man
raised himself to the ampler survey of the divine work around him,
just in that proportion did the very notion of evil disappear.  There
were no weeds, no "tares," in the endless field.  The truly
illuminated mind, discerning spiritually, might do what it would.
Even under the shadow of monastic walls, that had ever been the
precept, which the larger theory of "inspiration" had bequeathed to
practice.  "Of all the trees of the garden thou mayst freely eat!  If
you take up any deadly thing, it shall not hurt you!  And I think
that I, too, have the spirit of God."

Bruno, the citizen of the world, Bruno at Paris, was careful to warn
off the vulgar from applying the decisions of philosophy beyond its
proper speculative limits.  But a kind of secresy, an ambiguous
atmosphere, encompassed, from the first, alike the speaker and the
doctrine; and in that world of fluctuating and ambiguous characters,
the alerter mind certainly, pondering on this novel reign of the
spirit--what it might actually be--would hardly fail to find in
Bruno's theories a method of turning poison into food, to live and
thrive thereon; an art, surely, no less opportune in the Paris of
that hour, intellectually or morally, than had it related to physical
poisons.  If Bruno himself was cautious not to suggest the ethic or
practical equivalent to his theoretic positions, there was that in
his very manner of speech, in his rank, unweeded eloquence, which
seemed naturally to discourage any effort at selection, any sense of
fine difference, of nuances or proportion, in things.  The loose
sympathies of his genius were allied to nature, nursing, with equable
maternity of soul, good, bad, and indifferent, rather than to art,
distinguishing, rejecting, refining.  Commission and omission; sins
of the former surely had the preference.  And how would Paolo and
Francesca have read the lesson?  How would this Henry the Third, and
Margaret of the "Memoirs," and other susceptible persona then
present, read it, especially if the opposition between practical good
and evil traversed another distinction, to the "opposed points," the
"fenced opposites" of which many, certainly, then present, in that
Paris of the last of the Valois, could never by any possibility
become "indifferent," between the precious and the base,
aesthetically--between what was right and wrong, as matter of art?

NOTES

234. +Pater's article appeared in The Fortnightly Review, 1889.
Later it was much revised and included as Chapter VII of the
unfinished novel, Gaston de Latour.

234. +From Heine's Aus der Harzreise, "Bergidylle 2": "Tannenbaum,
mit grunen Fingern," Stanza 10.

243. +E-text editor's transliteration: hybris.  Liddell and Scott
definition: "wanton violence, arising from the pride of strength,
passion, etc."




End of the Project Gutenberg Etext of Giordano Bruno, by Walter Pater


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