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Academic debates constitute a part of the portability of the works of Ramon Llull in early modern Castile. Such debates are an intrinsic part of the battle about whether or not the Art was a legitimate discipline to be taught. The mathematician Pedro Ciruelo and the librarian Dimas de Miguel wrote against and in favor of teaching the Art, respectively. This discussion is not articulated only in terms of doctrine, but as a discussion about the limitations of Aristotelian logic as an academic model.

Pedro Ciruelo, Paradoxae Questiones (cover)

The translation of the Llibre des meravelles, catalogued under the signature x.III.3 at the library of the Real Monasterio del Escorial, may seem like an unremarkable translation of Ramon Llull to the Castilian vernacular. Nevertheless, this translation displays several features that help us understanding the generation of Philip II’s Lullism and his approach to the diffusion of the works of Ramon Llull. Firstly, this books does not display in any page the name of Ramon Llull, which did not necessarily mean that the authorship of the book was unknown to the reader, but that the copyist probably did not want to display it upfront. Moreover, the idea that Ramon Llull was a complicated name to appear on a manuscript book in 15th century Castile, is shown by the inscription present on the first page of the book in which it is possible to read in a different more modern scripture: “no esta hasta ago[r]a vedado.” This means that whoever copied the book and, probably, whoever had it is library knew that the nature of the relation between Ramon Llull and the inquisition was troubled. The inclusion of some of the works of Ramon Llull in the Index was one of the most problematic points in the relation between Philip II and the Vatican. The king sent several ambassadors to the court of the pope where they fought against the dominican refusal to accept the influence of Ramon Llull and the king’s pressures to canonize him. Also, the fact that this copy belonged previously to Isabel I (1451-1504) means that there is a substantial proof not only of a cult of Ramon Llull in Castile, but a cult of Ramon Llull in the Castilian court that ultimately legitimizes the idea of Ramon Llull as an author with a Spanish presence instead of a exclusively Mediterranean one. Hence, the book is not only important as a translation, but as a historical agent of legitimacy.

The problems of portability related to Cisneros’s interest in the works of Ramon Llull are mostly problems of intellectual culture. Instead of having the impact that Ramon Llull himself hoped to have among large amounts of population who would be conduced to the light of Christianity, the Art of Ramon Llull had become the subject of an academic debate. In order to frame such debate it is necessary to understand that, while being very strong, the influence of the Art did not only represent the totality of voices that Cisneros was willing to listen to. An important nominalist like Pedro Ciruelo (1470-1538) figured among the trusted humanists that signed the foundational statutes of the Colegio de San Ildefonso. Ciruelo had studied theology in Paris, while the Sorbonne was still under the influence of Jean Gerson (1363-1429). Gerson as well as Ciruelo was a strong opposer to the Art of Ramon Llull. They both dismissed the aspect of the Art as capable of producing a discourse capable of producing the mastering of any discipline. Ciruelo accuses the Art of Ramon Llull of being a metaphysics without following the rules of metaphysics, not being capable of transcending the principles of its object. While the theological and metaphysical arguments are less important to the diffusion of the works of Ramon Llull, the possibility of reading the consequences of such arguments are more importance since they indicate that the problem of Lullism in the academic field is related to the potential destruction of the heritage of Aristotle. The Art of Ramon Llull and its new set of intellectual rules could replace the old ways and impose new ones, meaning that promoting the Art of Ramon Llull means for Lullists an academic sea change. This sea change was not fully embraced by Cisneros, who probably was seduced by some of the aspects of the Art, but not all of them.

Ciruelo points to the problem with the academic teaching of the Art as a problem of disciplinary legitimacy. True philosophers have to use and accept the Art of Ramon Llull, but by virtue of being philosophers they have been trained in Aristotle before and they have been trained in Aristotelian metaphysics:

Et in principio illius artis autor dixit: que subiectum eius est respondere ad quamlibet questionem: dummodo sciatur quid per terminos eius importetur. Ad partem vero negativam arguitur ex autoritate Aristotelis in eodem primo libro posteriorium dicentis: que per communia non fit demonstratio: neque acquiritur scientia: et que omnis scientia procedit ex propriis principiis: non autem ex alienis vel communibus: ergo ars illa solum procedens ex communibus: non est utilis ad dicendas omnes alias artes et scientias. (36r)

Even though the principles of metaphysics are common to every science, this does not implicate that every science should be operated by the principles of metaphysics. The Art of Ramon Llull forces the scholars to retrain. The Art is addressed to scholars, so they are already literate and trained in the study of the philosophers. Ciruelo had understood from his years in Alcalá that the Art forced a re-alphabetization of the intellectuals, but also that this re-alphabetization could potentially force an exclusiveness and provoke a destruction of the philosophical language in academia. Therefore, Ciruelo thought this process of re-alphabetization should be fought with the weapons of philosophical tradition. The specificity of each science must learned as a separated intellectual discipline with its own language. The principles of a sciences are nor transcendent neither common. Ultimately, the problem of the Art in Ciruelo’s terms is the disciplinary status of the Art. The Art is a technique that in virtue of its tradition has been considered a doctrine, something that philosophers and theologians have adhered as a belief, but it is not a metaphysics or a science. What Ciruelo feared precisely is the fact not being either a metaphysics nor a science, but that the adepts of the Art would try to find a legitimacy for an intellectual object that is placed between both and that would eventually blurry the distinction between them. A new language that would bring new boundaries and that would eventually make the distinctions between disciplines unrecognizable.

In the academic debate around Ramon Llull, the terms of representation of the way the Art relates to other more central models to such debate is crucial in order to understand positions for and against it. If Pedro Ciruelo talked about how the Art of Ramon Llull broke all the rules of logic in order to talk about disciplines that had been used from Aristotle’s metaphysics, Dimas de Miguel (?-1585), librarian for Philip II, revised this tradition as not so unidirectional and, therefore, the Art of Ramon as a possible model for inclusion. Not specifically in dialogue with Ciruelo, but clearly addressing academic mistrust to the Art of Ramon Llull, Dimas de Miguel 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; Aquinas and Scotus, on the other. The way those approaches mimic the two ways in Ramon Llull’s ladder: the peripatetic way procedes bottom-up (from the things to God) while the academic way procedes top-down. The Art can combine both since the operations constituting it allow both directions.

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. (12)

This does not only suggest that the Art can reconcile Plato and Aristotle, scholastics and nominalism, but also that there is a problem that goes unmentioned in Ciruelo’s text. The two ways are in combat and there is more than one voice on the academic field, while he reduces the elements of judgement of the legitimacy of the Art to one of those traditions. The fact that Ciruelo considers that Ramon Llull must be judged against Aristotelian metaphysics means either that Ciruelo is interested in giving a narrow vision of the academic field or a narrow account of the formation of the reading context of the Art (or both things at the same time). Be as it may, Dimas depicts the Art as an intellectual technique capable of giving space to a more inclusive tradition in general and of solving the contradictions between Plato and Aristotle in particular.

The mention of Iamblichus triggers a line of references that goes beyond the academic discourse and that suggests that precisely that the Art can bring together two different lines of thought. One is the rationalist Christian tradition of the Aristoteles Latinus that Aquinas personifies and that is hugely influenced by Averroes, whom Ramon Llull fought during his life. The other is a tradition that do not exactly depart from the Art of Ramon Llull, but that is the one of its immediate reception, which is the Neoplatonic tradition. Affirming the heretic nature or the alchemical character of the books of Ramon Llull, as Eimerich did, would be historically inaccurate. Nonetheless, Dimas de Miguel seems to recognize that his own contemporary reception and reading of Ramon Llull experiences some osmosis with traditions that are fitting into what we could call heterodoxy. Those traditions include Neoplatonism, Pythagorism, the cabala, mystics, and the origins of Christianity in Ancient Egypt. Ramon Llull could give some legitimacy to those and make room in the academic system for those intellectual traditions that circulated outside of it, but that were present in other non-academic debates. The same as for Iamblichus, who enters Dimas’s radar not in Greek but in Aldus’s edition of 1516. The production of manuscripts and printed volumes of Iamblichus books’ such as De mysteriis aepytorum translated by Marsilio Ficino with other mystical and Neoplatonic works. This cultural products would ultimately legitimize also reading of passages of the Old Testament as well as the Visio Pauli in which the knowledge of God would not be constructed through a assemblage of arguments, but granted by God himself in a vision. This is obviously the ultimate reason why Ramon Llull fits in this Christian tradition as not only his Art was God granted, but he allows for both directions in the knowledge of God.

Last Updated 2 years ago


  • Ciruelo, Pedro. Paradoxae Quaestiones. In aedibus Salmanticensis: [Gonzalo de Castañeda], 1538. Print.
  • Llull, Ramon. Félix o Libro de las maravillas. San Lorenzo del Escorial, Biblioteca del Real Monasterio, x.III.3. Manuscript.
  • Miguel, Dimas de. “Apologia doctrinae lullianae” in Ed. Pedro Blanco, Estudios de bibliografía luliana. Madrid, 1916. 7-28. Print.


Noel Blanco Mourelle, « Upwards/Downwards », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on March 30, 2015. Full URL for this article

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