Preface to A Companion to Ramon Llull and Lullism

In: A Companion to Ramon Llull and Llullism 
Free access

Any student or scholar who encounters, for the first time, the voluminous work of the medieval Majorcan lay theologian and philosopher Ramon Llull (ca. 1232–1316), or any of its multifarious adaptations in later centuries, may rightly find them overwhelming, if not incomprehensible. Llull’s idiosyncratic theologico-philosophical system, his self-styled “Great Universal Art of Finding Truth,” and its diverse use at the hands of many subsequent generations of Lullists, are undeniably difficult to understand, even for experts well-versed in the philosophical, religious, literary, or scientific traditions of medieval, Renaissance, and early modern Europe. The chapters of this volume seek to present Ramon Llull’s work and examples of the major manifestations of his legacy in terms comprehensible to academic readers who are familiar with those traditions. Toward this end, the design of this handbook strives to obviate several basic obstacles commonly faced by readers not familiar with Llull or Lullism, in their first encounter with these subjects.

First among those obstacles is the sheer size of Llull’s own encyclopedic oeuvre, which includes almost 300 writings on nearly every branch of medieval knowledge, and the equally vast corpus of material produced by Renaissance and early modern devotees of Llull’s system and ideals. Despite over a century of labor by modern scholars, perhaps fifteen percent of Llull’s own writings still remains available only in manuscript or in early modern editions. Even cursory mention of every text by Llull would therefore be impossible and undesirable in a survey of this kind; published inventories of his oeuvre can provide interested readers with some idea of its depth and scope.1 In order to satisfy best the needs of those readers not specialized in study of Llull and Lullism, the chapters in this volume on Llull’s own work are limited to synthesizing its major features or to analyzing his best-known writings, explaining these with reference to commonly-known philosophical, theological, and literary norms from his era. Similarly, the chapters on later Lullism describe synthetically or analyze in detail major examples of its cultivation within the philosophical, religious, and literary cultures of the Renaissance, early modern, and modern eras, so that students of those periods can appreciate the diverse manifestations of Llull’s work and thought from the late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment.

Second, if the quantity of writings produced by Ramon Llull and later Lullists appears daunting to readers not familiar with Llull and Lullism, the vast body of scholarship on these fields will surely seem overwhelming. The available print and online bibliographies of that scholarship already catalog many thousands of items, and their number grows monthly.2 The unconventional character of Llull’s work prompted controversy even during his own lifetime – several of his own writings suggest that contemporaries derided him as a “fool” – and later Lullists sometimes faced caustic criticism, if not actual Inquisitorial persecution, for advocating his methods and doctrines. Echoes of those past conflicts perhaps persist today among modern experts in their divergent interpretations regarding certain aspects of Llull’s work or the later Lullist endeavors that it inspired. The chapters in this volume strive to offer a balanced synthesis of current scholarly interpretation concerning Llull and Lullism, with a correspondingly balanced bibliography of secondary literature, in order to provide the general orientation most useful to readers not specialized in the study of Llull and Lullism.

A third, very practical, obstacle for many readers may simply be language. Llull’s native vernacular tongue was Catalan, and several of his writings exist only in that idiom, many only in Latin, and some in both languages. (He also prepared Arabic versions of some of his writings, but none of these are known to survive.) Although Llull for modern Catalans is a figure comparable in importance to Chaucer in English or to Dante in Italian, his native language and its long literary history are not well-known today outside Catalonia. Moreover, much of the modern scholarship on Llull and Lullism is written in Catalan or Spanish. Among Anglophone academic audiences, even knowledge of the latter is not always common outside Hispanic studies. Following the norms of Brill’s series “Companions to the Christian Tradition,” all chapters in this volume are written in English, with quotations from primary or secondary sources translated as needed. Wherever possible, contributors identify and cite published English translations of Llull’s works, but much of the most relevant scholarship cited in this volume exists only in other languages. For Anglophone readers, this volume happily includes contributions from several major European scholars whose work has not previously appeared in English. The editors and translators of these chapters are deeply grateful to their authors for their patience and advice in preparing the English versions of their work.

Finally, the fourth – and perhaps most formidable – obstacle for non-specialist readers seeking to understand Llull or Lullism is the deliberately idiosyncratic, alternative nature of Llull’s Great Art. Conceived as a comprehensive method for both fostering devotion to God and for demonstrating the truth of Christian doctrine to unbelievers, the Great Art: (1) relies on a limited, fixed number of basic concepts that Llull believed acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, and pagans alike; (2) rejects the Aristotelian logic of Llull’s Scholastic contemporaries in favor of manipulating his Great Art’s basic concepts through sometimes complex analogical arguments and an ars combinatoria, as the preferred means of analyzing any subject; (3) rarely cites any authorities other than Llull’s own writings; and (4) uses a peculiar terminology of Llull’s own invention. Many of his literary works, although not based explicitly on his Great Art, incorporate some or all of these features, which several chapters in this volume strive to explain. As a result, even readers proficient in Catalan or Latin, if unfamiliar with the system of Llull’s Great Art and its singular methods or terminology, may still find his writings unintelligible.

A Reader’s Guide to This Volume

Practically speaking, few readers from the fields of philosophy, theology, or literature are likely to know, or will care to know, the entire scope and scheme of Llull’s work, unless they intend to specialize in the study of Llull or Lullism. Thanks to Llull’s application of his Great Art to all branches of knowledge, readers who consult this volume are more likely to be interested in some specific contribution by Llull or his later enthusiasts within a particular sphere of intellectual or spiritual activity. The organization of this volume attempts to anticipate those spheres of interest where readers might want to understand better such contributions. Its design also assumes that most of these readers probably seek only an introduction to the endeavors of Llull or later Lullists in one sphere of interest, rather than a comprehensive understanding of Llull and Lullism across the centuries. Reading this entire volume cover-to-cover will certainly provide that comprehensive knowledge, but the editors and contributors have attempted, in so far as possible, to craft each section of this volume, and their component chapters, as more or less self-contained and self-explanatory expositions of how Llull or later generations of Lullists participated within a specific sphere of philosophical, theological, or literary activity. Each section includes at least one chapter that offers an overview of that section’s general subject, accompanied by chapters on topics of interest to specialists in particular aspects of each subject. This tactic has necessarily created considerable redundancy among the chapters, but enhances, we hope, this volume’s utility as a reference work to consult piecemeal, if desired, without the need to read sequentially all of its chapters.

The initial section on “Llull as Philosopher and Theologian” reviews his life and work. To readers seeking simply an introduction to Llull and his achievements, we recommend Johnston’s brief account of Llull’s life, followed by Berlin’s review of the contemporary thinkers most often compared or contrasted to Ramon Llull. Batalla analyzes more specifically his unusual role as a lay philosopher and theologian, with a concise explanation of his Great Art. Finally, readers who want or need a full understanding of Llull’s system will find all of its principles and methods clearly explained in the chapter by Rubio. We especially recommend the latter to any student or scholar of early modern thought who needs to understand the particular elements of Llull’s Great Art that later Lullists adapted and promoted.

The section on “Llull as Evangelist” reviews the aspect of Ramon Llull’s work most often mentioned in modern histories of the European Middle Ages, namely his life-long campaign to convert unbelievers, especially Muslims and Jews, to the Christian Faith. His efforts in this pious endeavor have inspired many (sometimes very speculative) claims about his ideals and tactics, not to mention some colorful apocryphal legends. In the first chapter of this section, Stone reviews the evidence of Llull’s familiarity with Islam, summarizing the features of Llull’s Great Art that, arguably, best reflect his efforts to craft arguments acceptable to Muslim audiences. Next, Mayer judiciously analyzes Llull’s announced tactics for debating and disputing with non-Christians, also reviewing how these tactics informed the design of his Great Art. Last, Beattie carefully reviews exactly what Llull says (and does not say) about crusading as a strategy for promoting the Faith, another aspect of his evangelizing ideology that continues to stimulate scholarly debate.

The section on “Llull as Vernacular Writer” reviews another of Ramon Llull’s major contributions to medieval European culture, namely his prolific composition of works in his native vernacular, often known to non-specialists from their translations into other languages in later centuries. Readers interested in medieval poetics, literary theory, and the development of national literatures will find in the chapter by Aragüés Aldaz the most comprehensive analysis available to date in English of Llull’s sometimes peculiar discursive methods, especially his efforts to meld genres of exemplification with the exemplarist metaphysics of his Great Art. For comparatist students and scholars of medieval narrative, Ibarz provides a very accessible review of Llull’s two famous “spiritual romances,” Blaquerna and Felix (Libre de meravelles). Finally, Franklin-Brown also offers for comparatists an overview of Llull’s many encyclopedic writings, some of them especially important to the development of later Lullism, and critical to understanding Llull’s participation in the lay learned culture of his era.

As the sections on evangelism and literature show, the apparent idiosyncrasy of Llull’s work typically results from his application of the peculiar methods of his Great Art. The debt of those methods to specific Christian, Jewish, and Islamic sources is a question that will continue to occupy modern scholars of his Great Art, but is not essential for non-specialists to engage, except as evidence of the cultural and intellectual interaction possible among the major religious communities of the Western Mediterranean during Llull’s lifetime. Meanwhile, as every chapter in this volume stresses, Llull’s broader social and religious ideals – such as reforming Christian society and the Catholic Church or promoting the evangelization of unbelievers – are hardly unique in his era, and so familiar to any student of Western European society and culture around 1300.

The section on “Renaissance and Modern Lullism” surveys the widespread diffusion of Ramon Llull’s methods and ideals among European devotees from the late 15th through the late 18th centuries. For reasons of economy, these chapters on Lullism cannot treat in detail such interesting, but isolated, late medieval or early Renaissance examples of Lullist activity as the persecution of 14th-century Aragonese Lullists by the Dominican Inquisitor Nicholas Eymerich; the operations of a Lullist school in 15th-century Barcelona; or the adaptation of Llull’s work by Nicholas of Cusa and Raymond of Sabunde. Readers interested in these specific examples should consult the relevant scholarship cited in the chapters from this section. Likewise, this section excludes analysis of the many alchemical, magical, cabbalist, or hermeticist works that circulated under Llull’s name in the Renaissance and early modern era.3 The teachings of these pseudo-Lullian texts generally owe little to Llull’s own methods or ideals; their existence serves mostly as testimony to the magnitude of his reputation in that era. To serve best the needs of readers seeking to understand the development of Renaissance and early modern Lullism, this section begins with Báez Rubí’s account of the critical decades in the early 16th century when collaboration between certain French and Spanish thinkers revived interest in both Llull’s Great Art and his evangelizing ideals; her chapter especially serves the needs of students and scholars of Golden Age Spain, by updating much obsolete information and claims about Spanish Lullism in this era. For readers seeking to understand the diffusion of Lullism throughout Europe during the early modern era and Enlightenment, Ramis-Barceló offers the most comprehensive account available in English. Finally, for the Anglophone readers whom this volume primarily serves, Albrecht analyzes notable examples of Lullist influence in 17th-century England.

The last section on “Lullist Missions to the New World” may yield surprises even to specialists unaware of, for example, the Lullist inspiration of the first missionaries that accompanied Columbus or the Lullian training of the recently canonized Saint Junípero Serra. This section presents in chronological order the most notable known examples of Lullist evangelism in the Americas. For students and scholars of the Columbian voyages, Dagenais first recounts the case of little-known friar Bernat Boïl, who accompanied Columbus in 1493, evidently inspired by contacts with the French and Spanish Lullists described by Báez Rubí in chapter eleven. Next, for readers especially interested in the diffusion of Lullism to New Spain, Báez Rubí continues her account of its development with examples such as Juan de Zumárraga, first archbishop of Mexico, and Diego de Valadés. This section, and our volume, fittingly ends with Dagenais’s account of Junípero Serra, whose career perfectly illustrates how the Lullist schools surveyed by Ramis Barceló still motivated missionary zeal into modern times.

Any companion volume on Llull and Lullism, no matter how carefully designed, cannot adequately represent the richness of Llull’s work or the myriad intellectual and spiritual endeavors that it inspired in later centuries. The editors and contributors hope that its chapters nonetheless satisfy some needs of those readers seeking, for the first time, information about Ramon Llull or Lullism, and perhaps inspire them to further study of Llull’s fascinating work and long legacy. Many, many details of that work and legacy still demand further investigation; some aspects of Llull’s unique enterprise, and its interpretation by later Lullists, will always remain issues of scholarly debate and controversy. In so far as possible, the contributors to this volume have sought to acknowledge those issues, while providing guidance in evaluating them for non-specialist readers. Any errors of fact or omission that remain are entirely the responsibility of the editors.

Works Cited

Primary Works: Llull

Selected Works of Ramon Llull, (ed.) Anthony Bonner (Princeton: 1985).

Secondary Works

  • “Base de Dades Ramon Llull (Llull DB),” University of Barcelona (http://orbita.bib.ub.edu/llull/).

  • Brummer Rudolf, Bibliographia Lulliana: Ramon-Llull-Schrifttum 1870–1973 (Hildesheim: 1976).

  • Domínguez Reboiras Fernando, “Works,” in Raimundus Lullus: An Introduction to his Life, Works and Thought, (eds.) Alexander Fidora and Josep E. Rubio (Turnhout: 2008), 125242.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • French Peter J., John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (New York: 1972).

  • Pereira Michela, “‘Vegetare seu transmutare:’ The Vegetable Soul and Pseudo-Lullian Alchemy,” in Arbor scientiae: Der Baum des Wissens von Ramon Lull, (eds.) Fernando Domínguez Reboiras, Pere Villalba, and Peter Walter (Turnhout: 2002), 93119.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Salleras i Carolà Marcel, “Bibliografia lul.liana (1974–1984),” Randa 19 (1986): 153198.

  • Yates Frances, The Art of Memory (Chicago: 1966).

  • Yates Frances, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: 1964).

1

Bonner, SW 1257–1313; Fernando Domínguez Reboiras, “Works,” in Raimundus Lullus: An Introduction to his Life, Works and Thought, (eds.) Alexander Fidora and Josep E. Rubio (Turnhout: 2008), 125–242.

2

Rudolf Brummer, Bibliographia Lulliana: Ramon-Llull-Schrifttum 1870–1973 (Hildesheim: 1976) and Marcel Salleras i Carolà, “Bibliografia lul.liana (1974–1984),” Randa 19 (1986): 153–98, provide exhaustive inventories for the years indicated. The online “Base de Dades Ramon Llull (Llull DB)” from the University of Barcelona (http://orbita.bib.ub.edu/llull/) is a comprehensive searchable database, regularly updated. As a guide to major studies, see “Selected Bibliography on Ramon Llull,” Raimundus Lullus: An Introduction, 517–537.

3

Michela Pereira, “‘Vegetare seu transmutare:’ The Vegetable Soul and Pseudo-Lullian Alchemy,” in Arbor scientiae: Der Baum des Wissens von Ramon Lull, (eds.) Fernando Domínguez Reboiras, Pere Villalba, and Peter Walter (Turnhout: 2002), 93–119, and many other studies by Pereira (few in English) offer detailed analysis of the major pseudo-Lullist traditions. Still useful as introductions in English to these traditions are Bonner, SW 72–89; Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (New York: 1972); and Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: 1964) and The Art of Memory (Chicago: 1966).