Bl. Ramon Lull


If biographical details about saints are usually tantalizingly skimpy and undependable, that is not the case with Blessed Ramon Lull. The story of his life comes from his own lips He shows himself very human, restless but withal a tireless pursuer of God’s glory.

When Ramon was born, it is important to realize that Spain was actively engaged in its centuries-long struggle to oust from the peninsula the Muslim Moors who had long since held most of the Hispanic lands in control. In fact, Ramon’s father, a native of Catalonia, was apparently one of the generals who had conquered the Moors on the Spanish Isle of Majorca. Raymond married young, and had a good wife who bore him a son and daughter, but until he was around 30, he continued to have a roving eye for beautiful women.

However, one night in 1263, when Lull was writing a poem for his latest lady friend, he suddenly had a vision of Christ crucified beside him. The apparition shook him, but only after it was five times repeated did he admit to himself that it was a call to a holier life. Then he made two pilgrimages. These confirmed his view that God was summoning him in particular to win the Moors to Christ. So he made arrangements for the support of his family, gave the remainder of his funds to the poor, and plunged into a decade-long study of Arabic, Muslim philosophy and religion, by way of preparation for dialogue with the Mohammedans. Becoming something of an expert, he lectured much and wrote endless treatises on Islamic subjects. He also combed Europe to find supporters from the popes on down, for his proposed apostolate, but here he had little luck.

At least the Franciscans accepted him and enrolled him in their lay, or third order. All along, Lull dreamed of going to Africa to dialogue with the Moors and win them to Christ, whatever the risk.

He did get to the “Dark Continent” three times. On the first visit the Muslims of Tunis, rejecting his Christian teachings, mistreated and exiled him. On the second visit he was arrested by the Algerians and again deported. En-route to Italy he suffered shipwreck. On the third visit, it is said that the Algerians stoned him and left him for dead. Genoese soldiers rescued him, but he died on shipboard of his injuries. Ramon Lull has never been formally beatified, but he is honored as a “blessed” martyr by the Franciscans.

This lay apologist for the Faith wrote a vast amount: 313 treatises are attributed to him. As one engaged in theological discussion, he put out a good deal in the vernacular - Arabic and Catalan. He developed a unique “geometric” approach called “The Art,” to communicate the truths of Christianity. He also wrote theological books in the form of romances or novels to make his doctrine more appealing. Some declared that errors had slipped into his apologetic discourses, but since not all that bears his name was written by him, one cannot say whether the erroneous expressions are his or an imitator’s. Nowadays Lull’s teachings have become the object of greater interest.

Blessed Ramon was also something of a mystic, influenced by both Franciscan and Muslim spirituality. His most striking work was the poetic “The Book of the Lover and the Beloved,” a colloquy between God and his beloved human friend. Here is one of its questions and answers:

"Say, Fool (says the Lord), wherefore is thy love so great?

“He (the Fool) answered: 'Because far and perilous is the journey I must make seeking my Beloved; I must seek Him in the fullness of faith and must journey with all speed. Naught of these can be fulfilled if I have not great love.”

That describes well the hectic but earnest search by Bl. Ramon Lull for God and the souls of the Moors. A brilliant lay evangelist, he won the title from his compeers of “Doctor Illuminatus”: “Enlightened teacher.”

--Father Robert F. McNamara