Cultural History
Culture 30/07/2021

Josep M. Benítez: “Saint Ignatius was inspired by Ramon Llull”

The Society of Jesus ignored the influence of Llull on Ignatius of Loyola for centuries

6 min
Josep M. Benítez: “Sant Ignasi 
 Es va inspirar en Ramon Llull”

Sant Cugat del VallèsAmidst celebrations of the Ignatian year (2021-2022), inaugurated in Rome by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Arturo Sosa, who I had the privilege to interview in an agile conversation published in Confesiones de Jesuitas [Jesuits’ Confessions] (Libelista, 2018), I would like to add a new discovery on the relation between Loyola and Ramon Llull.

Saint Ignatius’s Day, on 31 July, works as a perfect excuse to interview my erudite friend, Josep Maria Benítez Riera, who knows the work of these geniuses well. I start with Benítez’s claim that Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises discovered in Ramon Llull’s writings a hitherto unexplored possibility. In his Book of a thousand proverbs, Llull wrote: “As man is created to know, remember, love, honour and serve God, I write these Thousand proverbs which give the doctrine, so the Man may know the end to which he was created”. Ignatius of Loyola introduces a sentence in between: “Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created".

If this is so, can one speak of Ramon Llull’s intellectual influence on Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual conception?

— A good, legitimate and logical question. But the answer cannot be fully affirmative. Some specialists have already brought this up. In the 20th century, these include Jesuit writers Puiggrós, March, Sabater and Batllori, who oriented me towards the study of this topic of historical criticism. I also must praise Júlia Butinyà, who tracked the spiritual and mystical experiences formulated by Llull and other humanists present in Ignatian texts.

It seems therefore that we can speak of a “certain” influence of Llull?

— Not influence, no; rather it would be knowledge of his texts. If we look at Ignatius’s life, when did he come to know who Llull was? He didn’t know of him in Loyola, Montserrat nor Manresa. Some speak of “Llullian news” received in Barcelona when studying Latin with master Ardèvol. Neither had information reached Alcalá or Salamanca, where he set off for Paris after overcoming trouble with the Inquisition. He arrived in Paris in 1528, and here everything changes. We hypothesised on this with Batllori, because we know Llull had written the Thousand Proverbs sailing from Cyprus to Genoa, in 1302, and that he sent a copy to Paris in 1303. Can we say Ignatius, as the excellent student he was, might have come across Llull’s text there? It seems plausible.

Well, it could be, then, that he read and copied the text in Paris. Yet it remains a hypothesis, and the main question remains open. How can we be sure?

— We may attest it was so thanks to some quasi-proof that it must have been in the Sorbonne that Ignatius found out about Llull: Llull was well known in that esteemed university, had spoken there on many occasions. In Paris Llull left his mark. However the most convincing fact, albeit not definitive proof, of Ignatius’s reading and copying of Llull’s text is as follows. having successfully completed his studies in 1535, Ignatius wanted to leave for Azpeitia. Yet shortly before leaving, he was retained, accused of heresy by the Inquisitor Valentin Liévin. This meant danger, a grace inquisitorial problem. Nevertheless, with admirable personal honesty and exerting his great spiritual force, as well as sincere humility, Ignatius asked the inquisitor to be heard in private. As a result, he did not only free himself of the trial and public punishment, but won Liévin’s support, who he gave on of his Exercises. The inquisitor read it and, convinced that it contained no heresies, praised it. Thus, Ignatius was able to go to Azpeitia and from there to Valencia to sail towards Genoa. In Italy, whether in Bolonia, Vicenza and Venice (5136-1538); or in Rome (1539), Ignatius worked on the Exercises until he produced Version Prima (1541) and the final autograph in 1544. Finally, an official Latin version was published in 1548 to present it to pope Paul III.

When does the awareness of these moments of Llull’s intellectual influence, even if only in his wording, on the founder of the Society of Jesus?

—  I suppose you mean to ask me when do Ignatians become aware of this concomitance, never an influence. Here is my answer: not until 1746. Never before. But we them were already very close to a very bad time for Jesuits. In 1767 they are expelled from Spain and its empire by King Charles III. Even worse, in 1773 the Society of Jesus is suppressed by pope Clement XIV, with the brief Dominus ac Redemptor.

Forgive my insistence, how could it be that no Jesuit established at least this conceptual relationship between Ignatius and Llull?

—  The followers of Ignatius, that is to say, the Jesuits, could neither be interested in, nor much less delve into, any aspect of the conceptual relationship between the one and the other. I think I say this clearly and precisely. And these impossibilities did not change much until the time of the Second Vatican Council, the last phase of which (autumn 1965) I lived in Rome, enjoying the friendship of Miquel Batllori. He provided me with my first Lullian reading: the Contemporary Life. That is how I learned of the existence of this character, Llull, an enlightened doctor and hailed martyr who was subsequently beatified.

But more specifically, why is it that Llull is so often omitted from the commentaries on the origins of the Ignatian 'Principle and Foundation of the Exercises', and this since as early as the time of the Founder's death in 1556?

—  My answer may seem harsh, but I consider it to be realistic. All interest in Llull was sidelined. It was completely omitted out of ignorance. And this is why: long before Ignatius of Loyola was born, there was already a consolidated Roman Catholic doctrinal feeling against Llull. Let us go back in history: a first condemnation by Pope Gregory XI (1371) was influential, followed by the bull Conservatio puritatis catholicae fidei (1374). And almost at the same time came the Directorium inquisitorum (1376), by Nicolás Aymerich, branding Llull as a heretic. This convoluted period in the life of the Church continued with the outbreak of Luther's Reformation. Just think that it was then that Pope Paul III approved the new – and innovative – Ignatian order (1540) and we are close to the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which commissioned Pope Pius IV to establish an Index librorum prohibitorum (1564) including Llullian works. Not to get tragic, let me jump to the 20th century: it was thanks to the laudable decision of the Second Vatican Council that Pope Paul VI eliminated the Index in 1966. Do the maths: a cultural meta-prohibition in the Roman Catholic camp from 1374 to 1966, or to be more precise, from 1564 to 1966. Not bad, is it?

But Llull was not ignored.

—  No. We must not forget the enormous supranational esteem in which Llull was held by theologians (Cardinal de Cusa) and by so many philosophers and scientists on the fringes of the religious world. Llull was never ignored! On the contrary: he was studied, appreciated. Some of his vindicators were giants of human knowledge (Leibniz or Kepler). And today Llull is highly regarded in the field of computing and robotics, or artificial intelligence. I note this. I cannot go into Llull's numerous gifts here. But to return to the brief account of the lack of interest in Llullism on the Jesuit side, it pains me to have to cite the decision of the fourth general of the Society, Everard Mercurian (1573-1580), who forbade Llull to be read. And to be even more effective, he forbade the Jesuit libraries to have Llull's works. This 16th-century prohibition was ratified in the 19th century in the doctrinal publication Enchiridion Symbolorum (nine editions from 1854 to 1900), the work of the Jesuit Denzinger. After his death, another Jesuit professor at the Gregorian University sensibly removed the condemnations of Llull in the 1908 edition. Is it not surprising that for more than half a century (from 1854 to 1908) Llull was treated as "any old author" (quaedam), an appellation which reinforces my idea of the growing ignorance of Llull within the Society.

I am struck by your answer... Although I would like you to comment on whether it is not an injustice that the beneficial touch of the wise Llull on Ignatius of Loyola has been ignored.

— I do not wish to polemicise. I am just making a few observations: I said "omission or relegation through ignorance". This ignorance is not culpable, but it is ignorance caused by prior "repression". I sum it up as follows: a) the damage done by Aymerich in branding Llull a heretic; b) the inclusion of Llull in the Index librorum prohibitorum; c) the prohibition of the Jesuit General Mercurian to have Llull's works; d) Denzinger's doctrinal force. Is that not enough for you? I say this without acrimony. Even Miquel Batllori, a great Llullist, was unaware of the Thousand Proverbs. And eminent theologian Karl Rahner's brother, the methodical Hugo Rhaner, a prestigious historian, does not even mention Llull in his exhaustive study on the sources of Ignatius of Loyola, which is considered definitive. To conclude, hence the importance of this international Ignatian year: will we be able to enjoy a new and enriching awareness of Llull's positive influence on Ignatius? There are current studies on the subject. I could cite more authors and I do not do so. I limit myself to one to whom I am personally grateful, the young author Francesc Tous, for his recent critical edition of two of Llull's works, Mil proverbios and Proverbis d'ensenyament (Palma, 2018). The esteem I have for him is clear to any informed reader: his excellent doctoral thesis, directed by Joan Santanach, provides the documentary support to substantiate my affirmation of the conceptual and textual presence of Llull in the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Could there be any better confirmation that Ignatius of Loyola knew and accepted the influence of Llull to the point of copying him in a major text, making the reasoning his own? Texts are texts.