RIZAL : AN INTELLECTUAL DESCENDANT OF BRUNO
Giordano Bruno had been dead for some 270 years before his philosophical writings and libertarian ideas reached the Philippines.
During Bruno's lifetime and up to the end of the 19th century, the Philippines was the remotest colony of the Spanish Empire. The Spaniards Christianized the Filipinos and governed them through the religious orders. This arrangement enabled the friars to acquire vast wealth and power, but the only way they could maintain their mastery over the people was by keeping them in ignorance. The Filipinos had to be kept blissfully unaware of the libertarian ideas that were sweeping through Europe.
Freedom of thought, worse yet, freedom of speech were proscribed; and freedom of association was evidence of subversion. Freedom of religion was out of the question.
For centuries, therefore, the Philippines was sealed off from the outside world. The Filipinos were not allowed to hear of "liberty," "equality" and "fraternity." All libertarian ideas and writings on the rights of man were banned. Even the Bible was on the censor's list because Christ died for all men and not just Spaniards.
In the last three decades of the 19th century, however, the Spanish friars could no longer maintain the intellectual blockade of the Islands. With improved economic conditions, Filipino families were able to send their sons to the intellectual capitals of the world to study. Young Filipinos absorbed the wisdom of the Western World. A new breed of intellectuals was produced to whom Bruno, Galileo, Copernicus and the other giants of the European Renaissance were household names, representing the liberation of the human mind from ignorance and unchallenged religion. The students brimmed with ideas about liberty and freedom, about science and progress. In time they sparked a revolution that drove the Spaniards away and created our country.
Beyond doubt, the greatest intellectual product of that period of the Philippine Renaissance was Dr. Jose P. Rizal. He was a man who might rightly be called an intellectual descendant of Bruno. Remarkably, his life and Bruno's had numerous parallels. With your indulgence therefore, I would like to dwell on the life of Rizal vis a vis that of Bruno.
Rizal, like Bruno, fervently believed in the primacy of the intellect. Like Bruno he was a man of outstanding intelligence. Bruno was a philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, poet and occultist whose theories anticipated modern science. Rizal was also wonderfully versatile. He undertook various activities and left his disunguishing mark in all of them. He was, for instance, one of the greatest occultist of his day, so great that the scientists of Europe held him in honor and followed with attention his discoveries and works. He was so famous that patients came from far-distant countries to be treated by him, and when he was exiled still followed him into the wilderness. He was a sculptor of such power and skill that his works often fascinated the beholder with their almost mysterious suggestions of deeper human significance. He was an ethnologist whose invaluable collections are still preserved in the great museum of Dresden. He was a zoologIst who discovered, classified and recorded new species of animal life in remote regions. He was an accomplished linguist, the fluent and easy master of native dialects, of Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, English and Japanese. He was able to compose in these languages with facile and idiomatic power; beginning a letter in German, continuing it in French and ending it in English without flaw in the total expression. He ornamented his books with sentiments in Japanese or Hebrew as the fancy seized him. He was an artist in portraiture and caricature with his pencil and on canvas. He was a novelist whose depiction of manners and characters were etched so vividly that they startled Europe, stung his own people to revolt, and nerved his enemies to destroy him. He was a poet that in his native tongue sands with pathos and charm. He was an educator and an able civil engineer. When he was banished, his first work in the uncouth country to which he was sent was to establish a school on exactly those lines that have since been followed in remaking the educational system of the Philippines, a country that did not exist when he lived, and which came into being because of his death. He provided the little town of his exile with water works, which remained in use for decades. He was a publicist and reformer who knew well the evils that afflicted his country; knew their source, knew their cure, and strove conscientiously for the common good. For he was a philosophical democrat with faith founded upon reasoning, upon knowledge of history and upon deliberate conviction.
Giordano Bruno's life is much better known to you. But surely you discern the parallels between them.
Both believed in the power and primacy of reason, of which they had only to look into themseives to find sterling examples. Both had a certatn pride in their accomplishments but not arrogance.
Bruno, as we all know, actually believed that the religion of the religious orders were for lesser minds, and that a man of superior intellect might apprehend the nature of God through the study of his works, and in that fashion, render to God the highest compliment of following his creation.
Rizal identified more with his oppressed compatriots and hoped that, with the ascendance of liberalism in Spain, a greater tolerance would spread among his people; a truer faith - one that worshipped God rather than justified the tyranny of his ministers.
Bruno therefore believed in religious toleration, since the true religion, the real Catholicism, was one to which all open minds would be drawn of their own accord.
Bruno traveled all over Europe, to its celebrated seats of learning, imparting as much as imbibing knowledge and wisdom. Rizal did the same, though his science was of the modern kind, with empirical study replacing occult speculation.
Bruno was excommunicated, charges were prepared against him by Inquisition; Rizal formally condemned by the Catholic Church. Yet, neither foreswore religion in general, nor the Catholic faith in particular. Bruno and Rizal believed that, at the root of their masters' hostility towards them, was ignorance. If and when their masters saw the light, they would welcome its bearers.
Bruno never retracted what he had carefully thought out. Neither did Rizal. Though Bruno was more of the hothead, Rizal was a placid nature by most accounts. He did not flare up with conviction, but he burned with a steady flame. When both faced their executioners, neither would retract to save their lives because it seemed incomprehensible to deny what reason had revealed to be right.
There is the same mystery about the deaths of Giordano Bruno and Jose Rizal. Why did Bruno freely return to Italy, to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition whose charges against him had not been dropped? Why did Jose Rizal, against advice of friends, return to certain death?
Both believed that only ignorance stood between their enemies and the universal acceptance of their ideas.
Rizal did not want independence for a young nation. He wanted the reforms in Spain to be extended to the colony. Surely, Spain would soon come to realize that it is better to retain its colonies by treating them equally than to lose them by driving them to fury and desperation.
Bruno was less consistent in his convictions, flirting briefly with the Protestant faith. But he returned to Catholicism and stayed with it all the way to the stake.
Both were misled by historical developments. Bruno believed that the crowning of the Protestant Henry of Navarre as the Catholic King of France would usher in an era of tolerance because here was a king who had no strong feelings for either faith and would be tolerant of all of them. As France was the most powerful kingdom in Europe, that tolerance would soon spread all over.
Rizal saw the momentary triumph of liberalism in Spain and thought, correctly, that it was a matter of time before liberal ideas came to dominate Spanish life and mellow Spanish governance. That is why he returned to his country. Rizal was right, of course; a few years ago a democratic king finally ascended the Spanish throne and ended half a millenium of religious intolerance. Rizal missed it by half a century. Of course, had he joined the cause of Spanish freedom in the 1930s, the way he joined the cause of Cuban liberty at the turn of the century, he would have been shot.
Both as we said had strong convictions. Unfortunately, they were beliefs in the essential goodness and rationality of men who had only to be educated to act rightly. Yet, even in the face of what would seem an evident mistake about human nature -- even as they heard the sentence of death read to them -- neither flinched nor complained.
Bruno met his death with great agony but enough equanimity not to ask to be spared.
Rizal walked calmly to his death. The night before he composed one of the most beautiful poems in Spanish, Mi Ultimo Adios. When his pulse was taken in front of the firing squad, the military doctor said, "You have it well." Then the guns spoke.
Bruno came before the formal organization of Masonry, the religion of reason. Rizal was privileged to become a Mason.
It is said that, on the eve of his execution, he abjured Masonry in a confession whose authenticity is questioned to this day. It is possible that he gave in to the urgings of his Jesuit mentors or that he sought to spare his family from further harassment by the Church. But many doubt it.
At this juncture I wish to digress and refer to another great hero in the cause of enlightenment. He also had to pay dearly for his convictions but not the ultimate price. He was Galileo. You all know that Galileo had the genius and temerity to demonstrate the correctness of Copernicus's claim that the earth moves around the sun. This contradicted the biblical story that God held back the sun so Joshua could go on fighting. Galileo was charged before the Inquisition. He escaped the ultimate penalty by recanting what he had incontrovertibly proved.
That makes him lesser than Bruno. Perhaps it is because he had a less daring intellect. Bruno believed that, not only that the sun is the center of a planetary system, but that the universe was infinite and populated with more of the same. Solar systems without end. Galileo thought this it was it, just one. After all, if God is infinite, Bruno argued, his creation couldn't be less.
Galileo is said to have shouted after signing his retraction, "But the earth does move just the same." Well, too late. That is why he is not a hero of the mind nor a symbol of the free spirit of man. He was just a very smart man.
His scientific work will always have its distinguished place in the history of science and the progress of mankind. But his name will not resonate like Bruno's in the far greater struggle of men to liberate themselves rather than just the forces of nature, and thereby release the full potential planted in them by their Creator.
Bruno and Rizal are two rare characters who exalt their respective nations and the human race. Both saw in the workings of the universe, as revealed by science, the architecture of the Supreme Geometer that is venerated by the Craft.
Bruno, coming too soon, searched Europe in vain for an exalted companionship of the mind. Rizal was fortunate to have found, in the Masonic fraternity, the living practice of what seemed scientifically and self-evidently to be true as well: that all men are equal and brothers.
builds its temples in the hearts of men. A hundred years ago in my
country, and three hundred years ago, in yours, two such temples were
torn down. One in flames, the other in a hail of bullets. But out
of the destruction of their ilves, men have built what is today the
vast house of science and the global house of freedom.