There are several literatures which exhibit with various degrees of plainness the presence of that sub-surface meaning to which I have referred in respect of the Graal legend; but there, as here, so far as the outward sense is concerned, it is nearly always suggested rather than affirmed. This additional sense may underlie the entire body of a literature, or it may be merely some concealed intention or a claim put forward evasively. The sub-surface
significance of the Graal literature belongs mainly to the second class. It is from this point of view that my departure is here made, and if it is a warrantable assumption, some portion at least of the literature will prove, explicitly or otherwise, to contain these elements in no uncertain manner. As a matter of fact, we shall find them, though, as I have indicated, it is rather by the way of things which are implied, or which follow as inferences, but they are not for this reason less clear or less demonstrable. The implicits of the Graal literature are, indeed, more numerous than we should expect to meet with at the period in books of the western world. They may almost exceed, for example, those which are imbedded in the alchemic writings of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, though antecedently we should be prepared to find them more numerous in the avowedly secret books of Hermetic adepts.
The most important of the Graal implicits are those from which my study depends in its entirety, but there are others which in the present place need only be specified, as they belong more properly to the consideration of individual texts. There is, in fine, one implicit which is reserved to the end, because it is that upon which the debate centres.
The implicit in chief of that cycle which I have termed the Lesser Histories, or Chronicles of the Holy Graal, is that certain secret words, having an attributed application to the Sacrament in chief of the Altar, and to certain powers of judgment, were communicated to Joseph of Arimathæa by Christ Himself, and that these remained in reserve, being committed from keeper to keeper by the oral method only.
It must be noted, though more especially for consideration at a later stage, that the secret words are also represented in the poem of Robert de Borron as words of power on the material plane; that is to say, outside any efficacy which they may be assumed to possess in consecrating the elements at the Mass. They are "sweet,
precious and holy words." It is these qualities which stand out more strongly in the metrical romance than the Eucharistic side of the formula, and there seems, therefore, a certain doubt as to De Borron's chief intention respecting their office. But in the Lesser Holy Graal the implicit of the metrical romance passes into actual expression, and it becomes more clear in consequence that the secret words were those used, ex hypothesi, by the custodians of the Holy Graal in the consecration of the elements of the Eucharist.
Let it be understood that I am not seeking to press this inference, but am stating an aspect only. If the references to the secret words in the metrical Joseph do not offer a sacramental connection with full clearness--because they are also talismanic and protective--their operation in the latter respects must be regarded as subsidiary and apart from the real concern of the Holy Graal. When all possible issues have been exhausted, the matter remains Eucharistic in the final terms of its appearance, and behind it there is that which lies wholly perdu for the simple senses in sources that are concealed utterly. It is further to be noted that any Eucharistic appearance has nothing to do with transubstantiation, of which there is no trace in the Lesser Chronicles. Finally, the sole custodian of the Sacred Vessel through a period of many centuries lived in utter seclusion, and after the words were imparted to Perceval he was interned apparently for ever. The message of the Lesser Chronicles seems to be that something was brought into Britain which it was intended to manifest, but no manifestation took place.
When the Book of the Holy Graal was produced as an imputed branch of Arthurian literature, there is no need to say that the Roman Pontiff was then as now, at least in respect of his claim, the first bishop of Christendom, and, by the evidence of the traditional claim, he derived from St. Peter, who was episcopus primus et pontifex primordialis. This notwithstanding, the romance attributes
the same title to a son of Joseph of Arimathæa, who is called the Second Joseph, and here is the first suggestion of a concealed motive therein. The Book of the Holy Graal and the metrical romance of De Borron are the historical texts in chief of their particular cycles, and it does not follow, or at least in all cases, that their several continuations or derivatives are extensions of the implicits which I have mentioned. In the first case, the early prose Merlin has an implied motive of its own which need not at the moment detain us, and the Didot Perceval is of dubious authenticity as a sequel, by which I mean that it does not fully represent the mind of the earlier texts, though it has an importance of its own and also its own implicits. On the other hand, in what I have termed the Greater Chronicles of the Holy Graal there is, if possible, a more complete divergence in respect of the final document, and I can best explain it by saying that if we could suppose for a moment that the Book of the Holy Graal was produced in the interests of a pan-Britannic Church, or alternatively of some secret school of religion, then the Great Prose Quest, or Chronicle of Galahad, might represent an interposition on the part of the orthodox Church to take over the literature. At the same time the several parts of each cycle under consideration belong thereto and cannot be located otherwise.
The further divisions under which I have scheduled the body-general of the literature, and especially the German cycle, will be considered at some length in their proper place, when their explicit and implied motives will be specified; for the present it will be sufficient to say that the German poems do not put forward the claims with which I am now dealing, namely, the secret formula in respect of the De Borron cycle and a super-apostolical succession in respect of the Book of the Holy Graal, and that which is classed therewith. We do not know, at least here in England, that Wolfram had prototypes to follow outside those to which he himself confesses. As to these,
he rejected one of them, and we have means only by inference of ascertaining what he derived from the other. It may seem certain, however, for many that his acknowledged exemplar could not have originated all those generic distinctions which characterise the German Parsifal, and the fact of what Wolfram borrowed throws perhaps into clearer light all that which he created, or alternatively it indicates an unknown source the nature of which we can determine only by reference to schools of symbolism which cannot be properly discussed except towards the close of our inquiry.
I have adopted what I consider to be the best way of treating the whole cycle for the purpose in view. I have said already that it is not an instruction to scholarship, nor is it an appeal thereto, except for reasonable tolerance regarding an issue external to its own, and then even only in the sense of that forbearance which I should be expected to extend on my own part to the probability of a speculative date, or the existence of a lost text, which scholars may favour in a particular case.
If certain mystic sects took over at a given period the hypothesis and symbolism of alchemy, if they used them as a secret language to enshrine their researches and discoveries in a wholly different region, it is obviously useless for any one to have recourse to the physical alchemists--otherwise than as a light on method and especially on the antithetical use of terms--for an explanation of the later mode and intention. If also some other or any mystic sect appropriated certain crude legends, prehistoric or what not, which they magnified, developed and transformed, designing to use them for the furtherance of a particular scheme to which they were themselves dedicated; it is not then less obvious that the original form of such legends will in no wise help us to understand the later position to which they have been assigned by that school. In these few words the whole thesis of scholarship concerning the sources of the Graal elements is disposed of for our purpose, though with
many titles of honour, and the alternative with which we are concerned can be put no less shortly.
As regards both the claims with which I am at the present moment more especially concerned, we must remember that although we are dealing with a department of romantic literature, their content does not belong to romance; the faculty of invention in stories is one thing, and I think that modern criticism has sometimes made insufficient allowance for its spontaneity, yet through all the tales of chivalry it worked within certain lines. It would not devise secret Eucharistic words or put forward strange claims which almost make void the Christian apostolate in favour of some unheard-of succession communicated directly from Christ after Pentecost. We know absolutely that this kind of machinery belongs to another order. If it does not, then the apocryphal gospels were imbued with the romantic spirit, and the explanation of Manichean heresy may be sought in a flight of verse. In particular, the higher understanding of secret consecration is not a question of literature, but of the communication to the human soul of the Divine Nature. It lies behind the Eucharistic doctrine of the Latin Church, but on the external side that doctrine--and of necessity--by the hypothesis of transubstantiation, communicates the Divine Humanity rather than the Eternal and Divine Substance.
I suppose that what follows from the claims has not entered into the consciousness of official scholarship, because it is otherwise concerned, but it may have entered already into the thought of those among my readers whose preoccupations are similar to my own, and I will now state it in a summary manner. As the secret words of consecration, the extra-efficacious words which must be pronounced over the sacramental elements so that they may be converted into the arch-natural Eucharist, have, by the hypothesis, never been expressed in writing, or alternatively have been enshrined only in a lost or hypothetical book, it follows that since the Graal was
withdrawn from the world, together with its custodians, the Christian Church has had to be content with what it has, namely, a substituted sacrament. And as the superapostolical succession, also by the hypothesis, must have ceased from the world when the last keeper of the Graal followed his vessel into heaven, the Christian Church has again been reduced to the ministration of some other and apparently lesser ordination. It follows, therefore, that the Graal literature is not only a cycle of romance originating from many traditions, but is also, in respect of those claims--and even in a marked manner--a departure from tradition.
If I were asked to adjudicate on the value of such claims, I should say that the doctrine is the body of the Lord and its right understanding is the spirit. Whosoever therefore puts forward a claim on behalf of secret formulæ in connection with the Eucharistic Rite may appear in the higher hermeneutics to have forgotten one thing which is needful--that there are efficacious consecrations everywhere. The question of apostolical succession would seem also in the same position, because the truly valid transmissions are those of grace itself, which communicates from the source of grace direct to the soul; and the essence of the sacerdotal office is that those who have received supernatural life should assist others so to prepare their ground that they may also in due season, but always from the same source, become spiritually alive. If there is another and higher understanding of any apostolical warrant, I do not know what it is. It remains, however, that the implicits with which I have been dealing are actually the implicits in chief of the Graal books, and that they do not make for harmony with the teaching of the orthodox churches does not need stating. From whence therefore and with what intention were they imported into the body of romance? Before this question can be answered we shall have to proceed much further in the consideration of the literature.
The few people who have approached the Graal legend
with any idea of its significance--I will not say from the mystic standpoint, but from that of a secret tradition perpetuated through Christian times, or a certain remanent thereof--have been wholly unequipped in respect of textual knowledge and in a manner of official religious training. They have, therefore, missed the points. Scholarship, on the other hand, has been well trained in its proper groove, but it has had no eyes for another and more especially for any mystic aspect. I am about to tabulate a few facts and to draw from them several inferences which have not been noted previously.
The Graal in the Graal Castle appeared on certain occasions in connection with the Mass, but it was, for the most part, manifested only at a feast. There it operated sometimes in relation to the idea of sustenance, but seemingly by way of transmutation. Subject to a single exception, it was not itself eaten or drunk, but it was passed over food and wine when these were available. When they were not forthcoming, it produced the notion of rare refection. The particular vessel--understood usually as a cup or chalice--which, as we shall see, was, under the distinctive name of Graal, the chief Hallow of the Castle, contained, however, blood and water, without increase, of which there is no record, or diminution, of which there is also no record, though on one occasion which passes all understanding it might have been supposed to occur. It was therefore solely a relic of great virtue and miraculous efficacy. We shall see in what manner, at the end of various quests, it was taken to heaven, or at least into deeper seclusion; but this, in spite of the Eucharistic implicit, did not mean, in the minds of the makers of romance, any sacramental decrease, because it is obvious from all the texts that Mass was said independently in church and hermitage while the Graal was still in the castle. The indubitable inference from the Book of the Holy Graal, and indeed from De Borron's poem, is that Britain was entirely heathen when Joseph came thereto, and it might therefore follow
that its priesthood held subsequently from him. In the later and longer text the claim of Robert de Borron is voided, or rather has undergone substitution; there are no secret words, of consecration or otherwise; the Eucharistic formula is given in full, and its variations, such as they are, from that of the Latin rite, bear traces of oriental influence derived through a Gallican channel and offer nothing to our purpose. In this case, and so far certainly as England was concerned, when the time came for the Graal to be taken away, that removal signified at most the loss of a great hallow, a precious relic, and, this granted, things remained as they were for all ecclesiastical purposes. In connection with the recession, a period was put to certain times of adventure, aspects of enchantment, inhibition and disaster, much as if a sovereign pontiff had laid the city or land of Logres under a long interdict and had at length removed it, one only sanctuary, during the whole period, remaining free from suspension.
The question therefore arises as to what was the nature of the pre-eminence ascribed to Joseph and his line. I speak here so far as its object and intention were concerned, and, of course, the readiest answer will be sought in the secret aspirations of the Celtic Church; but we shall see in the end that they are inadequate. There is another explanation which is not only ready to our hand, but is so plausible that it is desirable to exercise a certain caution against it. I would say, therefore, that the claims with which we are concerned must be distinguished from doctrinal confusions and errors of theological ignorance; of these we have full evidence otherwise. They are to be accounted for in the most natural of all manners, but, whether explicit or implied, the claims of Eucharistic efficacy and supereminence in succession carry with them an evidence of set purpose which makes it impossible to enter them in any category of mere blunders. I say this with the greater certainty because every concealed sense which we can trace in the
literature must be held to co-exist with manifest surface insufficiency even within its own province, and more especially regarding the Eucharist. We shall learn towards the term of our inquiry that this fact offers evidence in itself that the real mystery of the Graal was brought from a great distance--not exactly in time or place, but in the matter of connection with its source. I should add that other concealed literatures offer similar difficulties, as, for example, those which are constituted by the grossness of the Talmud, the barbarisms of the Zohar and other Midrashim, or the scientific fatuities of Latin alchemy. In conclusion for the moment as to this part, if I have spoken as though there were some fundamental spirit of rivalry to the external Church indicated by the fact of the romances, it is pre-eminently desirable to state that there is no intention, at least on my part, to present the Graal Mystery as a secret process at work outside the Church. It was assuredly working from within, as if in the opinion of those who held its keys they looked that it would act as a leaven and accomplish some modification in the entire mass. It would be a mistake to suppose that the Eucharistic and super-apostolical claims denied those which have their authority in the New Testament and in the outer offices of the Church. The institutions of the one remain as we know it already on sacred evidence; as to the other, its validity is in no sense diminished, but the presence of a still higher or at least of a distinct warrant is indicated, and it is of the essence thereof that it is not in competition; it is a secret thing, but it might have been manifested more openly, if the world had been worthy: the world, however, was so unworthy that the Palladium was taken still farther away. One evidence of the whole position is that the apostolate of Joseph II. is compared with that of the known apostles in other countries than Britain, and without diminution of either. This notwithstanding, there remains the irresistible suspicion of the external Church at the suggestion that one who was outside the
chosen twelve is represented as the first to consecrate the Eucharist under an imprescriptible title and to receive the benefit of installation in the episcopal chair; Peter, who in the days of his Master understood so little, seems to take an inferior place. But if, as I believe, the implicits of the Graal literature, are the rumour rather than the replica of secret sanctuary doctrine, there is probably a better understanding of both than can be found imbedded in the texts. The true intention may have concerned a statement of higher experience in the communication of the Divine Substance; or, in still more simple language, the external Eucharist conveys Christ symbolically, but the attainment of Christ in the higher consciousness offers a direct experience. The succession, the modes of ordination in a company of sanctity who have thus attained is ex hypothesi and de facto of a different order than that which, also ex hypothesi and per doctrinam sanctam, is conveyed from one to another by the episcopal intention. We have, however, to take things as they are offered to us in the official churches and in the glorious literatures of the soul, ascribing to them that sense in which we can understand them best, so only that it is our highest sense.
In conclusion as to the greater implicits, seeing that the import of the Secret Words in the cycle of Robert de Borron has eluded critical analysis, while that of the extra-apostolical succession was appreciated--it is sixty years since, and has occasioned scarcely a notice--by Paulin Paris, there is one thing at least obvious--that the second is more largely written on the surface of the particular texts than the first, and when we come to consider in their order the romances comprised in the cycle of the Lesser Chronicles, we shall find that there are several difficulties. It is only after their grave and full evaluation that I have put forward in this section the possession of certain secret words in relation to the Eucharist as being one of the two sovereign implicits of the Graal literature.
The lesser implicits may, for purposes of convenience, be tabulated simply as follows:--
b. The Implicits of the Merlin legend.
c. The Implicits of the Graal keepers.
d. The Implicits of the several Quests and the distinctions thereto belonging.
I recognise that the general subject of these and the other subsurface meanings is at this stage much too advanced for the reader, who is perhaps wholly unskilled, and hence those that are major I have sketched only in outline and those that are minor I have limited to a simple enumeration: it has been necessary to define all, so that the scope of the literature may be indicated in respect of our proper concern even from the beginning. After the problems which they offer have been studied at length in the light of the texts themselves, we shall turn for further help to certain coincident schools of symbolism.