Ramon Lull

    Ramon Lull was born on the Island of Majorca, Spain, in about 1235. He lived a frivolous, wealthy, worldly life until his conversion in his late 40’s. He spent the last half of his life in intense Christian activity, especially concentrating on missionary work among the Moslems. He was martyred by them in 1316.

    Lull’s conversion is attributed to a series of five visions of Christ on the cross. Overwhelmed with his own sinfulness and Christ’s love and compassion, he trusted himself to Christ alone and resolved to spend the rest of his life in service to Him. After his conversion, he experienced more visions, which greatly influenced the direction of his life. In 1272 he saw in such a vision the whole of the universe in relationship to the attributes of the Triune God. The basic ideas of his so-called “Art” were revealed to him in this vision.

    The Lullian Art has been both ridiculed and worshipped, by laymen, theologians, and mathematicians. It is basically a mechanical method for producing all the possible permutations of two groups of words or concepts. For example, on one of his devices, letters standing for each of the attributes of God, (such as Love, Goodness, and Justice) were written on two concentric circles. By rotating one of the circles, all the combinations of these attributes could be generated. Lull believed that the wheels taught him new knowledge. By one of these instruments he could be informed or at least reminded that God’s love is eternal, that He is both holy and just, loving and merciful. To us, his machines are more like visual aids, but Lull spent most of his Christian life writing and speaking about them. He even founded a college whose purpose was to train men in the use of his art and Oriental languages as basic equipment for missionary work among Moslems. The real purpose of the art was to facilitate explaining the Trinity and the Incarnation to Moslems and Jews. Whether he was successful in this is not known. Lull’s art is still being studied today, but more as a curiosity of history than as a source of ideas in theology and mathematics. His use of letter symbols on the wheels and the methods used for constructing the various combinations were influential in the development of Leibnitz’s schemes for a universal calculus. It is possible that Lord Babbage’s “Analytical Engine” and even the modern Boolean Algebra (used in the design of all electronic computers) were heirs of the work of Lull.

    Lull’s chief concern after his conversion was that all men everywhere should become Christians. He had been a wealthy man, but after providing for his wife and children, he gave the rest of his property to the poor. He then devoted himself to work as a kind of missionary statesman. He visited Rome, urging several Popes to establish schools for preparing missionaries. He was able to convince the general church council at Vienna in 1311 to establish missionary colleges in various parts of Europe. He gave lectures in major cities, and wrote many books. He bought an Arab slave so that he could improve his command of the Arabic language. After serving for nine years, the slave, angrily rejecting Lull’s attempts to convert him, cursed the name of Christ. Lull slapped him and the slave reacted by attempting to stab his owner. Lull promptly had him arrested, and the slave, fearing great punishment, committed suicide in prison. Hopefully, not all of Lull’s attempts at evangelism ended in this way, but there are no statistics on his effectiveness.

    No one, however, can fault him for his zeal. He was held in prison for over six months in North Africa, as all manner of attempts were made to persuade him to give up Christ and adopt Islam. Instead, he was successful in winning a small number of converts, among whom he later secretly labored for almost a year. Lull visited the city of Tunis, a stronghold of Islam, three times, in an effort to win converts. One of his methods was to walk down the street preaching in a loud voice, shouting the fallacies of the Moslem doctrine and the truth of Christianity. It is no wonder that he was expelled the first two times and stoned the third. He was over 80 years old when he made this third visit, and so it is not surprising that his desire for martyrdom was fulfilled as a result of the wounds inflicted by the stones.

    It is significant that though he lived during the great age of scholasticism, he was at heart an Augustinian. He is perhaps another example of the reviving influence of St. Augustine in history. It is also significant that Lull was himself a layman, was never ordained, and never became a monk. This certainly contrasted to the priestcraft of Catholicism. A third significant contrast was Lull’s desire to evangelize the Moslems rather than to conquer them by force. He abhorred the Crusades, and urged the church to begin a crusade of love.

    In 1296, Lull wrote these words, which are characteristic of his life and challenging to ours:

Let Christians consumed with burning love for the cause of the faith only consider that since nothing has power to withstand truth, they can by God’s help and His might bring infidels back to the faith, so that the precious name of Jesus, which in most regions is still unknown to most men, may be proclaimed and adored.” [Quoted by H. Mackensen, Lull, a Missionary Pioneer, p. 52.]

From “Ten Men of the Church before 1500”
Bob Sander-Cederlof, November 1973.


Gardner, Martin. “The Ars Magna ot Ramon Lull,” Logic Machines and Diagrams. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957. Pp. 127.

Mackensen, H. Raymund Lull, a Missionary Pioneer in the Moslem Field. Minneapolis: The Lutheran Orient Mission, 1920. Pp. vii + 52.

Peers, E. Allison. Fool of Love—The Life of Ramon Lull. London: SCM Press, 1946. Pp. 127.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1907. Vol. V, pp. 433-437.

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