Sacred Texts  Sub Rosa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at



I have set aside in succession every school of tradition in Christian times as an exclusive mouthpiece of the tradition in its root-matter; the most catholic of all is the literature of spiritual alchemy, and it occupies a very high place, being especially a strong contrast to the scheme of symbolical Masonry, which is a legend of loss only. I think that the alchemists had the matter of the whole work, by which I mean the Scriptural Mystery of being born again of water and the Holy Spirit, and the fact--if I am right in the fact--that they did not give under their particular veils an accredited exposition of the Great Experiment, according to the canons of the Art and the tradition which reposed in its Wardens, is positive proof to myself that it was never put into official language. I am not less certain that Eckartshausen approximated only, and that if he had been fully qualified he would have dwelt more expressly upon the Eucharist. Loupoukine at his highest is an interesting and beloved ghost expressing a remote annunciation dictated perhaps by a strong sentiment rather than certain knowledge in the heart or even in the head. We remain therefore with all the counters in our hands, and perhaps some day they will be rearranged in yet another manner as the time approaches when nihil tam 

p. 662

occultum erit quod non revelabitur. Meanwhile, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that several minds will have raised already the question whether there are no traces in the annals of the Church itself. On the assurance that the Great Experiment does not set the Church aside, surely outside the official records and first-hand memorials of sanctity there may be some vestiges of the secret school in the East or the West. When Origen denied in all truth and sincerity that Christian doctrine was a secret system, he made haste to determine the subsistence of an esoteric part which was not declared to the multitude, and he justified it not only by a reference to the more secret side of Pythagorean teaching, but by the secrecy attaching to all the Mysteries. The question therefore arises whether the disciplina arcani, which is usually referred to the Eucharist, because to all else it must be foreign, may not be imbedded in that tradition of St. John the Divine of which we have traces certainly. I set aside without any hesitation the obvious objection that the Fourth Gospel has no Eucharistic memorial, and its inference, that for St. John less than for the other evangelists did the flesh profit anything. The great contention of the Gospel is that the Word became flesh, and if it fails to recite the high office and ceremonial of the Last Supper, it announces in the words of the Master (a) that this is a "meat which endureth unto everlasting life;" (b) that Christ is "the living bread which came down from heaven;" and (c) that "he that eateth thereof shall live for ever." In other words, the doctrine concerning the communication of Divine Substance is taught more explicitly by St. John than by the rest of the evangelists.

The traditions concerning the beloved disciple are numerous in the Christian Church, and on the thaumaturgic side they issue from the evasive intimation of his gospel that he was to remain on earth until the Second Coming of the Saviour. From his ordeal of

p. 663

martyrdom he therefore came forth alive, according to his legend, and so he remained, in the opinion of St. Augustine, resting as one asleep in his grave at Ephesus. St. Cyril also testifies that he never died. But it is Ephrem, I believe, who offers an explicit account of St. John's interment by his own will at the hands of his disciple, after giving them the last, instructions on the mysteries of faith. The grave was dug in his presence; he entered therein; it was sealed by the disciples, who returned as commanded on the day following, opened the sepulchre and found only the grave-clothes. This story represents an alternative legend of St. John's translation to heaven in the flesh of his body. From the place where he had rested so briefly an oil or manna was collected and was used for healing diseases.

That which did actually survive was the tradition of his secret knowledge, the implicit of which is that he who reposed on the breast of his Master did not arise and go forth without an intimate participation in the Mysteries of the Sacred Heart. Again the tradition has many forms; and seeing that St. Isidore of Seville in the sixth century tells how St. John not only broke and rejoined certain precious stones but converted the branches of a tree into golden boughs and changed pebbles into jewels, reconverting both at the end; seeing also that Adam de St. Victor commemorated one of these miracles in a prose of his period:

"Cum gemmarum partes fractas
Solidasset," &c.

it is not surprising that alchemists who had heard of these things adopted the belief that he was a great master of metallic transmutation--by which I speak of the material side and not of the spiritual work.

There is no need to say that this is fantasy of its period, and it is cited only as such. The legends and inventions--but it should be understood that there are many

p. 664

others--are the mere rumours, and so being are less even than intimations, concerning a traditional influence exercised by St. John, of which, as I have said, there are traces. But it has proved impossible in the past for researches into a concealed side of Christian doctrine to be actuated by another expectation than the discovery of obscure heresy, and it is important that we on our part should again make it plain to ourselves that there is nothing to our purpose in any devious ways of doctrinal thought, nor do those who pursue them, under the banner of the Graal and its quest, carry any antecedent warrant in the likelihood of things. It is said, for example, that there is a chain of evidence passing through Spain and the Knights Templars to St. John the Divine, so onward to the Essenes, after whom there is the further East. This is the pleasing fable of a few who look to India as the asylum-in-chief of all the veridic mysteries; but it has been found more convenient to state the fact of the evidence than to produce it. Much further back in the past the Abbé Grégoire affirmed that our Saviour placed His disciples under the authority of St. John, who never quitted the East and from whom certain secret teachings were handed on to his successors, the Johannine Christians, leading after many centuries to the institution of the Templars. Again, the evidence is wanting in respect of the last statement. The general hypothesis has found some favour with the critics of the Graal literature, and Simrock in particular, as we have seen, put forward the tradition of the Sacred Vessel as the root-matter of alleged Templar secrets. He also suggested a connection between the chivalry and the Essenes as the repositories of a concealed science confided by Jesus to His disciples and, in fine, by them communicated to Templar priests.

We hear otherwise of another unbroken chain of tradition hallowed by age, an esoteric oral tradition, revealing "the sacred lore of primæval times," intimations concerning which are to be found in the Johannine Apocalypse.

p. 665

[paragraph continues] Some have referred it to the antecedents of the Antichrist myth, to which allusions are supposed in one of St. Paul's epistles; but there is a wider horizon within which the whole subject calls to be regarded anew. Several of the speculative directions in which light has been sought thereon are difficult and--so long as we do not exaggerate the evidential possibilities--unnecessary to set aside. The Essenian consanguinities suggest themselves in connection with that which could have been only a contemplative school, the possible repository of the mystic experience which in early times lay behind external Christianity. Thebaid solitaries, children of the valley, so-called penitents of the desert, Eckartshausen, Lopoukine, sons of the Resurrection, and others too many for simple recitation here, are offered to the mind in their order as a possible channel of tradition from age into age. We can only say in our restraint that as there were so many sects with variations in doctrine, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there may have been one in seclusion having a difference, by the way of extension, concerning that spiritual practice which is called the science of the saints.

When I have spoken of the Johannine tradition in previous sections, I must not be understood as referring to a specific external community, such as that which has been popularly described in the past as Johannine Christians. The information concerning them, and reproduced by one writer from another, is based upon exceedingly imperfect research, but among some of my readers, who have not entered these paths, it may remain in some vague sense. It supposed an obscure sect which we are enabled to separate at once from all that we should ourselves understand by a connection with the disciple whom Jesus loved. Their patriarchs or pontiffs are said to have assumed the title of Christ, as Parsifal, with a higher warrant, took that of Presbyter Johannes; but the Christ of their spurious legend is neither King nor Lord, and with an irony all unconscious he is disqualified

p. 666

from the beginning by their own tinkered gospel, which substitutes simple illegitimacy for the virginal and supernatural conception of the Holy Canon. Virus of this kind suggests inoculation from the Sepher Toldosh Jeshu rather than from any Christian--as, for example, a Gnostic--sect.

It must be confessed that the traditional sources concerning St. John are chiefly the apocryphal texts, and they lie, one and all, under the suspicion of heresy. Leucius--sometimes called pseudo-Luke--who is said to have been a disciple of Marcion, wrote, among other apocrypha, the Acts of John, the particulars of which claim to be drawn from the apostle himself. Now there is, I suppose, no question that fabulatores famosi of this kind were not unlike Master Blihis; if for some things they depended on their invention, they drew much more from floating tradition, and it is obvious on every consideration that round no evangelist and no apostle were legends so likely to collect as the apocalyptic seer of Patmos. We shall therefore deal cautiously with the criticism which suggests that fathers of the Church like Tertullian drew their mythical accounts of St. John from heretical texts, for it is equally and more likely that the two schools drew from a source in common. The perpetual virginity of St. John, which entitled his body to translation or assumption, on the ground that virginity is not subject to death, is a case in point. The Catholic Church did not derive the counsels of perfection from Encratites or Manichees, and St. Jerome, who tells this story, would not owe it to pseudo-Luke, though Abdias--a very different narrator--in all probability did.

Speaking generally of the Johannine traditions, these represent the apostle as a saint of contemplation who transmitted directly from Christ, and as it is clear from his own gospel that he regarded the Eucharist, interpreted after a spiritual manner, as the condition of Divine Vision, we shall be antecedently prepared for the fact that there is an Eucharistic tradition concerning

p. 667

him. It is said that when preparing for translation he took bread, blessed, broke it and gave it to his disciples, exactly after the manner of his Master, but what he asked with uplifted eyes was that each of the brethren might be worthy of the Eucharist of the Lord and that, in such case, his portion might be also with theirs. It does not signify that, according to orthodox canons, this comes from a dubious source in doctrine the Eucharistic connection was not devised by that source, and--though it scarcely signifies for my purpose--I suppose--and it is interesting to note--that herein is the first recorded instance of communion in one kind.

The last asylum of St. John was Ephesus, which was a great house of theosophical speculations, and though the pivot and centre of the fourth gospel is that the Word was made flesh, that composite and wonderful text bears all the marks of being written in a Gnostic atmosphere. From that which it was intended to denounce, it has been thought to derive something in the higher part of the old eclectic dream, and as the personal influence of the writer must have been great, so also it is reasonable to think that it did not pass with him utterly away. The notion that he communicated something, and that this something remained, is so recurring, and amidst so many divided interests, that it is hard to reject it as a fiction; it is hard even to say that no Knight Templar sojourning in the East did never, in late centuries, hear strange tidings. Apart from this last, too curious dream, it will be seen that here is slender ground on which to affirm that the Secret Tradition connected more closely with the Church side of Christianity at a Johannine point of contact; but it is good to remember that not only has the last word not been said on the subject, but that we have listened here and there only to a strange rumour. I conclude that he who reported the deepest and most sacramental words which are on record from the mouth of Christ: "My flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed" is our

p. 668

first historical witness to the Eucharistic side of the Secret Tradition in Christian times. There are strange indications of sources behind the Gospel according to St. John. Behind the memorials of the Gnosis there are also indications of a stage when there was no separation as yet of orthodox and heretical schools, but rather an union in the highest direct experience, as if mysteries were celebrated, and at a stage of these there was the presence of the Master. But the presence of the Master was the term of experience in the Graal. I leave therefore the Johannine tradition, its possible perpetuation all secretly within the Church and its possible westward transition, as a quest so far unfinished for want of materials.

Next: VII. The Conclusion of This Holy Quest