Sacred Texts  Sub Rosa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

p. 620



At the risk of some repetition on a subject of all so vital, I will put the position thus from another standpoint. The value of the Graal legends resides in their suggestions and lights towards a concordat of Divine Alliance, while the Graal Castle is the House of Alliance and of the doctrine thereto belonging. The same description applies to the Sanctuaries of the other schools, on the understanding that in the last resource all the Sanctuaries are one. They do not differ from the external Houses of Doctrine into which we were born and wherein we were first nourished by the food of souls. Here also--if we set apart innumerable temples of the fantastic spirit--the House of Doctrine is one, and the official does not differ from the mystical; but in the one House there are many chambers, being those of the soul's advancement, and the soul in response to its election proceeds by stage and by stage on the ascent upward--or beyond and further beyond into that more secret place which lies behind the sanctuary of the Visible Church. The correspondence in identity hereto is the oratory of the spiritual alchemist, who testifies by first-hand experience at the Fountain of Nature and Grace that nothing has been lost, that he has himself recovered the working process in which the Trinity is manifested and the plan of redemption is exhibited.

The Graal literature was the spiritual emotion of the Church expressed in romance. The texts which do not correspond to this description are of no importance as mystic texts of the legend. I set apart, however, the lost poem of Guiot, which will be considered in another section. The high texts of all are products of monasticism, and--as they are extant among us--the vision

p. 621

which is the true Graal came out of cells and scriptoria. We must not go further for that which is ready to our hand in the nearest places. The monks conceived the high miracle of sanctity and connected it with a wonderful and pious legend. They knew so much that they knew also the void in the heart of the age and the maiming of the outer Church. The efficacious Graal--that which alone profits us--came out of their fasts, watches and prayers. They did not invent the Secret Words and the super-apostolical priesthood, but they knew of these rumours; they knew that many strange quests were pursued about them; they dreamed of mysteries of sanctity which they had not fathomed, and we can well understand that the story of Prester John re-expressed the dream after a manner of parable in their yearning minds. When they left the House of Doctrine void in respect of its chief Hallow, they meant only that the Church shared on its manifest side the inhibition of the age; they felt all that was wanting thereto. But the first makers of texts had heard of those things more plainly--that is, of a priesthood within the priesthood, of a Mass behind the Mass, or rather the equivalents of these by the pursuit of an experiment which was identical with that of the Church carried--as I have said--to an advanced degree. The putative letter of Prester John was perhaps invented expressly to put this claim forward in a singularly evasive manner, but one certain to attract universal interest and attention.

The experiment had been pursued everywhere, the aphorism which ruled it being omnia exeunt in mysterium, the pursuit of that Mystery to which St. Augustine alluded when he said that Christianity had been always in the world--to which the New Testament itself alluded when speaking of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the cosmic order. It follows that any one who suggests that the experiment or the school became Christian at a certain epoch is in error over the elements of that subject to which must be attributed

p. 622

in a superlative sense the locus communis of the ecclesiastical test: Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. We should remember that things which concur with one another do of necessity find one another at a certain point of their extension; the one Quest adopts many veils, but without diminution of identity. It has been disguised very often under the old formula concerning words of power, but though this is a necessary illustration, it carries a suggestion of fatality, because in no instance did the sign survive the idea--and so lapse into superstition--more frequently or with greater facility. In its proper understanding it corresponds to the idea of an union between the expressed consciousness of the soul and the Word of God--the verbum caro factum, declaring itself in the world and in the heart of man. Robert de Borron heard or read of the rumour in some such form and he combined it with secret words of Christ. He knew so little of its horizon that he left it an open question whether the words were Eucharistic or not. Those who converted his work into prose concluded that they could have no other office, and so allocated them accordingly. The author of the Book of the Holy Graal, having certain materials, including those which were incorporated in his prologue, put forward the rumour in the guise of a sacerdotal mystery and followed those who had preceded him in developing the conversion legend. Guiot de Provence represented the secret custodians as an autonomous chivalry after the model of the Knights Templars, bringing into it materials from oriental sources. Other traditions had already presented Joseph of Arimathæa as the Grand Master of an instituted knighthood. The authors of the Longer Prose Perceval and the Quest of Galahad saw that the whole subject belonged to the Church, and they connected it with Eucharistic transubstantiation as the most approximate gate through which supernatural faith could follow those things which issue in mystery. They were glad enough when their

p. 623

symbolism had served its purpose to allow its dissolution, as I have shown, and it has been in no sense my design to suggest that they had overcome all burdens of their period by an excess of wisdom; the glass through which they looked was clouded and scoriated enough, and in manifesting the doctrine as they did I suppose that its intolerable sense had never occurred to them. It is sufficient for our purpose that they discerned something of the secrets which lay beyond, to do which they must have travelled far. I am sure also that in common with the independent schools of concealment they distinguished between the Church as the custodian of Rite, Symbol and Doctrine and the seat of government at Rome. In this connection it is wholesome to remember, among many other points that might be enumerated: (1) That before 1000 A.D. Claudius, Archbishop of Turin, characterised the censure pronounced on his anti-papal writings as the voice of the members of Satan; (2) that Arnulph, the Bishop of Orleans, at the Council of Rheims pointed to the Roman Pontiff, saying: "Who is that seated upon a high throne and radiant with purple and gold? . . . If he thus follow uncharitableness, . . . he must be Antichrist sitting in the Temple of God; (3) that Everard, Bishop of Salzburg, said much later: "He who is the servus servorum Dei desires to be lord of lords; he profanes, he pillages, he defrauds, he robs, he murders, and he is the lost man who is called Antichrist; (4) that Cardinal Benno, speaking of Sylvester II., said that by God's permission he rose from the abyss; (5) that the same pope was described at the Council of Brixen as the false monk and the prince of abomination. These were the accusations of prelates and with them may be compared the opinion of Figueiras the troubadour, who described Rome as an immoral and faithless city, having its seat fixed in the depths of hell; that of Petrarch, who called Avignon the western Babylon, and--as a comparison by way of antithesis with the Rich Fisherman--exclaimed:

p. 624

[paragraph continues] "Here reigns a proud race of fishermen who are poor no longer;" and that of the same poet who described the papal court as a people who follow the example of Judas Iscariot--in other words, selling God for money, like the King of Castle Mortal. So also St. Bridget termed Rome the whirlpool of hell and the house of mammon, wherein the devil barters the patrimony of Christ.

I think it has been indicated abundantly in the course of this work, but more especially in the present sections, that the high truth is in all Church doctrine, and therefore in citing these instances I also am far from expressing the spirit of impeachment; but on the side of policy, apart from that of teaching, there is evidence enough that the yoke was no longer easy nor the burden light. It is conceivable that the symbol of the voided House of Doctrine was an appeal against the Church in so far as it had been unfaithful to itself, a protest against the spirit of the world which had invaded the sanctuary. The admission of these facts does not derogate from the claim that the Church had all the means. Even in new definitions and altered practice there may have been a guiding hand. It will be suggested, I know, that at the period of the Graal literature two unhappy ferments were working in the Western branch: (1) The denial of the chalice; (2) the various doctrinal tendencies which resulted in the definition of transubstantiation. From this point of view the wound of the Latin Church would be that it misconstrued the Mysterium Fidei; that it had, in fact, five wounds corresponding to the five changes of the Graal. Of these changes the last only seemed to be a chalice, for at that time it is said that there was no chalice, and the mystic reason of this is that the Dominus qui non pars est sed totum is not contained in a chalice though the Lord is Pars hereditatis meæ et calicis mei. The Latin Church cannot be accused of having failed to discern the Body of the Lord, but it may be advanced that its discernment, like that of the Greek orthodoxy, was apart from the life which their

p. 625

own scriptures tell them is resident in the blood--that is to say, it is the symbolical seat thereof. And yet on the basis of transubstantiation it is difficult to reject the Roman plea, that he who receives the Body receives also the Blood, because that which is communicated in the Eucharist is the living Christ made Flesh. To this it may be rejoined that the implicit of the symbolism is really in the contrary sense, that the elements are dual to show how the flesh of itself profits nothing, while the spirit and the truth are in the communication of Divine Life. By those who regard transubstantiation as the burden of the Church which defined it, there is a disposition to consider the Latin Eucharist as only a dismembered sacrament; by those who look upon it simply as a memorial, all subtleties notwithstanding, there is a feeling that the memory is broken and that the isolated sign does not signify fully. On the other hand, that view which belongs more especially to the Mystics, namely, that the covenant of Christ to his followers concerns what I have called so frequently the communication of Divine Substance, will, I think, be aware that the accidents of such a communication are not of vital consequence; that perhaps the official Church was even more subtle than it knew, because it is certain that transposition or substitution in the external signs cannot occasion even the shadow of vicissitude in the mystery which is imparted. In fine, to extinguish these questions, those who speak of Christ's spiritual presence say well, but the mystery of abiding redemption is the perpetuity of the incarnation in that Church to which Christ came in flesh.

In conclusion, I do not confess that it would be putting the case truly if it were said that at the period of the Graal literature the highest minds of the Church had grown weary of the Vatican and all its ways. I think that for long, and for very long indeed, there had existed an uncompetitive stream of tendency which raised no voice, but pursued its path unobtrusively

p. 626

towards a very high term. It had no remedies to offer on the practical side of things and it was too wise to denounce abuses which it was powerless to remedy--even as I who write, supposing that I had attained the term of the Great Experiment, should not for that reason be qualified to purify the commercial houses of exchange. That term belongs to a region about which it is idle to speak in connection with schemes of amelioration or the raising of the masses. So far as those who have pursued or do now follow it have led or to-day lead the life of the world, it is implied in their calling that they should do what to do is given them, but in respect of the Experiment itself, those who attain can lead others on the way, but they do not bring back helping hands for the furtherance and welfare of the body politic. So much for the stream of tendency in the earlier times. At a later period I do think that the unknown mystics who wrote upon spiritual alchemy had got to see not only where the path of sanctity led, but that the Church as a whole had lost the power of leading.

They were made circumspect by the anxiety of their position, and they spoke only in parables.

Next: III. The Catholic Secret of the Literature