Tragic story of Markantun de Dominis - theologian and physicist, admired by Newton and Goethe 
 2010 UNESCO year of Marko Antun de Dominis
                                 450th anniversary of the birth of Marko Antun de Dominis philosopher and scientist (1560-1624)

Marcantun de Dominis e.g.. Marco Antonio de Dominis was born in 1560 ( exact date not known) on the island of Rab ( latin Arbe). His father Jerko de Dominis received his doctorate in law from Padua and worked as a lawyer in Venice. Marco Antonio showed early enthusiasm and talent for learning and was sent to the Jesuit Collegium Illyricum in Loreto, where he joined the Jesuit Order. Later, he left the order (and ultimately became an apostate), but not before he completed the full training. He subsequently studied in Verona and in 1588 went to Padua to teach Mathematics. He spent two very successful years in Padua, where his lectures attracted large numbers of students. Following the closure of the Jesuit College in Padua, Dominis went to Brescia, where he taught rhetoric, logic and philosophy. It was his work in Padua, however, that made his reputation at this stage.

Dominis palace ? birthplace
 Some of his research in physics, and particularly optics which was published in 1611 ( "Tractatus de radiis visus et lucis in vitris, perspectivis et iride"), won a wide acclaim and was later praised by Newton.1600, already a bishop, he was promoted to Doctor of Theology in Padua University.1596 he was, through imperial influence of the Emperor Rudolf II appointed Bishop of Zengg (Segna, Seng, Senj) and Modrus in Dalmatia (Aug., 1600) and transferred (Nov., 1602) to the archiepiscopal See of Spalato ( Split). De Dominis was appointed Archbishop at the specific request by the Split Chapter and was most enthusiastically received there, being the first Dalmatian to hold the post after nearly 200 years of Venetian rule. His work in Split began well, but the later years of his time there were filled with quarrels and conflicts with his own clergy and particularly with the Bishop of Trogir, with whom he was meant to share a part of his income. 
However what brought de Dominis into the spotlight of European public opinion was his involvement in the conflict between Rome and the Venetian Republic, which broke out in 1606 because of the Pope's attempt to place his authority above the law. He sided with Venice, in whose territory he was situated.

That fact, combined with a correspondence with Fra Paolo Sarpi and conflicts with his clergy and fellow bishops which culminated in the loss of an important financial case in the Roman Curia, led to the resignation of his office in favour of a relative so in 1615 he finally left for Venice.

From the beginning of the conflict between Venice and Rome, Dominis had been interested in the question of the relations between Church and State. After persistent rumours that he was preparing a document against the Curia, Dominis was invited to Rome to explain his position. He decided not to respond, but set out instead for Switzerland, where he wrote to the Venetian government that he had left through fear of reprisals from the Inquisition, when all he wanted to do was tell the truth.

Threatened by the Inquisition, he prepared to apostatize, entered into communication with the English ambassador
to Venice, Sir Henry Wotton, and having been assured of a welcome, left for England in 1616. being excommunicated by his Archdiocese. On his way there, he published at Heidelberg a violent attack on Rome: "Scogli del Cristiano naufragio" ( "The Rocks of Christian Shipwreck"), afterwards reprinted in England. One of the most interesting statements in this document is Dominis's confession that he had always been drawn to read banned literature - believing that it must contain some truth. Such a view point admirably illustrates Dominis's independence of mind.

After his apostasy from Rome Dominis arrived to London 26 December 1616 - the year Shakespeare died - with a great pomp and was received with open arms by James I, who quartered him upon Archbishop Abbot of Canterbury, called on the other bishops to pay him a pension, and granted him precedence after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.  Four days after the spectacular welcome, Dominis was placed fifth place next to King James. This meant, according to the protocol of the time, that he was fifth in the hierarchy of the state. In 1617 he was lecturing in Cambridge and Oxford. De Dominis wrote a number of anti Roman sermons, published his main work, "De Republic? Ecclesiastic? contra Primatum Pap? ( prints: Vol. 1, 1617; vol. II, 1620, London; Vol. III, 1622, Hanover), and took part, as assistant, in the consecration of George Montaigne as Bishop of Lincoln, 14 Dec., 1617. De Republica Ecclesiastica was directed not only against the Papal See and Church administration, but against some of the Church's teachings. Its central message was that the Church should be reorganized on a federalist basis instead of being strictly controlled from the centre. The book was acclaimed throughout Europe as an exceptionally important work of theology and a book which would deal a severe blow to the authority of the Catholic Church. In that same year  (1618), James I granted him the Master ship of the Savoy and in 1619 he was named Dean of Windsor. While in England, he lived for sime time in for a time lived in West Ilsley, Berkshire.

It is interesting that Dominis introduced the word "puritan" into English in its modern meaning, which was earlier used only in theological literature and had a very narrow meaning.

He was also known for his work in physics and optics. Dominis conducted number of optical experiments with the self made equipment, mostly glass bowls filled with water. In 1611 he published, at Venice, a scientific work entitled: "Tractatus de radiis visus et lucis in vitris, perspectivis et iride", that deals with lenses, telescopes, and the rainbow. He explained the theory of the telescope and the phenomenom of the rainbow. He discovered Properties of Light (refraction) thus explaining the Colours of the Rainbow - the Theory of the Rainbow, by drawing attention to the fact that in each raindrop the light undergoes two refractions and an intermediate reflection.
Though not widely known today, Dominis was influential among the 17th century scientific community.
In that time the rainbow had been studied also by Alessandro Afrodisia, Ruger Bacon, Teodorico of Freiberg and by arab Kamal Farisi. The same theory as de Dominis comes forth later presented from Cartesio in the Meteores of 1637; but he does not cite de Dominis, perhaps for fear of damned destiny (see bellow).  Later on his works were scrutinised by many scolars. Sir Isaac Newtona and Christian Wolff praised his work, while others like Christian Huygens, Ruggero Boskovic and Joseph Priestley critised it.
Sir Isaak Newton in his works Optics considered de Dominis the first one to have developed a convincing theory of the rainbow and cited him twice, but scolars decided that he gave too much credit to Dominis and disputed Newton's praise in favour of Descartes, because Dominis did not explain the genesis of the outer rain bow.

His theory of tides ( "Euripus seu de fluxu et refluxu maris sententia") was based on the idea of attractive force between the Moon and the Earth, which was later made precise in Newton's theory of gravitation. Based on his work, his conclusion regarding the question of the time, was that the Earth was round. He also discovered the phenomenon of diffraction of white light.

However, his main preoccupation was the problem of European peace and the reform of the Church. De Dominis built up a significant position in the debate on Church unity, question which has been receiving a large amount of research interest recently as well. The writings of M. A. de Dominis were widely known throughout Europe and promptly translated into many languages ( from Latin, to English, French, German and Polish) and have influenced mentors of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Relevan works: Papatus Romanus, Scogli del naufragio Christiano, De Republica Ecclesiastica contra Primatum Pap?.

After six years of stay in England his relation with the Anglican Church and the King himself cooled down, though he had given the Anglican Church one of the most important doctrinal weapons ever. The expected Spanish marriage of Prince Charles made him anxious about the security of his position in England, and the election of Gregory XV (9 Feb., 1621)  even more, so he made contact with Catholic diplomatists in England and announced his wish to return to Rome. Eventually he was allowed to depart, but his money was seized by the king's men, and only restored in response to a piteous personal appeal to the King.

Once out of England his attacks upon the English Church were as violent as had been those on Rome, and in "Sui Reditus ex Anglii Consilium" (Paris, 1623) he recanted all he had written in his "Consilium Profectionis" (London, 1616), declaring that he had deliberately lied in all that he had said against Rome. After a stay of six months in Brussels he proceeded to Rome. He was well received in Rome, asked to repeat his renunciation before a Cardinal and to publish it in the form of a
 brochure. This completely discredited him, both with the English and other Protestants, and with many Catholic opponents of Papal worldly power. The Venetian Senate banned the distribution of the pamphlet in the territory of the
 Republic. The Pope Gregory XV protected him and helped him financially, assigning him a pension, but the Pope died in 1623 and again, Dominis came into conflict with the Inquisition. He was finally imprisoned in 1624 and accused of having returned to his heretical beliefs. He was confined to the Castle of Sant Angelo and given three months to prepare his defence, but became seriously ill and died on 8 September 1624. His case was continued after his death, he was declared a relapsed heretic, and his body burned together with his works on 21 Dec., 1624. on the Campo di Fiori Square.
De Dominis is unfairly forgoten genius, a remarcable ecclesiastic, apostate, and scientist, as reffered in Encyclopedia britannica.

author: Kristina Maskarin

Sources of information:

- The Galileo Project
- Project Canterbury, A Letter Sent by Antonio de Dominis to Cyril Patriarch of Alexandria
- The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume V
- Henry Newland, The Life and contemporaneous Church history of Antonio de D., Archbishop of Spalato
- Collection of works on Marco Antonio de Dominis and the scientific past of the island Rab
( Zbornik radova o Marku Antunu Dominisu i znanstvenoj prošlosti otoka Raba)
- Encyclopedia Brittanica
- Rapski zbornik
- I.Martinovic on scientific works of M.A. de Dominis (croatian only)

AVAILABLE BOOKS - Amazon book mall:
  • A manifestation of the motives by Marco Antonio De Dominis
  • Marcus Antonius de Dominis Gospodnetic, Archiepiscopus Spalatensis,
  • Dalmatiae et Croatiae Primas, 1560-1624 by Nenad Grisogono
  • De Dominis, 1560-1624 :  Venetian, Anglican, ecumenist, and relapsed heretic, by Noel Malcolm
  • A proclamation with a briefe answer, 1611 by Joseph Cresswell


  • project de Dominis at the Art academy Split
    ENG- Home Travel Guide Lodging Boat Tourist informations Photo albums About us
    © 1992-- 2013.  Kristofor D.o.o. All Rights Reserved. ---- Enquiries: ,  Suggestions or comments: Webmaster