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Ramon Llull: A Logic of Invention

Contemporary readers of Llull’s work may feel somewhat perplexed, particularly by the sheer number of works he managed to produce while wholly dedicating his religious fervour to converting the infidels and spreading a system of knowledge throughout a Christendom whose reach extended to Mongolia. This system was much admired by prominent European philosophers such as Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, among others. There would be little point in attempting to address the issue of the creative fervour of a man who sought solitary contemplation, or the enigmatic language of the mystical dialogues of Llibre d’amic e amat, without first exploring the relevant biographical terrain. Fortunately, Llull left behind a work that sheds light on some of the wellsprings of his mystical thought, namely Vita coaetanea (Daily Life), which Llull dictated to the monks at Vauvert Abbey in Paris in August 1311, and which can be regarded as his spiritual testament. The interest of this text lies in its dual focus on Llull’s moment of conversion and the beginnings of his intellectual mission, which explain the underlying motivation for his literary vision:

“To the honour, praise, and love of our only Lord God Jesus Christ, Ramon, at the instance of certain monks who were friends of his, recounted and allowed to be put down in writing what follows concerning his conversion to penitence and other deeds of his.”[1]

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Llull, who never attended a university, took refuge until the end of his life in the magnificent religious tradition offered by his culture: the model of revelation through the spoken word. Written language, which Llull now appeared to be renouncing with a stylistic gesture that was freighted with meaning, however, lies at the heart of his conversion and is the very context within which his secular love was transformed into a love of God:

“Ramon, while still a young man and seneschal to the king of Majorca, was very given to composing worthless songs and poems and to doing other licentious things. One night he was sitting beside his bed, about to compose and write in his vulgar tongue a song to a lady whom he loved with a foolish love; and as he began to write this song, he looked to his right and saw our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, as if suspended in mid-air. This sight filled him with fear; and, leaving what he was doing, he retired to bed and went to sleep.”[2]

Foolhardy passion should not be understood here as the antithesis of divine love, given the fact that without this writing-which in this passage represents the ideal medium for passionate yearning-the author’s passion would be deprived of both provenance and an orientation. The art of finding words of love points the way to the dominant principle in the Llullian system, namely arsinveniendi (the art of finding rhetorical arguments). During this era, the search for the poetic mot juste was the mainspring of a transformation that sought to attain the human model of divine naturalness-in the Incarnation and Passion-that had to make itself manifest (“uidit Dominum Iesum Christum”-saw our Lord Jesus Christ). As with love, profane time is conducive to divine manifestations:

“Upon arising the next day, he returned to his usual vanities without giving the vision a further thought. It was not until almost a week later, however, in the same place as before, and at almost exactly the same hour, when he was again preparing to work on and finish the aforementioned song, that our Lord appeared to him on the cross, just as before. He was even more frightened than the first time, and retired to bed and fell asleep as he had done before.

Again on the next day, paying no attention to the vision he had seen, he continued his licentious ways. Indeed, soon afterwards he was again trying to finish the song he had begun when our Saviour appeared to him, always in the same form, a third and then a fourth time, with several days in between.”[3]

The time of conversion has annihilated any reference to inner reality. The insistence of the images of the crucified Christ that Llull experienced while endeavouring in vain to return to his previous activity exists solely in relation to, and is inextricably bound up with, the process of writing. Writing allows for epoché comprising the confluence of past and present, the latter being punctuated by a series of visions:

“On the fourth occasion-or, as is more commonly believed, the fifth-when this vision appeared to him, he was absolutely terrified and retired to bed and spent the entire night trying to understand what these so often repeated visions were meant to signify.”[4]

Llull was prompted to wonder about and search for the meaning of this vision that had caused him such a terrible fright not just because it existed, but on account of its iteration. His conversion went hand in hand with a quaestio whose solutio had to take the form of disruption in his new life.

The enigmatic quality of Llull’s mystical dialogues, whose illogic is so disconcerting, lies in the diverse temporal perspectives from which questions and answers are approached. The path of conversion cannot be found in life except with a view to abandoning it. All one need do is renounce it-and in so doing accept the absurdity of the reason for renouncing it, which is the vision itself-in order to enter the domain that will lend full meaning to the choice to live a pious life:

“On the one hand, his conscience told him that [these apparitions] could only mean that he should abandon the world at once and from then on dedicate himself totally to the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, his conscience reminded him of the guilt of his former life and his unworldliness to serve Christ. Thus, alternately debating these points with himself and fervently praying to God, he spent the night without sleeping.”[5]

Persuaded that God had chosen him, Llull tried to find the best way to be of service to Him.

“And thus at last he understood with certainty that God wanted him, Ramon, to leave the world and dedicate himself totally to the service of Christ”.[6]

The denouement of this drama was arrived at on the basis of the following three imperatives that marked the immense Llullian project: converting the Muslims to Christianity; writing the best book the world had ever seen about the errors of the infidels; and trying to convince the secular power structure to found missionary schools in which Arabic and other languages would be taught. Llull´s Vita is replete with elements that embody his irrepressible desire to remain firmly anchored in the realm of paradox. Having expressed the desire to convert the Saracens, he proceeds to talk about his complete ignorance of theological matters (“nullam […] scientiam”), and faced with the possibility of failing to fulfil his pledge to serve God, he falls into a state of extreme dejection, from which he frees himself by thinking about the book that he needs to write. The paradox here is of course that an individual lacking in knowledge decides to avail himself of the most ancient form of intellectual individual lacking in knowledge decides to avail himself of the most ancient form of intellectual nourishment known to man. But Llull’s first priority was not the acquisition of theological knowledge but rather of Arabic, so that he could proselytise.

Vita tells the story of how Llull visited Raimon de Penyafort in Barcelona (“maxime frater Raimundus de ordine Praedicatorum”), who, instead of sending Llull to study in Paris (as Llull wanted), advised him to return to Majorca. Little is known of Llull’s activities during the ensuing nine-year period (1256-1265), although judging from the results, we can assume that Llull acquired alternative training that must have occurred somewhere on the periphery of the academic world. The first written germination of Llull’s system of thought dates from those years as well. Llull wrote Compendium logicae Algazelis (1271-1272) and Llibre de contemplació en Déu (1273-1274) inspired by what he had learned from the Bible, the Koran, the Sufis, the Talmud, and some of Plato and Aristotle during the period prior to the discovery of ars inveniendi. Compendium, whose vernacular version in verse has come down to us, enabled Llull to study and experiment with posterior logical structure (based on a number of rhetorical methods from the kalâm), whereas Llibre de contemplació en Déu is informed by the entirety of Llull’s mystico-scientific doctrine in the guise of an extremely lengthy prayer to God, whose formal structure is that of an invocation in the Augustinian tradition. The rich symbolism that marks this work (which contains one chapter for each day of the year and separate subsections for each of Christ’s Stations of the Cross) includes several figures in the form of trees and numerous other algebraic elements that go to make up Llull’s “combinatory logic”.

The other relevant event that is related in Vita is the so-called vision at Mount Randa, which should be regarded as being closely related to the previous visions Llull experienced while in a state of vigilance:

“After this, Ramon went up a certain mountain not far from his home, in order to contemplate God in greater tranquillity. When he had been there scarcely a full week, it happened that one day while he was gazing intently heavenward the Lord suddenly illuminated his mind, giving him the form and method for writing the aforementioned book against the errors of the unbelievers.”[7]

Hence, to the former palpable visions of Christ on the cross-visions that fused the Passion narrative with the proclamation of Llull’s salvation narrative- was now added an inspired form of grace embodied by the most prestigious of all archetypes among the “people of the book”. This enabled Llull to write and preach, albeit without the benefit of book learning-but with authority. Whereas the content of these initial visions was of unmistakably Christian origin and was thus consistent with the milieu frequented by Llull until his conversion, nine years after the vision of Mount Randa Llull responded to the call of an apologetic interreligious endeavour that marked the conclusion of his real religious training. Having written his first “revealed” work Art abreujada d’atrobar veritat (ca. 1274), Llull returned to Mount Randa, where he stayed for four months in a hermitage that he built with his own hands. In Vita, Llull describes how an angel in the form of a shepherd visited him at this hermitage and assured him that his books were of great value, a statement Llull took to be a prophecy.

A short time after the events narrated in Vita, Llull wrote Llibre del gentil e dels tres savis (1274-1276), one of the most brilliant works in all of medieval religious literature (and one which in any case differed completely from the polemico-apologetic style that prevailed in the thirteenth century); and a work that endowed the history of religion with a shared linguistic context that rarely occurs outside Mediterranean cultures.

The book describes the doctrine of “the names of God” (termed “dignitates Dei o virtuts divines” by Llull), which are essentially the same in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In this work, Llull also experimented with a shared use of religious language in the context of the Abrahamic tradition. Llull’s intention in Llibre del gentil far exceeds the scope of a mere apology, venturing instead to establish a means of communication that is informed by confidence in the strength of the preached word. In Llibre del gentil, the names of God, or the eternal virtues, comprise the fundamental principles of Llull’s theological grammar. Llull has no intention of explaining the dogmas of the three Abrahamic traditions to his audience. Instead, he provides a description that nurtures the establishment of a unitary model of understanding (the three religions as historical experiences of the same revelation) that is superior to a dogmatic and piecemeal understanding.

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Moreover, this method is not meant to be purely theoretical in its application, since Llull conceived the book as a manual for graduates of the Miramar missionary training academy. The Llullian strategy consists in argumentation per necessarias rationes. The names of God are the underpinnings of a context in which language is a springboard for religious dialogue. For example, mutual comprehension among the three wise men that appear in the book is facilitated by the mystical use of names as building blocks of a language whose unity also guarantees the unity of the three religions. The book begins by explaining the method that is to be employed:

“Every science requires words by which it can best be presented, and this demonstrative science needs obscure words unfamiliar to laymen; but since we are writing this book for laymen, we will here discuss this science briefly and in plain words. Trusting, however, in the grace of him who is the fulfilment of all good, we hope to be able to enlarge on this book, using this same method, but with words more appropriate to men of letters, lovers of speculative science. For it would be an injustice to this science and to this Art not to demonstrate it with a suitable vocabulary, nor to explain it with the subtle reasoning by which it is best demonstrable.”[8]

The first level of comprehension is aimed at laymen (“homens lecs”), whereby the book provides a simple explanation that nonetheless covers the basic components of the three religions, namely faith in one God and the resurrection of the flesh. The second level, which is oriented toward scholars (“homens letrats, amadors de la sciencia especulativa”), takes up the remainder of the four volumes. These two levels of intelligibility represent two different uses of language, but have the same context of significance as a function, namely the names of God. The first use (“hus”) of language, which can be regarded as “symbolic allegory”, is constructed on the basis of a sensual level of comprehension, namely trees or Llullian figures that constitute a preaching and communication medium for the non-literate reader. The second level of comprehension, which can be regarded as “speculative symbolism”, represents a more comprehensive sphere of signification through its use of subtle reasoning (“subtils rahons”) and its extension of the symbolism to an intelligible level.

Later in the book, Llull proceeds to narrate the facts of his life by describing an ageing pagan philosopher who, feeling that death is approaching, desperately asks himself what the meaning of life is. Unable to find consolation, the philosopher decides to journey far from home to a lush forest where he can meditate and lead a reclusive life. But neither the magnificent Eden that he sees before him nor his reflections on the futility of human existence provide consolation.

Llull’s narrative is set in a forest populated by numerous characters who introduce the reader to the whole gamut of the author’s philosophical principles. As the poor philosopher continues to lament his fate in solitude, three wise men and city dwellers-a Muslim (“Saray”), a Christian, and a Jew-arrive in the forest, where they engage in amiable conversation The three men walk to a lush grove in the forest where a hot spring keeps five trees well watered. Illuminated manuscripts in the Llullian tradition depict the droop of the branches and the fruit thereupon, as well as a series of letters of the alphabet that symbolise Llull’s algebraic system.

The allegory of the “Intelligent lady” (“Entallegencia”) appears before the men in the grove, and she proceeds to explain to them the meaning of each of the figures on the trees. The first and most important of these figures depicts the names of God and his eternal and in­dispensable virtues (goodness, greatness, eternalness, power, wisdom, love, and perfection). The first act of this religious drama concludes with the arrival of the gentile at the locus amoenus, with the gleaming beard and large head of hair of a person who has opted for a nomadic fife. In Llull’s narrative, after the gentile has refreshed himself in the spring and greeted the three wise men “in his language and according to his custom”, they respond “they hoped that the God of glory, who was Father and Lord of all existing things, and who had created the whole world, and who would resuscitate the righteous and the wicked, would protect, console, and help him in his suffering”.[9]

The gentile is surprised to hear the wise men greet him by talking about God and the resurrection, since the gentile has never heard of such things. He then asks the three men to prove the existence of this resurrection they mentioned by means of necessary reasons (“necessarias rationes”), since this will soothe his troubled soul. The three pious men then decide to teach the gentile the truth inherent in his complete salvation, based on their several doctrines. Llull uses the figures on the trees, along with the allegory of intelligence, to convey the aphoristic dimension of his grammar, viz. the shared faith in the names of God, whereas the speculative dimension is explained by expounding various religious dogmas.

The schema of the general principles, the names of God also contains two levels of significance: (a) the interrelationships between the various elements on the horizontal level (“activitas ad intra”) (goodness and greatness; greatness and eternity; eternity and power; power and wisdom; wisdom and love; love and perfection; goodness and eternity; greatness and power; eternity and wisdom; power and love; wisdom and perfection), which comprise an archetypal plane; (b) the vertical relationship of the principles with the animal world (“activitas ad extra”), over which these principles have influence by virtue of a comprehensive theory of the elements; in this plane they represent the “theophanic” descent of the Divinity.[10] The demonstration of the unity of God for the gentile is realised in accordance with the principle of consonance amongst the terms or names for God, inasmuch as the virtues converge in existence itself. The “principle of consonance” is embodied in animals via vertical symbolism, although it should be borne in mind that these names are principles of signification-but at the same time of communication between the names reciprocally, the religious men reciprocally, and between God and man.[11]

The story concludes with a scene in which the gentile, having listened attentively to the three wise men, offers a prayer of thanks to the God of creation for having opened his eyes. But when, after this, he wishes to tell the pious men about the religion he has just chosen and to which he will be faithful from now on, the three men get up from the place where they had sat down to talk and very cordially take leave of the gentile, telling him that they have no desire to hear his opinion about the religion he has adopted. Llull adds the following in an epilogue, however. Here we again encounter the three wise men on their way back to the city commenting on the good things they could obtain there: “For just as we have one God, one Creator, one Lord, we should also have one faith, one religion, one sect, one manner of loving and honouring God […], and honour we owe God every day of our life.”[12]

The genuinely surprising element in Llull’s apologetic writing of this period is that at no time does the form of the narrative appear to be aimed at convincing Llull’s readers of the truth of the Christian doctrine. At this juncture in his literary output, Llull had more faith in the power of an ideational system itself, along with combinatorial logic and its applications, than in the force of arms. Despite the major doctrinal differences that separated the three religions, Llull believed in his ability to resolve the conflict between the wise men in his narrative on the basis of general principles that they all accepted (the names of God), inasmuch as these names are part of the revelation of the one God of the Bible and Koran. Nonetheless, Llull still had “miles to go” when it came to the Trinity. However, Llull’s main aim was for the three communities of believers (a) to place their trust in the ability of reason to adapt the mythic narratives of their sacred writings to a reality that was marked by the action of the Word; and (b) base this reality-which was called the scala creaturarum-on a system of correspondences that the universal medieval vision of the cosmos regarded as a participatory mechanism encompassing the supreme Being and his creations. Jews, Christians, and Muslims accepted, albeit solely in the mystical domain, the oneness of God in the context of the names of God, which Jews knew from the cabala (sefira) and Muslims knew from several types of Sufi mysticism (hadras), both of which Llull was surely familiar with.

In Llibre del gentil, Llull used the principles of his logic to find God by means of necessary reasons, a formulation that is not in the least out of the ordinary for any theological current of Islam.[13]But what interested Llull was to show how the rational system appeared in a book whose provenance was divine inspiration. In writing Llibre del gentil, Llull placed himself at the centre of the traditions that realise the act of creation in a Book that has descended from heaven and that serves as a celestial archetype or a lingua universalis. In truth, what takes the gentile by surprise is the community of signification in the greeting offered by the three men. And indeed, Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in a God that created the world, and in the final judgement.

This is a message that has a direct impact on the doctrines of revelation and salvation. In fact, Christendom’s acceptance of the Islamic tradition was not the same across the board, nor in Llull’s case were his positions always moderate. The spiritual weaponry Llull deployed in trying to persuade his brothers of the Book to convert metamorphosed at the end of his life into a detailed plan for a military invasion of the Holy Land, which he described in Liber define (1305) and which was dedicated to the Pope.

Whereas in the period prior to the vision of Mount Randa, Llibre de contemplació en Déu had demonstrated Llull’s capacity to blend the theory of mystico-scientific knowledge (“ciència-amància”) of God with the obsessive rhythm of invocative written discourse, Llibre del gentil (which post-dated Randa) reflects Llull’s search for a grammar of contemplation that can serve as a basis for the conversion of others to the true religion to which they belong, namely the religion of the names of God, or to be more precise, the mysticism of prayer.

From this standpoint, the purpose of preaching is to convert a non-believer not only to a religion but also to the universal grammar known as ars combinatoria. From a symbolic standpoint, Llull’s initial visions had prepared him to receive an illumination that provided the formal structure of his art, namely, palpable figures in the form of a tree or ladder, which in later works evolve into more abstract forms like circles, whose symbolism in this context is either intelligible or speculative. This dialectic between the sensible and the intelligible is underpinned by the distinction between the mental faculties that Llull had absorbed from the works of Augustine and Bonaventura, and was also heavily influenced by the works of Arab philosophers.[14]

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Hence, both tangible and intelligible symbolism was the product of a combination of two different species of knowledge. The most elaborate and compact versions of Llull’s art feature heterogeneous lists of terms, consisting of the names of God, human faculties, and human vices and virtues, all of which created a sweeping panorama of knowledge or tabula in which each quaestio had its solution, providing that the rules that govern art reigned supreme, which in effect meant conversion to the art of Llull was a sine qua non. But in Ars generali sultima (1305), all terms are present and accounted for, and are integrated into a wheel or circle. In the first of these figures, God is at the centre, represented by the letter A, and along the circumference of the circle, by his interconnected names (“B: Bonitas; C: Magnitudo; D: Duratio; E: Potestas; F: Sapientia; G: Voluntas; H: Virtus; I: Veritas; K: Gloria”), which signify God’s transformability.

The second figure, which is represented by the letter T and canbe regarded as an instrumental figure, comprises three triangles (“differentia, concordantia et contrarietate”) to which various colours are added. The third figure is a combination of the two previous ones in that its various segments contain binary representations of the letters from the previous figures. This figure also serves to depict the descent of the universal to the particular.

The fourth and final figure is a mixture of the three previous ones and contains absolute principles (A) as well as relative ones. We again encounter here the various allegorical and speculative (sensible/intelligible) levels of Llibre del gentil, but in a far more abstract form (for homens savis), integrated into circles in which the “flores” on the trees have evolved into letters inscribed on the corners of the figures. Llull’s contemplative method consists of making the circles turn until the numbers, activated by human faculties, converge at a single centre. Having been brought back to this point, the following question arises: What role does the imagination play in all this?

Llull’s first post-Mount Randa work, Compendium logicae Algazelis (1271-1272), reflects the cultural heritage to which he owed so much. For example, the chapter entitled De investigation e secreti describes a rudimentary epistemology that is based on four modes of signification, which can be regarded as types of abstraction and are the repositories of all secrets in the manner of Escoto Eriúgena’s classifications of nature. The Catalan verse description of these modes goes as follows:

Si tu vols null secret trobar,

ab .iiii. mous lo vay sercar.

Primerament ab sensual

ençerca altre en sensual,

ecor .i. en sensualitat

dona d’altre significant

cor la forma artifficial

de son maestre es senyal.

Segons mou es con sensual

demostra l’entellectual,

com per est mon, qui’s sensual,

entens l ‘altre entellectual.

Ecte lo terç mou, on greument

impren ostal l’enteniment;

est es con l’entellectual

d’altre es mostra e senyal,

axí con ver e fals, qui son

los maiors contraris del mon,

e demostren que Deus es;

cor si posam que Deus no es,

so que ver e fals n’es menor,

e si Deus es, es ne maior

contrarietat a amb dos;

e cor maior es abundos

d’esser, e menor ne defall,

donchs pots saber que por null tayll

menor ab esser no.scové,

pus c’ab lo menor no fos re.

Ab tres mous t’ay demostrat

Deus eser ell significat;

Del quart mou te vull remembrar

Ab l’entellectual, so.m par,

d’aysó qui’s secret sensual,

car theorica t’es senyal

de los secrets de praticha





[If you wish to find something secret

seek it in four modes.

First, with the sensual

seek another [mode] in the sensual

for [just as one] in sensuality

gives the meaning of the other [mode]

so is the artificial form

a sign of its master.

The second mode is when the sensual

Shows the intellectual,

as through this world, which is sensual,

you understand the other intellectual


Behold the third mode,

in which understanding is firmly lodged;

it is when the intellectual

of the other [mode] is a display and signal,

just like true and false, which are

the greatest contraries of the world,

and shows that God is;

for if we propose that God is not,

then true and false would have less [contrariness],

and if God is, there is

greater contrariness between the two;

and given that the greater [contrariness] is abundant

in being, and the lesser lacks [it],

thus can you know that in no way

does the lesser belong to being,

for with the lesser there would be nothing.

Through three modes I have shown you

that God is signified;

of the fourth mode I wish to remind you

with the intellectual, or as it seems to me,

of that which is the sensual secret,

for the theoretical is a sign

of the secrets of practice.][15]

I would now like to explicate this text. There are four ways of divining the meaning of a secret: sensual-sensual; sensual-intellectual; intellectual-intellectual; intellectual-sensual. The most salient one at first glance is the fourth and last of the “transcendent points” as Llull terms them in earlier versions of the text.[16]In the system of Llull’s Ars, the return from the intelligible to the sensible is the counterpart of the descent from the universal to the particular, although from a mystico-contemplative perspective this could signify the passage from a contemplative to an active life or, in Aristotelian terms, from the theoretical to the practical realm. Thus it would seem that the final mode of signification attained is always sensible, the intelligible being merely a vehicle for returning there. As Llull goes through the process of perfecting and streamlining his works, we observe how the four transcendent points are reduced to the initial three and how the fourth mysteriously disappears, while at the same time the imagination joins the sense and intellectual faculties on a list (or scale) of subjects.[17]

However, in Compendium logicae Algazelis, Llull ascribes a separate role to the four modes of signification in which the cognitive faculties clearly play a role. A text that is very akin to Compendium, likewise from Llull’s initial period, is Doctrina pueril (1274 – 1276), which goes as follows:

“You should know, my son, that the soul and imagination jointly grasp and adapt everything that is given us by our five bodily senses, namely sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell; and that the imagination then offers all of this to the understanding; and that after that, the understanding ascends so as to understand God and the angels and intellectual matters that the imagination cannot conceive of.

Fantasy is a chamber that is located in the palate above the forehead. And the imaginative faculty adapts what it takes from physical things and enters the realm of fantasy with what it takes, and illuminates this chamber so that the understanding can learn what the imaginative faculty has to offer it.”[18]

Lllull ascribed a dual role to the imaginative faculty, a gaze that surveys (a) the sensible and (b) the intelligible, i.e. one a synthetic or replicating function, and the other a productive and creative function. According to Llull, it is the imagination, in its synthetic guise, that activates the upper and lower faculties of man so that, as in the “T” figure of Ars generalis ultima, man can combine and know the names of God.

However, the content of Doctrina pueril tries to go farther than this, saying that when the imagination enters the realm of fantasy after sensitivity has been synthesised there, sensitivity is illuminated so that the understanding can carry out its intellectual function. Achievement of this level means that scientia has been reached; all that remains is amantia, to which Llull devotes an extensive chapter in Llibre de contemplació en Déu in which he discusses the “spiritual senses” (“senys spirituals: cogitació, apercebiment, conciència, subtilea y coratgia”). What should we make of this doctrine of the spiritual senses vis-à-vis scientia and the imagination? To answer this question, we need to return to the schema of the four “transcendent points” as they are called in Compendium logicae Algazelis, which antedates Llibre de contemplació by a year or two. The various modes are as follows: mode one (sensible-sensible)-the five bodily senses are active; mode two (sensible-intelligible)-the imagination is synthesised; mode three (intelligible-intelligible)-intelligible knowledge takes a giant step toward spiritual knowledge, at which point the five senses come into play; mode four (intelligible/spiritual-sensible) responds to the application of the contemplative life to active life with which the circle of mystico-scientific knowledge closes where it was born.

If we return to Doctrina pueril, we realise that the illuminative action of the imagination, i.e. its productive aspect (fantasy being the reproductive dimension) is responsible for creating images that are fed to the intellect. Llull describes fantasy as a place (“cambra”), whereas the imagination (between the sensible and intelligible) is not really anything at all, and merely acts so that things can be, but has no existence of its own, as Kant said (“unbekannte  gemeinsame Wurzel”- “unknown common root”).

In the context of the Western philosophical tradition, mention must be made, albeit brief, of the vicissitudes of the imagination in Kant, based on Heidegger’s commentary in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics on a passage from the Critique of Pure Reason in which Kant states that the imagination is a fundamental faculty of the human soul. Heidegger’s commentary goes as follows: “At the same time, “fundamental faculty” means that pure imagination cannot be reduced to the pure elements with which it merges to form the essential unity of transcendence.” Although Kant ascribed the faculty of “pure synthesis” (“reine Synthesis”) to the imagination, he did not regard it as having any capacity for knowledge in his writings on transcendental aesthetics or logic.

This prompted Heidegger to add the following: “And what if this originally formative centre was this unknown shared root?””Consequently, the root character of the established foundation renders the originality of pure synthesis understandable, that is to say, it allows it to emerge.” “This essentially original disposition of man, which is established in the transcendental imagination, is the unknown disposition that Kant surely meant when he spoke of ‘the unknown common root.'” Synthesis is a unity that is grasped a priori by the imagination. Perhaps it is then reasonable to conclude that the imagination is not negligible, that it does not have a foundation, but that it constitutes the foundation of knowledge for representations, i.e., for sensual impressions and concepts of understanding. Imagination (“Einbildungskraft”) is absent from the second edition of Critique of Pure Reason, where its function is taken over by understanding (“Verstand”): “Synthesis is defined as imagination when it refers to intuition, but to all intents and purposes, imagination is understanding.” Imagination did not reappear in the context of aesthetic judgement until Critique of Pure Reason. Heidegger continued his analysis of Kant’s concept of imagination in Vorlesungenüber die Metaphysik in which Heidegger relates imagination to time and again makes reference to the faculty of imagination (“Einbildungsvermögen”) as follows: (1) “the faculty of forming images and representations of the present (facultasformandi)”; (2) “the faculty of replicating images and representations of the past (facultasimaginandi)”; (3) “the faculty of prefiguring images and representations of the future (facultaspraevidendi)”.

The imagination doesn’t distort reality at all, but instead steadfastly remains in the rational realm, since its role is to support the intellect. From this standpoint, it would seem that Llull did not understand the visionary experience of the cross until his period of religious training began (nine years of study in Majorca), and that he did not completely understand this experience until he began dedicating his life to preaching.

The schema of the four “transcendent points” is more than just theoretical in intent: it also symbolically proclaims the path of life, whose stages are as follows: (1) Visions (i.e., sensible images) correspond to the stage of the experience of conversion; (2) The synthesis realised by the imagination paves the way for the vision of Mount Randa; (3) Action on the part of the intellect corresponds to the contemplative phase; and (4) The return to the palpable, i.e., to everyday reality, corresponds to the preaching phase, but at the same time to the genuine beginning of a religious existence via a long period of religious training.

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According to Llull’s Doctrina pueril, the imagination uses palpable figures to illuminate the reality that exists beyond all understanding and endows this experience with considerable prophetic significance. The prophetic force of the imagination and its relationship with the contemplative method in prophetic Kabbalah by Abraham Abulafia (Zaragoza 1240-1291?), as well as the presence of this force in the oratorical methods fostered by the concept of “active imagination” in the writings of Ibn’Arabî (1165-1240), made a major contribution to a unified theory of contemplative prayer in the religions of the Abrahamic tradition. In point of fact, Abulafia, who was a contemporary of Llull’s, had found in the names of God the object of meditation that leads to genuine divine ecstasy.

When at the age of 31 Abulafia came to Barcelona to study Book of Creation (Séfer Yetsirá) with Baruch Togarmi, he came to know the true name of God and felt the prophetic spirit inundate him like a tidal wave. But like Llull, it would be nine years until Abulafia began recording the content of his visions in his written works, using a method he called “the science of combining letters” whose unique objective is purification, i.e., a path that annihilates all meaning by virtue of the experience of the unique name of God.

This form of ecstasy that Abulafia achieved by combining letters is not a form of delirium, since the groundwork for it was laid by the action of the intellectus agens on the soul, and it has the character of a prophetic vision in that writing plays a pivotal role, as it does in Llull’s early life during which writing opened up a path to the active imagination.[19]Using his profound knowledge of Kant’s writings as a starting point, Henry Corbin pointed out that the imagination or mundus immaginalis plays a speculative role in the writings of Sufi mystic Ibn’Arabî vis-à-vis the land of visions, where the spiritual and physical realms can converge.[20]

Coming back to Llull, and in a Christian context, it can be said that the visible realm, which is replete with symbols and in which the divine is manifested, bears no relation to the realm of distorted fantasies of reality, since God chooses the visible realm for his theophany and incarnation. The names that have provided the principles of reason in the dialogues of religious men fulfil their true mystico-contemplative function in the dialogues of The Book of the Lover and the Beloved (Llibre d´amic e amat) in which scientia makes way for amantia, the mystical use of language:

“The lover was asked if he would trade in his beloved for another, and he answered:

What other could be better or more noble than the good Lord, who is eternal, and whose greatness, power, wisdom, and perfection are without end?”[21]

In the majority of manuscripts, this little book follows Llull’s best known work, Blanquerna. In its prologue we meet the eponymous (and renowned) protagonist after he has abandoned the life of a prelate to become a hermit and is preparing to write a book that is meant to serve as a spiritual guide for those who wish to follow in his footsteps. The prologue describes how Blaquerna reflects on the manner in which he came to embrace the method of prayer in which he has placed his trust:

“While Blanquerna was thinking in this way, he remembered that once, when he was pope, a Saracen had told him that the Saracens had certain religious men, among whom the most highly considered were those called “Sufis”, and that these men had words of love and brief examples which aroused great devotion in men. These are words that require explanation, and through their explanation the understanding rises up higher, and carries the will with it, increasing its devotion.”[22]

The prologue of the most recent critical edition of Blanquerna omits the fragment above, and opens with these words:

“Blanquerna was in prayer, and he thought about the manner in which he contemplated God and his virtues, and when he finished his prayers he wrote down the manner in which he had contemplated God. And he did this every day, bringing new reasoning to his prayers, so that he could compose The Book of the Lover and the Beloved in many different manners, and that these would be brief, so that in a short time soul could reflect on many of them.”[23]

Let’s now return to the Llullian mainstays, which are the necessity of writing by reciting the names of God and the possibility of creating multiple arguments or combinations of names (which for Llull are reasons, or as he puts it, “novelles rahons”) for the purpose of facilitating the writing and composition of brief formulas, in this case one verse for each day of the year as a motif of contemplative meditation and prayer. Llull in fact does not make a clear distinction between meditation-which in his parlance is identical to “cogitació”-and contemplation. However, unlike the distinctions made in sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish literature, for Llull contemplation was strongly associated with prayer. The unio mystica for Llull lies in the domain of conversation between a lover and his beloved, a conversation that reaches heights of communication that are very close to silence, as in the following verse in which we witness the death of the lover at dawn: “The birds sang of the dawn, and the lover, who is the dawn, awoke.

The birds ended their song, and the lover died in the dawn for his beloved.”[24]Or in this other verse, in which the lover intimates to a bird that songs are a substitute for the language of love: “The bird sang in the garden of the beloved. The lover came and said to the bird, “If we do not understand each other through language, let us understand each other through love, for through your song my beloved appears before my eyes.” [25]The suppleness of language creates visible and intelligible images that we can use for the imaginative meditation: “With his imagination, the lover painted and formed the traits of his beloved in bodily things, and with his understanding he made them shine in spiritual things, and with his will, he worshipped them in all creatures.”[26] Or in these verses, in which the lover asks his beloved to speak to him with her eyes, since these are the words of the heart:

“The lover and the beloved met, and the lover said, “You need not speak to me. Just signal to me with your eyes, which are like words to my heart, and I will give you whatever you ask of me.”[27]

The dialogue of love is indeed a prayer in that it involves two persons (the lover and the beloved) and a confluence of the subjective and objective activity:

“The lover asked his beloved which was greater, love or loving. The beloved answered that in created beings love was the tree and loving the fruit, and the trials and suffering were the flowers and leaves, but that in God, love and loving were one and the same thing, without any trials or suffering.”[28]

In this final example of Llull’s poetry, we also see that the destruction of language, like a representation of annihilation and morsmystica, is embodied by the obsessive repetition of the only suitable name for the beloved: love.

“The lover was asked to whom he belonged. He answered, “To love.” “What are you made of?” “Of love.” “Who gave birth to you?” “Love.” “Where were you born?” “In love.” “Who brought you up?” “Love.” “How do you live?” “By love.” “What is your name?” “Love.” “Where do you come from?” “From love.” “Where are you going?” “To love.” “Where are you now?” “In love.” “Have you anything other than love?” “Yes, I have faults and wrongs against my beloved.” “Is there pardon in your beloved?” The lover said that in his beloved were mercy and justice and that he, therefore, lived between fear and hope.”[29]

Llull’s book is full of characteristic motifs from the literature of mysticism, as in the following passage in which the coincidentia oppsitorum is embodied by the language of lovers:

“‘Tell us, fool, which is greater, difference or concordance?’ He answered that, apart from his beloved, difference was greater in plurality and concordance in unity, but that in his beloved they were equal in plurality and in unity.”[30]

We have seen that Llull’s mystical system is a way of seeking a solution that exists somewhere, but can be found not only in a secret place between the visible and the intelligible, but also in a chamber of the tabula containing all possible combinations of answers, given that the names of God are also there, as are the subjects of the world, the forms of questioning, the places in which to question, and so on. However, any solution that is found is not an end in itself but instead necessitates a further quest. Hence, it would seem that the quest is something that comes after we discover the solution, and thus of course it follows that the question as well- the fitting question-is something we should hope for.

And yet questioning necessitates questing on the basis of our previous encounters with the known world. But what exactly does this encounter consist of? Llull’s method is a meditation and prayer technique whose sole aim is to prove that “understanding is the mirror image of infinity”, since sensible and intelligible knowledge are finite and limited. In order to acquire knowledge, the disciple must constantly ask multitudes of questions and must be prepared to probe the depths of the enigmatic heart of answers like the ones Llull provides to the following series of questions:

Question: “Ramon, how long does the torment caused by love last?”

Answer: “Go to the fourth paragraph of the rubric above.”

When the disciple goes to the place Llull has indicated, he finds the following question:

Question: “Ramon, how large is the goodness of paradise?”

Answer: “Go to the second paragraph of the rubric above.”

The disciple again does as he is asked, whereupon he encounters the following:

Question: “Ramon, does a seraph understand God naturally or supernaturally?”

Answer: “Go to the previous rubric.”

When the discipline again obeys his master Ramon and goes to the section above, he finds the same response again: “Go to the earlier rubric.” What, then, does it mean to ask? “To question is to ask for what is not known, that is, to ask for something that the human being does not understand but wants to understand.”[31]

This may well be an ascetic method whose ultimate purpose is the abandonment of the desire to know, or simply a way of requiring the disciple to get outside himself, a permanent escape route from the question asked in the present and a way of journeying-like Abraham-elsewhere.

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Ramon Llull: A Logic of Invention. (2021, Mar 29). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from