The Eight Theses of Giordano Bruno: Point 1

The Eight Theses of Giordano Bruno: Point 1

There were eight philosophical propositions of Giordano Bruno, collected by his tormentor, Cardinal Bellarmine, that Bruno would not recant. In this article, I will discuss the first, and then follow with the remainder in a series of articles. Hopefully, we will be able to understand the value of these teachings, and why Bruno went to a fiery death to defend them.

1) The statement of “two real and eternal principles of existence: the soul of the world and the original matter from which beings are derived.”
According to Bruno, existence is comprised of two principles: the Soul of the World (Anima Mundi) and original matter.  I’ve discussed the Anima Mundi in other articles, especially one entitled, you guessed it, The Soul of the World.

Let us focus on this idea of “original matter.” Most translators call it “prime matter.” The Latin is prima materia. To delve into this subject, we must make an excursion into the history of matter in Western philosophy. One crucial point to remember is that matter is not necessarily to be understood as something that occupies space. For Aristotle, anyway, matter is the substratum of the change of substances, thus his theory of matter is called hylomorphism. Material objects come into being through a process of change, arising from a substratum. So, for Aristotle, he would say something like, “What is the matter of this apple?” In other words, “What are the underlying constituents of this apple?” Another example may be helpful:

When some X is produced, X’s matter is what undergoes the change into X and remains constant throughout the process. For example, consider bronze. Bronze is the matter of both a bronze statue and a bronze sphere. When a bronze statue changes into a bronze sphere or vice versa, the bronze remains constant throughout the change. The bronze is potentially both a bronze statue and a bronze sphere: while remaining bronze, it can become a bronze statue or a bronze sphere. Thus, matter is “potentiality“:M is X’s matter if and only if M has the potential to be X (Wikipedia)

The Presocratic thinker, Anaximander, posited a very intriguing proposition concerning the origin of matter. As a precursor to our discussion, I suggest you read my  article, Three Images of the Unbound, for background information on this early Greek philosopher. 

The first important point to make is that Anaximander, with his idea of the Apeiron, is saying that matter is the result of a whirling, infinite, and primal reservoir of patterns or forms. It is boundless, eternal, ageless, indestructible, and encompasses all the worlds (Anaximander believed in many worlds). The Apeiron, through its spontaneous and self-generated spiraling, produces all the material forms that we experience as matter. One could say the Apeiron is a characteristic of God, or as Plotinus would say, The One.

The second point concerns this quote from Aristotle, where he is discussing Anaximander’s conception of the Apeiron:

The Unlimited encompasses and governs all things. On this basis, the Unlimited is equivalent to the Divine, since it is deathless and indestructible, as Anaximander says and as most physicists would agree (Physica, 203b, 6). 

Here we have a connection between the Divine and matter, something that, in our day, has been discarded in favor of a dead, inanimate world of dead, inanimate objects. Anaximander’s conception of the arche of all things as the Apeiron is an example of what in Greek is called hylozoism. All of the Presocratics exhibited some form of hylozoism in their various ideas of the foundation of all things. Basically, hylozoism says there is no distinction between mind or spirit and matter, thus meaning that matter would possess consciousness. This is the solution to the so-called mind-body problem.    
Around one hundred years later, Pythagoras taught that the whirling forms originating from the Apeiron contain sacred geometry, and asserted that these are the very essence of matter. Later, Plato takes this idea, transforms it, and posits a split between perfect forms and imperfect, corrupt matter. He believed matter to be a shadowy imitation of the more perfect Form. 
By the time of Bruno’s arrest, the Church had adopted the Aristotelian form of hylomorphism. In this theory, substances are envisioned as composites of form and matter. Matter is seen as entirely passive and dependent on the corresponding Form to give it dynamism and quality.

Against this view, Bruno offered a theory of matter that annihilated the dualistic ideas of Plato and Aristotle. He called his idea mater-materia, or “matter-mattering.” Here, matter possesses intelligence; it is the origin of all Forms. This idea could be termed “materialistic,” but it would be accompanied by the qualifier, “intelligent materialism,” since matter intrinsically possesses intelligence and consciousness. Bruno’s idea, here, bears similarity with Anaximander’s Apeiron. Also, this means that God is intimately connected with His creation. Mind is not separate from matter; mind is within matter. The phrase “mater-materia” connotes the womb of the Mother. Matter exists as an agent of “mattering;” matter is the matrix of all material forms. Now, we better understand why we say “Mother Nature.” We could also say, “Mother Matter.”

Thus, we can see, now, why Bruno had no intention of recanting such an eloquent position concerning the existence of all things. He knew God is in all things and that all things are in God. He knew the Anima Mundi is the overarching life force in this world. He was of the mind that death was better than denial of such sacred things.


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2 thoughts on “The Eight Theses of Giordano Bruno: Point 1

  1. Schelling learned quite a bit from Bruno (see his dialogue 'Bruno, or on the divine and natural principle of things'). He also learned a lot from Plato, who wrote in the Timaeus about the aperion and peras, the unlimited and the limited, in a way quite similar if not identical to Bruno. Schelling reads Bruno's hylozoism as an imitation of Plato's doctrine of the Receptacle. See also Iain Hamilton Grant's recent book on Schelling's Timaeus-inspired Naturphilosophie, which shows that Plato was not a two world metaphysician, but on the contrary articulated a one world physics of the idea.

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