Raymond Lull Biography


(History of the World: The Middle Ages)

Article abstract: As the Doctor Illuminatus (enlightened teacher), Lull devised a unique and influential Neoplatonic and non-Scholastic philosophy. As a mystic and lay missionary, he founded a school of Arabic, composed Arabic books, and dialogued with Islamic savants in North Africa. As an author and poet, he helped create the Catalan language. Friend of rulers, prelates, and the powerful, he wandered the courts of Europe relentlessly as a propagandist for his many enterprises.

Early Life

Raymond Lull (Ramon Llull in his native Catalan) was born about 1235 to a Crusader who had helped conquer Islamic Majorca island some three years before. Like most youngsters of his affluent class, he apparently received a gentleman’s education in the vernacular but called himself “illiterate” in the learned Latin. As was fashionable, he became a troubadour composer and gave himself to a life of womanizing and trivialities. A disputed report makes the boy Lull a page at the court of James the Conqueror, the ruler of the various realms confederated around Catalonia and Aragon; he held the post of majordomo, or head of household, at the subordinate court of the Conqueror’s son, James II of Majorca. Lull’s marriage to Blanca Picany in 1257 gave him a son Domènec and a daughter Magdalena, though he continued to live a dissolute life.

In later years, he confided many details of his life to monks of Vauvert in Paris, from which a fascinating vita coetanea (contemporary life) was composed in 1311. In it Lull tells of five apparitions of the crucified Christ in 1263 which frightened and then converted him to a life of religious fervor at age thirty.

Lull’s Majorca was a cosmopolitan center of western Mediterranean trade and culture, with a third of its population still Muslim, with a large Jewish community, and with merchant colonies and an immigrant society from many countries. It was natural for Lull to focus on converting Muslims and to learn Arabic. Leaving a fund to support his abandoned family, he set about acquiring a formal education in Latin, while adopting the coarse cloth and mendicant life-style of a wandering holy man. During nine years of intensive study on Majorca, he learned Latin and Arabic passably well, and studied the Koran, the Talmud, and the Bible as well as the works of Plato, Aristotle, and the standard European authors. A book written by a disciple six years after his death shows Lull as a thin, serene figure, his bald head capped and his beard unusually long.

Life’s Work

Lull was both a meditative thinker and a man of restless action. The two personas were fused: action in the service of his contemplative vision. His active life can be followed in his constant travels during thirty years, until his death at the end of a journey. During these travels, he wrote an average of nine or ten books a year. Some of these works were treatises or booklets, but seven ran to 150,000 words, three to 250,000, one to 400,000, and one to nearly a million. During his studies Lull had made a compendium in Arabic of al-Ghazālī’s logic; more significant, he also wrote in Arabic Libre de contemplació (1273; Book of Contemplation, 1985). Book of Contemplation is an encyclopedic summa of mysticism; some scholars think it his greatest work. At the end of his studies, during two sessions of intense contemplation on Mount Randa on Majorca, he received a cosmic illumination and then a vision of a Christlike shepherd, which set the direction of his future thought and books. As a guest at La Real Abbey, he now composed the first version of his celebrated work on the ultimate constitution of reality and its symbolic expression in systems, which he called Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem (1274; a brief Art of finding truth). Later he devised a machine with crank and revolving wheel to demonstrate his Art graphically as propositions revolved in circles, squares, and triangles.

Acclaim for his books led James II of Majorca-Roussillon to invite Lull to his court at Montpellier in 1274-1275. Lull persuaded the king to endow a center or priory on Majorca called Miramar, where relays of thirteen Franciscan friars would learn Arabic for missionary work, a foundation Pope John XXI confirmed in 1276. Lull seems to have spent the next decade writing on Majorca, though older scholars have him traveling widely in Europe and Africa. The fourteen books finished on the island include Libre de l’ordre de cavalleria (1279; The Book of the Order of Chivalry, 1484), Doctrina pueril (1282; teaching of children), Libre del gentil e dels tres savis (1274-1276; The Book of the Gentile and Three Wise Men, 1985), and works on law, medicine, logic, theology, and angels. At Montpellier in 1283, he wrote his novel Blanquerna (English translation, 1925), named after its hero, and two more books on his Art. At Rome in 1287 seeking papal multiplication of language schools, Lull discovered that the pope had died; he therefore journeyed to Paris to lecture on his Art at the university, to visit Philip the Fair, and to write his novel Libre de meravalles (1288-1289; Felix: Or, Book of Wonders, 1985) and five other works. Back at Montpellier, perhaps after a side trip to Rome, he lectured and wrote on his Art. A brief residence in Genoa allowed him to translate the latest work on his Art into Arabic, before pleading again at the papal court for schools and for a crusade; Libre de passatge (book of passage), his petition to Pope Nicholas IV, and his treatise on converting infidels date from this Roman stay of 1292.

Though his...

(The entire section is 2344 words.)