Ramon Llull (1232-1316) was the son of wealthy Catalan colonists who settled in Majorca after taking part in the conquest of the island by James I of Aragon. At the age of thirty he foresook his life as courtier and troubadour poet, abandoning his wife and children, in order to devote himself to the dissemination of his system of thought, which he called the Art, the method for which he received by divine illumination. Although primarily directed to the conversion of unbelievers to Christianity by rational means, it also had apostolic and reformist aims. To carry them out, he knew he would need the Church’s approval along with the support of Western monarchies and of mercantile cities (Genoa, Pisa, or Venice), all of which had clear political implications.
The Book of contemplation (1273-1274), his first work, of enormous length, prior to the discovery of the Art, was composed originally in Arabic and then translated into Catalan and Latin. In general Llull would seem to have preferred writing in Catalan, and having his works translated into Latin, in which language the majority of his works have been preserved. In addition, some of Llull’s works had Occitan, Italian, French and Castillian versions.
Llull’s first success was the founding of a language school for Franciscan missionaries at Miramar in 1276, funded by the King of Majorca.
The desire to introduce the Art to the university led Ramon from Montpellier to Paris (1287-1289), where he discovered how much his project was at odds with the mental habits of the contemporary scholastic world. As a result of this, he simplified and adapted the Art, which passed through a number of phases. The passage from the Arts of the first phase or quaternary Art (1274-89) to those of the second phase or ternary Art (1290-1308) stands out in particular.
In France, Italy, the Crown of Aragon, and North Africa, including a journey to Cyprus, Llull continued his intellectual and apostolic task, which in 1310-1311 received the approval of the University of Paris and then of the ecumenical Council of Vienne, despite which, he remained disillusioned with Christian princes and wise men. His last mission was to Sicily and Tunis, where he frantically dedicated himself to the final compositions among his two hundred and sixty works. Llull died in his eighties, either in Tunis, on the return voyage, or after arriving in Majorca.
According to the Vita coetanea, an autobiography dictated in 1311, Llull’s entire activity revolved around the very best way to formulate a rational tool, capable of ‘demonstrating’ the Truth, that is to say, the God of the Trinity and the Incarnation, who saves human beings and provides an explanation for the structure of the world.
The First phase of the Art contains the Ars compendiosa inveniendem veritatem (1274) and the Art demostrativa (1283). The Second phase of the Art contains the Ars inventiva and the Art amativa (1290), the Taula general (1294), and the Ars generalis ultima (1305-1308) along with its companion, the Ars brevis (1308).
The first phase of the Art presented a bewildering array of figures (12 or 16 depending on the work), of which only four were absolutely basic to its functioning. They are Figure of A or God, with His sixteen attributes or Dignities, as Llull calls them (goodness, greatness, eternity, etc.); Figure T with five groups of three principles each (difference / concordance / contrariety, beginning / middle / end, etc.) used to compare other principles (God’s goodness, for example, is concordant with his greatness); Figure S with various combinations of the acts of the three Augustinian powers of the soul (the memory remembering or forgetting, the intellect understanding or not knowing, and the will loving or disliking) used to orient the investigating subject in his reception of the arguments proposed; and finally Figure X with eight sets of opposing concepts (predestination / free will, being / privation, perfection / defect, etc.) used to resolve apparent contradictions and to present concepts against which arguments can be tested.
In the ternary Art, the figures were reduced to four, and even there, since the last two merely offered mechanisms for the formation of binary and ternary combinations of the first two, the presentation of concepts was in fact limited to Figures A and T, each now reduced to nine concepts each. Although these concepts are taken over from the previous period, they are now presented with two major differences. In the first place they are no longer called Dignities nor is Figure A that of God; instead the components of both figures are now much more generally called Principles, which only become Dignities when applied to God. Secondly, they are now given definitions based on the Llull’s dynamic ontology. As a result these principles are no longer merely what the reader assumes them to be (as was the case with the previous comparative mechanisms), but what they do: “Goodness is that by reason of which good does good”, or “Difference is that by reason of which goodness, etc., are clearly distinguishable from one another.” In addition to the components of these two figures, the ternary Art added two other sets of concepts central to its functioning. The first was a set of ten Rules or Questions (Whether?, What?, Of what?, Why?, etc.) used to direct and systematize all possible lines of investigation. The second was a set of nine Subjects (God, angel, heaven, man, etc.) which made up a complete ladder of being to which the techniques of the Art could be applied.
Both phases of the Art were thus combinatorial: in the first stage for the sake of drawing conclusions from comparisons of its basic components, and in the second to establish a system of what Llull called “mixing”, that is drawing out conclusions from the conjoint presence of Principles and Rules.
To all this one should add that if in the quaternary phase certain components were presented as active (God, the powers of the soul, the elements), by the time Llull reached the ternary Art, he had extended this dynamism to all levels of being. At the same time it was developed into a threefold system wherein any principle could unfold into an active and a passive component, both joined by a verbal nexus. Thus we have bonitas (= goodness) expanded into bonificativus and bonificabile connected by bonificare; magnitudo (= greatness) into magnificativus, magnificabile, magnificare, etc. Since, as we said, this was applicable to all being, Llull had in effect developed what Robert Pring-Mill called a Trinitarian world picture.
Each version of the Art was accompanied by ‘satellite works’ which applied the general principles to a specific branch of knowledge. A conventional science which had been reformulated ‘artistically’ became ‘new’, with the result that Llull planned a personal reform of theology, philosophy, logic, medicine, astronomy, law, geometry and rhetoric.
Llull, however, also composed books for a lay readership of varying degrees of education: the Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men (1274-1276) taught the reader to debate with unbelievers by means of ‘necessary reasons’ and not ‘by authorities’, as was customary among the Dominicans; the Doctrina pueril (1274-1276) was a pedagogical work (catechism, secondary education); the Book of the Order of Chivalry (1274-1276) was aimed at educating knights in religious matters. Certain books familiarised the reader with the Art by means of examples organised in the form of a novel: the Book of Evast and Blaquerna (containing the Book of the Lover and the Beloved) (1283) and Felix or the Book of Wonders (containing the Book of the Beasts) (1287-1289); others had recourse to poetic procedures: the Desconhort (1295), the Cant de Ramon (1300); still others to proverbs (Proverbs of Ramon (1296), Book of a Thousand Proverbs (1302)). Recourse to literary procedures cooled after the Tree of Science (1295-1296), an encyclopaedic version of the Art abridged for a highly original collection of examples for preaching, the Exemplary Tree.
With the Logica nova (1303) Llull begins to adapt his demonstrative techniques to the more acceptable norms of the time, that is to those of Aristotle’s Prior and Posterior Analytics, with their corresponding syllogistics and theory of science. In what is declaredly the last presentation of the Art, the Ars generalis ultima, Llull shows how logic can be subsumed under the Art, and beginning with his following stay in Paris (1309-1311), logical techniques (with works on fallacies and other logical techniques) take over more and more completely from those of the Art.
Contemporaneously with this development, Llull began writing sermons and treatises upon the compiling of sermons, sermons which had to be rigorous and without concession to literary considerations: the Liber de praedicatione (1304), containing 108 possible sermons, the Llibre de virtuts e de pecats (1313-1314), containing 182, and the Art abreujada de predicació (1313). Certain of Llull’s monographs only possess a Latin version: the Liber de significatione (1304), a semantics based upon the Art; the Liber de ascensu et descensu intellectus (1305), a presentation of the theory of knowledge, and the Liber de fine (1305), a treatise upon crusades.
Llull exploited his literary identity for propagandistic purposes by creating his own character: a penitent, poor, aged and despised Ramon, who was presented as the paradigm of the man who had given his all for the faith, mad (‘phantasticus’) in the eyes of conformists and unbelievers, but wise in the eyes of God.