Tommaso Campanella

Great Teacher Series @ Theosophy Trust


The world's the book where the eternal Sense
Wrote his own thoughts; the living temple where,
Painting his very self, with figures fair
He filled the whole immense circumference.
Here then should each man read, and gazing find
Both how to live and govern, and beware
Of godlessness; and, seeing God all-where,
Be bold to grasp the universal mind.
But we tied down to hooks and temples dead,
Copied with countless errors from life, –
These nobler than that school sublime we call.
O may our senseless souls at length be led
To truth by pain, grief, anguish, trouble, strife,
Turn we to read the one original.

Il mondo è il libro TOMMASO CAMPANELLA


Although the need for reform in ecclesiastical Christianity was widely perceived by the thirteenth century, the Great Schism in the fourteenth century made reform unavoidable. Nonetheless, the impulse in the Italian Renaissance that gave strength to reformation also nurtured corruption. Whilst popes thought of new ways to collect money through sales of indulgences and territorial acquisitions, the Inquisition emerged as a ruthless instrument to enforce mental and moral submission. The tide, however, had irreversibly turned. Martin Luther emerged to lead the Protestant Reformation shortly after Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino provided a fresh Platonic perspective on human dignity as the power of choice, and unregenerate dogmatism found itself in retreat on many fronts. Columbus shook the foundations of complacency by opening up a new world, and American gold poured into the coffers of Europe, permanently altering the economic structure of the continent.

The sixteenth century trembled with excitement and shivered with fear, for everything seemed possible and nothing secure. Perhaps none more than Tommaso Campanella represented the potentials of the time even whilst experiencing its dangers. Whilst theologians resisted the rising scientific spirit and scholars sought to draw a sharp distinction between religion and science to avoid confrontation, a few visionary thinkers saw in the marriage of spiritualized science and purified religion the possibility of a true Christian commonwealth and universal millennium on earth. Inspired by the 'Great Art' of Ramón Lull, Tommaso Campanella joined those daring thinkers who believed in and elucidated what they came to call pansophia, the synthesis of philosophy, science and religion.

Tommaso Campanella was born Giovanni Domenico on September 5, 1568, in the Calabrian town of Stilo. Though the son of a shoemaker, his almost photographic memory led him to books rather than the cobbler's bench. At five years of age he could remember everything told to him by parents and priests, and by thirteen he has mastered all the Latin poetry and prose he could find. The preaching of a Dominican friar at about this time impressed Campanella, and he immediately undertook to read the lives of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Although the intricacies of late mediaeval theology did not interest him, the new philosophy and science did, and he entered the Dominican Order in 1582. After a year's novitiate in the monastery at Placanica, Campanella took the name Tommaso (after Aquinas) and was sent to the monastery of San Giorgo Morgeto to study philosophy. Aristotle's logic, metaphysics and De anima constituted the basic studies. Campanella made his dissatisfaction clear in lecture notes he wrote in the light of his own critical understanding, in poetry for which he had a gift, and in secretly reading ancient texts in philosophy and science, including Democritus, Plato, the Stoics and Galen. Friends worried about his boldness and even advised him to flee to Germany or Constantinople, but he persisted. When transferred to Nicastro in 1586, his dislike of Aristotle as the enemy of pansophia erupted into open dialectical confrontation with his teachers.

By 1588 Campanella's superiors warned him that he would come to a bad end and sent him to the theological house of studies at Cosenza. A friend gave him the two volumes of Bernardino Telesio's book, Nature According to Its Own Principles, a Platonic appeal for the observation of nature, and he enthusiastically read them. The monk who once wept over the inadequacy of Aristotelian arguments for the immortality of the soul rejoiced at Telesio's sublime ability to uphold the intrinsic value of nature for gaining knowledge whilst affirming the existence of Deity, and the immortality of the soul as Platonically conceived. Campanella desired to pay his respects to Telesio, but the old man died, and Campanella could only view the body as it lay in state at Cosenza Cathedral. Campanella's superior were increasingly disturbed by his public rejection of Aristotle and his interest in 'unsafe' classical philosophers, and they sent him to the remote monastery of Altomonte. There he met companions who shared his interests and introduced him to the writings of Ramón Lull, which "he devoured rather than read". When a book attacking Telesio was published, Campanella set to work refuting it. He criticized Aristotle's philosophy of nature, his denial of Christian doctrines and his rejection of Plato's proofs for the soul's immortality. His assertion that followers of Aristotle risked heresy and that Telesio was a model Christian philosopher produced a virulent reaction in the monasteries.

Without approval, Campanella went to Naples, where he joined free-thinking noblemen and Jews in studying a variety of occult arts, including the Kabbalah. His outspoken views, amazing memory and suspect studies led to accusations in 1591. Though he defended himself successfully, the fear and hatred he inspired in a church moving toward new heights of intolerance foreboded his tragic future. Although ordered to return to Calabria, he went to Rome and Florence in search of knowledge. He pushed on to Padua, where he met Galileo, and whilst he did not care for the astronomer's theories, he strongly defended Galileo's work and efforts to publish his views. At Padua he wrote with an inspired enthusiasm, completing the New Physiology According to Its Own Principles, Apology for Telesio, New Rhetoric, Monarchy of Christians, and books on ecclesiastical reform. In 1593 he was denounced and charged with immorality, materialism and criticism of church doctrine, and with authoring De Tribus Impostoribus, an atheist attack on Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. He effortlessly turned aside most of these accusations – the atheist treatise was known to have been published thirty years before he was born! – but was referred to Rome for two sessions of physical torture.

Throughout his imprisonment Campanella continued to write works on poetry, magic and nature. He was released near the end of 1596 and confined to the monastery of St. Sabina, only to be arrested and imprisoned from March 1597 until the following December. During this time Telesio's works were placed on the Index Prohibitorum, where they remained until 1900. Eventually Campanella was allowed to return to the monastery at Stilo, where he undertook a spirited defence of Aquinas against the Jesuits. He thought that astrology and prophecy indicated imminent changes in the world of immense significance. He spoke of the possibility of a universal spiritual republic under the benevolent rule of philosophical priest-kings who would occupy a radically reformed papacy. When a conspiracy to oust Spain from Calabria was discovered, Campanella was accused of being one of its leaders. Arrested in 1599, he was tortured repeatedly for three years whilst Spain and the Church argued over jurisdictional rights. Once whilst enduring la veglia for thirty-six hours, he successfully feigned madness and won some relief. On November 13, 1602, the Church sentenced him to imprisonment "with no hope for liberation". Campanella was kept in the prisons of Naples for twenty-seven years, often in solitary confinement, often poorly fed or not fed at all, and always in squalor and misery.

Nonetheless, his spirit never sank into the depths to which it was invited. Even whilst writing a ceaseless stream of appeals to princes, cardinals and the pope in an unflagging attempt to gain release, he never doubted that he could aid in carrying out a universal reform. Despite the fact that he was allowed no books whatsoever, his exhaustless memory allowed him to write numerous books in which he quoted many authors at length. Often he had to compose the same work several times because the authorities seized and destroyed his manuscripts. During this dark period of his life, he wrote the Political Aphorisms, City of the Sun, On Astronomy, Metaphysics in fifteen books (of which five original drafts of the whole survive), Triumphant Atheism, Medicine, Seven Books of Astrology and a defence of Galileo, amongst others, some in Latin, some in Italian. In 1618 he was transferred to Castel Nuovo, a less severe prison, where he had some respite from the strain of confinement. Within a month of his release in 1626, he was charged again and held until 1629, when Urban VIII, sympathetic to his case and noting that no charge of heresy or treason had ever been proven against him, effected his complete freedom. In 1634 a former disciple of Campanella was arrested on charges of conspiracy, and suspicion fell on his teacher. The pope advised Campanella to flee, and he sailed in disguise to France. He made his way to Paris, where Cardinal Richelieu welcomed him. Under royal favour, he prepared a number of works for proper publication and sought to win the French court to his universal vision and pansophic spirit. When in 1639 he felt the end of his life to be close, he prepared to die peacefully, but he felt that he had failed to achieve his deepest reforming mission. He died quietly amongst friends in the Dominican monastery on the Rue St. Honoré in Paris on May 21.

Like Descartes after him, Campanella held that philosophical knowledge begins in universal doubt.

The metaphysician does not take anything for granted, but begins his enquiry about all things with doubt. He does not even presuppose himself to be what he appears to be to himself; nor will he say whether he is living or dead, but he will doubt.

In his Metaphysica he lists fourteen dubitationes or doubts which constitute the whole force of complete scepticism. After noting the logical contradiction implicit in any assertion that nothing can be known, Campanella offered the principle of self-consciousness as the basis for knowledge. "Three things are absolutely certain for us, namely that we are, that we know, and that we will." We are, even if we are deceived, for we have to be if we are to be deceived; we know that we are, even if we are deceived as to what we are; and we will our own happiness, as Plato taught, even if we are wholly deceived as to how to achieve it. For Campanella, the principle of self-consciousness leads neither to solipsism nor to a mechanistic view of the external world. Knowledge is of two kinds: notitia innata, cognition through self-presence, the essence of soul, and notitia illata, acquired knowledge or knowledge of objects external to the soul. The soul cannot be mistaken about knowledge, for it is knowing itself. The soul can also know the external world through intuition and abstraction. Intuition is the immediate and complete grasp of a thing in the embrace of the intellect. Since Platonic ideas are formal causes, they can be grasped in this manner. Abstraction gives an indistinct and confused image of the thing, for it involves sense as well as intellect, a kind of unsatisfactory "Aristotelian universal".

Both innate and illate knowledge are possible because cognoscere est esse, to know is to be, since the soul is essentially a knowing being. Innate knowledge is the soul, whilst illate knowledge becomes the soul through sensation and total assimilation. This is possible because soul is not wholly different from the external world. Everything is endowed with sensation to some degree, even if too rudimentary to be detected by a human being, and there is a world soul, anima mundi, in which every soul is involved. Knowledge is neither an action nor a passion – neither the result of the soul's activity nor the impression of externals on the soul – but a divine 'primality' which, with power and love (or will), belongs to the nature of being. Everything spiritual and material is constituted by the three primalities to some degree as their transcendental principles. Power, knowledge and love or will manifest in the world as existence, truth and goodness. The primalities of non-being are impotence, ignorance and hatred or unwillingness, which manifest as non-existence, falsity and lack of goodness. Campanella expressed the relationship between Deity and Creation as a formula: infinite being = Deity; finite being + infinite non-being = creatures. Thus, Campanella recognized the gap between Creation and Deity, between the manifest and wholly Unmanifest, whilst affirming the quintessential unity of the two.

From this standpoint, Campanella found it easy to show that every human being seeks the Good. Man wants happiness because it is perceived as good, and he can seek the Good because it is essentially his nature. Since the supreme and all-encompassing Good is Deity, man seeks Deity. In the human being this quest appears as self-preservation. When purged of ignorance, self-preservation is the root ethical principle because it transcends all egotism in seeking to preserve the self in its essential and immortal nature through cleaving to Deity. Ethical ignorance often arises from confusion of levels which must be kept distinct. The archetypal world of pure ideas abides in Deity, and with it is found the distinct mental world of angelic and human minds. This is the metaphysical world consisting of the three primalities. The mathematical world or universal space is the substratum of all material bodies, which as a mass constitutes the material world. Just as matter is in space, the localized world, mundus situalis, is in the material world. The archetypal world is eternal, the mental world aeviternal, and the mathematical perpetual, whilst the material world is ceaselessly changing and marked by vicissitude, and the localized world belongs to time. There is, for Campanella, no conflict between predestination and free will, for the one derives from the archetypal world in which there is no past, present or future, and the other is understood in terms of lower worlds. Campanella attempted to develop a doctrine analogous to that of karma to elucidate the question of choice in a world of law.

Campanella's vast metaphysical vision was captured in his imaginative depiction of a reformed world, La Citta del Sole (The City of the Sun). In it a Genoese sailor who had accompanied Columbus tells a Knight Hospitaller what he saw in Taprobane (Ceylon). The City of the Sun consists of seven walled circuits, each with four gates oriented to the points of the compass. In its elevated centre stands the great solar temple whose dome opens to the sky. Directly below it is an altar on which stand a celestial sphere and a terrestrial globe. There seven lamps representing the seven sacred planets burn continually. Just as the temple reflects the visible cosmos, so too the social structure of the city reflects the metaphysical structure of Creation. The Solarian inhabitants are ruled by a prince-prelate called Sun, meaning Metaphysician. Under him are three princes, Pon, Sin and Mor, or Power, Wisdom and Love. Power has charge of war and peace and Wisdom is responsible for the sciences. Love governs all breeding, animal and human, and education, medicine and agriculture. The city was settled by people from India who sought to form a philosophical community. Critical to their endeavour is education.

All education is "after the manner of the Pythagoreans", that is, oral. To aid in instruction, every circular wall is painted with educational pictures and diagrams, beginning with the temple on whose walls the stars are depicted. On the inner wall of the first circuit are set out the geometrical truths, and the outer side is covered by a map of the world. The second wall is covered with samples of minerals and geological materials. As one progresses towards the outer wall of the city, one passes in turn bodies of water and their flora and fauna, the plant and animal kingdoms, the mechanical arts and, finally, the great teachers of religion, philosophy and science, including Moses, Osiris, Jupiter, Mercury, Muhammad and Jesus. Children are led from wall to wall by skilled teachers and come to master all the arts and sciences by the age of ten, and both sexes are given identical training and opportunity. In the City of the Sun private families are renounced in favour of the full solar family, for where there are separate families with separated dwellings, private property becomes the cause of selfish love. The strong man thus becomes rapacious and the weak man deceitful. Where there is no place for self-love, love of the community flourishes. The root of all their individual relationships is friendship and respect for wisdom.

Just as there is an officer for each science, elected to his position because of inclination, disposition and skill, so there is an officer for every virtue – Liberality, Magnanimity, Chastity, Fortitude, Truth, Beneficence, Gratitude, Mercy, etc. – elected on the same basis. Leaders have a responsibility to govern through education and exemplification. Solar citizens are naturally inspired and government is relatively effortless. Practices which seem shocking to a European because of sentiment or social class are natural to Solarians. Since love is cultivated for all, mating is based on careful characterological and physiological examinations and undertaken only when the astrological signs indicate good issue. "The aim should be to improve natural endowments, not to provide dowries or false titles of nobility." Campanella envisaged abolishing the competitive eugenics of status and replacing it with a spiritual eugenics of temperament. Similarly, work is not divided by social strata: everyone participates in all divisions of labour to the highest degree physically possible.

Pride is regarded as a great sin, and it is punished after the manner in which it is committed. Therefore, no one considers it disgraceful to wait at tables or to serve in the kitchen or elsewhere. Such work they call learning, and they say that it is as honourable for the feet to walk as for the eyes to see. Thus, anyone who is assigned any particular task performs it as though it were a high honour.

The citizens of the City of the Sun are careful in the prosecution of crimes. Wrongdoing through ignorance or weakness is censured in ways aimed to enlighten and strengthen. Yet when an individual is knowledgeably perverse, he may be executed. Similarly, they strive to avoid war but are willing to die in battle if necessary. "War should never be undertaken except to make men good, not to destroy them." These citizens, Campanella asserts in a veiled but daring denial of original sin, "believe that the sins of the father are visited upon the children rather more as suffering than as blame".

They say that suffering and sin, both those of the father and those of the children, recoil upon the city, but because this fact is not sufficiently apparent, the world seems to be ruled by chance.

The consequences of individual acts cannot always be separated from the activity of the community as a whole; nevertheless, the law of cause and effect operates consistently throughout creation.

After elaborating the institutions and arrangements of the City of the Sun – a blueprint for the world reformed through pansophia – Campanella added that "Thanks to their hunger for gold, the Spaniards go about discovering new countries, but God has a higher end in mind." That end is, for Campanella, the spiritual renovation of humanity through increasing cosmopolitan awareness awakened by the discovery of the world. Though tortured and misunderstood, Campanella's deepest suffering was caused by his penetrating insight into the gap between humanity as it is and humanity as it could be. His unquenchable optimism and indestructible confidence sprang from the same understanding. Thus, he promised all those who look to the future that:

When the apsis of Saturn enters Capricorn, when that of Mercury enters Sagittarius and that of Mars enters Virgo, and when the superior conjunctions return to the first triplicity after the appearance of the new star in Cassiopeia, there will be a new monarchy, reformation of laws and of arts, new prophets, and a general renewal.