Philosopher, poet, and theologian, b. at Palma in Majorca, between 1232 and 1236; d. at Tunis, June 29, 1315
Raymond Lully ( RAMON LULL), “Doctor Illuminatus”, philosopher, poet, and theologian, b. at Palma in Majorca, between 1232 and 1236; d. at Tunis, June 29, 1315. Probably a courtier at the court of King James of Aragon until thirty years of age, he then became a hermit and afterwards a tertiary of the Order of St. Francis. From that time he seemed to be inspired with extraordinary zeal for the conversion of the Mohammedan world. To this end he advocated the study of Oriental languages and the refutation of Arabian philosophy, especially that of Averroes. He founded a school for the members of his community in Majorca, where special attention was given to Arabic and Chaldean. Later he taught in Paris. About 1291 he went to Tunis, preached to the Saracens, disputed with them in philosophy, and after another brief sojourn in Paris, returned to the East as a missionary. After undergoing many hardships and privations he returned to Europe in 1311 for the purpose of laying before the Council of Vienna his plans for the conversion of the Moors. Again in 1315 he set out for Tunis, where he was stoned to death by the Saracens.
Raymond’s literary activity was inspired by the same purpose as his missionary and educational efforts. In the numerous writings (about 300) which came from his facile pen, in Catalonian as well as in Latin, he strove to show the errors of Averroism and to expound Christian theology in such a manner that the Saracens themselves could not fail to see the truth. With the same purpose in view, he invented a mechanical contrivance, a logical machine, in which the subjects and predicates of theological propositions were arranged in circles, squares, triangles, and other geometrical figures, so that by moving a lever, turning a crank, or causing a wheel to revolve, the propositions would arrange themselves in the affirmative or negative and thus prove themselves to be true. This device he called the Ars Generalis Ultima or the Ars Magna, and to the description and explanation of it he devoted his most important works. Underlying this scheme was a theoretical philosophy, or rather theosophy, for the essential element in Raymond’s method was the identification of theology with philosophy. The scholastics of the thirteenth century maintained that, while the two sciences agree, so that what is true in philosophy cannot be false in theology, or vice versa, they are, nevertheless, two distinct sciences, differing especially in that theology makes use of revelation as a source, while philosophy relies on reason alone.
The Arabians had completely separated them by maintaining the twofold standard of truth, according to which what is false in philosophy may be true in theology. Raymond, carried on by his zeal for the refutation of the Arabians, went to the opposite extreme. He held that there is no distinction between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith, so that even the highest mysteries may be proved by means of logical demonstration and the use of the Ars Magna. This of course removed all distinction between natural and supernatural truth. Unlike Abelard’s, however, Raymond’s rationalism was of the mystic type: he taught expressly that, for the understanding of the highest truths, reason must be aided by faith; that once faith has flooded the soul with its radiance, reason, enlightened and strengthened by faith, “is as capable of showing that there are three persons in one God as it is of proving that there cannot be three Gods”. “Relying on the grace of God“, he writes, “I intend to prove the articles of faith by convincing reasons” (“Opera”, Strasburg ed., p. 966). On the other hand, he held that, although reason needs this Divine assistance, faith is just as much in need of reason; faith may deceive us unless reason guides it. He who relies on faith alone is like a blind man who, relying on the sense of touch, can sometimes find what he wants but often misses it; to be certain of finding his object, he needs sight as well as touch. So Raymond held that a man, in order to find out the truth about God, must bring reason to the task as well as faith.
These principles were taken up by the followers of Raymond, known as Lullists, who for a time had so great an influence, especially in Spain, that they succeeded in founding chairs at the Universities of Barcelona and Valencia for the propagation of the doctrines of the “Illuminated Doctor“. The Church authorities, however, recognized the dangerous consequences which follow from the breaking down of the distinction between natural and supernatural truth. Consequently, in spite of his praiseworthy zeal and his crown of martyrdom, Raymond has not been canonized. His rationalistic mysticism was formally condemned by Gregory XI in 1376 and the condemnation was renewed by Paul IV. Raymond’s works were published in ten folio volumes at Mainz, 1721-42. There are, besides, several editions of portions of his writings. His poems and popular treatises, written in Catalonian, had a very wide circulation in his own day, and their style has won him a high place in the history of medieval Spanish literature. The best known edition of the works in which he describes his logical machine is the Strasburg edition of 1651. The “Rivista Lulliana”, a periodical devoted to the exposition of Raymond’s philosophy, was started at Barcelona in 1901.