He studied philosophy and theology at Rome, and after his return to Lecce applied himself to the physical studies which had come into vogue with the Renaissance. Like Giordano Bruno, though considered intellectually inferior to him, he was among those who led the attack on the old scholasticism and helped to lay the foundation of modern philosophy. Vanini resembles Bruno, not only in his wandering life and in his death, but also in his anti-Christian ideas.
From Naples he went to Padua, where he came under the influence of the Alexandrist Pomponazzi, whom he styles his divine master. At Padua he studied law, and was ordained priest. Subsequently he led a roving life in France, Switzerland and the Low Countries, supporting himself by giving lessons and disseminating anti-religious views. He was obliged to flee from Lyon to England in 1614, but was imprisoned in London for an unknown reason for forty-nine days.
Returning to Italy he made an attempt to teach in Genoa, but was driven once more to France, where he tried to clear himself of suspicion by publishing a book against atheists, Amphitheatrum Aeternae Providentiae Divino-Magicum (1615). Though the definitions of God are somewhat pantheistic, the book is sufficiently orthodox. The arguments are largely ironic, however, and cannot be taken as expounding his real views.
Vanini expressly tells us so in his second (and only other published) work, De Admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortalium Arcanis (Paris, 1616), which, originally certified by two doctors of the Sorbonne, was later re-examined and condemned. Vanini then left Paris, where he had been staying as chaplain to the marechal de Bassompierre, and began to teach in Toulouse. In November 1618 he was arrested, and after a prolonged trial was condemned, as an atheist, to have his tongue cut out, and to be strangled at the stake, his body to be afterwards burned to ashes. The sentence was executed on the 9th of February 1619.
Note: According to Namer's book (see below), Giulio Cesare was Vanini's given name, not one he assumed. The Britannica entry is wrong here and follows false allegations by his detractors of an alleged megalomaniac desire to liken himself to Caesar.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
- La Vie et L'Oeuvre de J.C Vanini, Princes des Libertins mort a Toulouse sur le bucher en 1619, Emile Namer, 1980oc:Giulio Cesare Vaninisk:Lucilius Vanini