Giordano Bruno Was Not a Pantheist

Giordano Bruno Was Not a Pantheist

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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6 thoughts on “Giordano Bruno Was Not a Pantheist

  1. Have you read Leo Catana on Bruno's concept of contraction? Clears up a lot of these pseudo-problems of “pantheism” etc.

  2. I would consider Bruno's philosophy to be highly proto-Pandeistic. Pandeism, instead of Pantheism, retains the notion of the creative force.

  3. As someone who’s read everything by Bruno or about him in English, I’d weigh in to agree that he certainly wasn’t a pantheist, although it’s certainly fair to call him a panentheist.

    Immanence is the obvious source of this confusion, not to mention the fact that few people bother to read any of Bruno’s works (or at least not enough of them), whereby they’d quickly discover that he’s not a pantheist.

    Bruno’s also a monist, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say he rejected all forms of dualism inasmuch as he clearly acknowledged the existence of manifestly powerful lower deities and powers exerting profound influence within what is essentially an holographic view of reality.

    These powers may be seen as literal or archetypal or both, and their influence spans the full spectrum of intention and action ranging from the utmost benevolent to the utmost malevolent, but in any case, quite often divisive or dualizing in nature, or of nature, albeit within limits, since they are and never can be as complete as the One, or Monad.

    So it is that in Bruno’s Lo Spaccio, or Expulsion of the Triumphant Gods, we encounter Olympian deities portrayed as having made a mess of reality, not so much because of Demiurgic or Archontic mal-intent but because of their ultimate state of finitude and/or ignorance as compared with God. True, these are presented as amusing fictional characters, but elsewhere in Bruno’s writings, such as his extensive work in mnemonics, he gives every reason to believe that he believes in the existence and actualization of such entities, who populate an infinite continuum of Gods, spirits, phantasms and more.

    These beings are no mere fiction.

    As such, they certainly represent a degree of separation, or if you will, a degree of dualism, the likes of which can be seen in various schools of Gnosticism, some of which are strictly dualistic (i.e., good and evil, including their origins and destiny, are eternally opposed to one another, and never the twain shall meet), while others believe this division is ultimately resolved in the one true god, and thus they might be identified as Monistic with a degree of paradoxical Dualism mixed in.

    Granted, some might argue that this isn’t dualism at all, but the persistence of an hypostasis of this reality, as well as an holographic view of such, argues otherwise.

    A rose by any other name, perhaps, but a preponderance of Bruno’s work clearly reveals that this describes the rose that grew n the garden of his world view.

  4. James, thank you very much for those wonderful comments!

    I began being interested in Bruno when I read Mendoza’s book, The Acentric Labyrinth, a wonderful work indeed. What did you think of his portrayal of Bruno and his ideas?


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