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iApprove: Giulio Cesare Vanini.

March 6, 2009

History is dotted with bold figures.  Brave, freethinking men and women who rose to the occasion, dared to go against the grain, and paid for it, usually with their lives.  One such man, who receives far less attention than he deserves, is Giulio Cesare Vanini.

Born in 1585 as Lucilio Vanini (or perhaps as Giulio Cesare, depending on whom you ask), he lived a priveledged young life about which further details are unfortunately lacking.  As a young man he studied canonic law and theological philosophy, leading him on two very conflicting paths: he joined the Catholic order and became a freethinking pantheist.

Like many others of his time, he had several both scandalous and revolutionary ideas.  He pointed out that it was impossible for God to create the universe from nothing, stated that he did not believe Jesus to be divine, and made mention of the close similarities between humans and apes, suggesting that humans were not as special as they took themselves to be – that they, like animals, were quite mortal and undivine in nature.

The Church, of course, did not take kindly to this.  In 1618, Vanini was arrested, tried and convicted of atheism and blasphemy.  On the 9th of February, 1619, he was executed as was customary: they tore out his tongue, then strangled him to death and burned his body.  According to reports, his last words were “Jesus sweated with fear and weakness.  I die undaunted.”

Many times throughout history have great men been executed for their thoughts.  Some of them become great martyrs, their stories paraded throughout history.  Others fade into obscurity.  It is my hope that one day the freethinkers of Rome – Giulio Cesare Vanini, Giordano Bruno, and others – will be remembered with the same gratitude and reverence as Yeshua of Capernaum.

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