Raymond Lull, Troubadour for God

Published Apr 28, 2010
Raymond Lull, Troubadour for God

Raymond Lull would have seemed an unlikely person to remind the church of its missionary vision. A court gallant (that is, a fashionable ladies' man) and poet, he squandered his life in frivolity, romantic stories, love poems, and seduction. He was thirty before that changed.

But Jesus Christ, of his great clemency,
Five times upon the cross appeared to me,
That I might think upon him lovingly,
And cause his name proclaimed abroad to be...

It is reported that Lull's conversion was precipitated by a shock. He tried to lure a beautiful woman into a few moments of pleasure in bed with him. With quiet dignity, the woman revealed her breast to him--cancer-eaten. In a flash, he saw the futility of his lusts, and later transferred his love to the eternal Christ.

Born in Majorca, Spain, five years after the Island was freed from Saracen rule, Lull drank in Jewish and Islamic lore. He was the first Christian philosopher to study the Jewish Kabbalah (a book filled with mystical and occult knowledge) and one of the first to read the writings of the Islamic mystics known as Sufis. He developed a passion to win Moslems to Christ and took up the challenge of the Grand Mufti of Bugia: "If you hold that the law of Christ is true and that of Mohammed false, you must prove it by necessary reasons,"--that is, by air-tight logic.

Convinced that true reason could produce no results contradictory to true faith, Lull poured his intelligence into philosophy. The result was a philosophy of "combination" by which he thought all knowledge could be derived by combining every idea with every other idea. Although admired for centuries because it was clever, his Ars Magna ultimately proved to be a dead end. But Lull went beyond mere philosophy. His passion was too deep to stop with scholarly games.

The first crusades had failed. Lull crisscrossed Europe, urging kings, popes, and cardinals to develop mission schools and evangelize Islam. "Missionaries will convert the world by preaching, but also through the shedding of tears and blood and with great labor, and through a bitter death," he said. His three-point plan was simple. First, missionaries must obtain a comprehensive knowledge of Arabic and other mid-eastern languages. Then they must study Islamic literature until they could refute any Muslim argument. Finally they must give their lives in witness to Christ. He convinced the pope to allow Christian universities to teach the Jewish and Islamic languages and literature.

Lull followed this plan himself. He established a missionary school and personally studied Islamic lore. Three times he sailed to Islamic countries to reason with Islamic scholars. The first time he was exported just when he had won several Imams (Moslem religious leaders) to request baptism. The second time he was imprisoned for six months. On this day August 14, 1314, when he was in his eighties, he sailed a third time for Islamic North Africa. For a year he preached Christ and the Trinity openly but then was brutally stoned. Christian merchants carried the broken man aboard their ship. Probably he died in sight of Majorca.


  1. Daniel-Rops, Henri. The Heroes of God. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958.
  2. Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. The Pelican History of the Church #6. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Pelican Books, 1964.
  3. Turner, William. "Raymond Lully." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  4. Various encyclopedia and internet articles such as the mildly satirical "Ramon Lull's Ars Magna" http://www.maxmon.com/1274ad.htm.

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