Vanini

, a writer who has generally been distinguished by the title of Atheist, was born at Tourosano, in the kingdom of Naples, in 1585; and was the son of John Baptist Vanini, steward to Don Francis de Castro, duke of Tourosano, and viceroy of Naples. His Christian name was Lucilio: but it was customary with him to assume different names in different countries. In Gascony, he called himself Pompeio; in Holland, Julius Ceesar, which name he placed in the title-pages of his books; and, at Toulouse, | when he was tried, he was called Lucilio. He had an early taste for literature, and his father sent him to Rome to study philosophy and divinity, and on his return to Naples, he continued his studies in philosophy, and applied himself some time to physic. Astronomy likewise employed him much, which insensibly threw him into the reveries of astrology: but he bestowed the principal part of his time upon divinity. The title of “Doctor in utroque Jure,” which he assumes in the title-page of his dialogues, may indicate that he had applied himself to the civil and canon law; and from his writings, it certainly appears that he understood both. He finished his studies at Padua, where he resided some years, and procured himself to be ordained priest, and became a preacher, with what success is not known. His mind appears to have been perverted or confused by the reading of Aristotle, Averroes, Cardan, and Pomponatius, who became his favourite guides. His admiration of Aristotle was such, that he calls him “the god of philosophers, the dictator of human nature, and the sovereign pontiff of the sages.” The system of Averroes, which is but a branch of that of Aristotle, was so highly approved of by him, that he recommended it to his scholars at their first entrance upon the study of philosophy. He styles Pomponatius his “divine master,” and bestows great encomiums upon his works. He studied Cardan very much, and gives him the character of “a man of great sense, and not at all affected with superstition.” It is supposed that he derived from these authors those infidel doctrines which he afterwards endeavoured to propagate. Father Mersene assures us, that Vanini, before he was executed at Toulouse, confessed to the parliament, that at Naples he had agreed with thirteen of his friends to travel throughout Europe, for the sake of propagating atheism, and that France had fallen to his share: but this is very improbable, as the president Gramond, who was upon the spot, says nothing of such a scheme in his account of Vanini’s trial and execution. It is more probable, that his inclination to travelling, or perhaps the hopes of procuring an agreeable settlement, led him to the several places through which he passed; and that he spread his singular sentiments according as he had opportunity.

It has been remarked that we have very few dates in the biography of Vanini. We can only therefore say generally that, after he had commenced his travels, he went through | part of Germany and the Low Countries, to Geneva, and thence to Lyons; whence, having presumed to vent his irreligious notions, under the pretext of teaching philosophy, he was obliged to fly. He passed over into England, and in 1614 was at London, where he was imprisoned for nine and forty days, “well prepared,” says he, with that air of devotion which runs through all his writings, “to receive the crown of martyrdom, which he longed for with all the ardour imaginable.” Being set at liberty, he repassed the sea, and took the road to Italy. He first stopped at Genoa, and undertook to teach youth; but, it being discovered that he had infused pernicious notions into their minds, he was forced to abandon that city. He then returned to Lyons, where he endeavoured to gain the favour of the ecclesiastics by a pretended confutation of Cardan and other atheistical writers, in which he artfully contrived, by the weakness of his arguments, to give his opponents the advantage. This work was printed at Lyons, in 1615, 8vo, under the title of “Amphitheatrum eeternae Providentiae Divino-Magicum, Christiano-Physicum, necnon Astrologo-Catholicum, adversus veteres Philosophos Atheos, Epicureos, Peripateticos, & Stoicos. Autore Julio Ceesare Vanino, Philosopho, Theologo, ac Juris utriusque Doctore;” dedicated to the count de Castro, the protector of his family and his benefactor; and it so far imposed orVtbe licensers of books, as to receive their approbation. But Vanini being apprehensive that his artifice might be detected, went again into Italy; where being accused of reriving and propagating his former impieties, he returned to France, and became a monk in the convent of Guienne, a/nd from this he is said to have been banished for immorality. He then retired to Paris, where he endeavoured to introduce himself to Robert Ubaldini, the pope’s nuncio; and, in order to make his court to him and the clergy in general, undertook to write an apology for the council of Trent. He procured likewise several friends, and had access to the mareschal de Bassompierre, who made him his chaplain, and gave him a pension of two hundred crowns. Upon this account, he dedicated to him his “Dialogues,” which were printed at Paris in 1616, 8vo, with this title, “Julii Caesaris Vanini, Neapolitani, Theologi, Philosophi, & Juris utriusque Doctoris, de admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortalium arcanis, libri quatuor.” This work likewise was printed with the king’s privilege, and the | approbation of three learned doctors, either from carelessness or ignorance. In his “Amphitheatrum” he had taken some pains to disguise his irreligion; but in these “Dialogues,” his sentiments are too obvious, and notwithstanding their having escaped the censors of the press, the faculty of the Sorbonne soon discovered their tendency, and condemned them to the flames. Finding himself now become generally obnoxious, and in consequence reduced to poverty, he is said to have written to the pope, that, “If he had not a good benefice soon bestowed upon him, he would in three months’ time overturn the whole Christian religion;” but although it is not impossible that Vanini might have written such a letter for the amusement of his friends, it is scarcely credible that he should have sent it to Rome. Whatevermay be in this, it is certain that he quitted Paris in 1617, and returned to Toulouse; where he soon infused his impious notions into the minds of his scholars, in the course of his lectures on physic, philosophy, and divinity. This being discovered, he was prosecuted, and condemned to be burnt to death, which sentence was executed Feb. 19, 1619. Gramond, president of the parliament of Toulouse, gives us the following account of his death. “About the same time, Feb. 1619, by order of the parliament of Toulouse, was condemned to death Lucilio Vanini, who was esteemed an arch-heretic with many persons, but whom I always looked upon as an atheist. This wretch pretended to be a physician, but in reality was no other than a seducer of youth. He laughed at every thing sacred: he abominated the incarnation of our Saviour, and denied the being of a God, ascribing all things to chance. He adored nature, as the cause of all beings: this was his principal error, whence all the rest were derived; and he had the boldness to teach it with great obstinacy at Toulouse. He gained many followers among the younger sort, whose foible it is to be taken with any thing that appears extraordinary and daring. Being cast into prison, he pretended at first to be a catholic; and by that means deferred his punishment. He was even just going to be set at liberty, for want of sufficient proofs against him, when Franconi, a man of birth and probity, deposed, that Vanini had often, in his presence, denied the existence of God, and scoffed at the mysteries of the Christian religion. Vanini, being brought before the senate, and asked what his thoughts were concerning the | existence of a Gpd answered, that < he adored with the church a God in three persons,‘ and that * Nature evidently demonstrated the being of a deity:’ and, seeing by chance a straw on the ground, he took it up, and stretching it forth, said to the judges, ‘ This straw obliges me to confess that there is a God;’ and he proved afterwards very amply, that God was the author and creator of all things, nature being incapable of creating any thing. But all this he said through vanity or fear, rather than an inward conviction; and, as the proofs against him were convincing, he was by sentence of parliament condemned to die, after they had spent six months in preparing things for a hearing. I saw him in the dung-cart, continues Gramond, when he was carried to execution, making sport with a friar, who was allowed him in order to reclaim him from his obstinacy. Vanini refused the assistance of the friar, and insulted even our Saviour in these words, ‘ He sweated with weakness and fear in going to suffer death, and I die undaunted.* This profligate wretch had no reason to say that he died undaunted: I saw him entirely dejected, and making a very ill use of that philosophy of which he so much boasted. At the time when he was going to be executed he had a horrible and wild aspect; his mind was uneasy, and he discovered in all his expressions the utmost anxiety; though from time to time he cried out that he ’ died like a philosopher.' Before the fire was applied to the wood-pile, he was ordered to put out his tongue, that it might be cut off; which he refused to do; nor could the executioner take hold of it but with pincers. There never was heard a more dreadful shriek than he then gave; it was like the bellowing of an ox. His body was consumed in the flames, and his ashes thrown into the air. I saw him in prison, and at his execution; and likewise knew him before he was arrested. He had always abandoned himself to the gratification of his passions, and lived in a very irregular manner. When his goods were seized there was found a great toad alive in a large crystal bottle full of water. Whereupon he was accused of witchcraft; but he answered, that that animal being burned, was a sure antidote against all mortal and pestilential diseases. While he was in prison he pretended to be a catholic, and went often to the sacrament, but, when he found there were no hopes of escaping, he threw off the mask, and died as he had lived.

Vanini has not been without his apologists, who bay* | considered him rather as a victim to bigotry and envy, than as a martyr to impiety and atheism. They even go so far as to maintain that neither his life nor his writings were so absurd or blasphemous as to entitle him to the character of a despiser of God and religion. The arguments of these apologists may be found in Buddeus’s “Theses de Atheismo et Superstitione,” in Arp’s “Apologia pro Vanino,1712, and in Heister’s “Apologia pro medicis.” The life of Vanini has been written several times; but that by M. Durand, entitled “La Vie et les Sentimens de Lucilio Vanini,” and printed at Rotterdam, 1727, in 12 mo, comprises every thing which has been said of him, bnt by no means justifies the zeal of his apologists. An English translation of Durand was published in 1730. 1

1

Life, as above. Gen. Dict. —Niceron, vol. XXVI. Mosheim.