The Holy Grail of Pope Francis: Our Lady of Lujan and Undoer of Knots

An Argentinian silversmith, Juan Carlos Pallarols, is handcrafting a simple silver chalice for Pope Francis, which will be embossed with two images of the Blessed Mother:  Our Lady of Lujan, an Argentinian image of the Immaculate Conception, associated with a 17th century miracle, and Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a German devotion which Cardinal Bergoglio brought to Argentina in the 1980′s and has since promoted there.  The same silversmith collaborated with Cardinal Bergoglio in designing another chalice, embossed with the image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, which the Cardinal presented to Pope Benedict shortly after he ascended to the Chair of St. Peter.

It is quite interesting that that this Argentinian pope should have a personal attraction to the German devotion.  It provides a kind of link between the two successors of St. Peter, of which there are others. Continue reading

Tolkien and the Mystery of Faith

Jen sent me the following quote of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth…by…which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, and take on that complexion of reality of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

I have read it before, but am stuck now on the way he expresses the relationship between the Eucharist and the chivalric ideals of “romance, glory, honour, fidelity.”  Indeed the Jesus in the Eucharist is “eternal endurance” itself.

Tolken expresses The Mystery of Faith well:  “out of the darkness,” “the one great thing to love,” “which every man’s heart desires.

The Holy Grail of True Knighthood

True knighthood is the Holy Grail of manhood, a revelation attainable only by the pure.  The proud are ever barred from taking a draught from it.

Our very captivation with the Holy Grail consists in the fact that it has not been found and only few have even seen it.  And, of course, the reason that the mysterious cup remains ever out of reach for the ordinary man and is because its quest is fraught with danger:  fearful obstacles, inscrutable riddles, and deadly foes.

To those who possess true manliness, such obstacles are the reason why The Quest is so appealing.  By definition manliness is the penchant to overcome obstacles. The more hopeless the attainment, the bigger and better is the man who laughs in the face perils to be found there.  Those who are lesser men still aspire to the Grail, but fear leads them to experience the danger only vicariously by following along at a safe distance, through spectator sports, litrerature and movies.

And yet there is a temptation in that boldness to which those gallant men of the Round Table too easily succumb.  The bigger and better that a man thinks he is, the more likely he is to fail utterly in attaining the goal.  Gawain, for example, showed himself the fool for this very reason.  And Lancelot had to be taken down a few notches (many actually) before he was even granted a partial fulfillment of his desire.  Galahad attained the grail, not so much by his prowess, but more so, by his humility and purity.

There is a strange and wonderful coincidence of opposites in the embodiment of true chivalry:  courage, strength, boldness and skill, on the one hand; reverence, humility, meekness, and deference on the other.

In a sermon written during his Anglican Period, entitled, “The Weapons of the Saints,” Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman couched the spiritual life in terms of a war in which the stratagem for victory demands an inversion of worldly values:

But in that kingdom which Christ has set up, all is contrariwise. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” What was before in honour, has been dishonoured; what before was in dishonour, has come to honour; what before was successful, fails; what before failed, succeeds.

It is this inversion that constitutes the real difficulty to the attainment of the Holy Grail of true knighthood.  It is the riddle of riddles.  The Black Knight, enemy of our souls, guards the bridge that leads to the hermit who is ensconced away from the manners of worldly men.  It is from him that we are to unlearn our pride and find the real weapons by which we are to succeed in our quest.

Cardinal Newman’s sermon is a commentary on Our Lord’s words: Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first (Mt 19:30).  And he supports his thesis from many other passages of the New Testament concerning, for example, strength made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), the of putting down the proud and the exalting of the humble (Lk 1:52), the blessedness of those who suffer and the woes of those who are satisfied (Mt 5:2-10; Lk 6:24-26), and God’s choice of the weak and despised to do his work (1 Cor 1:27).  It should be abundantly clear to anyone with a modicum of familiarity with scripture that God triumphs in and through those who have rejected worldly ambition and self-assuredness.

The invisible powers of the heavens, truth, meekness, and righteousness, are ever coming in upon the earth, ever pouring in, gathering, thronging, warring, triumphing, under the guidance of Him who “is alive and was dead, and is alive for evermore.”

Truth, meekness and righteousness, according to Venerable Newman, are the real weapons of the saints, the means by which they are victorious over Satan, sin and death.  The Holy Grail of Christian Knighthood is so hidden that in order to find it the knight must lose himself in the process.

This is that intangible, greater thing, after which young men aspire.  It is the stuff of true nobility.  It is strength without arrogance, command without self-interest.

Venerable Newman notes that “we like to hear marvellous tales, which throw us out of things as they are, and introduce us to things that are not.”  The paradox of the cross and of the victorious King who triumphs through His own death is the cosmic myth, the retelling of which is the incantation that opens the sealed doors of our hearts. He that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth, is the only one with the key (Ap 3:7).

The beloved disciple saw Him mounted on a white horse, and going forth “conquering and to conquer.” “And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron.” [Rev. xix. 14, 15.]

The Quest of the Holy Grail is a lesser myth, as are all other stories when compared to the gospel myth in which the most fantastic tale is merged with history, and where what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, a literary climax beyond our wildest hopes, is made the substance of all our hopes and the ground upon which we walk in the daylight of this world.

Indeed, the return of the king in Tolkien’s mythology is an ascendency by way of descent.  Aragorn and the Dúnedain are content to be despised if that will better equip them to protect and defend the peoples of Middle Earth.  Aragorn himself must choose the path leading downward, literally underground, through the Paths of the Dead under the White Mountains, like Christ in His harrowing of hell, if he is to triumph on behalf of those entrusted to his care.

After Gandalf  had “passed through fire and deep water,” and had completed his own christic transformation, he delivered a message to Aragorn from the Lady of Light, Galadriel:

Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea (Book III, Chapter V).

Aragorn chose the path of truth, meekness and righteousness.  He was prepared to face his fear, and he was not afraid to confront his own ego with the double-edged sword of God’s truth.  He chose to go down in order to go up, to be last in order to be first.  Yet the myth of Aragorn cannot be a vicarious substitute for our own humiliation.  We must really experience it.  Newman has it right:

We so love the idea of the invisible, that we even build fabrics in the air for ourselves, if heavenly truth be not vouchsafed us. We love to fancy ourselves involved in circumstances of danger or trial, and acquitting ourselves well under them. Or we imagine some perfection, such as earth has not, which we follow, and render it our homage and our heart. Such is the state more or less of young persons before the world alters them, before the world comes upon them, as it often does very soon, with its polluting, withering, debasing, deadening influence, before it breathes on them, and blights and parches, and strips off their green foliage, and leaves them, as dry and wintry trees without sap or sweetness.

We must not loose our idealism as we grow older, but “heavenly truth” should purify our tendency to experience knighthood vicariously through its trappings and shards.  Ours is to be the knighthood of the real Dúnedain, a hidden knighthood in search of the hidden, but very real Holy Grail.

As a Franciscan, I have had many opportunities to reflect upon the militant example of Saints Francis and Maximilian, and of the great tertiary St. Louis of France.  The Holy Patriarch of the Seraphic Order, Our Holy Father St. Francis, was well aware of the Arthurian legends and aspired to knighthood and the Holy Grail himself.  Later, after he too had chosen the path downward, he called the simple brothers who lived in seclusion and despised status and pomp, his “Knights of the Round Table.”

In this last week of ordinary time, during the “octave” of the Feast of Christ the King, we look for His return at the end of the world, when he will preside over the cosmic resolution to the perennial struggle of St. Michael and the dragon.  Then He will raise his wounded hands over the universe and all of us will be witnesses of the full revelation of His truth, a more powerful illumination than possession of the Grail itself.  Then we will all know what true chivalry is and whether we are worthy to drink from the cup filled by the hands of Him who carried the sword of truth and slayed the dragon by His humble acceptance of our condition and by His willing suffering and death.

The weapons of the true knight are those of the saints: truth, meekness and righteousness.  They are best fitted to help us along the way of our Quest, a path that leads up a narrow crag in a mountain.  But this path to the heights strangely leads us downward by many uneven steps, until we arrive in the sanctuary of the Holy Grail and find rest in the yoke of Christ on the Holy Mountain of His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

At the Quest’s End

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There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not (Is. 53:2-3).

The poor Christ, hidden and unknown, shorn of all status, though He was in the form of God (Phil. 2:6), has placed himself at the service of all and will not suffer death until his quest is accomplished.  His honor and glory is obtained through a victory of the divine order and of a magnitude that human minds cannot fathom.  The knighthood of Christ has since been realized in precious few, only in those who are able to resolve the dignity of fatherhood, kingship and justice with suffering, revilement and honorable death.  The quest of a knight of Christ ends in victory or defeat at the Place of the Skull.

The code of chivalry was more or less imposed by the Church on military men, who at one moment conformed out of necessity and then in the next brought all the excess of their passionate natures to bear on the ideal.   Thus they transformed the code of fair play and honor into an art of sophisticated manners, the posturing of social status and a mockery of respect for women.  St. Francis saw through the romanticism and rejected status and chose to be the knight errant of penance and peace.  Few were those, who, like St. Louis, King of France, wielded the sword and put it exclusively to the service of righteousness and the protection of the weak. Continue reading

A Subtle Dragon

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When I posted last I was poking around a little on Anthony Esolen’s page in the Touchstone archives and found an excellent article on the Quest called “The Lovely Dragon of Choice: The Freedom Not to Be Free.” I think I will make it the topic for discussion at tomorrow night’s men’s discussion group meeting in Griswold.

I recommend a careful reading of the piece. It is worth reading twice.

What I took away from it is the way in which the “Dragon of Choice” has insinuated itself, not only into the hearts of those who consciously purvey the culture of death, but also into the hearts of those who wish to be the champions of life. In fact, life itself is a quest full of adventure, something that is dissolved by calculation and cleverness. Esolen pegs “Modern Man,” and by that I mean not the “other guys” but all of us:

Modern man is afraid of the quest, and is not particularly fond of hunger and cliffs, either. He will not see that the very point of an adventure is that you cannot plan it. And to be in quest of the Holy Grail—that is, the mystery of Christ made manifest in our world under the humble appearances of bread and wine—is to be prepared for the appearance, sudden and awful, even on a bare rock and when one’s stomach knots with hunger, of the ineffable God. Continue reading

Templar Update

The universally acknowledge (i.e. in the universe of Hertfordshire) expert on all things Templar has condescended to tell us what the Vatican’s new release of a Templar prayer means:

Modern day Templar Ben Acheson told the Herald: “This seems to be an attempt at apologising. Saying sorry by releasing a poem is rather cryptic and dramatic, but the Templars and the Vatican like to conduct business that way when it comes to matters grave and ancient.”

Ben, old man, What is so cryptic about a prayer to Our Lady by the monks who actually pronounced their vows to “God and St. Mary?  Perhaps you have access to the ancient manuscripts?  No one else seems to have a copy of the prayer.

Even the warden of the Illuminati Conspiracy Archive from whence comes the link cannot verify the story of the supposed Templar/Vatican conspiracy codified in the prayer:

TM:I have no definite opinion on the Acheson claims. The local Hertfordshire “press,” however, have been “reporting” on this for quite some time, and never seem to seriously question the validity of the Achesons. This, it seems, is outright exploitation of the public’s credulity in the wake of the Da Vinci Code phenomenon.

I know I am such a stick in the mud.  I can’t help it.  I just think it would be much more fun if these Templar poseurs would do more of the reanactment stuff and less of the esoteric skullduggery.

The Five Alls

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I was just reading from Chivalry by Léon Gautier. The work is about a century old, and is a basic tome on the subject of Chivalry. Contemporary historians attack the work, in spite of the scholarly reputation of the author, because, they say, it relies too heavily upon medieval literary sources and does not provide a complete and accurate historical analysis.

On the other hand, the work is thoroughly Catholic, and whatever may be its limitations, it certainly is not the product of skepticism. While it may be a bit idealistic, in this case I don’t think it can hurt. Chivalry has always been an ideal, difficult to achieve, a Holy Grail always just beyond our grasp.

In any case, it is well to note that the Ten Commandments of the Medieval Knight is a codification of the Chivalrous ideal that was compiled by Gautier in this wonderful book. The work is out of print, but you might find it in an Amazon.com search.

The title of this post, as the photograph illustrates, is the Five Alls. I read about it in Gautier’s book. For some reason, pubs in England are often named the Five Alls Inn or the Five Alls Pub, etc. I have not been able to find the origin of the usage, but the signs on these pubs indicate the meaning. The soldier says, “I fight for all,” and the bishop, “I pray for all. The King (centrally located) says, “I rule for all,” while the lawyer (God help us) says, “I plead for all.” The last of the poor souls, John Bull (the proverbial Englishman) says, “I pay for all.” Continue reading