Monday, August 2, 2010

Raymond Lull as a Model Turn of the Twentieth Century Protestant Missionary

Raymond Lull was a thirteenth century mystic and missionary, who ended his life attempting to preach Christianity to Muslims in Muslim controlled North Africa. Not surprisingly, he served as inspiration for Christian missionaries going into the Muslim world in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Lull's Christianity was doctrinally orthodox enough to be acceptable to Protestants yet radical enough for them to see him as a proto-Protestant. The missionary Samuel M. Zwemer spent most of his life preaching to Muslims and wrote a biography of Lull, Raymund Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems, published in 1902. The book carries an introduction by Robert E. Speer, one of the leading Presbyterian clergymen of early twentieth century America. Speer used Lull to advocate for a particular Christian mindset. Readers may find much of what Speer says familiar to them from contemporary Christian preachers yet it is mixed with a distinctively nineteenth century Whig perspective. While we are generally used to the Whig narrative being used by secularists, it is important to keep in mind that it was invented by Protestants. The Whig narrative allowed them to support religious tolerance, denouncing the coercive methods of medieval Catholicism, while preaching conservative Protestant doctrine.

Speer supported a form of religious tolerance, arguing that:

He [Lull] was a Christian of the modern spirit of Catholicity – neither Roman nor Protestant – a man of spiritual judgment, of divine love. He saw the futility of authority in matters of religion at the time that other were busy with the most devilish expression of belief in authority ever conceived – the Inquisition. (xi)

That being said, Speer saw Lull as a model for arguing from faith experience as opposed to reason and science.

It was in his inner experience of the glorified Christ that we are to look for the secret and source of Raymund Lull's doctrine and life: what he thought, what he was, what he suffered. And this must be true of all true missionaries. They do not go out to Asia and Africa to say, "This is the doctrine of the Christian Church," or "Your science is bad. Look through this microscope and see for yourselves and abandon such error," or "Compare your condition with that of America and see how much more socially beneficial Christianity is than Hinduism, or Confucianism, or fetichism, or Islam." Doubtless all this has its place: the argument from the coherence of Christianity with the facts of the universe, the argument from fruit. But it is also all secondary. The primary thing is personal testimony. "This I have felt. This Christ has done for me. I preach whom I know. …

The missionary who would do Paul's work or Lull's must be able to preach a living Christ, tested in experience, saved from all pantheistic error by the Incarnation and roots thus sunk in history, and by the Resurrection and the personality thus preserved in God above, but a Christ here and known, lived and ready to be given by life to death, that death may become life. (xiii-xv)

Finally, Lull's example is used to support a study of other religions, but one not grounded in any sort religious pluralism.

Lull had no idea that Christianity was not a complete and sufficient religion. He did not study other religions with the purpose of providing from them ideals which Christianity was supposed to lack. Nor did he propose to reduce out of all religions a common fund of general principles more or less to be found in all and regard these as the ultimate religion. He studied other religions to find out how better to reach the hearts of their adherents with the Gospel, itself perfect and complete, lacking nothing, needing nothing from any other doctrine. (xvii-xviii)


Clarissa said...

Oh, it's so nice to see that people still know who Llull is!

I have to make a little correction, though: Llull was a product of Muslim, Christian and Jewish "convivencia" (co-existence) on the Medieval Iberian Peninsula. Everything in his writing comes directly from his knowledge of these three religious and cultural traditions. The way he narrates his concept of religion would simply not exist if it weren't for his profound knowledge of Arabic way of story-telling.

It's true that later on, revisionist historians and ideologues tried to present Llull as some Christian fanatic. These are the same people who tried to erase the very existemce of the culture of tolerance.

I also suggest that the correct spelling of his name (Llull) be preserved. Anglicising it is, in my opinion, as weird as calling Shakespeare Guillermo (Spanish equivalent of William) in Spanish texts.

Izgad said...


You are correct about Lull. This is what makes him, and by extension medieval Spain, so much fun. I come to Lull mainly because of his apocalypticism and his efforts to convert Jews. Where does Lull come into the picture for you? Looking back at this post I realize that it might not be clear to a casual reader that I find this nineteenth century Protestant Whig appropriation of Lull to be humorously absurd. In terms of the spelling I admit that here to you are correct. I hope you will indulge me if I use the spelling of anglicized names that I am used to. If Spanish Shakespeare fans want to call him Guillermo then that is fine by me.

Clarissa said...

Yeah, I guess my sense of humor abandoned me completely in this heat. :-)

I mostly studied Llull for his narrative strategies that he borrows in their entirety from his Arabic sources. I'm fascinated by how much of what is considered to be the most genuine artistic expression of Europe is very non-European in Origin. Bocaccio, Cervantes, Petrarch would not write the way they did if it were not for a powerful Eastern tradition informing their work.

ajs said...

Hey Benzi! You know, Llull shows up in 1930s England in the wonderful John Masefield novel "The Box of Delights" (made into a BBC TV special-one of my favorite shows ever)-disguised as an old Punch and Judy Man named Cole Hawlins!

KT, Ariel