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Tommaso Campanella

Dominican philosopher and writer, b. 5 Sept., 1568, at Stilo in the province of Calabria, Italy; d. at Paris, May 21, 1659

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Campanella, TOMMASO (baptized GIOVANNI DOMENICO), Dominican philosopher and writer, b. September 5, 1568, at Stilo in the province of Calabria, Italy; d. at Paris, May 21, 1659. He was a facile writer of prose and verse at the age of thirteen, and when not yet fifteen entered the Dominican Order, attracted by the fame of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. With a predilection for philosophical inquiry, he was sent to different convents to hear the best masters. Campanella wrote his first work, “Philosophia sensibus demonstrata” (Naples, 1590) in defense of the naturalistic philosopher Bernardino Telesio. He next went to Rome and afterwards to the University of Padua, from October, 1592, to the end of 1594. An ardent and somewhat captious temperament led him into the expression of views offensive to many of the older and newer schools alike. He was especially vigorous in his opposition to the authority of Aristotle, and was cited before the Holy Office at Rome, where he was detained till 1597. Some accounts speak of his having been accused of magic and of his fleeing to Florence, Venice, Padua, and Bologna, thence back to Naples and Stilo. Continuing to lecture and write, however, he retained favor in certain circles. At length, in September, 1599, he was seized as the head of a conspiracy against the Spanish rule. In the trial at Naples, involving many persons, lay and ecclesiastical, he was charged with divers heresies and with aiming to set up a communistic commonwealth. Arraigned before an ecclesiastical tribunal, he was at the same time harassed and put to torture by a political court. On January 8, 1603, he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. Among several who sought to obtain his liberation was Pope Paul V. In the meantime the viceroy, Giron, who used to visit Campanella in prison, seeking his counsel about matters of state, became involved in trouble. In his endeavors to extricate himself he laid the blame largely on Campanella, who was again subjected to many indignities. Through Pope Urban VIII, who applied directly to Philip IV of Spain, the unfortunate prisoner was at last released from his Neapolitan captivity, May 15, 1626, an event which was commemorated by Gabriel Naude in his “Panegyricus” (Paris, 1644). He was taken to Rome and held for a time by the Holy Office, but was restored to full liberty, April 6, 1629. In 1634 another Calabrian conspiracy under one of Campanella’s followers threatened fresh complications. With the aid of Cardinal Barberini and the French ambassador, De Noailles, Campanella, disguised as a Minim, withdrew to France. Louis XIII and Richelieu received him with marked favor, the latter granting him a liberal pension. He spent the rest of his days, enjoying papal favor, in the Dominican convent of St-Honore at Paris.

Of the life and character of Campanella, conflicting estimates are given. He was well thought of by Popes Clement VIII, Paul V, and Urban VIII. Cardinal Pallavicini declared him a “man who had read all things and who remembered all things; of mighty but indomitable character.” In faith and theological allegiance he was held above suspicion by Juan De Lugo, afterwards cardinal; Theophile Raynaud considered him heretical. Vincent Baron, O.P., who knew him well, gave a careful eulogy of him as skilled in mathematics, astrology, medicine, and other sciences; more famous, perhaps, than he deserved to be, but still a man of extraordinary gifts. John Addington Symonds, who translated a book of his sonnets (Sonnets of Michael Angelo Buonarotti and Tommaso Campanella, London, 1878), refers to him as the “audacious Titan of the modern age, possessing essentially a combative intellect; a poet and philosopher militant, who stood alone making war upon the authority of Aristotle in science, of Machiavelli in statecraft, and of Petrarch in art”. His nunquam tacebo is evidenced in almost every act and utterance of his strange career. Campanella’s work is critical and composite rather than constructive and original. It exhibits an almost encyclopedic acquaintance with all the known sciences of his day. His doctrine does not form a system, but discloses a syncretic adaptation of certain fundamental principles of St. Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great, modified by original opinions and fused with ideas, often unsound and bizarre, borrowed from Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Empedocles, the Christian mystics, and the Jewish and Arabic schools of thought. He aimed to reconstruct scholastic philosophy, but, lacking grasp and depth, his judgment was often obscured by an untempered imagination, and his writings, of widest scope, abound in the inequalities of undisciplined genius. With the fondness of the Renaissance for disputation and innovation, he was also singularly swayed by the popular pseudo-science of judicial astrology. Unlike Bruno, however, he remained loyal to his order and to the Church.

In his theologico-cosmological theory, being, both created and Divine, is invested with three primordial properties: power, wisdom, and love. Non-being is characterized by impotence, darkness, and odium or metaphysical aversion. In God, Who is pure being, simple and infinite, the three properties of being exist and subsist in simplest unity to the absolute exclusion of non-being and its attributes. Creatures participate in God‘s wisdom, power, and love; but, because derived from nothingness, their essence is a mixture of being and non-being. The Divine, impressed upon, immanent in, and shared by, finite natures, is the principle, the sufficient reason, and the measure of their relative perfection and of their development in time and space. The universe is vivified, directed, and governed by a universal soul of sense and intelligence. The world is as a living statue of God. The sun and the earth are its principal parts and the common source of animal life and movement; and of the sensation which is also found in all material things, light, air, metals, and wood. Prior to Descartes, to whom he was otherwise superior in erudition, Campanella demonstrated the absurdity of scepticism and undertook to establish by psychologico-ontological argument the existence of God against Atheism. In the field of natural science Campanella preceded Bacon in insisting on the direct observation and experimental study of nature. It is noteworthy that whilst Bacon rejected the astronomical theory of Galileo, Campanella favored it, and wrote a brilliant defense of its author. In his treatise, “De Monarchic Hispanic,” [“A Discourse touching the Spanish Monarchy”, tr. by Edmund Chilmead (London, 1654) and again by Wm. Prynne (ibid., 1660)], Campanella evinces, among ideas singularly strange and erroneous, considerable practical knowledge of civil government. To extend Spanish rule in Europe he advised intermarriage of the Spaniards with other nationalities, urged the establishment of schools of astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, etc., and the immediate opening of naval colleges to develop the resources of the New World and further the interests of its inhabitants. In general he advocated natural honesty and justice and the universal love of God and man in place of the utilitarian principles and egoism of Machiavelli.

Because of its political character, his “Civitas Solis” (City of the Sun), is the most celebrated of his works. It appears in “Ideal Commonwealths” (New York, 1901) and in “Ideal Empires and Republics” (Washington and London, 1901). It was probably intended by Campanella as a philosophical fiction, like Plato’s “Republic” and More’s “Utopia“, for its essentially communistic delineation, and advocacy, of goods, education, women, labor, and all necessaries in common could hardly represent the true mind of an author who, after all, was faithful to at least the spirit of Christianity, and who vehemently resisted the rationalistic trend of his contemporaries. Various lists, some furnished by Campanella himself, show him to have been the author of about eighty-eight works. The more important are: “Prodromus Philosophisae. instaurandse” (Frankfort, 1617); “Philosophiae rationas partes quinque” (Paris, 1638); “Realis philosophiae epilogisticae partes quatuor” (which contains the “Civitas Solis”, Frankfort, 1623); “Medicinalium juxta propria principia libri VII” (Lyons, 1635); “Astrologicorum libri VI” (Lyons, 1629); “Apologia pro Galileo mathematico” (Frankfort, 1622); “Atheismus triumphatus” (Rome, 1631); “De praedestinatione, electione, reprobatione et auxiliis divine gratise, cento thomisticus” (Paris, 1636). Numerous unpublished MSS. are preserved in the archives of the Dominican Order at Rome.


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