Because of Catholics Like Raymond Lull

For the longest time, I just knew that I was too smart to be a Catholic. I mean, I wasn’t a cradle Catholic, born into the Church or anything. I just figured that being born into the Church was really the only way that anyone would become a Catholic. Surely not via God-given free will, because no one with a brain would willingly submit to the Church and all those wacky “man-made” doctrines and such.

Ahem, we all know how that turned out for me; I swam the Tiber. So, now that I am a Catholic, I have a confession to make: one of the reasons why I am Catholic is because, frankly, lots of people who are way smarter than me are Catholic too. And many of those people are converts to the Church as well. Like this fellow I ran across yesterday named Raymond Lull (or Llull, or Lully, nobody seems to have figured out his last name definitively).

Something Hilaire Belloc said in his chapter on Islam in The Great Heresies made me curious to learn more about Catholicism by way of Islam. Ivory tower Catholics the world over evidently know that Islam was derived from Catholicism, but heck I never got the memo. After all, I’m just a hillbilly convert from Tennessee. So poking around the electronic aisles of Google Books, I started trying to find titles that Belloc perhaps used as sources for this chapter, because he didn’t leave any footnotes.

And that is how I stumbled upon this amazing layman named Raymond Lull. Or Blessed Raymond Lull, as it turns out. He doesn’t rate the full sainthood rank and honors, not yet anyway and maybe never, but heck it’s close enough for me. And there is an uncanny Blaise Pascal connection for me in all this, as you will see soon enough. As you may recall, me and Blaise go way back!

It all started when I began searching for some titles that Cardinal Avery Dulles mentioned in his book on apologetics. What I found first was the following citation from the book entitled The Port-Royal Logic written by Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, a couple of Jansenists. Port Royal was a Cistercian monastery in France where the Jansenist heresy resided before it flickered out. My buddy Blaise Pascal took up residence there for a time, and maybe even helped Antoine and Pierre with some of the material written there. Here is Antoine and Pierre’s citation on Raymond Lull(y),

Raymond Lully was born in 1235, and died in 1311. He was certainly the most eccentric product of the scholastic age, and lights, as a meteor, the shadows of its closing day. At first a gay courtier, and even an abandoned libertine; then an austere recluse, wholly occupied with exercises of self-denial and devotion; at one time absorbed in abstract pursuits; at another, a zealous but pacific crusader, debating with the infidel in the streets of Tunis; now an honoured visitor at the court of Philip le Bel; anon a prisoner, looking for death in a Moslem dungeon,— he remains without a parallel in the line of the learned to which he belonged. If we look only to the number and extent of the works which he has left, we might well suppose that his life was given up to mental labour, while, in reality, it was one of incessant bodily activity. It is a story of weary journeys, hazardous enterprises, and of missionary enthusiasm, closed with a martyr’s crown.

With an introduction like that, how can you not be interested in learning more about Raymond? As a culture, we just don’t write like this anymore. This Raymond fellow sounds like my kind of guy. It figures that my buddy Blaise was just waiting to spring him on me. So, what’s Raymonds story? Read on.

His great aim was to unite, if not to identify, philosophy and religion. He undertook to demonstrate the highest mysteries of religion, and to spiritualize the plainest forms of science; and, as might be expected, in the end, degraded the former, and mystified the latter. He often treats the exalted verities of religion with cold formality, but kindles into rapt enthusiasm at the contemplation of logical forms.

In the missionary enterprises to which so much of his life was devoted, he laid little stress on the ordinary signs of apostleship; on the living voice uttering living truth, under the consuming fervour of higher inspiration, and with the witness of miraculous signs; but in place of these, propounded his Art of Mechanical Syllogistic, which he successively urged on the attention of kings, popes, cardinals, and councils, as the true theological machine for the conviction of the infidel, and the conversion of the world.

Golly, what the heck does syllogistic mean? It’s enrich your word power time! According to Merriam -Webster, it is defined as follows:

1 : a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion (as in “every virtue is laudable; kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is laudable”)
2 : a subtle, specious, or crafty argument
3 : deductive reasoning

Oh, ahem, I knew that. What about it?

In this, his great art (Ars Magna Lulliana), his aim was to reduce all the operations of thought to a mechanical simplicity; or rather to enable any one to discover all relations, and discourse of all truths, without the trouble of thinking at all. It is an attempt to determine,a priori, not only all the possible forms, but almost all the possible matter, of thought.

Um, Raymond? You’re starting to sound like one of those crazy characters from an episode of Star Trek. Say it ain’t so.

He endeavoured to do this by means of circles, in the first of which substance was distributed into its various kinds, such as “divine”, “angelic”, “human”, etc.; the second contained the various attributes of being,—”goodness”, “greatness”, etc.; a third contained these attributes in a less abstract form; the fourth determined their various possible relations and applications; so that, by allowing the first circle to remain stationary, and the others to revolve, all the attributes and relations which belonged to a subject would in turn be assigned to it.

This mechanical scheme, though of course wholly unable to fulfil the promises of its author, has still considerable ingenuity; and in its conception and working out, there is manifested even a certain grandeur of purpose, and confidence in the efficacy of scientific form, sufficient to save it from contempt.

Wow, this guy had a lot of time on his hands and was either wacko, or a genius, or both. Or maybe he wasn’t wacko, just very, very motivated to save souls. Read on.

It has, however, met with very various fortunes in subsequent times,—having been at one time condemned without charity as absurd, and at another praised, without limitation, as little less than divine. By Giordano Bruno it was remodelled, and reproduced. It naturally found favour with the wonder-loving and learned Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher; and Leibnitz, in his Treatise, “De Arte Combinatoria”, has treated it with seriousness, and, to some extent, with approval.

The attempt, however, to secure a universal organon or instrument, which should not only prescribe the forms, but actually carry on the processes of thought, is far more vain and hopeless than that in which so many able men have engaged, to secure a universal language, in which the results of these might be expressed.

You can say that again. Like the universal language Esperanto, right? Only Esperanto speaking cranks, wearing tin-foil hats to boot, would even bother to conceive of such a device. But Raymond Lull thought it up and then actually built them!

Have you ever had one of those circular shaped retirement calculators with a window where you dial in your annual income, or your savings goal on an inner wheel? Then you turn the outer wheel and another window shows you how much your balance will grow to in 10, 20, or thirty years?

Remember those before there were calculators on the internet? That is the kind of “machine” that Raymond Lull built to logically prove Catholic Christianity was true. And anyone who gets the attention of Athanatius Kircher, aka “the Last Man to Know Everything,” gets my attention too. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and in this case much more interesting. What follows is from the Wikipedia citation on him,

Llull also invented numerous ‘machines’ for the purpose. One method is now called the Lullian Circle, each of which consisted of two or more paper discs inscribed with alphabetical letters or symbols that referred to lists of attributes. The discs could be rotated individually to generate a large number of combinations of ideas. A number of terms, or symbols relating to those terms, were laid around the full circumference of the circle. They were then repeated on an inner circle which could be rotated. These combinations were said to show all possible truth about the subject of the circle. Llull based this on the notion that there were a limited number of basic, undeniable truths in all fields of knowledge, and that we could understand everything about these fields of knowledge by studying combinations of these elemental truths.

The method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge. Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, one of the tables listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will, virtue, truth and glory. Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions – whether Jews, Muslims or Christians – would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.

See? There was a method to his madness.

The idea was developed further by Giordano Bruno in the 16th century, and by Gottfried Leibniz in the 17th century for investigations into the philosophy of science. Leibniz gave Llull’s idea the name “ars combinatoria,” by which it is now often known. Some computer scientists have adopted Lull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the beginning of information science.

Whaat?! “The founding father of information science?” Sheesh! And does this Leibnitz fellow ring any bells with you? Well he does with me because he was one of the fellows who corresponded with my friend Blaise Pascal about mathematics and stuff. Oh yeah, and he invented infinitesimal calculus too, independently of Isaac Newton. Just another schelp like Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters who Harold Ramis chides for “never studying?” I don’t think so. All of these guys were smart.

But wait, there is more; much more. So far, Raymond sounds like another harmless, though Christ-crazed and eccentric, or maybe even slightly mad, person with a dream of bringing enlightenment to the world from his Ivory Tower. These type of guys are a dime a dozen, right? You met some of them in college, and know the type; they are dreamers, not doers. Oh, but that is where you would be mistaken about Raymond, as you will see below. I found this from the book entitled Islam: A Challenge to Faith by Samuel Marinus Zwemer.

Raymund Lull.—John of Damascus, Petrus Venerabilis and others tried to reach Moslems by their pen; Raymund Lull was the first to go to them in person. They offered arguments; he offered his life.

Gulp. I told you he was not just a dreamer.  This guy is a true soldier for Christ.

Eugene Stock, formerly editorial secretary of the Church Missionary Society, declares “there is no more heroic figure in the history of Christendom than that of Raymond Lull, the first and perhaps the greatest missionary to Mohammedans.” “Of all the men of his century,” another student of missions says, “of whom we know, Raymund Lull was most possessed by the love and life of Christ, and most eager, accordingly, to share his possession with the world. It sets forth the greatness of Lull’s character the more strikingly to see how sharply he rose above the world and Church of his day, anticipating by many centuries moral standards, intellectual conceptions, and missionary ambitions to which we have grown only since the Reformation.”

Uh-huh, sounds like he was a man ahead of his time. Or maybe he was just in the world, but not “of the world.”

Raymund Lull was born at Palma, in the Island of Majorca, in 1235, of a distinguished Catalonian family, and when of age spent several years at the court of the King of Aragon. He was a court poet, a skilled musician and a knight before he became a scholastic philosopher and an ardent missionary to the Mohammedans. The manner of his conversion at the age of thirty-two reminds one of the experiences of Saul on his way to Damascus, and of St. Augustine under the fig-tree at Milan. After his vision of the Christ, he sold all his property, gave the money to the poor, and reserved only a scanty allowance for his wife and children. He entered upon a thorough course of study, mastered the Arabic language, using a Saracen slave as teacher, and began his life work at the age of forty.

Now we are putting some meat on the bones of Raymond Lull. A Catholic convert? Check. A husband and father? Check. Mystical experience? Check. Ditched his former life and schooled himself in Arabic for 8 years? Check and wow. Why? What would make you do such a thing Raymond?

The labor to which he felt called, and for which he gave his life with wonderful perseverance and devotion, was threefold: He devised a philosophical system to persuade non-Christians, especially Moslems, of the truth of Christianity(see crazy contraption above); he established missionary colleges for the study of Oriental languages(Arabic, specifically, and must have cost a pretty penny to do so); and he himself went and preached to the Moslems, sealing his witness with his blood.

Yep, if this was a Hollywood fairy tale, this is going to end badly. But this is a true Christian story, and so it will end well.

In his fifty-sixth year, after vain efforts to arouse others to a missionary enterprise on behalf of the Mohammedans, he determined to set out alone and single-handed preach Christ in North Africa.

Alone, unarmed, unafraid. Have I mentioned that I really like Raymond? He is bold and resolute in his faith. A model of us to emulate. And in another swipe at Star Trek, he boldy went where no Christian man wanted to go. As you read, people were lined up “none” deep to help him.

On arriving at Tunis he invited the Moslem literati to a conference. He announced that he had studied the arguments on both sides of the question, and was willing to submit the evidences for Christianity and for Islam to a fair comparison. The challenge was accepted, but the Moslems being worsted in argument, and fanaticism being aroused, Lull was cast into a dungeon by order of the Sultan, and narrowly escaped death.

Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice? It’s not going to happen because I won’t be fooled again. Because if I cheated death once, I’ll remember my lesson, thank God I survived, and get on with my life. Next scene please.

After bitter persecutions he returned to Europe, where he made other missionary journeys. In 1307 he was again on the shores of Africa, and at Bugia, in the marketplace, stood up boldly and preached Christ to the Moslem populace. Once again his pleadings were met with violence, and he was flung into a dungeon, where he remained for six months, preaching to those few who came, and befriended only by some merchants of Genoa and Spain, who took pity on the aged missionary of the Cross.

Sheesh, he was fooled twice, and still lived to tell the tale! Time to head back home and retire, play golf, or play bridge or something. Relax Raymond, because you’ve earned it. But Raymond was on a mission from God, see?

Although banished for a second time and with threats against his life if he returned, Lull could not resist the call of the Love that ruled his life. “He that loves not lives not,” said he, “and he that lives by The Life cannot die.” So, in 1314, the veteran of eighty years returned to Africa and to his little band of Moslem converts. For over ten months he dwelt in hiding, talking and praying with those who had accepted Christ, and trying to win others. Weary of seclusion, he at length came forth into the open market and presented himself to the people as the man whom they had expelled. It was Elijah showing himself to a mob of Ahabs. Lull stood before them and threatened them with God’s wrath if they still persisted in their errors. He pleaded with love, but spoke the whole truth.

Guess what happened next?

Filled with fanatic fury at his boldness and unable to reply to his arguments, the populace seized him and dragged him out of the town. There, by the command, or at least the connivance, of the Moslem ruler, he was stoned to death on the 30th of June, 1315. And so he became the first martyr missionary to Islam. To be stoned to death while preaching the love of Christ to Moslems was the fitting end for such a life.

Yet his was a voice crying in the wilderness and his loneliness was the loneliness of leadership when there are none awake to follow. “One step further,” says Dr. George Smith, “but some slight response from his Church or his age, and Raymund Lull would have anticipated William Carey by exactly seven centuries.” But there was no response. The story of his life and abundant labors in the dark ages is a challenge of faith for us, who live in the light of the twentieth century, to win the whole Mohammedan world for Christ. We have larger opportunity, and far greater resources, and therefore can do it if we will. But we, too, must go in the spirit of Raymund Lull and in his Master’s name.

So they martyred Raymond in the way they martyred St. Stephen. And he died like a Christian martyr dies: not by taking the lives of others, but by being given up as a ransom for the many. Reading a story like this one just reminds me that whatever I think I am doing for Christ and His Church, it probably is not enough.

Blessed Raymond Lull, pray for us.
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