Ramon Lull was born in Majorca in 1232, the son of a Catalan military chief. His early life was spent in the frivolity of court life. At the age of thirty, however, prompted by a recurrent vision of Jesus on the cross, he underwent a dramatic and total conversion. Afterward, he gave up all his property to his family and the poor and determined to devote his life to God’s cause. In particular, he felt called to bring the Gospel to the Muslims – a vocation, he was sure, that would cost him his life.
He prepared for this mission with zeal. For over a decade he pursued studies in Latin and Arabic and immersed himself – to a remarkable degree – in the literature of Muslim religion and philosophy. He believed that a missionary must be fully knowledgeable about the beliefs of those he wished to convert.
At this point, the primary locus of Christian-Muslim encounter had been the battlefields of the Crusades. To most Christians of Lull’s day, the Muslims were irredeemable heretics whose slaughter brought glory to God. The Crusades were not even ostensibly concerned with the conversion of Muslims; their object was simply to drive the ‘infidels’ from the Holy Land, a sacred cause that justified any means. (A bright exception was St. Francis of Assisi.)
At sixty, Lull himself became a Franciscan tertiary. His vision never advanced so far as to reject all recourse to force in the service of the Gospel. But in his respect for the intelligence and good faith of non-Christians and his belief in the need to encounter them on their own terms he introduced a remarkably progressive path for this time.
Lull travelled throughout Europe lobbying and seeking sponsors for his projects, which included a series of missionary colleges where the best preachers of the world could study the languages and cultures of the non-Christians world. Such plans came to naught. He also wrote several hundred major works, as well as mystical poetry and allegorical romances about the Christian life. A Christian troubadour in the Franciscan mold, he has been called “the Catalan Dante.”
Lull made three trips to North Africa. On the first and second occasions, he was quickly arrested and deported. However, on his third trip in Tunisia he was accosted by a mob on June 29, 1316, and stoned to death. He had foreseen this fate from the outset of his vocation. As he wrote, “Missionaries will convert the world by preaching, but also through the shedding of tears and blood and with great labor, and through a bitter death.”
He was beatified in 1847.