Christian Missionaries Throughout History: Ramon Llull

July 26, 2017

This is the second article in this series of Christian missionaries through history (read the first here). From the famous to the little-known missionaries, they all offer incredible stories of faith and courage as they spread the Gospel to all corners of the earth.

Today we will take a look at a medieval missionary from Spain by the name of Ramon Llull. What makes Llull’s story interesting is his dedication to spreading the Gospel to the Muslim world of the Middle East and North Africa, an especially courageous mission during the days of the Crusades.

Born in the year 1232 to a wealthy family, Ramon Llull was at first a wealthy and well-educated man who had a reputation as a womanizer. However, after experiencing an epiphany through a series of visions, Llull sold all his belongings and began living his life serving his Savior. Llull believed he would best serve the Lord by spreading the Gospel to the Muslim world, using love and prayer where the violent Crusades had failed.

Llull began his mission in solitude, spending nine years mastering Arabic and Latin, as well as studying Islamic philosophy to best understand his audience. Llull was a firm believer in apologetics and believed he could convince the Islamic philosophers through extensive debate the truths of Christianity.

Llull even came up with a complex system of diagrams that could be used to defend any question or objection that might be brought up in an argument with a Muslim or unbeliever at the time. These diagrams were almost computer-like in their operation and were quite revolutionary for computation theory. He also wished to address the need for missionary training schools so that missionaries would be prepared before they set off to foreign lands.

Llull’s travels took him all over the Mediterranean coast, especially the heavily Islamic east and south Mediterranean, preaching the Gospel in a Muslim context so that the local population would best understand his message.

In 1291, at the age of 61, Llull finally gathered up enough courage to visit Tunis, the western center of the Muslim world. Tunis had stood strong against the Crusades best efforts and had a reputation for torturing and killing Christians.

In a story reminiscent to that of the Biblical account of Jonah and his journey to Nineveh, a terrified Llull at first cancelled his trip to Tunis, even though the ship was already loaded with his books and supplies. He eventually broke down with guilt and remorse and made the trip on a different ship.

His first meeting with the Muslim scholars went about how you would expect and even though he won over a number of people with his presentation, a few prominent Muslims believed he was dangerous and wanted him dead. He was sentenced to prison and was set to be deported and told he would be stoned if he ever came back. However, he escaped from captivity with the help of some of his new converts and remained in hiding in a nearby city until he was able to sneak out of the country.

After returning once again on a separate occasion, he snuck back into the country one last time in 1314. He spent ten months in hiding before he grew tired of the seclusion and went to the marketplace to preach. Unfortunately, as you might expect, the crowd responded with anger and dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Ramon Llull was a true pioneer of Christian literature. Over the course of his lifetime, Llull wrote 290 books, including 60 books on theology. He was also the first Christian theologian to write his books in a common language (everything at that time was written in Latin) as he wanted everyone to be able to read and listen to the message of the Gospel.

Llull dared to be different in a time of intense religious war and persecution in order to best serve his Lord and Savior. Maybe we can pray that we too can build up the courage to try something new when it comes to spreading the Gospel message to family, friends, and strangers.