Because of Giordano Bruno’s assertion that God is immanent in the Universe, most commentators have claimed he was surely a pantheist, or at least a panentheist. The Roman Catholic Inquisitors called him an atheist, since that was the term used in those days to describe what we now call a pantheist. Bruno remained free of these by repeatedly claiming that God is not accessible to the rational human mind. Bruno, along with Nicholas of Cusa, posited the via negativa (apophatic),“as the only possible non-mystical cognitive approach to God (The Acentric Labyrinth, by Ramon G. Mendoza).
Bruno adhered to an anti-Neoplatonic cosmology, but seemed to embrace a Neoplatonic theology (ibid.). He agreed with Nicholas of Cusa and Plotinus that God is totally beyond every concept and knowledge; in fact, as Plotinus asserted, God is even beyond ‘being,’ understood as ‘being something specific and determinable’ (ibid.).
Nevertheless, Bruno still maintained that God is immanent in the universe. Because he refused to conceptualize God in any way whatsoever, Bruno cannot be a pantheist. A pantheist would directly identify Nature with God; a panentheist would say something like,”Nature is the body of God;” Bruno, in his resolution to not speak positively (cataphatically) of God, refused to assert either of these.
Now, this is not to say he was in league with Christian dogma; he most certainly was not. Bruno was a monist. He rejected all forms of dualism. If his philosophy had won the day in the seventeenth century instead of Descartes’, we would be living in a much different world now. We would not have to deal with a “mind/body problem,” a “thought/being problem,” or a “spirit/matter problem.” These would have already been settled centuries ago.
Furthermore, Bruno believed that the human mind was capable of forming images of perfect geometrical shapes, even though there are no such shapes in Nature. He believed this was because the mind is divine and akin to the mind of God. This is another clue that Bruno did not identify Nature with God. The divine mind, which is immanent in Nature, can conceive perfect geometrical shapes, but there are no examples in Nature of these shapes. One could conclude that Bruno adheres to some form of transcendent God, since these perfect shapes are not emanated from the cosmic mind.
I have no problem holding immanence/transcendence in paradox. In my view, such a paradox can supersede the categories of rational thought. It is a leap to another level of consciousness.
So, what is Bruno’s God like? I must agree with the apophatic approach, but it sounds very much like the distinction between Nirguna Brahman, Brahman with no attributes; beyond human understanding; and Saguna Brahman, Brahman with attributes and manifested in human experience as Ishvara, a more personal ruler of the Universe. You can read more about this in my article, Pantheism and Panentheism (When I wrote this, I was not fully aware of Bruno’s adherence to the via negativa).
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