In 1990, through his book Projekt Weltethos,1 the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng introduced the Global Ethic Project as a theological vision that could foster trust among people of all backgrounds and systems of belief.2 The project inspired initiatives to popularize an ethics that is rooted in all human religions and cultures and can be used as a guideline for the actions and character formation of all people. Because the Global Ethic Project aims to serve every nationality, the wisdom of all cultures informs its vision. It constantly searches for kindred spirits and related ideas found in the magnificent wealth of human heritage.
Important spiritual figures such as Confucius and Buddha are undoubtedly predecessors for Küng’s Global Ethic Project. Political leaders, such as Ashoka and Akbar; writers, such as Lessing, Schiller, and Galdos; philosophers, such as Kant and Krause; and psychologists, such as Fromm, are also likely candidates. Furthermore, mystics, such as Rumi and Meister Eckhart, and theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas and—as I will attempt to demonstrate—Ramon Llull, also belong in this tradition.
Ramon Llull (Raimundus Lullus in Latin, and Raymond Lull or Lully in English; 1232–1316) lived during a time of intense religious conflict, which he tirelessly strove to resolve in his capacities as philosopher, theologian, writer, and missionary. Llull championed a philosophy of love—the most important subject and principle of his writings—that combined the imperatives of active charity and contemplative love of God. This philosophy enabled him to recognize the holy right of people of other creeds to have their beliefs respected and taken seriously. After all, anyone who venerated God as the father of all mankind had to view everyone—including followers of other religions—as His children and to respect them accordingly.
For this reason, Llull did not believe in spreading Christianity through political and military dominance. Instead, he recommended learning foreign languages and delving into foreign literatures to acquire a deeper understanding of other religions. It was solely on this basis, he believed, that encounters on an equal footing occur. Holding this belief, Llull studied the language and philosophy of Islam so he could engage in theological discussion with Muslims, meeting them on their own ground, from the vantage point of their cultural principles. Llull did not understand truth as an entity existing outside dialogue between faiths, and he believed only open and unbiased conversation could establish binding standards and values. According to Llull, missionary work should never just be indoctrination; rather, it ought to proceed through dialogue so as not to silence one’s interlocutors but to encourage them to speak, a position echoed later in the works of Nicholas of Cusa and of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (i.e., his “ring parable”3).
Today, Llull’s thoughts can provide valuable guidance in the search for a global ethic. To benefit from his teachings, we must first cast a glance at the historical and cultural context in which Llull’s theology and philosophy developed, at the literary methods and genres to which he had recourse, and at the theological assumptions of his thought. This background helps us reconstruct the implications of Llull’s message for our current situation, allowing us to explore how, according to Llull, humans can recognize God and His love, how they can interact adequately with this love, and how their interaction helps them lead a virtuous life. Central to this inquiry, however, is what Llull’s philosophy of love can teach us about appropriate interactions with adherents of other religions.