Thursday, February 17, 2011

Infinity

Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato. (“If it is not true, it is very well invented.”)
--Giordano Bruno, The Heroic Furies, 1585

Dear Fra Bruno,

It’s been four hundred and eleven years, to the day, since the Inquisitors of the Catholic Church burned you at the stake, and I just wanted to tell you: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you were burned alive, which, amongst many horrible ways to die, must have been truly horrible. I’m sorry that someone of your Intelligence and Broad-Mindedness and Curiosity had to live a life wandering in the shadows, and then face persecution and torture.

I understand that among your supposed heresies (which included pantheism), you believed in the existence of an infinite Universe, and that neither the Earth, nor even the Sun (as Copernicus held), sat at its center. You were right, Filippo. Just as a spoiled child eventually learns the world does not revolve around him, the Church, thanks to the efforts of later mathematicians and astronomers much like you, had to admit you had the entire Truth, as supported by Reason. They had only dogma, and the desperation of despots. Today the Church admits you were right, but it still defends your torturers.

As someone who has, at least metaphorically, also wandered from my spiritual home, much as you wandered Europe, and whom I’m sure would have been thrown into the pyre many times over, I just wanted to thank you for your example of Courage. You believed in a Universe of Infinity--many worlds around many suns. (You will be gratified our scientists have now confirmed the existence of 529 such worlds, not to mention 7 or 8 around our own sun; hundreds more await confirmation.)

And I believe that in a Universe of infinite Possibility, even things improbable inevitably wax to the mathematically definite. And so I can believe that you can hear me, however unlikely that might seem. And I believe that somewhere, the Divine rests a hand on your shoulder and points out the other planets, where other Gods manifest, where other faces of Love bloom. I hope you feel Vindication. Even more, I hope you have Peace and Joy.

If a friend were to ask me, “What is the virtue of Infinity?” I would tell her: It is to cast one’s eyes into the endless Cosmos, and know that we are not diminished by the Vastness, but that it in fact confirms our souls’ Magnificence.

May we see the gates of Infinity, and perhaps make a home there.
*    *    *
First image is Giordano Bruno, a painting by artist Zdenek Janda.

3 comments:

  1. This is a great reflection, and I am delighted that you have said you are sorry, to which I will add my own sorrow, and hope that fr fillipo is enjoying the infinity of the universe he contemplated, one may believe, with delight awe and joy. It is interesting to think of all the mathematical complexities in the universe, and the poverty of faith in the greatness of the Creator of this complexity.

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  3. Great site. I'm enjoying your commentary on the virtues. One little factoid clarification: The Catholic Church does not hold the universe to be infinite. Of course believing this is or not is NO EXCUSE for burning anyone at the stake!! I believe the Church has apologized for such atrocities, as have other non-catholic churches for their inhumane treatment of catholics centuries ago. Keep up the good work!

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