Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought (NY: Schuman 1950)

[Source: Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought (NY: Schuman 1950) [incls. an annotated translation of On the Infinite Universe and Worlds], and Do. [rep. edn.] (NY: Greenwood Press, 1977), xi, 389pp. ill. [charts, maps, ports.; 24 cm. Appendices (pp.203-224): List of Bruno’s writings; Printers of Bruno; Surviving manuscripts of Bruno’s works; Select bibliography of Bruno’s philosophy]; Do. [rep. edn.] (NY: Greenwood Press, 1977), xi, 389pp. [Available at Positive Atheism - online.]

Ed. note: Square brackets are used for Singer’s note references which have not, however, been copied here or in the digital source. Bow brackets are used at the end of each page in her book.

On related pages ...
  • I[sabella] Frith, Life of Giordano Bruno the Nolan (London: Trübner, 1887) [as attached].
  • John Owen, The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance [2nd edn.] (NY: S. Sonnenschein & Co.; London: Macmillan 1893), xix, 419pp, xxxcvi, 8° [as attached].
  • J. Lewis McIntyre, Giordano Bruno (Macmillan 1903), 353pp. [end Conclusion]; Add. Notes, pp.357-59; Index, pp.361-65 [as attached].

[Page numbers in bow-brackets mark end of given page.]

Table of Contents




1 -



Introduction: Early Years (1548-76)



First Years of Wandering (1576-81)



First Visit to Paris (1581-83)


2 -



A Haven in London



The Oxford Incident



Bruno’s Circle in London



The London Years of Illumination (1583-85)


3 -



The Mediaeval Cosmic Scheme



An Infinite Universe and Infinitely Numerous Worlds



Astronomy in the Sixteenth Century with Special Reference to England



Cosmic Metabolism



Inherent Necessity



Coincidence of Contraries



Bruno’s Synthesis of Universal Relativity


4 -



The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri)



On Cause, Prime Origin and the One (De la Causa, Principio et Uno)



On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (De l’lnfinito Universo et Mondi)


5 -



The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast (Spaccio de la Bestia Trionfante)



Cabal of the Cheval Pegasus with Appendix on the Cillenican Ass, Described by the Nolan (Cabala del Cavallo Pegaseo con l’aggiunta dell’ Asino Cillenico, Descritta dal Nolano)



On Heroic Frenzies (De gl’ Heroici Furori)


6 -



Bruno’s Second Sojourn in Paris (1585-86)



Marburg and Wittenberg (1586-88)



Prague and Helmstedt (1588-90)



Frankfurt, Zurich and Frankfurt Again (1590-91)


7 -

MARTYRDOM (1591-1600)


Padua and Venice (1591-92)



Years of Endurance - The End


8 -



More Links with England: Plurality of Worlds



Bruno’s Younger Contemporaries: The Seventeenth Century



The Eighteenth Century: The Romantic Movement



Later Times


APPENDIX I  List of Bruno’s Writings


APPENDIX II  Printers of Bruno


APPENDIX III  Surviving Manuscripts of Bruno’s Works


APPENDIX IV  Select Bibliography of Bruno’s Philosophy







Chapter Three: Cosmology and Philosophy of Bruno


F. Coincidence of Contraries (pp.80-86.)
For the further elements of Bruno’s philosophy his most important source was Nicolaus Cusanus. Again we observe the same views submitted to the crucible of two very different minds. In both writers, closely associated with belief in the infinity of the universe was the doctrine of the Coincidence of Contraries. The subject-object relationship similarly was envisaged by both writers as a process of admixture culminating in identity. They both cite Pseudo-Dionysius (fifth century) who held that God transcends all contraries. [89] His work was commented on by Johannes Eriugena (d. 877); by St. Thomas (1225-1274); by Albertus Magnus (1193-1280); by Meister Eckhart (d. circ. 1327) and by Marsillio {80} Ficino (1433-1499). All these writers except Eckhart are cited by Bruno. Cusanus gave the doctrine a new slant and a new emphasis. Following but developing the views of Pseudo-Dionysius on the Hierarchy of the Cosmos, Cusanus saw Salvation as the Line of Unification between Contraries.

The usual mediaeval view of the Cosmos was a hierarchy from God, through the world of Pure Intelligences and Heavenly Powers (comprising the Circle of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; the Circle of Dominations, Virtues and Powers; the Circle of Principalities, Archangels and Angels) down to Man. All Being, it was conceived, radiates from God through the Intelligences and Heavenly Powers to Man, and thence back to God. This cosmic hierarchy is expounded in detail by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) from whom it is quoted by Albertus. It had, however, been set forth centuries earlier by Pseudo-Dionysius and interpreted by Eriugena. The cosmic hierarchy came to be regarded as the archetype of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Cusanus accepted this usual mediaeval view but here too we find the extraordinary dualism which pervaded his whole life. For he sought to combine the mediaeval conception of a cosmic hierarchy with an entirely different cosmic conception with which he came at last to be entirely imbued. In De docta ignorantia and in De coniecturis he considers how man may attain to knowledge of God - the Infinite, the Maximum. Between finite and infinite, he reiterates, there can be no proportional relationship. Therefore the finite intellect cannot attain to ultimate truth. [90]

So Cusanus turned from the rational theology of the schoolmen to that mystical theology wherein he found expression for the poetical and emotional side of his nature. Yet he did not wholly submerge his powerful intellect in his ecstatic vision. “Wisdom is the son of God and where it is received there is received also Filiation to God.” [91] He propounded the view that since infinity cannot be grasped by mere feeling, there is needed the amor dei intellectualis, the love of that which we have recognized {81} and known as good. Thus, he says, knowledge and ignorance become One and at last by the Visio intellectualis we even attain to a glimpse of Infinity. [92] Now for Cusanus the instrument of this Visio intellectualis is Mathematics, which provides a new logic applicable to the infinite. [93]

As old at least as Aristotle is the problem: How can there be a relation between finite and infinite? Between physical and metaphysical, between experience and thought? Finite understanding, says Cusanus, can never reach absolute truth, but can approach ever nearer thereto even as a triangle by infinite multiplication can approach ever nearer to the perfection of circular form. [94] Empirical knowledge, he observes with Plato, is founded on ideal conception, yet it never comprises the whole truth of the ideal conception. The conditioned and finite tends toward the infinite which it never reaches. Thus may be realized “how the Providence of God uniteth Contraries.” [95]

As regards theology, Cusanus found that this process leads to informed (that is conscious) ignorance; as regards experience, it leads to ignorant knowledge. For experience forbids true knowledge, and true knowledge is itself relative, always aiming at greater truth. Experience, says Cusanus, is really hypothesis, conjecture. In this conception of Conjecture he finds the link between Creator and Creation, Idea and Manifestation. “Conjecture is a positive assertion in place of truth, having some part in {82} truth.” Single truth can only be manifested to us in difference, but there is no difference which does not in some sort attain to and have part in this unity. [96] Thus instead of identity or opposedness, we have infinite interrelationship.

From these thoughts and not on physical but on metaphysical grounds, the De docta ignorantia and the De coniecturis develop the idea both of the motion of the earth and of the relativity of all motion. The infinity of the universe is envisaged as bound up with the identity of contraries. The same thought recurs repeatedly in his works. In the De pace fidei the conception is applied to differences of belief. Cusanus describes the vision “of a certain man in Constantinople” who prayed to the Creator that persecution on account of difference in religious rite should be moderated. The King of Heaven and Earth spoke, saying that the groans of the oppressed had reached him as sad ambassadors from the kingdom of this world. The Archangel pointed out that the whole earth is populated by the descendants of one man: “There cannot be a great multitude without great diversity.... Thou didst send to the nations various Prophets and masters, some at one time, some at another.” [97] In the vision, representatives of many peoples speak in turn, and finally there is concluded a “concord of the mode [rationis] of all religions.” [98] Several times Cusanus refers to the promise that through Abraham all peoples of the earth shall be blessed: “Therefore the children of Abraham are those who believe in God in so much as they are justified by Faith.” [99] {83} The identity of contraries culminating in the godhead is set forth again and again by Cusanus. [100] He found in the Christ idea the reconciliation between all contraries, between finite and infinite, between sense-perception and soul. “Unus Christus ex omnibus,” he exclaims. [101]

Bruno’s teaching on the coincidence of contraries was closely similar to that of the Cusan, though presented without mystic theological interpretation:

Our philosophy ... reduceth to a single origin and relateth to a single end, and maketh contraries to coincide so that there is one primal foundation both of origin and of end. From this coincidence of contraries, we deduce that ultimately it is divinely true that contraries are within contraries; wherefore it is not difficult to compass the knowledge that each thing is within every other - which Aristotle and the other Sophists could not comprehend. [102]

All power and act which in origin is complicated, united and one is in other things explicate, dispersed and multiple. The universe, the great image, the figure, the only-begotten nature, is also all that it can be through the species and principal members and content of all matter; to which naught can be added and from which naught is wanting, of form complete and unique. But it is not yet all that it can be owing to differences, modes, qualities, individuality: [103] indeed it is but an umbra of the primal act and primal power. Wherefore power and act are not in it absolutely the same, for no part thereof is all which it can be.... [104]

Among many passages we may recall from the De immenso Bruno’s magnificent lines proclaiming that the potentiality of all parts is in the {84} Whole and in each part (”All things are in all”). [105] This is the real basis of his view of the Identity of Opposites, and he fortifies himself with the support of such names as Anaxagoras, Anaxamines and “the divine Parmenides,” as well as of Plato’s Timaeus and the Neo-Platonists. We have seen that various works current in Paris during Bruno’s first visit were in harmony with the doctrine of the coincidence of contraries. [106]

Light is thrown on Bruno’s doctrine of the Identity of Contraries also by his cosmological speculation. At the close of Dialogue I of the work here translated, he contrasts terrestrial motion derived from the infinite First Cause with terrestrial motion from motive impulse intrinsic to the finite earth herself. The former is instantaneous and therefore, being circular, is indistinguishable from complete stillness; the latter, being “within time and in a certain succession, is distinct from immobility.” He adds, “Thus it is that we can say that God moveth all: and thus should we understand that He giveth the power of self motion to all which moveth.”

Now the first half of the explanation would seem to suggest that the effects of God as First Cause are fused into an infinite effect which comprises all possible change or motion and is thus equivalent to no change or motion. The second half expresses the more usual view of God, the creator of Nature and of immutable Natural Law. In the second Dialogue of the same work, the implications of this twofold conception are further developed. Bruno refers to his work On Cause, Prime Origin, and the One which is concerned with the relation between Finite Cause and Infinite First Principle, the two attributes being fused in the Divine Creator. [107]

Drawing mathematical analogies, Bruno claims (for example in On Cause, Prime Origin and the One) that corruption of one is generation of another, hatred of opposition is no other than love of the convenient, {85} heat and cold are merely relative terms; while the physician seeks ever the contrary antidote to arrive at health:

In conclusion, he who would know the greatest secrets of nature should regard and contemplate maxima and minima of opposed bodies. For profound magistery [magia] it is to be able to reach the contrary, after having found the point of union. [108]

The One Infinite is perfect; simply and of itself nothing can be greater or better than it. This is the one Whole everywhere, God, universal nature. Naught but the infinite can be a perfect image and reflection thereof, for the finite is imperfect; every sensible world is imperfect, wherefore evil and good, matter and form, light and darkness, sadness and joy unite, and all things are everywhere in change and motion. But all things come in infinity to the order [rationem] of Unity, Truth and Goodness; whereby it is named universum .... Wherefore as rational and irrational in the animal are indifferent, being a single truth, so in the infinite, in the maximum, hot and cold are assuredly one throughout the universe; and we have often shewn them coincident in the minimum as in the maximum. [109]

In a later chapter we shall observe that a doctrine akin to the coincidence of contraries has in modern times taken a form that would indeed have surprised Pseudo-Dionysius and all those who inspired Bruno in this view. But we do not suggest that Marx was a direct disciple of Bruno! Nor indeed would we attribute to direct influence of Bruno each of the other and different streams of thought that lead to the vision of all-embracing Unity.

Note: The closing reference “a doctrine akin to the coincidence of contraries” is to the matter of Chap. 3.g. - Bruno’s Synthesis of Universal Relativity - online.


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Chapter Eight: Influence of Bruno


[On Addison]
[L]e Bovier de Fontenelle [...] does not mention Bruno by name but his Entretiens sur la pluralité des moncles  [10] is in the succession of the works we have been considering. De Fontenelle too cites astronomers: “Ask Flamstead about the interior of the moon.” He reminds us of an author also cited by Bruno in a different context. “Here,” says de Fontenelle, “is Ariosto’s talk about Astolfo who was carried to the moon by St. John.” He thinks the inhabitants of these other worlds must be quite different from man, but that communication with them will one day be possible. To the sun he does not ascribe inhabitants very different from man. He forecasts the human art of flying, but feels obliged to explain hastily that this suggestion was his joke, an insuperable difficulty lying in the differences in the atmosphere at different heights. In 1695 this work was translated into English by John Glanville (1664-1735). Another English translation which purports to have been revised by Fontenelle himself was published in 1783 and contains also a translation from the Latin of an Oration in Defence of the New Philosophy spoken in the theatre at Oxford, July 7th, 1693 by Mr. Addison. This latter gives a brief but very spirited defence of the new cosmology which it ascribes to Descartes; microscopes and the objects seen through them are cited, as well as Boyle’s air pumps. Monsieur de Fontenelle was a nephew of Corneille. He was Secretary to the Académie des Sciences. It is recorded that he refused to vote either for the admission or the exclusion of a candidate for the Academy whose qualification was the friendship of the Duc d’Orleans. It appears that he was the only member who refused to admit political grounds for exclusion of a candidate. De Fontenelle was the friend of Voltaire, and he discovered and introduced to Paris society {186} Mademoiselle Cordier de Launay who became Madame de Staël. He became famous for his preface to the Marquis de l’Hôpital’s Des infiniment petits and it was he who delivered the official obituary oration on the death of Newton. He lived almost to his hundredth birthday. [See also Addison, infra.]


[On Spinoza:] But it was on the philosophers of subsequent centuries rather than on the astronomers that Bruno exerted most lasting influence. Though Bruno is nowhere directly cited by Spinoza (1632-1677), the infinite and all-embracing Unity of Spinoza’s thought, especially in the Short Treatise of God and Man and His Well-being is very reminiscent of Bruno. The connection between the teaching of the two men has been noted by many {191} of Spinoza’s biographers from Nicéon [32] and F. H. Jacobi (p. 195) to those of the nineteenth and the present century. [33] Nor can we leave the seventeenth century without recalling that Spampanato traced Candelaio as a source for scenes and characters in no fewer than ten of the plays of Molière (1622-73).


C. The Eighteenth Century: The Romantic Movement


[On Joseph Addison] (192-93.)
With the eighteenth century began the translations of Bruno’s works. They had already been heralded by Boniface et le pédant, comédie en prose imitée de l’ltalien de Bruno Nolano, Paris, 1633. In London, 1713, we have Spaccio della bestia trionfante or the Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast. Translated from the Italian of Jordano Bruno.  [34] It is notable that this first translation from the corpus of Bruno’s philosophy appeared in England. It was followed in 1750 by a French translation of the same work: Le ciel réformé, essai de traduction de partie du livre Italien “Spaccio della bestia trionfante”: demus alienis obiectationibus veniam, dum nostris impetremus, Plin.  [35] The Spaccio appears to have been especially {192} regarded in England. In the Spectator of 1712 is a notice of the sale of a copy of this work with an epitome and the remark, “the author is a professed atheist.” [36] This term atheist had also been unjustly used of Bruno by Mersenne. [37] The accusation against Bruno of atheism was renewed and disputed by several writers during the eighteenth century. [See also Addison, supra.]

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[On Coleridge:] (p.196-200.)
The romantic movement found plenty of inspiration from Bruno. Coleridge (1772-1834) was profoundly impressed by him. Both in manuscripts and in his published works, Coleridge refers to Bruno many times and gives quotations and translations from his works, especially from De monade and De innumerabilibus. The copy of the latter work in the Bodleian Library contains manuscript notes by Coleridge. In a letter to W. Sotheby of 13th July, 1802, he quotes from the final lines of the poem. [50] In the composite volume Omniana, the references to Bruno are clearly from Coleridge’s pen. Thus in the essay on Egotism we have:

Paracelsus was a braggart and a quack: so was Cardan: but it was their merits and not their follies which drew upon them that torrent of detraction and calumny which compelled them so frequently to think and write concerning themselves that at length it became a habit to do so ... and the same holds good of the founder of the Brunonian system [51] and of his namesake Giordano Bruno. [52]

In the essay on the Circulation of the Blood is an even more interesting product of Coleridge’s erudition; he writes:

The ancients attributed to the blood the same motion of ascent and descent which really takes place in the sap of trees. Servetus discovered the minor circulation from the heart to the lungs. Do not the following passages of Giordano Bruno (published 1591), seem to imply more? We put the question, pauperis forma, with unfeigned diffidence
De Immenso et Innumerabili, lib. vi, cap. 8:

Ut in nostro corpore sanguis per totum circumcursat
et recursat, sic in toto mundo, astro, tellure.” {196}
Quare non aliter quam nostro in corpore sanguis
Hinc meat, hinc remeat, neque ad inferiora fluit vi
Majore, ad supera e pedibus quam deinde recedat

and still more plainly, in the ninth chapter of the same book:

                                           Quid esse
Quodam ni gyro Naturae cuncta redirent
Ortus ad proprios rursam; si sorbeat omnes
Pontus aquas, totum non restituatque perenni
Ordine: qua possit rerum consistere vita?
Tanquam si totus concurrat sanguis in unam,
In qua consistat, partem, nec prima revisat
Ordia, et antiquos cursus non inde resumat.” [53]

We must, however, reject this claim of Coleridge for Bruno. The passages quoted are but examples of Bruno’s doctrine of cosmic metabolism and this is clearly shewn by the complete heading to Book VI, Chapter 8, of which Coleridge quotes only a part. [54]

In the essay on Magnanimity, seven verses are quoted out of the eight prefixed by Bruno to De monade. [55] Coleridge in his notes introducing the verses remarks:

If the human mind be, as it assuredly is, the sublimest object which nature affords to our contemplation, these lines which pourtray the human mind under the action of its most elevated affections, have a fair claim to the praise of sublimity.

After quoting the verses he observes:

The conclusion alludes to a charge of impenetrable obscurity in which Bruno shares one and the same fate with Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and in truth with every great discoverer and benefactor of the human race; excepting only when the discoveries have been capable of being rendered palpable to the {197} outward senses, and have therefore come under the cognizance of our “sober judicious critics”; the men of “sound common sense,” i.e., of those snails in intellect who wear their eyes at the tips of their feelers, and cannot even see unless they at the same time touch. When these finger-philosophers affirm that Plato, Bruno, etc., must have been “out of their senses,” the just and proper retort is “Gentlemen! it is still worse with you! you have lost your reason.”
  By the bye, Addison in the Spectator has grossly misrepresented the design and tendency of Bruno’s Bestia Trionfante; the object of which was to show of all the theologies and theogonies which have been conceived for the mere purpose of solving problems in the material universe, that as they originate in the fancy, so they all end in delusion, and act to the hindrance or prevention of sound knowledge and actual discovery. But the principal and more important truth taught in this allegory, is, that in the concerns of morality, all pretended knowledge of the will of heaven, which is not revealed to man through his conscience; that all commands, which do not consist in the unconditional obedience of the will to the pure reason, without tampering with consequences (which are in God’s power and not in ours); in short, that all motives of hope and fear from invisible powers, which are not immediately derived from, and absolutely coincident with, the reverence due to the supreme reason of the universe, are all alike dangerous superstitions. The worship founded on them, whether offered by the Catholic to St. Francis or by the poor African to his Fetish, differ in form only, not in substance. Herein Bruno speaks not only as a philosopher but as an enlightened Christian; the evangelists and apostles everywhere representing their moral precepts, not as doctrines then first revealed, but as truths implanted in the hearts of men, which their vices only could have obscured. [56]

Note: for Addison's Spectator, see supra.

In 1814, writing under his own name, Coleridge quotes from the De umbris idearum.  [57]

In 1817 he writes: “The De immenso et innumerabilibus and the De la causa, principio et uno of the philosopher of Nola, who could {198} boast of a Sir Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville among his patrons and whom the idolaters of Rome burnt as an atheist in the year 1660” [ sic ] and again, “We [i.e., himself and Schelling] had both equal obligations to the polar logic and dynamic philosophy of Giordano Bruno.” [58]

An essay in The Friend suggests to the modern reader that the doctrine of the coincidence of contraries (which, it will be recalled, goes back through Bruno and Cusanus to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) contributed also towards the development of the doctrine of dialectic materialism. Coleridge writes:

As far as human practice can realise the sharp limits and exclusive proprieties of science, law and religion should be kept distinct. There is in strictness no proper opposition but between the two polar forces of one and the same power.

Coleridge continues in a note:

Every power in nature and in spirit must evolve an opposite, as the sole means and condition of its manifestation: and all opposition is a tendency to re-union. This is the universal law of polarity or essential dualism, first promulgated by Heraclitus, two thousand years afterwards republished and made the foundation both of Logic, of Physics, and of Metaphysics by Giordano Bruno. The principle may be thus expressed. The identity of thesis and antithesis is the substance of all being; their opposition the condition of all existence, or being manifested; and every thing or phaenomenon is the exponent of a synthesis as long as the opposite energies are retained in that synthesis. Thus water is neither oxygen nor hydrogen, nor yet is it a commixture of both: but the synthesis or indifference of the two. [59]

In the same volume Coleridge quotes and translates from the first chapter of De immenso et innumerabilibus [1591] a long passage with the challenging phrase, “Anima sapiens non timet mortem.” He adds:

In the last volume of this work ... I purpose to give an account of the life of Giordano Bruno, the friend of Sir Philip Sidney who was burnt under {199} pretence of Atheism, at Rome, in the year 1600 and of his works which are perhaps the scarcest books ever printed. They are singularly interesting as portraits of a vigorous mind struggling after truth, amid many prejudices, which from the state of the Roman Church, in which he was born, have a claim to much indulgence. One of them (entitled Ember Week [Cena de le Ceneri, 1584]) is curious for its lively accounts of the rude state of London, at that time, both as to the street and the manners of the citizen. The most industrious historians of speculative philosophy have not been able to procure more than a few of his works ... out of eleven, the titles of which are preserved to us I have had an opportunity of perusing six. I was told, when in Germany, that there is a complete collection of them in the Royal Library at Copenhagen. If so, it is unique. [60]

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