Thomas Campanella was born in Stilo, a village in
Calabria, Italy, in the year 1568. At a tender age (13 or 14 years), he entered
the Dominican Order, where he remained for the rest of his days. He was a great
admirer of Saint Thomas Aquinas, in whose honor he assumed his name, as his
christening name was Giovanni Domenico. Nevertheless, throughout his life he
fought against the theories of Aristotle and the Scholastics, of whom Saint
Thomas is the exemplary representative.
Campanella was a prolific author, who started writing at the age of nineteen.
Very soon after he came into conflict with the ecclesiastic authorities, because
of his eager and curious mentality, and his admiration for the sciences that he,
Campanella, believed to be called to conciliate with Christian, or rather
In his writings, Campanella insists again and again that we can arrive at an
understanding of reality and of nature exclusively through our senses. This was
totally opposed to the Aristotelian and scholastic method, founded on blind
faith and pedantic abstraction divorced from any experimental verification.
Already in 1592 he was condemned, in an ecclesiastical trial in Naples, to
return to his native Calabria, as punishment for having left the monastery.
Among the accusations against him, we should note that he was charged with
having sought the company of a rabbi called Abraham, magician and astrologer,
who allegedly had introduced him to occultism. Furthermore, and this was a
serious charge at the time, he was accused of having taken out books from the
library without receiving permission.
The young friar was driven by thirst for knowledge. His intellectual appetite
knew no boundaries. As he himself declared, he had studied the philosophies of
Pythagoras, Epicurus, Plato, Thales, the Stoics and the Peripatetics
[Aristotelians], of all ancient and modern sects, the laws of ancient peoples
and of Hebrews, Turks, Persians, Moors, Chinese, Brahmins, Peruvians, Mexicans,
Abysinians and Tartars. This was no empty boasting, because in his writings
Campanella introduces numerous details and demonstrates his knowledge of the
most diverse subjects.
Campanella was convinced that the world was approaching a millenary crisis, a
total revolution in the order of things, that would create a fundamental change
in the Church, at a time this was conducting a furious battle against the
Reform. This revolution, forecast by Campanella, would find expression in the
most astounding progress of philosophy, science and politics. In certain
respects, he can be regarded as a forerunner of the Rosicrucian manifestos.
In his opinion, philosophy is founded on facts and not words, it should discard
opinions and turn to testimonies, that is to say, philosophy should give
knowledge the first place, incorporating all the new discoveries. We should keep
in mind that ‘philosophy’ at the time was a wide-ranging concept, including many
areas of knowledge that today we designate as sciences.
Let us examine now some of the arguments raised by Campanella against abstract
speculation. Saint Augustine, speculating, rejects the existence of the
antipodes, while navigators have demonstrated it. Aristotle, speculating,
maintains the incorruptibility, that is to say, immutability of the stars, while
Galileo’s telescope has discovered the phases of Venus. Zeno denies the
existence of movement, while our senses, on the contrary, prove it irrefutably.
Luther, speculating, rejects human freedom, on the pretext of divine
predestination, ‘but this writing pen I am holding, who can claim that I don’t
have the power to move it or not, to write or not write?’
Campanella’s modernist and renovating spirit can be summarized in his
observation, made in The City of the Sun, that ‘this century of ours has more
history in a hundred years that the world has had in four thousand, and in these
hundred years more books have been written than in five thousand.’
The writer is deeply impressed by the recent discoveries and sees in them signs
of the approaching millennium; the discovery of the new world, the compass, the
printing press, the harquebus, receive philosophical explanations.
In 1600, as we know, another Italian thinker, Giordano Bruno, was burned at the
stake as a heretic. Campanella did not suffer the same fate, but he was
persecuted for his views and remained in prison, subject to privation and
tortures, during no less than 27 years.
His last years he spent in a monastery of his order in France, where he passed
away on 21 May 1639.
The City of the Sun was written in Italian in 1602, while he was held in prison.
He probably started writing while recovering from the torments of the
inquisitors. The work appeared in a Latin translation in Frankfurt, in the year
1623. The second edition, still in Latin, came out in Paris in 1637. The first
edition in the Italian original dates only from 1904, but the text is faulty.
The best edition is that of Bobbio, of 1941, in both Italian and Latin.
In his book, Campanella describes an ideal society, in a state close to nature.
The novel is written in the form of a dialogue between a seaman called Colon’s
pilot, and somebody called the Hospitaler, that is, a brother of the military
order of Hospitalers of Saint John of Jerusalem. We know that Masonic lodges are
intimately connected with Jerusalem, the Hospitalers and particularly with Saint
John. Symbolic lodges are dedicated to Saint John and the feast days of the two
Saint Johns (the Baptist and the Evangelist) are celebrated up to the present in
many Masonic lodges.
The city of the sun is located on the island of Ceylon. “The city is distributed
into seven concentric circles, named after the seven planets.
You enter from one to another through four roads and four gates facing the four
quarters of the world.” Here we have a representation of the Masonic lodge, with
its four walls oriented to the four cardinal points. The number seven has
important esoteric and symbolic meaning. The number and position of the Officers
in the lodge are related to the seven planets. The image of ‘seven circles’ had
been used by Dante in his Divine Comedy (1314), where he describes both hell and
heaven composed of seven circular stages.
In the center of the city is built a perfectly round temple, in whose center
stands an altar. Here, again, we find the parallelism with the Masonic lodge,
and the difference of the altar’s placement with that in a church.
‘On the altar there is only a very large map of the world, painted with all the
heavens, and another showing the earth.’ In many lodges, a terrestrial globe is
placed on top of the B column, and a celestial globe or an armillary sphere on
top of the J column.
‘Seven lamps are always burning, named for the seven planets.’ On the ceiling of
the lodge, usually seven stars are depicted. The resemblance of stars and lamps
The city, writes Campanella, is governed by a prince called Sun or the
Metaphysic, assisted by three collateral princes named Pon, Sin and Mor, that is
to say, Power, Wisdom and Love.
The parallelism with the government of a Masonic lodge is astonishing. In
effect, the three ‘lights’ of the Masonic lodge are the Master and the two
Wardens, who represent Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, respectively. Wisdom is
identical in both cases. Power is Strength, and love is beauty, because when the
author describes the functions of the Love ‘prince’, he enumerates the arts and
crafts, and strangely enough, eugenics.
Power, knowledge and desire, or potency, wisdom and love, are the three
‘primaries’ that constitute, in Campanella’s words, the ‘essentiality’ of a
thing. Although they are separate, in fact they are the same and identical with
A similar idea is expressed when speaking of the ‘three lights’ of the lodge, or
the three who rule the lodge. In the Royal Arch, this identification of three
governing the lodge (or the Chapter) is even clearer, and the Chapter cannot
perform even its opening ritual without the concourse of the three principal
officers. The Royal Arch, as we know, appears simultaneously or soon after the
creation of the premier Grand Lodge.
Of course, the solar triad may be conflated with all the traditional sacred
triads, such as the Christian Trinity and so many others recorded in the history
An interesting fact is that the governor of the city is called Sol, the sun. The
three principal officers of the Masonic lodge represent, by their situation, the
positions of the sun from dawn to dusk. In many rituals, also, movements on the
floor of the lodge are dextrorsum, or clockwise, resembling the apparent course
of the sun on the sky of the northern hemisphere.
Let us continue with the description of the city and its inhabitants. ‘All the
young people are called brothers... and then, officers are attentive to
everything in order to prevent any person from harming another within the
fraternity.’ Here Campanella gives the city its proper name.
All inhabitants work. Campanella writes: ‘Each wishing to be first in his
work... whoever learns more arts and excels in them is regarded as nobler.’
The importance Masonry assigns to work is well known. Masonic meetings in many
languages are known as ‘works’ (traveaux, trabajos). This concept of work is
totally contrasting to the contempt in which manual work was held in medieval
Europe. ‘Solarians [inhabitants of the city] make ridicule of us, who call
craftsmen dishonorable, while we say that plebeian are those who don’t learn any
art and remain idle.’
There are still other parallelisms between Campanella’s ideas and the traditions
and symbols of our craft. The Solarians ‘all dress in white during the day and
red at night or out of the village.’ ‘Pride is considered a grave sin and they
condemn an act of pride in the same manner as it has been committed. Therefore,
nobody considers degrading to serve at the table, in the kitchen, or elsewhere,
but they call it learning... and they don’t have slaves.’
‘If strangers want to become citizens, they may remain a month in the villages
and one year in the city, and then they decide whether to accept them, with
certain ceremonies and oaths.’
The Metaphysic, that is, the sun, ‘presides as architect over all the sciences.’
Campanella is not the first to assign the character of architect to the supreme
maker of the world, but his identification of architecture with the sun is
In the temple, there are twenty-four priests. The temple, as mentioned before,
is in the center of the city. The priests chant some psalms praising the Lord in
the morning, night and midnight. Note this relation with the 24-inch ruler, and
with the working hours of symbolic lodges in the Scottish Rite.
‘Prayers are directed towards the four cardinal points and, in the morning,
towards the orient, second, towards occident, third towards the south, and
fourth to the north.’ If we take the first three movements, these are parallel
to the movements of a brother who enter the lodge, in the Scottish Rite, when
saluting the three main officers of the lodge.
‘All their feats are four main ones, that is to say, when the sun enters Aries,
Cancer, Libra and Capricorn.’ That means they celebrated solstices and
equinoxes. Masons, too, celebrate the solstices.
A point that deserves underlining in Campanella’s thoughts is his trust in
reason. As Estebanez, one of his translators, points out, for Campanella, to
live in accordance with reason has not only the same religious and moral meaning
than Christianity, but is even sufficient to be saved. We must not assume that
Campanella was against religion. Far from it, he is deeply religious and theist.
For him the soul, for instance, is part of Eternal Reason in God, only one
manifestation of the divinity. Religion is for him a congenital dimension of man
and even, in a lower degree, of animals. Here, attention must be paid that the
natural religion propounded by Campanella has the same content for all men who
search for it through correct philosophy. This content is expressed in various
rites and ceremonies, adapted to each society. This development, different for
the diverse cultures, is called the added (addita) religion. Rites are
accidental and may differ from one religion to another, without doubting their
truthfulness. This concept of religion is perfectly in accord with that of
‘The Solarians hold as certain the immortality of the soul. They make of being,
who is God, and nothingness, that is absence of being, the metaphysical
principles of things.’
The duality of nature finds expression in pain and pleasure, the two spurs that
direct everything. This reminds us of the sweet and bitter cup tasted by the
initiate in the Scottish Rite ceremony, and also points to the symbolism of the
Campanella mentions the appearance of a new star in Cassiopeia, ‘that announces
a great new monarchy and the reformation of the laws and the arts and prophets
This same these appears in the first Rosicrucian manifesto of 1614, the Fama
Fraternitatis, where new stars in Serpentarius and Cygnus are mentioned, with
the same millenarian hope of renewal and reformation of the world.
The City of the Sun has other points of contact with the Rose-Croix. For
instance, the Solarians, like the Rose-Croix brethren, speak all languages.
Furthermore, the author of the Alchemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz,
Johan Valentin Andraea, is also the author of a work that is almost a copy of
the City of the Sun. This is the Description of the Republic of Christianopolis,
published in Strasbourg in 1619, that is, before Campanella’s book. There can be
little doubt that Andraea had access to a manuscript of the Italian’s book, and
this indicates the close relations existing among diverse European intellectuals
of the time, all of them driven by a common ideal of reformation and universal
Frances Yates, the English historian, believes that Campanella was aware of the
hermetic and cabalistic traditions. We cannot exclude the possibility that
alchemists and cabalists of the 16th and 17th centuries were connected by a
secret brotherhood, whose organization may have been informal, but allowing them
to maintain contact and exchange ideas and discoveries, sometimes running
against prevailing religious dogma. Such a development may be discerned in the
To conclude, let us place Campanella within the history of ideas. Campanella is
numbered among the Renaissance thinkers who came under the influence of the
Jewish Kabalah and adapted it to Christian doctrines. This Christian Cabala,
exemplified by Pico della Mirandola and Francesco Giorgi, also incorporated
elements of hermetic philosophy (that is, based on the writing attributed to
Hermes Trismegistus), magic and alchemy. This philosophy received new impulse
under the form of the Rose-Croix at the beginning of the 17th century. The
Rosicrucians disappeared in the European continent, but some refugees found
asylum in England, where the Rosicrucian manifestos were translated into English
at the time of Cromwell (1599-1658). Later, a violent reaction broke out against
the Hermetic-Cabalist magic and then, in my opinion, a movement was produced for
the integration of Rosicrucians and magicians-cabalists into the lodges of
operative masons, who had started to accept non-operative members. The hermetic
philosophers found in Masonic lodges the protection of secret and silence that
enabled them to continue their research.
1. Campanella, Thomas, La citי du soleil, Spanish translation and commentary by
Emilio G. Estebanez, Zero, Madrid 1984.
2. Yates, Frances, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge and
Kegan Paul, London 1964.
3. Yates, Frances, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, Ark Paperbacks,