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Book of Contemplation

The Book of Contemplation, or Llibre de contemplació en Déu, (1271-1274) takes up seven volumes of the Obres Originals de Ramon Llull (ORL) and close to 1.200 pages in two columns of densely-packed type in the Obres essencials (OE). Both the Catalan and Latin versions were, according to Llull, translations of original versions in Arabic, none of which have been preserved. The organisation of the work depends upon a series of numerological expedients which project symbolic figures (among which the three of the divine Trinity recurs insistently) upon the macrostructure (books, chapters, distinctions) as well as the microstructure (the paragraphs of each chapter): there are 365 chapters, one for every day of the year, physically bound in three volumes, which actually include 5 books, themselves containing 40 distinctions. Each chapter has 30 numbered paragraphs, divided into groups of 10.

The contents of the five books in this work are: the creation and the nature of God; the God-man and redemption; the description of the vast reality of nature through the windows of the external (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) as well as internal senses (cogitation, apperception, conscience, subtleness, fervour). The fourth and fifth books possess a less well-defined thematic structure: in the fourth book Llull takes on themes of a philosophical nature, such as necessity and contingency, sensuousness and intellectuality, faith and reason, or predestination and free will; in the fifth, there are 46 chapters devoted to the general subject of love and 52 to that of prayer, all of which are filled with philosophical intuitions and with projects related to the future development of the early Arts.

The redaction in the first-person of all this material meant that the author could insert numerous biographical references belonging either to the field of an exultant gratitude for the goods received from God or to that of penitence and self-punishment in the recollection of the sins of his youth, above all in the recollection of the sin of lust (Llull relates lust to the profession of ‘minstrel’ he had practised: we know, from his own declarations, that Llull composed troubadour poetry before his conversion, compositions of which no material trace remains). In any case, we must pay heed to Llull’s insistence upon anonymity: when he speaks of himself, he does so always in general terms by likening the vicissitudes of his life to those of the typical sinner; with the passing of the years Llull came to accept his public image as someone ‘fool of love’ [‘foll d’amor’] and as one who strove for the ideal and even put it to good use as propaganda. At this stage, however, he felt himself to be but a ‘sinful man’ [‘hominitxol pecador’], though admittedly one capable of having erected a cathedral of the proportions of the Book of Contemplation. This tendency towards self-abasement and rejoicing in his recently-acquired strength of faith is shown in the recurrence of exclamatory phrases in praise of the divinity; these rhetorical displays may leave the contemporary reader disconcerted, but they continue the trend set by Augustine’s prose in the Confessions, to cite a classic example, and, in any case, they have a didactic purpose, since they constitute a constant call to piety.

Source: Josep E. Rubio, Les bases del pensament de Ramon Llull (Valencia-Barcelona: Institut Interuniversitari de Filologia Valenciana-Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 1997), pp. 17-62.