Family and Personality. Ramon Lull, a lay brother from Majorca, did not begin his life as a zealous missionary. During his early years he had married (1257), had two children, and was surrounded by lively company. As seneschal or chief steward in the household of the king of Aragon, he supervised the royal feasts and ceremonies, and, as he later wrote, even enjoyed the pleasures of “sinful companionship.” However, after several visions of Christ dying on the Cross in July 1266, Lull abruptly ended his career as seneschal. He turned to the life of a mendicant preacher and by October 1266 had sold all of his property because of his new convictions. Lull’s stubborn adherence to his calling prompted some contemporaries to concur with his description of himself as “Ramon the fool.”
Enterprise of Conversion. Lull believed that he had a sacred duty to convert the Muslims of North Africa and the Near East. He had planned his conversion enterprise for many years and had made pleas to princes, kings, and popes. Popes Nicholas IV, Boniface VIII, and Clement V brushed him aside, as did some royalty such as King Henry de Lusignan II of Cyprus and Frederick III of Sicily. James II, king of Aragon, had, however, sufficient confidence in Lull to recommend him to King Abu Hafs Omar I of Tunis, to give Lull permission to proselytize to the Moors of Aragon, and to respond to Lull’s proposals for a crusade. At one point James II exercised his influence purportedly to request of the king of Bejaia that Lull be released from prison there.
Travels. Lull traveled as far north as Paris and west to Barcelona. More remarkably, however, he also journeyed as far east as Armenia, a territory allied with the Knights Templar whose Master Jacques de Molay obtained permission for Lull to visit, before perhaps heading south to Jerusalem. He also made three trips to North Africa.
Franciscans. It is likely that Lull had at one point hoped to be accompanied by follow Franciscans on his voyages, particularly after the founding of his monastery in 1276 at Miramar on Majorca to prepare brethren for missionary activity. He was well known for persistence in his own ideas. This trait did not lead him to form a stable link with contemporary Franciscans or Dominicans, but it did seem to work well in his relationship with his patrons.
Missionary versus Scholar. Contrary to a popularized image, Lull did not share the millenarian doctrines of the Spiritual Franciscans. Although none of the alchemical writings traditionally attributed to Lull can be plausibly ascribed to him, in the Renaissance, alchemists made Lull their guiding leader. He appears to have educated himself, like his contemporary Franciscans and Dominicans, in the ideas of Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, and mendicant scholars. The Dominican and Franciscan Orders each approved of his goals, but the views he expressed in his first major work, Ars magna, or Ars compediosa inveniendi veritatem, were not shared by the Dominicans, who ultimately rejected the treatise by 1292.
Writer. Having spent his young adulthood in a royal setting, Lull had had the opportunity to learn the poetic techniques of the court troubadours. He also knew firsthand about the Moorish culture of Aragon during the reign of James II. In many of his over 250 works, Lull revealed his familiarity with Arabic culture, poetry, logic, and mathematics. He may also have been heavily influenced by Al-Khwarzimi’s Kitab Surat-al-Ard on geography and proposed therefore that there was another continent on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Legacy. Lull transformed himself from a self-interested, well-placed courtier into a traveling Christian missionary. He certainly was not the first Christian to travel to North Africa after the eighth-century arrival of Islam, but he was among the first to train others to become missionaries and to use Arabic in their travels. The record shows his energetic enthusiasm for conversion missions. Circumspection also reveals a man of questionably effective approaches, whose perseverance produced a good deal of animosity. Lull and his contemporaries viewed Islam in one of two ways, either as a religion that could be fully assimilated by the expansion of Christianity or as one that had to be eradicated through the militant techniques of the Crusaders’ assaults begun years earlier. Lull’s intellectual version of the second approach helped turn his hapless quest for the conversion of North Africa and the Near East into a contribution that changed the way missionaries undertook their task. Historians may never agree on Lull’s scholarly intentions and the merits of his writings, but they continue to recognize the fact that he has forced the reconsideration of how Christians might inform themselves about the world’s disparate religions and how the significant roots of modern mathematics might lie in the inspiration he derived from Arabic thinkers. Lull’s legacy lies in the convergence of the Christian’s quest for more believers and the ever-growing appreciation of the fruits of Muslim culture.
J. N. Hillgarth, Ramon Lull and Lullism in Fourteenth-Century France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
Mark D. Johnston, The Spiritual Logic of Ramon Lull (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).
Ramon Lull, The Book of the Lover and the Beloved (New York: Paulist, 1978).
Frances A. Yates, Lull and Bruno (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982).