in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blessed Ramon Llull, the Trinity and the Kabbalists

I'm heading off to college shortly to start welcoming our first guests for the Dialogue Conference beginning tomorrow... amongst those arriving this evening are Prof Ivana Noble (Prague), Prof Sara Sviri (Jerusalem) and Prof Jose Nandhikkara (Bangalore). This being Trinity Sunday ( a nightmare for preachers) I thought I would share part of my paper dealing with how Llull uses his interpretation of the Doctrine of the Trinity to engage with the Kabbalists of 13th Century Catalonia...

Happy Feast of the Trinity!



Pring-Mill in his Trinitarian World Picture of Ramon Llull (1955) was the first modern commentator to remark the change in Llull’s works from a world picture, in accord with that of medieval precedent, based on the quaternity of the four elements and four humours to a later structure that is essentially Trinitarian in nature. The former is found in the earlier apologetic works, such as the Liber Principorum Medicinae, Libre de contemplació (1272), the Ars Magna (1274) and the Art demonstrativa (1275) whilst the latter begins to make itself apparent after about 1289, not long after the ‘illumination’ that Llull received on Mount Randa in Majorca. From this period onwards Llull develops his notion of what he refers to as the 9 ‘essential attributes’ (praedicata absoluta (1308), principia transcendentia (1306), vertus vertuoses essencials (1275) dignitats, usually referred to as the ‘dignities’).[1] In God’s self they are one in essence and mutually convertible, whereas they manifest themselves in various fashion throughout creation: Bonitas, Magnitudo, Aeternitas (or Duratio), Potestas, Sapientia, Voluntas, Virtus, Veritas and Gloria. Each Dignity is related to the cosmos by nine ‘Correlatives’: Differentia, Concordantia and Contrarietas, Principium, Medium and Finis and finally Maioritas, Aequalitas and Minoritas. Each Dignity contains within itself a intrinsic trinitarian formula which Llull characterised as the relationship between agent, patient and act. Thus from Bonitas we derive bonificativum, bonificabile and bonificare. ( Or in Catalan, from bonea we derive bonificant (the agent), bonificat or bonificable (the recipient) and bonificar (the act) ). As Pring-Mill states: ‘This fundamental triplicity is the basis of Lull’s developed Trinitarian doctrine. Imprinted on the universe by the Dignities, it gives this an ineradicbly Trinitarian structure, for the correlatives turn out to be ‘correlativa innata primitive, vera et necessaria in omnibus subjectis’ (Pring-Mill 5, Liber de Correlativis Innatis (1310)110). As Hames points out, it is noteworthy that when Llull presented his ideas in Paris he was derided for his ‘Arabic mode of speech’ (See AC:223) and indeed what he has done is to translate into a vernacular romance language the essential idiom of semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew where transitive and passive verb forms can be derived from a noun so that agent and patient can be referred. (Hames 2009: 201)

 This basic relationship in the Dignities between action, agent and patient is what allows Llull to make in his apologetic works a direct link between the structure of the cosmos as perceived in this fashion with the image of the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. Thus this internal dynamism within the persons of the Trinity (and the Dignities) allows a unchanging Deity to create a changing cosmos.[2]

Now what is interesting from our investigation of dialogue in this conference is that as commentators such as Hames have pointed out (See Hames 2009 and Scholem; Idel, Kabbalah and “Dignitate”) this investigation of the attributes or ‘dignities’ of the Godhead is also being practised by contemporary Kabbalists within Spain’s Jewish community as the concept of the Sefirot (often in reaction to the viewpoint developed by scholars such as Maimonides).  In distinction to Llull’s nine Dignities, the Kabblists suggested there were ten Sefirot arising from the Ein sof (‘the Infinite’). As with Llull, each revealed a different aspect of the Godhead in creation and thus permitted a recognition and return to that same Godhead by humanity.  Hames gives us an example of what this imaginary dialogue may sound like:

Ramon: “I have now conclusively demonstrated the necessary existence of a Trinity in the divine Dignities which are the whole essence of God, and hence, the truth of the Christian faith.”

Solomon: “Ah, but what you have shown is that God is not a simple perfect being, in that there is a plurality of persons in the Dignities (Sefirot). We believe that God is one simple eternal being encompassing His Dignities (Sefirot).”

Ramon: “Listen carefully: the Trinity is not a plurality, because it is the very essence of God’s oneness and simplicity. Without this triune relationship, God could not be one in perfect simplicity, nor could creation have taken place without admitting change in the Godhead. This necessary eternal and internal dynamic within the Godhead is what we Christians call the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in three,

three in one.”

Solomon: “Hmm, give me a moment to think about that one.” (Hames 2009: 205)


[1] For example in the Ars inventiva veritatis written in Montpelier in 1290.
[2] ‘the unity of God is of itself whole, in that it has
the nature of unient (agent), unit (patient) and unir (act of unifying) eternally and
infinitely in all its essence, in itself, and for itself, without which nature of unient,
unit, and unir, it would be unable to be whole of itself, because it would be empty
and idle . . . as would be the intellect if deprived of the nature of entenent (agent), entes
(patient) and entendre (the act of understanding).] ‘ (Libre de Déu 286; Hames 2009: 203)



  1. Dear Peter Tyler

    Just afer some unplesent car collision I cam upon your artice on Rammon Lull and the Kabbalists - which made me really happy. I learnt about Lull from the late prof. Gordon Pask, the emminent cybernetician. As disciple of Bucky Fuller I was happy to see a geometrical scheme of the universe and my friend Moshe Idel showed me once that the Lulluan wheels were preceded by the use such wheels in the work of some (spanish?) Kabbalist. I am working these days on a biography of Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohay (the reputed maker of the Zohar) and am intrigued by the use of the Trinity in the Zohar. Do you have any further information of connections between JEwish and Christian sages in Spain: Thank you very much.
    BTW - as it happens I shall meet Sara Sviri in a seminar this afternoon. Do you want to send her some regards?

  2. Dear Yitzhaq, thank you for your kind comments which are much appreciated and please be assured of my prayers for your speedy recovery. Funnily enough I was teaching this material to a group of Anglican ministers in training last week and was struck again by the daring and brilliance of LLull. As a Sufi master in Spain once said to me - 'those were the ages of light, now we live in the dark ages!' There is quite a literature on this area, much in Spanish, but increasingly in English, and you could do worse than begin with the work of our beloved mutual friend, Sara. If you see her again soon do give her my regards.

    Warm wishes