Just within the past few decades, astrophysicists have begun recording the first definitive determinations of worlds orbiting other stars, with the very first such finding occurring on April 21, 1992. After a few years of tinkering with the methodology, man began finding these distant planets in such numbers that there are now believed to be more planets than there are stars in our galaxy, probably in all. Some of these worlds are gas giants like those ringing the further reaches of our own Solar System; but some, we are discovering, are Earth-sized worlds falling within what is understood by scientists to be the "habitable zone" -- the stretch of space around a star within which temperatures permit liquid water to exist.
Naturally, men of science have known for several centuries of the possibility that such worlds ellipsing distant stars might exist. But there was one man who knew not simply the possibility of such worlds, but the actuality of them, the certain fact of their existence. And he knew this long before any other human had even conceived of the possibility. This man was Giordano Bruno
Bruno was born in 1548, at a time when firmly established theological doctrine (and so any science
safe to practice) ensconced the Earth firmly at the center of our Universe
, unique amongst all bodies in time and space. And yet Bruno had visions
, powerful dreams wherein he found himself floating up from the Earth and into and across vast distances of outer space
. From the observations which he made during these experiences, he was able to declare in 1585:
There are countless suns and countless earths all rotating round their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to us because they are smaller and non-luminous. The countless worlds in the universe are no worse and no less inhabited than our earth. For it is utterly unreasonable to suppose that those teeming worlds which are as magnificent as our own, perhaps more so, and which enjoy the fructifying rays of a sun just as we do, should be uninhabited and should not bear similar or even more perfect inhabitants than our earth. The unnumbered worlds in the universe are all similar in form and rank and subject to the same forces and the same laws.
Bruno's revelation, from there, turns to exhortation:
Impart to us the knowledge of the universality of terrestrial laws throughout all worlds and of the similarity of all substances in the cosmos! Destroy the theories that the earth is the centre of the universe! Crush the supernatural powers said to animate the world, along with the so-called crystalline spheres! Open the door through which we can look out into the limitless, unified firmament composed of similar elements and show us that the other worlds float in an ethereal ocean like our own! Make it plain to us that the motions of all the worlds proceed from inner forces and teach us in the light of such attitudes to go forward with surer tread in the investigation and discovery of nature!
And finally, Bruno declares, unequivocally, a vision of a future event to come from his inestimable vision:
Take comfort, the time will come when all men will see as I do.
Have we, here, a prophecy? Prophecies are tricky things, after all
. A prophecy, obviously, requires three essential components. Firstly, there is the declaration by a person of a thing that will happen in the future. Secondly, there must be a supernatural source for the knowledge contained in this declaration -- knowledge of the sort which would otherwise be beyond the capacity of the propheciser. A scientist declaring years in advance the dates of the next transit of Venus does no prophecising, for his source of knowledge is simply meticulous mathematical calculation of known trajectories. And thirdly, naturally, the thing for which it is claimed it will happen must, in fact, happen.
Here, then, we have a fulfilled prophecy. We have Bruno's vision of so many, many suns with planets all their own, a fact beyond any human conception of the day, and which Bruno could not in any way know without extraordinary intervention. And we have beyond that Bruno's assurance that someday all mankind would come to have this knowledge available to them. And lastly, we have the truth of this knowledge come to fruit. More than four centuries after the envisionment of it, we now know the existence of other planets to be true. And, indeed,we ourselves are only at the cusp of such knowledge, with new discoveries in this direction being made daily, and the interpenetration of this knowledge to the human race growing at an equal rate.
The style of Bruno's cosmological enlightenment is reminiscent of the Hindu Bhagavad Gita
's account of Vishnu
revealing himself to Arjuna
as the whole of our Universe. And ought we not respect the equally astounding foreknowledge of Hinduism
, understanding a many-billions-of-years-old Universe? As well as the vision in Hinduism of the evolutionary descent of man from a series of precedent life forms
, as presented in the metaphor of the Brahmanic stages?
Returning to Bruno, here we have a man living half a millennium ago being given impossible knowledge of other suns with other worlds, and knowing, equally impossibly, that someday all mankind would obtain this knowledge; and so what can that be called but prophecy? Surely one cannot deny that as the rest of the world was cast in ignorant squalor, Giordano Bruno knew an amazing truth? One might imagine such an amazing vision being embraced as miraculous in his day -- but sadly, Bruno's day was a dark age of domination by the oppressive forces of Christianity. And why was the Church so backwards, so ill-informed and ill-prepared that it considered Bruno's cosmological revelations to be blasphemous, and contrary to the fundaments of Christianity itself? For that, you'll have to ask the Church, for they are the ones who so violently handled this brilliant man with his utterly prophetic knowledge.
Instead of being vaunted for his revelation, Bruno was imprisoned for eight years, beaten, and tortured. He was charged with heresy -- and, it must be granted, he had many ideas beyond the purely scientific ones which lent themselves to this accusation. But it is equally clear that Bruno's cosmological claims played a significant role in the claim that his thinking had become utterly irreconcilable with Church doctrine. After all, Bruno saw stars as being equal in size to our Sun, while the Bible clearly stated that in the end times the stars would fall to Earth, and how foolish would it be to imagine stars as being immense if they were destined to fall to Earth? One fateful day early in 1600, his tongue was nailed to the roof of his mouth to prevent him from uttering anymore "lies" -- lies in this case meaning truths embarrassing to the church -- and, thusly, he was burned at the stake.
And so the vague and manipulable prophesies of the Bible itself stand, in every instance, as less impressive, less prophetic
, than Giordano Bruno miraculously knowing of other suns with other worlds. For Bruno spoke plainly and certainly in stating that the stars were other suns with other worlds -- the writers of the Bible did not any know such a thing. Dodge as they must, no amount of creative interpretation counters the plain fact of Bruno knowing what no man could, and what the Bible presented no knowledge of -- each star being a Sun with worlds of its own. At a time when no one before had thought of or knew such a thing, Bruno did not theorize, he declared the fact!!
And is that not essentially prophecy? Divine knowledge? Must we not grant the possibility that Bruno's knowledge was inspired? Prophetic? Are those who would reject this notion so self-certain of that? Do they not wonder if perhaps some malevolent force has hardened their hearts against considering Bruno as a prophet? And ought we not further plumb Bruno's undoubtedly equally inspired -- and, indeed, inseparably intertwined -- theological teachings? For Bruno declared as well that "The Divine Light is always in man, presenting itself to the senses and to the comprehension, but man rejects it." And as to the nature of our Universe, he announced:
It is manifest... that every soul and spirit hath a certain continuity with the spirit of the universe, so that it must be understood to exist and to be included not only there where it liveth and feeleth, but it is also by its essence and substance diffused throughout immensity... The power of each soul is itself somehow present afar in the universe... Naught is mixed, yet is there some presence. Anything we take in the universe, because it has in itself that which is All in All, includes in its own way the entire soul of the world, which is entirely in any part of it.
And lastly, as to those who continue to doubt because this offends their existing religious persuasions.... well it seems Bruno prophesied their reaction as well:
The fools of the world have been those who have established religions, ceremonies, laws, faith, rule of life. The greatest asses of the world are those who, lacking all understanding and instruction, and void of all civil life and custom, rot in perpetual pedantry; those who by the grace of heaven would reform obscure and corrupted faith, salve the cruelties of perverted religion and remove abuse of superstitions, mending the rents in their vesture.