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Ramon Llull and the politics of his days

It can be shown that Llull was perfectly capable of understanding the reality of the world in which he lived. Despite doing the reverse of the more ‘secularised’ theoreticians, such as Pierre Dubois, who proposed granting the Papacy control over the crusades, Llull knew very well that a crusade was impossible without the co-operation of Christian princes. He was a realist in the choice he made of his secular patrons. He never addressed himself to the Emperors or to the pretenders to the German Empire. On the other hand, he made representations to the Italian maritime republics and, above all, to the Kings of France and Aragon. The assistance of these powers was indispensable to a crusade and to the conversion of Islam. In spite of his Catalan origins, it was for France that he showed a greater preference.

From 1309 to 1311, Llull lent his support to the French claims regarding the Byzantine Empire and, surprisingly enough, also lent his support to the suppression of the Templars - and in this he did not exactly coincide with the leading thinkers of his day. In a series of treatises dedicated to Phillip IV, the Fair, (written in Paris between 1309 and 1311), he acknowledged clearly not only the pre-eminence of France in the West, but also the right of the King to intervene in Church affairs as a ‘doctor fidei christianae’ (‘doctor of the Christian faith’). He also sought Phillip’s help to combat Averroism in the University of Paris. Not only did he want Phillip, in accord with the papacy, to fund colleges for the teaching of eastern languages, but also to fuse the existing military orders into a single one, ‘quia rex est defensor fidei’ (‘because he is king and defender of the faith’). Llull contributed to the discussion of burning issues and his opinions took into account - in a very rapid and immediate fashion - the considerable change that had taken place within Christianity as symbolised by the translatio of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon. This realism bore its fruits. Llull received a document from Phillip the Fair in which he was described as a ‘vir bonus, justus et catholicus’ (‘a good, just and Catholic man’), a very useful testimonial if the criticisms formulated against Llull by a theologian as influential upon the Curia as Agustinus Triumphus are taken into account. It is also highly probable that French influence was the cause of Canon XI of the Council of Vienne, which founded chairs in certain centres for the teaching of eastern languages to future missionaries. This was the fulfilment of one of Llull’s most constant petitions.

The relationship between Llull and the French court did not prevent contact with the sovereigns of the house of Barcelona. Without ever losing sight of the objectives he had set himself, Llull knew how to vary the methods he employed. In 1305 he presented to James II his most important work concerning crusades, the Liber de fine, and made sure it also reached the new pope, Clement V. Llull was in contact with James II right up until his death.

Source: Hillgarth, J.N., “Raymond Lulle et l’utopie”, Estudios Lulianos 25 (1981-1983), pp. 176-177.

Despite this, Llull suffered more defeats than victories. If one thinks of his repeated visits to the Curia under five popes, of his appeals to the general chapters of the Franciscans and Dominicans and to a whole series of kings and republics, the results were relatively slight. The only events worthy of mention were the foundation of a college for missionaries in Majorca (an institution which did not last: Miramar), Llull’s personal entitlement to preach in the synagogues and mosques of the Crown of Aragon, and his influence upon Canon XI of the Council of Vienne, a decree which only received a very incomplete implementation. Phillip the Fair’s vow in Vienne to lead a great crusade himself, such as Llull had dreamt of, was never carried out.

If we examine Llull’s works, we can see that he was perfectly aware himself of his lack of success. In Sicily, in 1314, two years after the Council of Vienne had ended, Llull decided not to start out again on the round of visits he had so frequently made to the courts of popes and kings. He could see very clearly how little profit he had drawn from all such activities and stated in the Liber de civitate mundiwith reference to himself, that ‘frequently he had been mocked, beaten and treated as a madman (phantasticus)’. But he did not despair. He returned to North Africa for the third time to see if he could ‘win the Saracens over to the Catholic faith’. The choice of Tunis was not as arbirtrary as it might seem. Twenty-one years previously, in 1293, Llull had been expelled from the city, but at this point Tunis had a prince who depended in part upon Catalan auxiliaries and had been promising James II of Aragon that he would convert. In addition, when he travelled from Sicily to Tunis, on what was to prove his last journey, he was carrying letters of recommendation from James II to the sultan; he was around 84 years old.