I have recently been listening to lectures by a very intriguing Franciscan friar by the name of Fr. Richard Rohr. He is a marvelous ecumenical teacher who is interested in the non-dual experience of consciousness. That makes him very interesting to me. He also has some very cool ideas about the meaning of the much abused term, Christ. According to Fr. Rohr, the Christ is the manifestation of God. The Christ first manifested at the point of the so-called Big Bang, which, according to boffins, occurred around 14.6 billion years ago. No, it is not Jesus’ last name. It is, in essence, the material universe, although I check myself when I speak of “material” things as if they were distinct from soul/spirit. I don’t think Rohr believes that, though. He seems to be saying that the Christ is spirit manifesting through matter. It is not pantheism because there is a transcendent, unknowable God who set it all in motion. Nature and God are not identical; it’s just that the universe is a manifestation of God. Then, about 2000 years ago, the man, Jesus became completely identified with the Christ. He was the first human to ever do so, I suppose, hence his importance in the history of consciousness. He encouraged us to become manifestations of the Christ, as well. Rohr claims we have been so caught up with the historical man called Jesus for so long that we have forgotten about the Christ he became.
Now, why does this remind me of Giordano Bruno’s thinking? One of the reasons Bruno was burned at the stake by the Inquisition was because of his alleged denial of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. I am very skeptical that these allegations are true, myself. One passage where Bruno, through allegory, alludes to the God-Man is in his work, Spaccio de la bestia trionfante, or The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast. This work of allegorical dialogues is very critical of the established Church. The setting has various gods engaging in discussion. In the Third Part of Dialogue Three, Momus, the Greek god of satire and mockery, refers to the Centaur:
Now, what do we wish to do with this man inserted into a beast, or this beast imprisoned in a man, in which one person is made of two natures and two substances concur in one hypostatic union? Here two things come into union to make a third entity; and of this there is no doubt whatsoever. But the difficulty in this lies, namely, in deciding whether such a third entity produces something better than the one and the other, or better than one of the two parts, or truly something baser. I mean, if the human being has been joined to equine being, is there produced a divinity worthy of the celestial seat, or rather a beast worthy of being put into a flock and into a stall?1
Jove admonishes Momus to stop attempting to understand the mystery and just believe it.
. . .the mystery of this matter is occult and great, and you cannot understand it. However, since it is a matter profound and great, it will only be necessary that you believe it.2
Apparently, Bruno is satirizing the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ. According to the Church, Jesus is fully God and fully human in one union. While we should not attribute the words of Momus to Bruno’s personal beliefs, each character in the dialogue can be seen as aspects of Bruno’s multifaceted personality. For a man of reason, it is not unusual to question the divine union. It is one of those inexplicable mysteries that we will probably never understand, certainly not with the rational mind.
Bruno believed Nature is divine, so the comparison of the Centaur with the Son of God is not necessarily sacrilegious. I think he may be allegorizing the union of man and the divine in Jesus Christ. Bruno believes that the beast is sacred and representative of the manifestation of God on earth, which Richard Rohr calls the Christ. All of Nature is sacred.
Because of Bruno’s views on Nature, many commentators believe he is espousing pantheism. I disagree. Bruno maintained that God is immanent in the universe. Because he refused to conceptualize God in any way whatsoever, following Nicolas of Cusa, Bruno cannot be a pantheist. A pantheist would directly identify Nature with God. Similarly, 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.
Furthermore, Bruno believed that the human mind is capable of forming images of perfect geometrical shapes, even though there are no such shapes in Nature. He believed this is 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 manifested from the cosmic mind anywhere in Nature.
So, Nature is definitely sacred in Bruno’s thought. He believed the only way humans can communicate with God is through Nature, which Rohr calls “the Christ.” Bruno went further by believing that natural magic was the only way we can communicate with the cosmic mind. Prayer, as petition, is useless, according to Bruno. Rohr remains orthodox, while Bruno clearly has departed from the teachings of the Catholic Church. He remains, however, a very religious thinker, and a very important figure in both philosophy and science. Many who came afterwards would be greatly influenced by his writings.
Bruno, Giordano. The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast. Translated by Arthur D. Imerti. Rutgers, New York: 1964.
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