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Stairway to Heaven


In this blog post I claim that an important amount of the dialogue around the texts of Ramon Llull in the Monastery of El Escorial happened in manuscript form and it was restricted to a small circle of intellectuals. The first step in this dialogue was a treatise in defense of the Art written by the professor Dimes de Miquel that used Llull's visual model of the ladder of knowledge in order to relate him to the peripatetic and academic ways. Eventually, Dimes states that Llull is closer to Plato than to Aristotle, but also that Llull grants legitimacy to debated and unorthodox sources of knowledge from the pythagorean Syrian ancient philosopher Iamblichus to Marsilius Ficinus.

Scala Intellectus (ca. 1336) Scala Intellectus (1480) Scala Intellectus (1512)

The road up and the road down is one and the same.

Heraclitus, Fragments LX

Not unlike many other medieval authors, Llull borrows from Aristotle. In this case, he includes in the Art the idea of three different souls: elementative, sensitive, and imaginative, corresponding to basic living beings, to animals, and to humans respectively. Of course, he incorporates this classification to own system without quoting him, as the point of his system was to constitute itself as self-referential. The conceptual basis of Llull’s ontological model is the image of a ladder of beings that allows the human soul to ascend from the world to God and to descend from God to the world. Nevertheless, my interest here is not to fully explain Ramon Llull’s ontological model, but to explain the importance that this ontological model had on Dimes de Miquel’s manuscript treatise in defense of Ramon Llull entitled Apologia doctrinae lullianae (San Lorenzo del Escorial, BRM, MS. d.II.5). Partially because Dimes de Miquel, advisor to the king Philip II in Lullist matters and professor at the University of València, argued that the terms of this ontology where crucial in order to defend Llull against those who opposed his teachings. Partially because his treatise is designed to provoke discussion about this ontological model among intellectuals close to the king and to the Escorial who were interested in Llull or in authors perceived as kindred to him. If Ramon Llull opted for building an intellectually isolated body of work, Miquel wrote his Apologia in order to establish exterior points of reference that would, subsequently, produce engagement in the discussion of this body of work.

Llull’s ladder of being represents the third great visual model he produced for readers in order to understand his philosophical system. The first is constituted by the figures of the Art, the ones that generated his whole evangelizing project that he wanted to be the best book the world had ever seen. The figures of the Art are complex devices to discuss about the inherent truth of Christianity with wise learned men from other faiths. Actually, the philosophical system is only a product of this evangelizing. The second one is the tree of disciplines, which is not an exclusively Lullist figure, but that he reworks so it will be a part of his own system. The tree of disciplines is a learning tool to expose his system in a pedagogical fashion for young students. The ladder of being starts a conversation different from the other visual models, it is not a way to convince Aristotelian scholars or to train young students that need to be eased into Ramon Llull. It is a way of introducing the Art to laymen (homines saeculares) who lack the training and the intellectual lexicon to operate it. As Michaela Pereira points, Llull’s ladder seems to be intended for a reader that is what he himself had been before his years of study and his revelation at Mount Randa. Even though the Liber de ascensu et descensu intellectus is about the division of the world into eight different fundamental different forms of being (Lapis, Flamma, Planta, Brutum, Homo, Caelum, Angelus, Deus), its nature is not exclusively ontological, but also encyclopedic. The treatise is about epistemological movements from the world to God and back defending that the divine nature is knowable. This epistemology is based on the three qualities composing the intellect (memory, imagination, and will) and then goes through natural philosophy, anthropology, and theology.

Obviously, one the reasons of the popularity of the Art of Ramon Llull during the early modern period was its compendious nature. The fact that a set of technical devices inside books is above any discourse of knowledge. Partially, that placed Ramon Llull at odds with the tradition of academic discourse preceding him. Hence, in his Apollogia doctrinae lullianae, Dimes de Miquel tries to place his works on a familiar reading axis, finding his place in the same philosophical tradition that he knew and avoided to quote. Dimes notes that the European academic tradition that has been transmitted to him is based in at least two main oppositions: Plato and Aristotle, on the one hand; Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, on the other. These oppositions mirror the two directions that Ramon Llull’s ladder of beings allows. The academic way proceeds top-down (from the God to the things of the world), whereas the peripatetic way proceeds bottom-up (from the things of the world to God). The Art can combine both since the intellectual operations constituting it allow both directions, or, in other words, because it considers creation and creator as a whole:

Notandum est hoc artificium potius sequi viam academicorum quam peripateticorum, et si neutram omnino sequatur, nec impugnet, imo ac Platonem ab Aristotele, nec divum Thomam ab Scoto, servata ratione instituti, in plerisque dissentire in eo exercitatus elicere potest; ad platonicam enim doctrinam aristotelica via est, termino autem via quomodo potest esse contraria? Imo ut quid altius dicam, utriusque vie hoc artificium est perfectio, nam peripatetice ascendimus, academice descendimus, lullistice vero ab aequalibus aequalia colligimus.

[‪It is to be noticed that this Art follows the way of the Academics rather than that of the Peripatetics, even though it does not follow any of them entirely, nor does it attack any of them. Nor is it possible for he who is trained in this art to claim that Plato differs from Aristotle in many things, nor that the divine Thomas does from Scotus, in another institutional context. For it is certain that the Aristotelian doctrine is a path to attain the Platonic one, and how would it be possible for a path to contradict its end? On the contrary, so that I may speak a deeper truth, this Art embodies the culmination of both ways [sc. the Aristotelian and the Platonic] –for with the Peripatetic way we mount higher, whereas with the Academic one we go downwards. However, the Lullistic way helps us consider the equal from the equal.]

Dimes de Miquel sees this old set of dichotomies (Plato vs Aristotle; Aquinas vs Scotus) as a historical feature of Western scholarly debate, but as one that the Art of Ramon Llull is able to circumvent through training. If one can deduce or induce knowledge and that difference grounds different philosophical schools, Ramon Llull’s is the one that allows to practice both ways at the same time without detriment in the production of knowledge. Hence, even if Dimes is avoiding to state so, the Art would short circuit the path to intellectual legitimacy in academia by empowering a discourse external to it.

Dismissing the importance of the debates about the limits of what there is to know in the Escorial exclusively on the basis of its lack of coincidence with that lineage would constitute a mistake and an act of presentism. The potential new scientia that is being the object of discussions at the Escorial, the one that allows the king of Spain and any of his subjects go from the understanding of things to the understanding of the world through memory, comprehension, and will is the extension of an epistemological system that was being discussed and studied from the ending of the thirteenth-century, but never had such an important institutional outlet. This epistemological system integrates a form of teaching not separated that does not separate theology from the liberal arts and that makes everything an outcome of the learning of one language only, the Art of Ramon Llull. This discussion, as I will explain on the next chapter, is contemporary to the advocating for the cult and subsequent canonization of Ramon Llull, while at the same time implies a model for scientific knowledge that is being developed beyond Castile. Not only the Escorial wanted to promote and be a critical laboratory for the Art, it also wanted to become a center for its single isolated exercises of reading (from João de Barros to Diego de Valadés). Universalizing Christian faith and producing an all-encompassing model for conversion are not separated from the military and cultural aspects of the Iberian expansion, they constitute one only manifestation of the power of Austrian monarchy. The fact that Philip II tailors the Art of Ramon Llull to its own necessities is a consequence of this movement.

Such disruptive potential in the discursive context of academia was never stated as a main argument for the dismissal of the works of Ramon Llull. This argument was implied from the beginning of the circulation of the Art, when he was laughed after having presented it in Paris to an audience of theologians educated mostly in Aquinas. Scholastics during centuries tended to express doubts about the Art, particularly about one possibility of reaching the infinity of the being of God from the finitude inherent to human understanding. Specifically, Aquinas’s doctrine had established that even though it is possible to prove its existence, the nature of God is impossible to know by none other than the blessed. Not everybody can possibly access the knowledge of God. Hence, the disruptiveness of Lullism is not reduced to academic auditoria, but it is of a theological nature. When the Art creates an intellectual path for the ascension from the things towards God, it is circumventing a discourse of authority that controls intellectual and religious experience. This is not to say that Ramon Llull’s intent wanted to contradict ecclesiastical authorities. However, the contradiction comes from the idea that the dogmas of the Church are an indispensable part of preaching and building the discourse of the Church on faith. For Ramon Llull, dogmas are demonstrable propositions that can turn into simple combinations of the Alphabet of the Art and through it can beat the faith of other religions as less able to build a logic discourse around their propositions.

Paradoxically, Dimes de Miquel was trying to rehabilitate academically the Art in order to grant intellectual legitimacy to it, but ultimately trying to make it a model outside the realm of academic debate. To an extent, this is the same of what Ramon Llull was doing during his lifetime. In spite of the fact that academics dismissed the Art and fought it adamantly, they were not meant to be the only audience for the Art. If he tried to present the Art to them, it was only a consequence of the philosophical complexity of the method that required not only the endorsement of institutions but also to convince already trained scholars of the advantages of a new system of training. As it had happened in medieval universities and later at San Ildefonso, not all the people at the Escorial were on board with the maximalist vision that Dimes de Miquel, Pedro de Guevara, and Juan de Herrera associated to the Art. However, the real fábrica as a political concept is actively trying to produce a functional model that fits the epistemological model of the ladder of knowledge. While the ladder of knowledge is a visual metaphor for said epistemological model, the Escorial is trying to gather every knowable thing inside itself and project an image of Philip II. Dimes’s Apologia is trying to place everybody working at the Escorial on the Sacred Scripture, on theology, on maps, on mathematics, on geography, on economy, or on the mysteries of ancient Egypt among other disciplines of knowledge, under one roof.

By writing his apologia of the Art of Ramon Llull, the professor Dimes de Miquel argues the legitimacy of its connections to well respected systems of philosophical inquiry, but also defends its connection to ancient Egypt, Hermeticism, and other early modern non-academic ways of intellectual inquiry. Among all these forms and disciplines of knowledge Dimes establishes that the Art is the most efficient as it helps the student to master any discipline. In this sense, his defense of the Art is paradoxical: while the Art is mostly a way of knowing and producing discourse, he defends it as a knowledge in itself. Dimes refers himself to this difference as to the difference between pure knowledge (scientia, what there is to know) and disciplines of knowledge (modus sciendi, ways of knowing). In order to visualize this difference, the ladder of knowledge was conceived. Actually, the ladder is the ultimate visual metaphor of how the Art works: everything that there is to know is susceptible to be classified in one of the step, while the way of knowing admits both climbing up and down the ladder. The ladder of knowledge mirrors perfectly the way the intellect works as a result of the mastering of the Art. Obviously, this effect constitutes to a great extent the power of the ladder as an image of the Art of Ramon Llull, this is, the way in which allowed to understand the way such complex intellectual method processes subjects of knowledge.

Dimes de Miquel’s manuscript treatise is not only important in itself, but because of the six marginal notes that it contains. They prove two things. Firstly, that the intellectual network that surrounded the king Philip II was more complex and intricate that the one surrounding Cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros. The number of copyists and readers working on the manuscripts, on the one hand, and the number of books gathered, on the other, are also larger in comparison with San Ildefonso. In order to have a control over the materials in the library, manuscripts need to be revised. This is particularly true when manuscripts deal with subjects as important as the defense of the Art of Ramon Llull. Either Ambrosio de Morales (1513-91) or Antonio Agustín y Albanell (1516-86) reviewed the manuscript and were able to make precisions on some of the data about the content and history of Lullism. Manuscripts, as I will explore further in the next pages, are not only the way the Art of Ramon Llull circulates, or the way through which arguments around it are made, but also the way different authors around the orbit of the Escorial communicate some of their ideas about it. When the manuscript of Dimes de Miquel’s Apologia doctrinae lullianae was made, it was not meant as a way of reaching a wider audience than the one that read it at the Escorial. Contrarily to the Art itself, which Ramon Llull tried to expand and promote as possible, these ideas constitute a part of a private dialogue and the practice of its discussion serves the purpose of delineating a circle. Once that I have discussed the terms of defense of Llull’s ontological and epistemological model, I will argue that they were using it in order to design a universal form able to encompass everything the world contains.

Last Updated 11 months ago


  • Llull, Ramon. Raymundi Lully Doctoris illuminati de nova logica, de correlatiuis nec non et de ascensu et descensu intellectus. Ed. Alfonso de Proaza. València: Jordi Costilla, 1512. Print.
  • —. Ars generalis ultima. Logica brevis et nova. Venice: Filippo Petri, 1480. Print.
  • —. Breviculum ex artibus Raimundi Lulli electum. Ed. Thomas le Myésier. ca. 1322. Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, St. Peter perg. 92. Manuscript.
  • Miquel, Dimes de. Apologia doctrinae lullianae. San Lorenzo del Escorial: Biblioteca del Real Monasterio. MS. d.II.5. 138-155v. Manuscript.


Noel Blanco Mourelle, « Stairway to Heaven », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on May 10, 2016. Full URL for this article

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