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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Raymond Lull

June 28, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Occasionally our Lord will bring into the world a man so brilliant that few can comprehend how one person could possess so much knowledge and wisdom. Leonardo da Vinci, famous for painting the Mona Lisa, also conceived ideas and drawings, such as an anemometer to measure wind speed, a flying machine — one like a helicopter and one like a fixed-wing plane — a parachute, a machine gun, an armored car like a tank, a robotic knight, scuba gear, and a revolving bridge. These ideas predated their construction by 300 to 400 years.
Einstein and his theory of relativity also come to mind. But a man few people have heard about is Raymond Lull, who is credited with developing plans for building the world’s first computer — almost 800 years before the first successful computer was built.
Raymond’s parents, Ramon Lull and Elisabet d’Etrill, were living in Palma, Majorca, in 1232 when he was born. The island of Majorca had been a Muslim stronghold until it was reconquered by Europeans. Colonists came to re-establish their presence and subdue the Muslims — many of whom were enslaved if they were unable to escape the island.
Members of his family, as courtiers to King James I of Aragon, were wealthy and enjoyed a lively, worldly existence. As a courtier, Raymond tutored the future King James II of Majorca and was the administrative head of the royal household.
Surrounded by evil influences, Raymond even dabbled in the occult and black magic before he realized how very Satanic they were. He made a great change when God, in His infinite merciful love, allowed Raymond to experience a clear vision of Christ on the cross, crucified, bruised, mocked, and bleeding. This happened as Raymond prepared to compose a song for a love interest — a quite vulgar one. He turned and saw Jesus. This vision repeated itself six times.
Raymond quickly repented of his evil ways and resolved to do three things: 1) to die in the service of God while converting Muslims to Christianity; 2) to found a religious institution to teach foreign languages; and 3) to write a book on how to overcome objections to conversions to Christianity.
Desiring to save souls, he became a Secular Franciscan, seeking to evangelize non-Christians, especially Muslims. He chose the Franciscans because in 1219 St. Francis had landed near the Nile Delta, prayed and crossed enemy lines in hopes of converting the Muslims. It was rare that a Christian would live to tell the tale, but Francis was brought to Sultan Malik al-Kamil, the ruler of Egypt who listened to Francis, but did not convert. Perhaps this knowledge motivated Raymond.
For the next few years, Raymond wrote many treatises and traveled to Tunisia in North Africa, a Muslim country, several times. He made his first trip in 1285, but was expelled. In 1305 he was taken to the king and again exiled. After his trip in 1308, Raymond returned to Europe convinced that military force would never convert the Muslims — only prayer.
In the meantime, Raymond’s brilliant mind and fertile creative energies resulted in a constant flow of literature from his hand. He wrote over 300 books in Latin as well as in Arabic and is noted for having written Europe’s first romantic novel in Catalan, Blanquerna. The novel is still available to the interested reader.
Most of his writings were on politics, sciences, social interests, theology, logic, and philosophy. By several centuries he anticipated the development of elections theory, chemistry, botany, and astronomy. His work in chemistry led to his becoming known as an alchemist. In this field he reinterpreted things in a completely Christian way.
So wide were the number of subjects that interested him that his two close friends, St. Raymond of Penafort and Duns Scotus, began calling him Doctor Illuminatus.
It was about this time that Raymond’s position on the Immaculate Conception led Duns Scotus to defend and promote this doctrine. This in turn became part of Pope Pius IX’s 1854 dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception.
Forty years after his vision of Christ crucified, Raymond wrote Ars Generalis Ultima (The Ultimate General Art). This was a book on faith and reason aimed at converting Muslims by its irrefutable logic. His profound longing to convert the people of Islam motivated him to develop the precursor to the computer. His invention was to provide a counterpoint to every objection a Muslim would raise to Christianity. He constructed not one, but several such mechanisms.
Raymond’s most detailed mechanism consisted of three circular disks fixed on an axis so that they could be turned. Each disk had different information on it. One had letters from B to K called the Primary Figure. Each letter contained specific meanings heading up a table. The Second Figure or second circle contained a list of categories and relationships. These, when combined would refer you to the General Table which would contain more in-depth information. For example, by carefully lining up the circles, a sort of code would direct you to the place where you would find proofs of God’s existence.
This advanced material lasted for several centuries years until St. Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno enhanced them in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Then in the seventeenth century, Athanasius Kircher and Gottfried Leibniz based their system of artificial memory on Lull’s application of mnemotechnics for different modern rhetorical discourse.
In 1314 Raymond made his last attempt to convert Muslims. Then at an advanced age, he went to North Africa. Specifically he went to the marketplace in Bougie. As he stood up and began to evangelize the Muslims, the shoppers became so angry that they stoned him nearly to death. Some Genoese traders in the marketplace rescued Raymond and took him aboard their ship to bring him back to Majorca.
Back in his hometown, his family — he had a wife and two children, Magdalene and Dominic — and friends nursed him hoping he would recover, but he never regained his strength after the brutal attack. (Little is known about his wife and children.)
Raymond had hoped that converting the Jews and the Muslims would lead them to unite with the Christians to protect the Middle East and Europe from the pagan hordes that were rattling their sabers on the doorsteps. His view of the world was eternal and the solutions so obvious to the holy man that he was. Sadly, sin blinds the eyes of men to simple solutions.
Raymond died in 1315, most likely in June. His memorial is on June 30.
Dear Raymond, because of original sin the world remains in chaos and harmony is elusive. Obtain for us the grace to yearn as deeply as you did for the conversion of all men to the one Truth. Help us to pray and fast for all men, both friends and enemies, so that together we all may one day give glory to God for eternity. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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