Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lull and Ignatius of Loyola Encounter Muslims

How to Deal with Muslims?
Raymond Lull and Ignatius of Loyola

Final version now available in:  Levy, Ian Christopher, Rita George-Tvrtković, and Donald F. Duclow, eds. Nicholas of Cusa and Islam: Polemic and Dialogue in the Late Middle Ages. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014, pp. 160-176

Paul Richard Blum, Loyola University Maryland
As a small contribution to the investigation into the relationship between Christians and Moslems, I should like to exploit two sources that shed light on it from a late medieval and a Renaissance angle. The one is Raymond Lull's Vita coetanea the other Ignatius of Loyola's autobiography, which originally was referred to as Acta P. Ignatii.[1] What is peculiar about the two is that both are non-thematic accounts of the relation of a Christian to Muslims; they are autobiographical narratives about events that occurred before their main career, but dictated late in life; and the narratives are indubitably designed to instruct their followers as they are written in third person, which decreases subjectivity and enhances authority. I tend to read the two accounts as deliberate messages about what was important, to the effect that all acta may be read as agenda et vitanda, because the narrated facts acquire emblematic meaning. If we keep in mind Ignatius' instruction to visualize the life of Christ (compositio loci), we may as well imagine the episodes of his life for the sake of gaining delight and instruction about our own course of action. Here a quick summary of the two stories:
Raymond Lull (1232–1315) had a Saracen slave who taught him Arabic. One day in 1273, they came to a fight after some anti-Christian slurs from the slave. While the Saracen was in prison Lull was tormented by the thought that he might be obliged to kill his teacher-servant. When the prisoner had hanged himself Lull thanked God for having spared him to soil his hands. In 1522 Ignatius of Loyola encountered a Moor who ridiculed the virginity of St. Mary. Unsure whether or not to go after him, Ignatius let his mule decide, and Ignatius saw it to be God’s will to proceed to Montserrat, instead.
In both cases, it is not the wickedness or ignorance on the side of the Muslims but the weakness of the Christian that drives the conflict. Let us now take a closer look into the biographical and theoretical contexts of both stories in order to see, if there is a pattern that helps conceptualizing the Christian-Muslim relationship.
There is no need to explain further the structure and origin of the Vita coetanea; however, what is worth stressing is the fact that it is a narrative of conversion and illumination. In this emplotment, the slave episode is located after Raymond had completed a peregrination, had accepted not to go to Paris but to return home. Arrived there, he tells us he did three things: dressed himself in the most simple fashion, learned Latin (here rather than in Paris), and "having bought himself a Saracen, he learned Arabic language from him."[2] We gather that his role as a hermit and his study of Latin and of Arabic are one act.
After that follows the famous lacuna of nine years: "Nine years later, it happened that … his Saracen slave blasphemed the name of Christ."[3] It is pointless to speculate what might have happened during those nine years, what needs to be interpreted is that Lull refuses to tell us. The plot says: the upshot of nine years of retirement and study was that the slave spoke up against his master. Since the episode ends with the death of the Slave, one may even read it as the effective obliteration of the content of the nine years of formation.[4] It will be necessary to interpret the content of this blasphemy and that encountered by Ignatius, but that must be postponed for now.
Raymond loses his temper, "nimio zelo motus", and beats the slave.[5] The slave resists. What made him resist? He grew enraged in the same measure as Raymond exceeded what was appropriate. Carolus Bovillus enlarged the motivational syndrome by narrating that the "purchased Saracen feared that Raymond's education might become dangerous for the Mohammedan religion (particularly because he had exacted to be trained in speaking Arabic only for the purpose of preaching)."[6] This may be true, but the narrator focuses on the equivalence of passions. The question evoked is not the intentions of the Muslim or the would-be missionary, but the pent-up zeal on both sides.
Consequently, the Slave plotted to kill his master, shouting "You're dead!" managed to get hold of a sword, attacked and wounded him. But Raymond overcame the attacker.[7] While the athletic Franciscan friar Erhard Wolfram Platzeck relished the prowess and strength of his hero,[8] it appears to be more important that Lull, after so many adventures, still reminds his readers that he had been wounded and that physical violence was needed to stop the assault. Whereas the philosopher remains victorious, physically, he finds himself in a spiritual or moral standoff. Having prevented his household to kill the Muslim and having locked him up, he faced a dilemma:[9] to put him to death would have been severe and harsh, since the culprit was his teacher of Arabic; to release him appeared too dangerous. Obviously the dilemma comes from the very same relationship that had led to the fight, namely that of the slave-owner being subordinate to the slave as teacher; or, the Christian having made himself dependent on the Muslim for the sake of subduing him. (Or any other version to describe this imbalanced relationship.)
If we look at Lull's predicament as a paradigm in a global perspective, we may say: one conundrum of the attitude of the Christian world towards the Muslim world is that any assertion of hegemony depends upon the ability to understand the allegedly lower religion, but any effort to understand the other world creates a kind of coexistence which would be contradictory to end by violence. The mutual dependency appears to be the result of the most elementary attempt at living with the target of mission.
In terms of slave-master relationship we see that the mutual instruction (language traded for Christian education) brings the slave-teacher to hate the master-religion, whereas the master-student is prevented to exercise his power bluntly. Since the slave takes recourse to verbal abuse, the master falls into violence, which only induces the slave to attempt at the master's life. This is the point, when the master gains the upper hand, not only by overwhelming the attacker, but more importantly by putting an end to violence. Now let us see how the story ends.
In his "perplexity" Raymond retires to praying to God. In a classic mystical pattern, he is "sad" about God's persistent silence. Returning home, he made a detour to the prison cell, to see after captive, and found that his slave had hanged himself with the very "rope with which he had been bound."[10] Obviously, the poor man had no other tool for his suicide, one could remark flippantly. Why should Lull remember that detail after forty years? In a symbolic reading, the Muslim was put to death by his Christian hosts and yet he agreed to it and participated in his defeat actively. In this sense, he took the weapon out of his master's hand (as the master had extorted the sword) and executed himself. We moderns would, of course, expect that Lull would mourn the loss of his teacher of Arabic. Instead, we learn that Lull "joyfully gave thanks to God, not only for keeping his hands innocent (innoxias) of the death of this Saracen but also for freeing him from that terrible perplexity concerning which he had just recently so anxiously asked Him for guidance."[11]
According to Michael Dougherty, it is a pattern of the Vita coetanea that Lull ascribes or even imputes the solution of moral dilemmas to divine intervention;[12] this is consistent with the mystical persona that transpires from the Vita. The solution is external to his actions and yet fulfills his conflicting intentions: the blasphemer and attacker is dead without having soiled the missionary's hands.
The next step in the narrative is the divine inspiration of the Ars major. In a symbolic reading, post hoc is propter hoc. After having retired for nine years to study Latin and Arabic, the Muslim teacher becomes a threat that is removed by divine intervention, thus clearing the way for the intuition of the new method to convert Muslims with rational arguments. What are we supposed to learn from this narrative?
1.       Mission inevitably requires acculturation, immersion in the culture of those who are intentional subjects of conversion.
2.      Familiarity with the world of the others tends to become mutual: the inherent negation of the culture to be converted will be turned against the hegemonically behaving missionaries. The slave sees through the ruses of the master and emulates the master.
3.      The sword of the sermon tends to fall back into the sword of violence. And that is an instantaneous and mutual twist.
4.      Hence follows a predicament of violence and non-violence that cannot be resolved but by external intervention.
5.      Does that not tell us, regarding mission to non-believers: don't even try?

We all know, Lull kept trying, and he advocated continuously and with endurance the usage of both swords.[13] And, indeed, to give up mission would end the dialectics of acquaintance and hostility that is at the heart of the episode. In the same way as only God could have it both ways, namely, leaving Lull innocent and yet kill the attacker, it is also God who commands to try both swords and not only the militant one. In this dialectical reading, the most troubling sub-dilemma is the death of the Saracen if we identify him, as we did, as both the target of mission (manifest in his role as a slave) and the facilitator of the acculturation attempt by Lull (manifest in his role as teacher). Why must the teacher die? The answer may lay in two details: the one that Raymond had no regret for the person to lose his life, and the other, that Raymond quotes him threatening: "You are dead!" The first indicates that this is not a novel about emotions but about the dilemmatic structure of mission. The second says that the converted-to-be religion must "die", disappear from the tribulations of the missionary, then mission is accomplished. But, the divine command remains: maintain your innocence! Whether it is possible to remain innocent while subjugating another culture, is a question that Lull has made patent. His own way was the revelation that there might be a transcultural method of communication, his Lullian art.
Let us now switch to Ignatius of Loyola's encounter with a Moor. This happened in 1522, about 250 years later. As I mentioned, the narrative structure is the same as in Lull: Ignatius is telling, in third person, the story of his life for instructional purposes.[14] Also the situation in the life plot is the same: the saint immediately before his spiritual and intellectual breakthrough. The not so young but newly converted man is on his way to Montserrat. His soul "was still blind, though with great desires to serve [God] as far as its knowledge went."[15] And so with youthful vanity he dreams of great "exploits" in the footsteps of the great saints, unaware that his dreams were nothing but "exterior deeds" devoid of humility, patience, let alone discernment.[16] Even after the event, we are discussing here, Ignatius entertains chivalric phantasies, modeled on the knight-errant Amadis that would later be parodied by Cervantes. And we will have occasion to return to chivalry. The irony that Ignatius followed the knightly path on a mule might have been narrated on purpose.
Ignatius inserts in his narrative about his way to Montserrat the episode when he met a Moor. The two of them, both riding a mule, enter a conversation about Our Lady. The Muslim doubts the possibility that Mary remained a virgin after giving birth, bringing forward "natural reasons", and Ignatius loses the argument. It may be significant that he refers to himself at this point as "the pilgrim": it is not the charisma of a pilgrim to engage in theological and scientific debates. At any rate, he becomes enraged feeling "obliged to stand up for [St. Mary's] honor" and to stab the blasphemer.[17] In a more direct way than Lull, Ignatius finds himself in a dilemma, namely, to murder or to let the Muslim go.
The pilgrim does not pray explicitly, rather, he follows a pattern familiar to him from his beloved chivalric novels: since the Moor was continuing for a while on their common route but soon would turn off the main road, Ignatius decided not to decide and let the mule go on a loose rein, whichever road it would take. Amadis, for instance, in the anonymous novel with that title, had a dream in which his horse with loosened reins would carry him out of troubles.[18]  And early in his career as a knight Don Quijote comes to a crossroads, and undecided where to go, and explicitly imitating the knight-errants, he lets the horse decide (which then chooses to return home).[19]
While employing an emplotment well familiar to his audience, Ignatius reports that God willed to have his mule choose the path that would spare the Muslim's life.[20] After that incident, Ignatius proceeds to Montserrat. Why does he tell this story?
We know that throughout his years of pilgrimage he always wanted to go to Jerusalem, and he only desisted from his plans, when after many frustrations and disappointments, while his still unofficial Society never managed to get a passage to the Holy Land, Christ himself appeared to him at La Storta saying: "In Rome I will be more favorable to you."
Compared with Lull's experience and message, Ignatius' is more simple; but it also simplifies and reduces the problem. For in his narrative, the drive to the Holy Land appears to be a mere impulse, a naïve calling of a descendant of the knightly class. He describes his impulse to imitate the saints as the daydreams of a youth who has not yet realized that the role of a hero and the role of a companion of Jesus are conflicting and incompatible patterns. God and the mule must determine the true calling.
It is obvious that the La Storta event was held to be the key to the Jesuits' mission within the Christian world, almost torn apart by heretics of all brands. Therefore, compared with Lull's narrative, the counterreformation narrative teaches:
1.       Mission in the post-medieval world requires rational discourse.
2.      The other knows as much about the would-be missionary as the missionary about him. Hence a civil discourse is possible, but without result.
3.      The sword of the sermon has turned into that of persuasion, and where that fails, even violence is pointless.
4.      If the missionary is ignorant of the dialectics of violence and non-violence, he should take recourse to external intervention.
5.      Consequently, regarding mission to non-believers: don't even try! Reform your own religious behavior.

[1] Munitz/Endean p. 8.
[2] Vita coetanea n. 11; Bonner, Doctor illuminatus, p.15. The question of symbolism in this phase of Lull's life has been raised by Fernando Domínguez Reboiras, "Idea y estructura de la Vita Raymundi Lulii", Estudios Lulianos 27 (1987), 1-20; 12-13.  
[3] Ibid. p. 16.
[4] Amador Vega, Ramon Llull and the Secret of Life, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002, p. 7.
[5] Vita coetanea n. 11; Bonner, Doctor illuminatus, p. 17.
[6] Carolus Bovillus, Vita, in Acta Sanctorum, Junii tomus septimus. Paris/Rome: Palme, 1867, June 30, pp. 613-618; n. 5, cap. 2, p. 616A: "Timensque ideo emptitius Saracenus, qui eum docuerat, ne Raemundi doctrina Mahumenticae legi perniciosa fieret (praesertim cum solius praedicationis causa, Arabici sermonis peritia, ab eo se imbui postulasset) …"
[7] Vita coetanea n. 12; Bonner p. 17.
[8] Platzeck, Das Leben des seligen Raimund Lull, p. 152: "Die Szene zeigt uns einen körpelich noch gewandten Raimund, der dazu über beachtliche Kräfte verfügte."
[9] Carefully analyzed by M. V. Dougherty, Moral Dilemmas in Medieval Thought. From Gracian to Aquinas. Cambridge: University Press, 2011, 94-101.
[10] Vita coetanea n. 13: "inuenit, quod ipse fune, quo ligatus fuit, iugulauerat semet ipsum"; Bonner p. 17.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Dougherty p. 101.
[13] Cf. Blum, Philosophy of Religion in the Renaissance, pp.1-14.
[14] That the words recorded are his is obvious from Concalves da C^amaras, the secretary who received the dictation and describes in detail Ignatius' design and determination. See Munitz/Endean p. 4-7.
[15] Reminiscences n. 14, p. 18.
[16] Ibid. p. 18-19; "exploits" n. 17, p. 20.
[17] Ibid. n. 15, p. 19.
[18] Vasco Lobeira, Amadis of Gaul, vol. 1, London: Smith, 1872, book 2, chapter 3,  p. 266.
[19] Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, [1605], I 4; read at
[20] Reminiscences n. 16, p. 19.