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Ramon Llull |
A crusader with a very different idea

Ramon Llull is drawn from Chapter Ten, beginning on page 271, of Volume Seven, A Glorious Disaster of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Converting Islam requires not soldiers, said Raymond Lull, but reason, courage, learning, and faith, and this ‘father of computer science’ took on the job himself

Ramon Llull - A crusader with a very different idea

Ramon Llull - A crusader with a very different idea
Raymond Lull, depicted here in statue near Palma, Lull’s birthplace on the island of Majorca, now part of Spain. Lull left behind a libertine life of carnal questing after, it was said, beholding with horror the corruption of fleshly disease.

Aboard the Genoese ship taking him home to Europe from Tunis, Raymond Lull made up his mind. There was no avoiding it–he must go back. He had scandalized the devout Muslims of Tunis with his evangelizing, contravening the Qur’an’s decree that to preach Christ to a Muslim is punishable by death. Only with the help of an influential Muslim friend had he escaped with his life.

But what of all those thousands of people whose eternal fate depended on hearing the Christian Gospel? Would they escape? Not likely. So whatever fate might await him there, he must return. Before all else he was a missionary, and his mission field was the Muslim world.

Before all else? There had been a great deal “else.” Lull was born in 1232 into a wealthy family on Majorca, largest of the Balearic Islands off Spain’s east coast, five years after the Christians recovered the Balearics from Islam.1 Married with two daughters, he was a noted scholar who had tutored Aragon’s future king, served as chief administrator to the lord of Majorca, and written the first novel in Catalan, the Majorcan language. Some authorities consider this the first novel in all western Europe.

Lull’s seminal work on the relationship between reason and faith was studied in every major European university. Seven hundred years later his foundational studies on mathematical probabilities would be rediscovered, and he would be credited with contributions to election theory, with election strategists referring to “Lull winners” and “Lull losers.” He would also be hailed as a founding father of computer science because his system of logic has been taken as the beginning of information science, which ultimately led to the computer age. But his greatest early delight was in the salacious poems and stories of seduction and lust–based entirely upon his own unbridled and predatory experience of women–with which he titillated the courts of Europe.

But all this had happened before one fateful day when, at about age thirty, he beheld a vision of the crucified Christ in the air beside him. He tried desperately to banish it from his mind, according to his autobiography, but could not. That was half the story; the other half came from a very different experience immediately preceding this vision. While engaged in the seduction of a certain dignified lady, he was thrilled when she opened her bodice before him to disclose her breasts–and he saw that they were both eaten away with cancer.

This, he saw, was the destiny of all flesh, and he wrote no more lustful poetry. He spent five years as a hermit and then became a tertiary (lay member) of the Franciscan order, traveling through Europe to urge a new kind of crusade. The new crusaders, he said, must be skilled not in arms but in reason, able to persuade Muslims of the truth of Christianity. Therefore, they must know the Qur’an as well as any Muslim. They must be fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, and Chaldean, a form of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. And they must be prepared to die, not as soldiers but as martyrs, which they might well become. It was a magnificent message. Few listened.

So Lull, though now over eighty years old, acted on his own, returning twice more to Tunis, and on the second visit he finally made progress when three Muslim imams (preachers) sought baptism. A story of Lull’s subsequent martyrdom (that he was stoned to death) was later discovered to be a seventeenth-century falsification. He died in his home at Tunis in 1315.

The church subsequently rejected his teachings on reason as he was found to have a wrong understanding of how faith and reason interrelate. That Lull was a devout Christian no one doubted, however. He was given the titles of “Blessed” and “Illuminated Doctor,” and a university in Barcelona was named for him.

Much later, other honors would be bestowed upon him. Martin Gardner, popular twentieth-century mathematics and science author, would write extensively about Lull. Lull would become John Masefield’s model for the character Cole Hawlings in his children’s novel The Box of Delights, adapted by the BBC for television in 1984. He would also, strangely, emerge as a twentieth-century comic book figure, inspiring the character Richard Madoc in DC Comics’ Sandman series, and in Marvel Comics his 1305 book Ars Magna (“the Great Art”), magically enhanced by animation, would become a weapon against the wicked Scarlet Witch.

Raymond Lull would surely have been delighted. He knew a lot about that Scarlet Witch.

1. There are three versions in English of this man’s name: Raymond Lull, Ramon Llull, and Raymond Lully. In Spanish he is Raimundo Lulio.

This is the end of the Ramon Llull category article drawn from Chapter Ten, beginning on page 271, of Volume Seven, A Glorious Disaster. To continue reading more about Ramon Llull from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at