(This was meant to be posted yesterday, being as that was the feast of Blessed Ramon, but a series of crisis phone calls involving loss of vision, a parental trip to the hospital, anxiety and the unknown transpired instead. We hope today brings a happy resolution.)
I could be embarrassed (chagrined, ashamed, bemoaning) that I have lived to these many years unaware of the very interesting existence of Ramon Llull, or I could just be pleased to finally, belatedly have made his acquaintance.
Ramon Llull is not a saint nor is he ever likely to be one, given that Pope Gregory XI (in 1376) banned Llull’s writings and condemned his rationalistic mysticism, and Pope Paul IV followed up with a re-condemnation. Given that he has some claim to the title of alchemist. Given that he is credited with pioneering computation and influencing Leibniz. He does however have the lesser designation of a Blessed.
Born in 1232 in Majorca, Ramon was well educated as a chivalric troubadour, and fluent in several languages, including his native Catalan, Occitan, Latin and Arabic. He married and had children. And then came the defining moment, the conversion experience. There are (at least) two versions of his conversion (the conversion versions – I can’t help myself) and you can decide which one works for you:
In version numero uno Llull was a frivolous and licentious young man given to composing lyrics for the purposes of seduction. One night, as he sat down to write such a lyric he looked up and saw a vision of Christ crucified, “as if suspended in midair”. The vision was repeated five times, after which Ramon devoted his life to converting the Muslims to Christianity. (We know how successful that was.)
Version numero dos comes to us from Schopenhauer, not the cheeriest fellow. According to the philosopher, Llull had been courting a beautiful woman for a while and was at last to be admitted to her bedroom. But when he entered, she bared her bosom and revealed the ravages of her cancer. Repulsed (and converted), Llull immediately left the bedroom and the court and went into the wilderness, where he did penance for nine years.
Whichever version you chose, Ramon Llull henceforth wrote copiously (265 works, depending who’s counting) and labored - through rational discussion involving symbolic notations, diagrams and lists of all knowledge - to reveal to the Muslims the correctness of the Christian faith.
His novel Blanquerna, the first major work in Catalan, is also considered by some to be the first European novel.
But it is his Art Abreujada d’Atrobar Veritat (the Abbreviated Art of Finding Truth) that sounds most appealing to me, not least for its touted abbreviation.
Llull was a list maker. He made lists of religious and philosophical attributes, and lists of all the questions one could have about the Christian faith. And he indexed them with the appropriate answers, as a tool to be used in debating Muslims.
The Llullian Circle consisted of paper discs with letters or symbols referring to a list of attributes. By rotating the discs, singly or together, you could generate all possible combinations to show all possible truth.
One list (if only I can remember it all) that strikes my fancy is The Nine Functions of Memory. Llull names them:
1. Attractive memory
2. Receptive “
3. Conservative “
4. Multiplicative “
5. Discursive “
6. Significative “
7. Restorative “
8. Determinative “
Llull traveled around Europe, visiting with potentates of all ilks, setting up institutes of higher learning and he always argued for the teaching of foreign languages (for the purposes of evangelizing, bien sûr).
On returning from his first trip to Tunis, he preached for the unification of the three great monotheistic religions. (A forward thinker? Or a lunatic? Can we ever tell the difference?)
On his third trip to Tunis, he was brutally stoned and died, either on the return trip to Majorca or soon thereafter, in 1315.
He is known as “Doctor Illuminatus”.