Upon rushing home to Umbria from Outremer, Francis of Assisi found that an insidious disease had infected the Order of Friars Minor. Some friars sought to modify the strict vow of poverty both for individuals and for the Order as an institution. Others wanted to formulate a complex Rule which would establish a hierarchical authority amongst the Franciscans modelled upon regular monastic orders. Yet others smarted under the simple and sometimes harsh living conditions of the brothers. The example of Francis commanded loyalty and many of his early disciples recognized the spiritual roots of his strictures, but he realized that he could not preserve the original purposes of the Order by sheer will alone. Even whilst laying down firm lines, he withdrew from the administrative affairs of the Order and found refuge in profound contemplation. His irrepressible cheerfulness and unwavering humility held him back from any tendency towards severity. But he knew that for human beings who have distinguished themselves in the world by dress and separated themselves from it by modes of living, compromise with possessions leads to false authority and pretence. Francis hoped that his brothers would stand by their moral light alone, and so he resisted formal governing structures.
Even in his lifetime Francis lost on every issue. Whereas his biographers sang the praises of the simple life and became ecstatic over his charmed relationship with nature, the deeper purpose of his sojourn to Outremer escaped them. The last years of his life, a culmination of all his ideals, were ignored as an embarrassment and almost suppressed. Although many were responsive to his rejection of worldly involvements, his fervent spirituality and his moral clarity, few recognized his ability to join the chivalry of divine knighthood with the troubadour's love in spiritual witness. Rather than being an erratic episode in which Francis failed to achieve martyrdom, his visit to Acre and Damietta demonstrated his courage, fearlessness and tolerance. His contemporaries could not readily comprehend his devotion to Christianity, his submission to the church, and his unqualified respect for human beings as souls. Only through a firm understanding of the last could the first two be grasped. Seven years after the death of Francis of Assisi, a man was born who could show a spontaneous appreciation of the work of Francis and whose life came to mirror that of his mentor, in spirit if not in externals.
Ramón Lull, sometimes called Ramón Llull or Raymundus Lullus, was born in 1232 at Ciutat de Mallorques (later Palma) on the island of Majorca. Majorca had been a Muslim possession for three centuries when, in 1229, James I of Aragon, just twenty-one years of age, led the Catalan armies in a victorious invasion of the island. Lull's father, a wealthy citizen of Barcelona, made the crossing with James I and soon amassed a great deal of property in Majorca. Lull was born into a family familiar with luxury, comfortable with royalty and surrounded by diverse cultures and religions. Long after the control of Majorca had passed into Christian hands, Muslims constituted a majority of the population. For several centuries Jews and Muslims had lived together peacefully in the Western Mediterranean. Whilst Sufi mysticism flourished in Andalusia, the Kabbalah was studied throughout Spain and North Africa. Ramón Lull grew up amidst this rich diversity, received the education of a knight, frequented the court and became an accomplished troubadour. James I planned to assign Majorca to his son, James II, and appointed Lull as his companion and possibly his tutor, and eventually his seneschal. Lull travelled with the prince throughout the federation of Catalonia-Aragon and visited Castille and France. He evidently learnt much about life and the politics of the time, but his main concern seemed to be the captivation of beautiful ladies with his attentions and his songs. His efforts were frequently rewarded, and even his tolerant father began to worry about the aimlessness of his life.
In 1257 Lull married Blanca Picany and soon fathered two children. Nevertheless, his royal travels allowed him the same range of activities he had always known, and his home was mainly a base of operations for him. His luxurious and hedonistic living continued until he was thirty years old, when he was permanently changed. One evening he was busy composing a love-song to some Majorcan lady, alternately jotting down rhymes and looking up to hum the tune he was using. Suddenly there appeared before him in what had been blank space an overpowering vision of the crucified Christ. Terrified, he threw himself on his bed and slept. The next evening, no sooner had he sat down to complete the song than the vision appeared again. He did not want to draw the conclusion vividly etched in air. For four nights in a row the vision repeated itself with undiminished and compelling clarity. Finally, Lull capitulated. Whilst the vicissitudes of his life were yet to begin, the struggle in his soul was over. The message was accepted: the unbounded love he had lavished upon the world was henceforth to be given to the Lord.
Lull's love of life matured into an unfailing idealism and informed practicality which fused to make him a steady optimist. Having resolved to devote himself to spiritual service, he asked in what way he might be worthy. Confident that the divine light embraces all who seek it, his concern now was to render his life one continuous redemptive offering, and for this the only commensurate sacrifice was that of himself. He was determined to be a missionary who sought the path of faith that may lead to martyrdom. Whilst Lull was ready and at times eager to die for his Lord, he saw no value in antagonizing those whose beliefs were not his own. Like Francis, he respected each human being as a soul and, like Francis, he saw in teaching and exemplification the true fruition of Christian witness. Rather than escape into some glorious rapture, he wanted to become a fearless beacon of truth as he knew it. Upon reflection, he found it odd that most Orders were involuted, preferring to preach to their own kind rather than travel forth into the world with their "good news". Lull was impressed by Dominican programmes, but the primitive Franciscan Spirituals, the beleaguered minority most loyal to the lines laid down by Francis, appealed more strongly to him. In addition to his willingness to die as a witness, he resolved to write books that would show to any open mind the fundamental truths of Christianity, and to establish colleges that would train missionaries in the art of honest persuasion. Yet he found himself wholly unprepared for such serious work.
Three months after his transforming vision, Lull joined in celebrating the newly established Feast of St. Francis, where the local preacher movingly recounted his total surrender and renunciation of all possessions. If Lull had been tempted to dwell in two realms, spiritual and worldly, the thought fled from him. He returned home, set aside enough of his property to support his wife and children, sold the remainder and distributed the proceeds amongst the poor, and, as if to symbolize an unqualified break with his past life, donned the garb of a pilgrim and left Majorca. He spent a year visiting shrines, including the church of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, once visited by Francis, and perhaps Montserrat. By the time he returned home, his mind was set upon learning Arabic and Latin. For nine years he did little else, and his linguistic brilliance was matched by his intensity and humility. Dressed only in the coarse cloth familiar to the Franciscans, he astonished his former peers who were willing to attribute his change of life to madness. His intensive study of Arabic did not please the church hierarchy. Some local Muslims were impressed but others were sufficiently alarmed that one clumsy attempt was made on his life. During these nine years he immersed himself in Islamic spirituality, especially the Andalusian Sufi traditions, and in the Kabbalah. When he finally felt himself ready to be of service to God and to humanity, he was forty years old, somewhat late for someone about to become a missionary, but he was now accomplished in Latin, Arabic and Catalan.
Whilst pursuing his studies, he had often gazed on Mount Randa, dominating the horizon with its forbidding presence, and it came to symbolize 'the mountain of the Beloved'. Now he climbed the slopes and found a little cave near the summit. There he sat in contemplation and prayer, hoping for some clue or guidance concerning his future. On the seventh day, according to the biography he dictated late in life, "as he was engaged in contemplation, with his eyes turned towards the heavens, there came to him in an instant a certain Divine illumination which gave him the form and order wherein to write the books that he had in mind against the errors of the infidels". Immediately he descended the mountain and began to write. He produced his formidable Art Abreujada d 'Atrobar Veritat (The Art of Finding Truth), written in Catalan and translated into Latin. Synthesizing the instrumental logic of al-Ghazzali, the geometrical symbolism of the Kabbalah, and the trinitarian perspective of Platonic Christianity, Lull developed an algebraic and analogical method for demonstrating spiritual and philosophical truths. Recognizing that Deity is in itself unknowable and utterly unmanifest, like the Ain Soph of the Kabbalah, he held that divine manifestation begins with nine Dignities or attributes of God. These correspond to the Sephiroth of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the hadras (dignities and divine names) of Islam, especially as developed by ibn Massara and al-'Arabi. By presenting them in his Ars Combinatoria, the fundamental Dignities could be combined with relative predicates with mathematical precision. Showing that some combinations are possible whilst others are not, Lull believed that he could begin on the common ground of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and thus lead all honest thinkers to the Christian perspective.
Lull started from the position of respect for those he sought to convince. He knew that both Muslims and Jews were capable of exalted ethical lives and profound spiritual experience, and he freely borrowed from them lines of reasoning, stories and parables, and even terminology. Like Francis, he would not blind himself with Christian dogma, nor did he fail for a moment to discern the dissolute condition of much of Christendom. Nevertheless, he felt that all peoples should accept the special doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Historians and scholars shy away from dealing with the apparent paradox of an encompassing tolerance conjoined with doctrinal conviction. Given Lull's frequent criticism of church politics and priestly abuses, one might suspect that within the limited framework of theological language, Lull wished to demonstrate universal doctrines, especially that Deity manifests through creative triads whilst remaining wholly transcendent, and that manifest Deity directly enters the world to awaken human beings to their spiritual possibilities. Lull's sense of the Divine is intimate and yet not personal in any anthropomorphic sense. The Dignities, which he varies from time to time, are in general Bonitas (goodness), Magnitudo (greatness), Eternitas (eternity), Potestas (power), Sapientia (wisdom), Voluntas (will), Virtus (virtue), Veritas (truth) and Gloria (glory). Whilst his Ars Magna – Great Art – is the art of demonstration at the level of intellectus, a way of finding truth, it is at the level of voluntas a way of training the will to love Truth, and at the level of memoria it is an art of memory.
At first, Lull hoped the Dominicans would adopt his art of memory, but they rejected it in favour of their own. Their art, drawn from the rhetorical tradition, concerned itself with architectural metaphors. A theatre could be constructed in such a way that its internal geometry and embellishments could be used to 'store' arguments and conclusions for a speaker in a debate. As he disputed doctrines and theses, his eye could pick up from the construction of the building the points he had associated with it. This art helped a speaker remember his argument. Lull's art was of a wholly different order. The Dignities were to be meditated upon until one saw clearly their nature and meaning. The symbolic permutations of the Dignities and relative predicates would help one recollect eternal truths and their applications. If the rhetorical art was an art of memory, Lull's art was a mode of Platonic recollection. The Franciscans welcomed this art, as did Pico della Mirandola, Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno during the Italian Renaissance.
About the time he finished his first great work, James II called him to Montpellier to see his writings. They were examined with keen interest by James and several Franciscans who found them admirable. Whilst there, James II became king of Montpellier and Majorca upon the death of his father in 1276. Almost at once Lull turned this event to advantage. He convinced James to found a college at Miramar in northwest Majorca for the purpose of teaching Arabic and training missionaries. This was done, and thirteen friars – representing Jesus and the twelve apostles – took up residence. The college flourished until Peter, king of Aragon and the elder brother of James, seized the island for his own. Once Miramar was established, Lull travelled to Rome to ask for mission support from the pope. Just before he arrived, however, John XXI died and there was a protracted struggle for the papacy. Rather than wait on events, Lull travelled and made contacts in numerous places. Indirect evidence suggests that he may have journeyed as far as Turkey, Egypt and Abyssinia. After five years he returned home to translate his works into Latin and compose letters and treatises at a phenomenal rate. And in the midst of these labours he wrote the great religious romance Blanquerna, the first European novel and the first major work of literature written in a common tongue – Catalan – as well as the first great work in the magnificent Catalan literary tradition. In this Lull preceded Dante, Froissart, Chaucer and Cervantes.
Blanquerna, in the story which bears his name, takes leave of his parents to venture into the world as a hermit. In an enchanted forest he finds a beautiful hall in which the Ten Commandments sit mourning the daily disobedience of men. In time he meets Faith and Truth, their sister Devotion and brother Understanding. He finds a monastery where he eventually becomes abbot. Because of his successful monastic reforms, he is elected a bishop and re-orders his see according to the principles of the eight Beatitudes. Becoming pope, he sanctifies the whole world and thoroughly reforms the church. Yet he renounces everything and retires to a hermitage to achieve divine illumination by successive stages of meditation. Sharing the fruit of his hard-earned discoveries, he writes The Book of the Lover and the Beloved and the Art of Contemplation, both of which stand on their own as spiritual treatises. The story is a mixture of realism and allegory. Whilst it contains the easily recognized knights Sir Little-care-I and Sir What-will-men-say, it also depicts Lull as the Fool of Love before Blanquerna the Pope. Lull appears as a fool because he is the troubadour of the Divine.
In 1285 Lull went to Rome, and the newly elected Honorious IV was persuaded to establish schools in Arabic and related languages in Paris and Rome. Lull proceeded to Genoa and found a boat sailing for Tunis. Though admittedly afraid, he embarked on a mission to the infidel. In Tunis he debated with learned Muslims with sufficient success to merit the hostile attention of the caliph, who sentenced him to death and then commuted it to banishment. He was stoned as he was led to the harbour and sent back to Genoa. By the time he had returned to Rome, something of the scale of the Mongol invasions in the East had reached European ears. Lull saw that if the Muslim lands fell or capitulated, Europe lay open to a force that might well destroy Christendom. He wrote, lectured, preached and pleaded for a crusade that would not conquer and claim but would occupy and convert, for if the three monotheistic faiths could be drawn together under the banner of Universal Religion, they would be invincible in brotherhood. Lull envisaged a union of divisive military orders under one king, who would thus unite Europe and rule with the guidance of a true pope – spiritual father – who had cleansed the church and awakened the spiritual hearts of human beings. Like Plato in the Republic, Lull set forth a utopian ideal and then began to work for its achievement by practical stages. The king of France and the Holy Roman emperor were involved in their own politics, the pope was distracted, and Lull found an unsympathetic audience. Rather than give up, he wrote the Desconort, in which he argues with a pessimistic hermit and wins him over to the view that truth can be demonstrated.
Around this time, he joined the third or lay order of the Franciscans, having been close to them for many years. In 1295 he composed his massive Tree of Science, filled with examples of various kinds of instruction. In it the future tense lodges with the past tense at an inn, a beginning is told by a white end to dress in black, and a gold ring argues with the emerald for which it is the setting. By 1297 Lull is found in Paris opposing the Averroists, professors teaching Aristotle as understood by Averroes, with Platonic perspectives. He had visited Paris several times and on each occasion was more honourably received than before. This time he met Duns Scotus, who deferred to him, and the informal title Doctor Illuminatus was applied to him. He was formally confirmed in the degree of Master and his works were accepted for instructional use. He crossed Europe again to win adherents to the Art, writing a number of simplified books making the Art accessible to the average man and woman. In 1307 he left Paris for Bugia east of Algiers. Once more he disputed in public, was arrested and imprisoned. Whilst confined, he wrote several works in Arabic and seems to have converted some of his gaolers. Again he was banished, being put aboard a ship bound for Pisa. Near its destination the boat sank in a sudden storm, but amongst the very few survivors was Lull, now seventy-five years old. Having lost all the books he had carried with him, he rewrote them from memory in Pisa.
In 1311 he successfully urged the Council of Vienne to create chairs of Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldean in five centres. Though he remained active after this time, hagiography obscures the remainder of his life. He probably travelled to Tunis again in 1314, where he wrote a number of works dedicated to the king of Tunis. The legend that he was martyred there, however, is based on forged documents. He seems to have returned to Majorca and died early in 1316. He was buried in the church of San Francisco in Palma. Whilst he seemed to fail to attain all his goals, save that of writing – about two hundred and forty of his two hundred and ninety works survive – he embodied the moral consciousness extolled by Francis, re-invigorated the Order and anticipated the Renaissance in philosophy, theology and literature. Above all, he combined a life of contemplation and action that displayed a new dimension of tolerance and civility in the societies of Europe. In 1915, on the six hundredth anniversary of his death, a new epitaph was set up in the church of San Francisco, taken from his own words in the Tree of Love: