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Nosce et frui victoria


This text will be, more or less literally, the conclusion of the first chapter of my dissertation. In just a few paragraphs, I try to confront the reasons why Cisneros may have been taken an interest in the Art of Ramon Llull, the reasons why other European intellectual figures such as Charles de Bouvelles may have seen an opportunity in Cisneros's Lullism, and how they saw in Ramon Llull a horizon of both political and intellectual renewal. The fact that such a powerful figure as Cisneros was more than slightly interested in the Art was unheard of at this point in history and this is one of the causes of Bouvelles's travel to Castile in 1505. Plus, the hopes that Lullism will become a legitimate philosophical school with influence over the conversion of the recently conquered regions in the North of Africa are present in his letters.

Responsiones ad novem quaesita Nicolai Paxii (Paris: Bade, 1521)

The importance of the portability of the Art of Ramon Llull in the intellectual circle of the Cardinal Cisneros is not only intellectual, but it is a reflection of his political agenda. Saying it other way, there is a bottom line to Cisneros’s interest in acquiring manuscripts, printing books, funding chairs, and ultimately spreading the influence of the works of Ramon Llull. There are no known documents in which he gives further explanation on his keenness on the Franciscan as the aforementioned letter to Majorca’s “Juratis.” Nonetheless, it is possible to gather the political impact of the figure of Ramon Llull from other sources that are close enough for me to read them as sources of Cisneros’s interest and not as speculation. Of course, the source are often are documents whose authors were Lullists themselves. Having said that, the importance that Cisneros’s acquisitions and the role that his own shield played in the development of the portability of the Art in early modern Castile are undeniable. So, the subsequent question is both the nature and reason of all his efforts. Not only what did he intend to get at with his interest in the Art, but also where did it come from.

First of all, the obvious feature that both Ramon Llull and Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros share is the fact that they were both Franciscan friars, both were entered the order at an older age, and both seemed to make a clear statement through their choice. In the case of Ramon Llull, the account that we possess is a famous fragment of his own Vita coetanea, written in Paris by the end of his life (1311). The fragments refers to the fact that he enters the order at a fairly late stage of his life, being sick, and trying to serve the purpose of spreading the Art:

Ramon, therefore, considering that on the one hand he would be damned unless he remained with the Dominicans, while on the other hand his Art and books would be lost unless he remained with the Franciscans, chose (which was most admirable of him) his own eternal damnation rather than the loss of the Art which he knew he had received from God for the salvation of the many and especially for the honor of God himself. And thus, in spite of the disapproval of the aforementioned star, he sent for the Guardian of the Franciscans, whom he asked to give him their habit. The Guardian agreed to give it to him when he was nearer to death. (53)

An angel had announced the salvation of Ramon Llull under the protection of the Dominicans, but he chooses the Franciscans since he believes they will support and adopt the use of his Art, while the Dominicans were contrary to the adoption of the Art and will persecute it during the late middle ages and the early modern period.

The case of Cisneros is not less astonishing since he is ordered Franciscan at an advanced stage of his life (1478) spending six years in the convent of La Salceda, where decides to live practically hidden from the world. Moreover, upon entering the order he adopts the name of Francisco over his christening name (Gonzalo). Even nowadays, biographers of the Cardinal such as García Oro and Perez wonder the reasons of Cisneros’s spiritual crisis, his retire from public life, and his entering the Franciscan order. It seems clear that his becoming a Franciscan may have awakened his interest in Ramon Llull. Moreover, when he becomes a confessor for Queen Isabel I, the Lullist master Pedro Dagui from Majorca is at the peak of his influence. This is probably the direct connection between Cisneros and the religious and intellectual legacy of Ramon Llull.

One of the first signs of the importance of this legacy is the establishment of a chair in order to teach the Art in the Colegio de San Ildefonso (1510) that Nicolau de Pacs occupied. At this time, the subject of teaching the Art of Ramon Llull at the university was highly controversial in Castile. Just a few years earlier (1503), the recently created University of Seville denied teaching the nominalist doctrine or the Art in its rooms, since they thought it lead to be “siempre aprendiendo, sin llegar nunca a la ciencia.” This new university that should only reunite theologians and canonists had the opposite profile to the new humanist university of Cisneros had. Pacs was not only one of San Ildefonso’s teacher but he was one of his secretaries as well and he states how he liked to hear the Art even in the moments in which he was dealing with important political affairs: “atque inter magna hispanię gubernandę negotia dumque iter faceret sempre me sibi presentem esse iubebat dicturum ex Lullisticę philosophię et theologię.” This statement means that Cisneros did not consider any of his intellectual passions a mere distraction, but something implicated in his political decisions and ultimately his actions as a man of state. It means also that he listened to the Art and even though he surely had known the figures as well, he was used to think of the Art or even using it as a mental practice related to hearing it. As Ramon Llull wrote the Art as he was traveling in order to convince powerful men in Europe, or teach it, or participate in controversies, or preach, Cisneros was hearing the Art along as he was traveling Castile to take care of political matters.

The connection between these political matters and the spiritual and intellectual interest in Ramon Llull is then what needs to be defined better. In order to do so, one has to remember the importance Paris held as center of Lullist activities at the beginning of the 16th century. Printers such as Henri Etienne and Josse Bade as well professors and editors such as Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples, Charles de Bouvelles, or Bernat de Lavinheta conformed this circle that made available a great deal of editions, compilations, and commentaries of the works of Ramon Llull. Their most visible activities were teaching at Collège du Cardinal Lemoine and making of editions such as Charles de Bouvelles’s Vita Reimundi eremitae (1511), Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples’s Proverbia Raimundi (1516), and Bernat de Lavinheta’s Explanatio compendiosa (1523). In this cercle, Bouvelles was Lefèvre’s disciple and he was a renowned intellectual with a controversial fame all around Europe. His fame was not so different from Pico della Mirandola or Agrippa von Nettesheim as he fused varied intellectual disciplines among which the Art of Ramon Llull producing a highly idiosyncratic model of interpretation of the world, the mind, and God. It has been conjectured that in one of his European travels he came to Spain and it was Cisneros’s intention to offer him a teaching position at San Ildefonso in order to explain the Art of Ramon Llull.

Some of Cisneros’s secretaries described Bouvelles in unflattering terms assuming that he was a crazy man and that he had created an doctrine impossible to understand out of disparate pieces. Juan de Cazalla called his propositions “phantasiis ne dicam deliramentis.” It is not clear that Cisneros actually intended to offer him a position as a teacher at San Ildefonso since Bouvelles’s official reason for being in Castile was the consultation of manuscripts in order for the Parisian to continue their editorial task. The terms of these phantasies, not to say deliria, open the door to a political interpretation of the portability of Lullism in Cisneros’s circle. In the edition of his volume of treatises among which were some of his most famous (Liber de intellectu, Liber de sensu, etc.), Bouvelles addressed one letter to Cisneros in which he celebrates John of Burgundy’s Conquest of Oran in 1509:

Nosci vincere. Nosce et frui victoria. Misisti manu ad aratrum neu retro aspexeris quo ad Aphricani sulci divino semine compleantur. Celorum regno viro inferre cepisti. Nam illud vim patitur. Ne remittaris. Ne lassescas quo ad iustissima deo prestita obsequela. In Adaperias Christico […] qua tuto per fideles ac deo obsequentes liceat dominice immolationis sacrosanta adire atque inuisere limina. (156v)

The unfaithful Turks are like blind people that Cisneros is conducing to the right path. It is important that Cisneros does not cease now in his zeal for military conquest in the North of Africa as a means of conversion. In his dream, Bovelles goes as far as claiming the Christianity of the Holy Land and hope for a finally triumphant crusade. Although he is not addressing specifically Ramon Llull in his letter, the political objective he states in the letter is not something outside the phantasies of the author himself who dreamed of such a thing in his spiritual romance Blanquerna. The fact that Cisneros himself financed and convinced the king Fernando of Aragón to support the campaign points to the fact that Cisneros’s intellectual interest in Ramon Llull was not merely intellectual. The Art of conversion was as well a machine for a universal language that could have been useful in the Iberian military expansion over the Mediterranean.

The ties between Bouvelles and the Cisnerian circle do not stop at Bouvelles visit and his exhortations to the Cardinal to carry on his conquest in the North of Africa. He was also a correspondent in the subject of the Art itself to Nicolau de Pacs. In this correspondence, there is a value of mutual exchange. Bouvelles is present as one of a major influence and an authority to Pacs, arguably so because his role as an editor and for his fame in Europe. Pacs provides a manuscript of the Disputatio eremitae et Raimundi super aliquibus dubiis quaestionibus Sententiarum Magistri Petri Lombardi (“Mitto ad te castigatum Raimundi Lulli codicem”) so Bouvelles can satiate his intellectual curiosity. Pacs identifies Bouvelles as both belong to circle of what he calls “Lullistae.” This is the first time the name appears as used to describe a collective of individuals and not a single work, like it was used in the works of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Moreover, Pacs refers to Bouvelles as the possessor of “tantae humanitate.” The relation between Lullism and the broadness of knowledge that characterizes Bouvelles is complex. Bouvelles is a follower of Ramon Llull, but through his position as a Lullist it is possible to see the way early modern Lullists mirror the intellectual strategy that Ramon Llul himself had adopted. Bouvelles is inspired by the compendious nature of the Art and the display of visual figures in order to meditate about knowledge, but he also borrowed from plenty of authors transforming their terminology into a very personal project. For these reasons, the fame that Bouvelles enjoyed during his life faded quickly after his retirement from the public scene in 1530. He would remain an obscure figure until the rediscovery of his books in the second half of 19th by French priest Joseph Dippel.

The reasons why Bouvelles had been forgotten are relevant in order to take in account what happened to “Lullistae” in their posterity are not different from the reasons why Lullism has been dismissed, while being secretly influential, as an intellectual curiosity after 17th century. The interest in the production of an Art for the comprehension of everything, as well as Bouvelles’s different models of comprehension of God, the mind, and nature would be perceived as eccentricities. This will become true as during the 17th and 18th centuries, disciplinary boundaries are established and the dream of all-encompassing models of knowledge will be abandoned. The same can be said for the hopes of Mediterranean expansion of the Iberian monarchy. Although the Conquest of Oran marks as a significant victory and there will be numerous moments of excitement along the 16th century for Iberian forces in the Mediterranean, they would never be consolidated as they would in the New World. Oddly enough, the horizon that Cisneros and Bouvelles’s letters reflect is mainly Mediterraean. It is as if Ramon Llull was on the background of their hope of expansion for Christianity, while at the same time the type of geographic and religious horizon they share was informed in terms of the political fantasies Llull had himself in works such as Blanquerna. This Lullist retro alimentation is indispensable in order to understand the importance of what Cisneros thought of the Art. He saw it as a way to explore a new intellectual model in his university that could bring Christianity to every territory of the Mediterranean. Bouvelles saw Cisneros as a peak in the political influence that Lullism could have in the spheres of power. Many others political figures would have an infatuation with the Art, but Cisneros was a Lullist himself and such a thing was an anomaly in European history, until then.

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  • Bataillon, Marcel. Erasmo y España. México DF: FCE, 1956. Print.
  • Bouvelles, Charles de. Que hoc volumine continentur: Liber de intellectu; Liber de sensu; Liber de nichilo; Ars oppositorum; Liber de generatione; Liber de sapiente; Liber de duodecim numeris; Epistole complures. Insuper mathematicum opus quadripartitum; de Numeris perfectis; de Mathematicis rosis; de Geometricis corporibus; de Geometricis supplementis. París: Henri Etienne & Jean Petit, 1510. Print.
  • —. Responsiones ad novem quaesita Nicolai Paxii, maioricensis seu balearici, in arte lullistarum peritissimi. Paris: Josse Bade, 1521. Print.
  • Llull, Ramon. A Contemporary Life. Ed. & Trans. Anthony Bonner. London: Tamesis Books, 2010. Print.


Noel Blanco Mourelle, « Nosce et frui victoria », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on January 17, 2015. Full URL for this article

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