AMONG all external organisations there is one institution--and there is one only--which, on the principle that the best is the nearest, might be expected to offer some of those signs and warrants that we should expect in a society, a sodality, a body--let me say, at once, in a church--which could and did connect with the idea of the Holy Graal--as something nearest to its source, if not indeed that centre from which the entire mystery originated.
The early history of the Holy Graal, as distinguished from the several quests undertaken for the discovery of that sacred object, is one of Christianity colonising. We know in the French cycle, by the universal voice of the texts, that it was a mystery which was brought into Britain, and seeing that the legend, as a whole, is--apart or otherwise from anything involved by the implicits thereof--assuredly of Celtic origin, its religious elements, in the absence of any special and extrinsic claims, must be accounted for most readily by the characteristics of the Celtic Church.
It is much closer to our hands than anything which has been suggested alternatively, and it was unquestionably
that environment in which some of the legends developed. Those who have previously recognised, in their imperfect and dubious way, that the great legends have a mystic aspect, and that hence they are probably referable to something in instituted mysticism, have put forward bare possibilities, and, independently of these, scholarship has itself gone much further afield. It has thought of the Far East as the home of the Holy Graal, and some who are mystics by more than a predisposition on the surface, know certainly--even if it is in a certain sense only--that there is a country deep in Asia. Now, albeit the limits of our evidence concerning the Celtic Church are circumscribed somewhat narrowly, there seems no doubt that this Church bore traces of Eastern influence--by which I mean something stronger and plainer than resides in the common fact that Christianity itself came to us from the oriental world. If, therefore, the Holy Graal has any marks and spirit of the East, it might be accounted for in this manner by way of the most colourable inference. If, however, we prefer to consider without any further preface what is the palmary claim of all, and if therefore we appeal to the veiled suggestion of pre-eminence in the Graal priesthood in respect of an extra-valid form of consecrating the Eucharistic elements and of a super-apostolical succession, it may be advanced that here is simply an exaggerated reflection of that which was actually claimed by the Celtic Church and more especially by that Church in Wales. The claim was that it had a title to existence independently of Rome, Christianity having been established in these islands for a long period prior to the arrival of St. Augustine, which arrival, from this point of view, was an incursion upon territory already conquered and held to a defined extent rather than a sacred endeavour to spread the gospel of Christ; thus it brought spiritual war rather than the light of truth. I have classed these two points together--that is to say, the alleged oriental origin and the original independence of Rome--not because I regard the second as important in
comparison with the first, but because as a fact we know that the Celtic Church had a certain autonomous existence long before the legend of Joseph of Arimathæa was devised in the local interests of Glastonbury. It was not, therefore, at the beginning any question of Angevin ambition. Further, we can, I think, understand very well how this claim may have been exaggerated in legend, so as to cover--as I have said--the special implicits which I have traced in the Graal literature, and therefore to account for it within as the general characteristics of the Celtic Church may account for it reasonably without. I propose now to set forth some other specific analogies, from which we shall be enabled in fine to draw a general conclusion whether we can be satisfied with the evidence as it so stands, or whether we must go further. Let us remember, in the first place, that the earlier point, if it can be taken apart from the later, would mean probably an origin for the Holy Graal independent of Celtic environment, like that of some Eastern heretical sects which passed into southern France; otherwise a derivation through Spain; or, as an alternative to both, the transit, for example, of the Johannine tradition westward. But if we abandon the earlier and are compelled to have recourse, or this mainly, to the later point, then the legend of the Holy Graal--because it contains elements which are foreign to the mind of romance, though it is expressed in the romance form--must belong to that class of fable which has been invented in an external interest, and its position is not much better than one of forged decretals; it is, indeed, a decretal in literature, put forward in many forms and with many variants, and it would be useless to look therein for any secret intention beyond that of the particular pretension which it was designed to support. With the merits and defects of Celtic Christianity in Britain, we are sufficiently acquainted to deal rather summarily respecting the value of any mystical suggestions which are discernible in the cycles or remanents of literature which must be regarded as belonging thereto.
[paragraph continues] The suggested implicit with which I am dealing, if found to obtain, would signify therefore the closing of the whole inquiry.