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Terrena Sydera


What is a constellation and what does it have to do with Lullism? I have come across one of the most beautiful expressions in order to designate an intellectual circle ever used by a humanist, at least as far as I know humanism. I am very excited about that. I am also excited about the fact that this formulation seems to lead to some form of self-awareness about the difficulties of defining the Art of Llull as a technique and Lullism as a spiritual movement. Such difficulties were not experienced only by 21st century researchers, but also by 16th century humanists themselves. They are trying new forms of thinking about their position in a rapidly shifting institutional field.

Printed illustration from the Ovidion Metamorphoses Vulgare (Venezia, 1497) representing the creation of the stars:

I find difficult to deal with multiplicity. I work with multiple authors that move across multiple subjects of study. They are named in multiple ways (i.e., Llull, Lull, Lullus, Lulle, Lulio, Lullo, &c). They also produce discourses that can be read from the point of view of multiple disciplines today. I used to think that this was only my problem, but today I have discovered that it is not. While digging for materials in order to build a first chapter about the relationship between Lullism and the intellectual circle that surrounded the cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros (1436-1517), I came across a letter that humanist Alfonso de Proaza (1445-1519) addressed to him in 1515. This letter theorizes the dissemination of the word of Christ in both terms of geography and of meaning. The reason why this is so important is that it helps me to have a better understanding of two challenging issues: 1) how to turn connections between people into conceptual discussions; 2) and how to conceptualize something so difficult to pin down as the Art of Ramon Llull. Proaza addresses both questions; and the fact that he feels the need to is astonishing to me.

The first of the questions is answered with a beautiful image that in a way sums up the role Lullists as individuals have in the history of Christianity. Not in terms of Christianity observed from nowadays perspective, but from Proaza’s perspective. He consciously associates the object of pursuit of the Art of Ramon Llull (veritas) with a three-step historical process of spreading, associating necessarily written culture to Christianity. First comes the birth of Christ (Prophetis lux mundi Iesus-Christus ortus effulsit); second, the subsequent travel of the Apostles (Prodiere tunc felices Apostoli); and third, the apparition of theologians, academic institutions and repositories that pop up everywhere (in toto terrarum orbe latius emicuerunt). Proaza is a humanist, meaning a teacher, an editor, and a translator, somebody who deals with the making of the book without neither being necessarily the auctor nor the printer. His jumping from the word of Christ and the Apostles to the spread of different centers where it bloomed in form of books constitutes a statement in terms of association between the building of Christianity and alphabetization, also between the spread of the word of Christ and his own position as an intellectual who lives off of the making of books.

I know what you all fancy theory people are thinking: c’est la Di-ssemination. Let’s try not to jump into a Derridian model right away, even though it was tempting for me as well. Actually, Proaza is not denying a sort of metaphysically lost original sense reproduced hopelessly by the letter, but proposing a different model. Spatially, it explains in terms of sacred history the existence of different institutional and human agents such as him from the beginning of Christianity. Instead of Di-ssemination, this is something more along the lines of a polycentric model of thought. The agents of discourse literally bloom everywhere without a clear origin.

Proaza talks about this structure because he finds himself a part of it. Moreover, Lullism is also an important factor in it and I think that is where he wants to get at. Already then, Lullism seemed like a twisted line of random dots (Mallorca, València, Paris, Venezia, Pavia, or the Black Forest) formed by repositories that had to be connected in an imaginary map. What I find truly extraordinary is that Proaza gives a name to that phenomenon: he says it is an earthly constellation of stars (terrena sydera). I have only founded two previous occurrences of the same segment. The first one comes from Seneca and his Natural Questions, in which he compares the view of the light of the stars and comets from the earth in order to establish a distinction between both celestial bodies (Itaque si omnia terrena sidera sunt, his quoque eadem sors erit). The second is in Apuleius’s Metamorphosis and it refers to the men initiated of a cult whom sport their heads shaved. The heads shine seen from above like the stars of a constellation formed by the community of initiated in the great religion (magnae religionis terrena sidera). The former fragment seems plausible since the influence of Neo-Stoic views on nature was prominent in 16th and 17th century Castilian culture (my friend Miguel Ibáñez Aristondo knows way more about this than I do). Albeit the latter has been read as an ironic reference to the initiated of a cult, this interpretation is only a hypothesis. Moreover, as Proaza himself, Apuleius uses the image to describe a community of believers forming a visual pattern in a spatial sense.

Ultimately, Proaza talks about a constellation of people and places showing that they do not only constitute a society that discusses issues through correspondence in a republic-of-letters type of model. The constellation is  timeless and formed by authors past and present. They are actualized by different processes of edition and commentary that have as a goal to spread the word of Christ, as did the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. The book is an imperfect way to do so. Actually, the different compilations (digestiones) and forms of transmitting the Art of Ramon Llull (nunc demostrativam, alias, inventivam, generalem, magnam, brevem, expositivam, discretivam, & huiusmodi titulis appellatam reliquit) are an attempt to deal with such imperfections. Books are not enough, books are always tentative. Thus, they have to be re-written, re-edited, re-printed, re-read, in order to get at the center of it which is the Art of finding the truth. The paradox at the core of it is that, in fact, the book is not the Art itself. The Art is a practice locked inside the book, but that happens outside of it. The book is the way the points of the constellation of monasteries, studia, and auctores are connected. Institutionally, Proaza wants to establish Cisneros and the people of the Colegio de San Ildefonso (istud Alcalense mirabile collegiorum aedificium) as a part of this Lullist constellation. The letter shows awareness of the fact that the new educational institution is going to play an intellectual role in the Iberian expansion (quam omnium scientiarum & facultatum Doctoribus celeberrimus, ex omni fere Asia & Europa, non citra magnas expensas conquisitis, non desinis insignire) and the fact that Proaza introduces Lullism in that context seems like an advice to the cardinal in order to adopt the Art as the underlying philosophy of the school. Proaza and the cardinal would be dead not many years after the writing of this letter. According to existing data, Lullism would never become so important to Cisneros’s circle as it would be for Philip II (1527-98) and the Escorial. Nevertheless, it may have been the Lullist inclinations of the cardinal that at least to some extent motivated the study of the Art in the Escorial, several decades later.

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  • Apulei Metamorphoseon Lib. XI Cap. X.
  • Derrida, Jacques. La Dissemination. Paris: Seuil, 1972.
  • L. Annaei Senecae Naturales Quaestiones Lib. VIII Cap. II.
  • Proaza, Alfonso de. “Ad reverendissimum in Christo Patrem D. Dominum, Franciscum Ximenem Cardinalem Hispanum & Archiepiscopum Toletanum, Archicancellarium Castellae & generalem Inquisitorum, atque Hispaniarum Primatem metitissimum, Alphonsi a Proaza Asturicensis.” in Lullus, Raymundus. Divi Raymundi Lulli Doctoris Illuminatissimi Ars inventiva veritatis. Tabula generalis. Comentum in easdem ipsius Raymundi. Eds. Alfonso de Proaza & Nicolau de Pacs. València: Diego de Gumiel, 1515. fol. 2.


Noel Blanco Mourelle, « Terrena Sydera », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on October 22, 2014. Full URL for this article

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