p. 468 p. 469
SEEING therefore that we have not found in the Celtic Church anything which suffices to explain the chief implicits of the literature and that the watchwords call us forward, there remains another method of research, and of this I will now proceed to make trial. I suppose that there is no need to exhibit in formal words after what manner the Quest of the Holy Graal became in the later texts a religious experiment, and thus justified the titles from which it began in that story of Robert de Borron which is the earliest extant history. Any one who has proceeded so far in the present inquisition as to have reached these lines--even if he is wholly unfamiliar with the old treasury of books--will be aware that the Quest was ruled throughout by the counsels of perfection. These ruled in fact so strongly as to have reached that stage when two of them were implied only--that is, they were taken for granted: (a) Voluntary poverty, for the knights possessed nothing, and whatever came into their hands was distributed there and then; (b) entire obedience, in dedication to the proposed term, and all the ships of the world burnt with fire behind them; when change came there followed complete avortement, as that of Gawain in the Great Quest; (c) perpetual chastity, as the only counsel
which stands declared--and in this connection it will be remembered that Bors returned to Logres. The zeal of these counsels does not appear--as I have said--to guarantee election utterly: it is rather the test of merit. And I have said also that there may be a certain success without their fulfilment in the absolute degree. In the Longer Prose Perceval Gawain received signal favours, yet it is admitted that he was wanting in purity, and hence he could make no response when the questionable mystery appeared once in his presence. The King also beheld the arch-natural Eucharist on the manifested side thereof: but Perceval alone possessed the plenary qualifications in this text. On the other hand, in the story of stories there was one who surpassed him, but not so utterly that they were otherwise than classed together as companions of the Quest. The distinction seems to have been that Galahad dissolved temptation, as one more than human. Perceval carried within him the latent desires of the body, and after beholding the Graal he required the purgation of a hermit's life before he entered into the true inheritance of those thrones which are above. By some of my fellowship in research it has been said most truly, though they do not understand Galahad, that the haut prince was just as fit for the Quest at its beginning as he was at its end. Now, that is exactly the sign of perfect vocation--of election as well as calling; the criterion of those who are meant for heaven is that they might ascend thither at any moment. Another test of Galahad was that he knew really from the beginning the whole mystery by the tradition thereof.
I am enumerating here the general implicits of the subject which should be latent in the minds of those whom I address; they do not constitute a question put forward for sifting with a view to a settlement, but of fitness and power to see--of the verus certusque intuitus animi, in some degree and proportion. This being passed by those who can suffer the ruling, it
will be obvious that the religious experiment about which I begin to speak can depend only from two considerations: (1) the attainment of the sanctified state in the Questing Knights, and (2) the descent of a peculiar Grace upon them. I enumerate both points, though it is obvious that one of them has in another form but now passed through review, but in dealing with a very difficult subject it is necessary to look at it in more than a single light, and I wish to make it clear that the specifics of the sanctified state--by which I mean the counsels of perfection--are not things that are determined in the given case by a trend of thought and emotion at the given period, and are not therefore to be dismissed as a presentation of the ascetic life or as the definition of canons which have now passed into desuetude. The same experiment always demands the same conditions for its success, and to set aside these is really to renounce that, or in this instance it is to reject the experiment as one of the old ecstasies which never came to a term. On the contrary, the experiment of sanctity is always approximating to a term, and the measure of success is the measure of zeal in its pursuit. I propose therefore to look a little closer at one of the counsels of perfection. The essential point regarding the condition of virgo intacta--not in respect of the simple physical fact, which has no inherent sanctity, but in respect of its conscious acceptance at what cost soever--is that there neither was nor can be a more perfect symbol of the prepared matter of the work. It is the analogy in utter transcendence of that old adage: Mens sana in corpore sano, and its nearest expression is: Anima immaculata in corpore dedicato, ex hoc nunc et usque, &c. In other words, the banns of marriage in the higher degrees cannot be proclaimed till the contracting parties are warranted in their respective orders to have that proportion and likeness apart from which no union could be effected. The consummated grade of sanctity is an intimate state of union, and the nearest analogy thereto is found in
human marriage; as the latter presupposes in the sacramental order an antecedent or nominal purity, and has for its object the consecration of intercourse which in its absence is of the animal kind, so the antecedent condition in sanctity--or the life of perfect dedication--is in correspondence with the state of virgo intacta. I need not say that because these things are analogical so the discourse concerning them partakes of the language of symbolism or that the state itself is a spiritual state. Entire obedience involves no earthly master; voluntary poverty is of all possibility in a palace, and the law would not deny it at the headquarters of an American Trust; as regards chastity, that is guaranteed to those who receive the sacrament of marriage worthily, and it is to be noted that this sacrament differs from baptism, which is administered once and for all, while marriage, in the effects thereof, is administered in continuity as an abiding presence and a grace abounding daily so long as its covenants are observed. On the other hand, the perpetuity of spiritual chastity in the life within does not mean of necessity that man or woman has never known flesh in the physical order. Galahad in the story had the outward signs as well as the inward grace. His Quest was an allegory throughout and sometimes the allegorical motive obtrudes into the expressed matter, which is an error of art.
The term which is proposed in the Quest, as the consideration thereof, will be best given in the words of the Quest itself. "Now at the yeres ende and the self daye after Galahad had borne the croune of gold, he arose up erly and his felawes, and came to the palais, and sawe to fore hem the holy vessel, and a man knelynge on his knees in lykenes of a Bisshop that had aboute hym a grete felaushyp of Angels as it had ben Jhesu Cryst hym self, & thenne he arose and beganne a masse of oure lady. And whan he cam to the sacrament of the masse, and had done, anone he called Galahad and sayd to hym
come forthe the servaunt of Jhesu Cryst and thou shalt see that thou hast moche desyred to see, & thenne he began to tremble ryght hard, when the dedely flesshe beganne to beholde the spyrytuel thynges. Thenne he held vp his handes toward heuen, and sayd lord I thanke the, for now I see that that hath ben my desyre many a daye. Now blessyd lord wold I not lenger lyue yf it myghte please the lord, & there with the good man tooke our lordes body betwixe hys handes, and profered it to Galahad, and he receyued hit ryghte gladly and mekely. . . . And there with he kneled doune to fore the table, and made his prayers, and thenne sodenly his soule departed to Jhesu Crist and a grete multitude of Angels bare his soule vp to heuen," &c. In this citation the most important point for our purpose at the living moment rests neither in that which it expresses nor in that which it conceals: it is assumed and realised that such a term is always hidden because it always exceeds expression, and is the closer veiled wherein it is announced the most. But here was the consummation of all, and here was that more open seeing than was granted at Corbenic wherein all the outward offices of things arch-natural were set aside utterly. Herein therefore was no vision of transubstantiation changes, and as evidence that this was of concert and not of chance, I have the same report to make concerning the Longer Prose Perceval; when the questing knight comes to his own therein no signs and wonders are connected with the Holy Graal. As regards the vision itself, we may remember the words of Nasciens when he attempted to penetrate the secrets within the new Ark of the Covenant. "Et Nasciens dist que il l’en descouverroit tant comme nule mortieus langue em porroit descouvrir, ne deveroit. Je ai, dist-il, véut la coumenchaille dou grant hardiment, l’ocoison des grans savoirs, le fondement des grans religions, le dessevrement des grans félonnies, la démoustranche des grans mierveilles, la mervelle de totes les altrez mervelles, la fin des bontés et des gentillèces vraies." This extract
from the Book of the Holy Graal is thus rendered in the halting measures of Lovelich:
[paragraph continues] Other masters have expressed the same wonder in other terms, which are the same--as, for example: quædam prælibatio æternæ vitæ, gustus et suavitas spiritualis, mentis in Deum suspensa elevatio, &c.
The qualifications of Galahad and Perceval in the Great Quest are not therefore things which are the fashion of a period, like some aspects of what is termed the ascetic mind, but they obtain from Aleph to Tau, through all grades of expression. Those who speak of the ethical superiority of the Parsifal are saying that which, in all moderation and tenderness, signifies that they are still learning the elements of true discipline.
I have now dealt with the indispensable warrants of the state, and the mode of the descent of Grace belongs to the same category; it was a manifestation to the spiritual flowers of Christian knighthood through the Eucharist--the form of symbolism made use of for this purpose being that of transubstantiation. I have already set down what I believe to be the Divine Truth on this subject, but here again we must as our research proceeds approach it from various standpoints; and, for the rest, it must be obvious that of all men I at least should have no call imposed on me to speak of the Holy Graal were it not for its connection with the Blessed Sacrament. It is the passage of the putative reliquary into the Chalice of the Eucharist, the progressive exaltation of its cultus and the consequent transfiguration of the Quest which have substituted insensibly a tale of eternity for a mediæval
legend of the Precious Blood; in place of the Abbey of Fécamp, we have Corbenic and Mont Salvatch shining in the high distance, and where once there abode only the suggestion of some relative and rather trivial devotion, we have the presence of that great sign behind which there lies the Beginning and the End of all things.
The romance-writers, seeking in their symbolism a reduction to the evidence of the senses, selected and exaggerated the least desirable side of Eucharistic dogma; but we have no occasion to dispute with them on that score, seeing that--for the skilled craftsman--any material will serve in the purposes of the Great Work. The only point which stands out for our consideration is that--following the sense of all doctrine and the testimony of all experience--the gate by which faith presses into realisation is the gate of that Sacrament from which all others depend--of that Sacrament the institution of which was the last act of Christ and the term of His ministry; thereafter He suffered only until He rose in glory. When therefore the makers of the Graal books designed to show after what manner, and under what circumstances, those who were still in flesh could behold the spiritual things and have opened for them that door of understanding which, according to the keepers of the Old Law, was not opened for Moses, they had no choice in the matter, and it is for this reason that they represent the Bread of Life and the Chalice of the Everlasting Testament as being lifted up in the secret places of Logres, even in the palais esperiteux.
Hereof are the mystic aspects of the Great Quest, and it seems to follow that the secret temple of the soul was entered by those who dwelt in the world of romance as by those in the world of learning. The adepts of both schools were saying the same thing at the same period, seeing that during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which moved and had their being under the wonderful ægis of the scholastic mind, there began to arise over the intellectual horizon of Europe the light of another experience
than that of spiritual truth realised intellectually; this was the experience of the mystic life, which opened--shall we say?--with the name of Bonaventura and closed for the period in question with that of Ruysbroeck.