Thomas Aquinas and the Grail
By Dr. Walter Johannes Stein
Thomas Aquinas, in the preface to his work on the Epistles of St. Paul, spoke in a wonderful way about the Holy Grail, and we will take these words as the starting- point for our study. Speaking of the Apostle who says of himself, “Not I, but Christ in me,” Thomas Aquinas writes:
“In considering this chosen vessel, we may look firstly to Him Who is the Author and Creator of it, Who formed it of purest gold and decorated it with rarest diamonds (Thomas Aquinas uses gold to signify the wisdom of Paul and his virtues he calls jewels); secondly, to the precious liquid wherewith it is filled and which is none other than the divine Name, poured out like fragrant oil—the teaching of Jesus Christ, the teaching the apostle alone desired to give. Thirdly, we may look to the manner in which this vessel is brought to the several nations of the world, by means of epistles and by messengers who are filled with its virtue; and fourthly, to the outpouring of the vessel itself as it goes on for ever and ever through the constant reading of these epistles in the gatherings of the saints. This teaching of the apostle, carried thus continually farther and farther in time and space, is in reality the teaching of the grace of Jesus Christ. The first nine epistles are addressed to peoples, the following four to leaders in the church, and the last to the Hebrews, among whom Christ had been born; herein is contained the whole order of the Mystery. Paul has marked its stages. In the last epistle he considers grace in its source and in its Author and Creator; then he follows it up through the members of the Mystical Body; finally he sees it communicated to the whole believing people, so that it flows in all the veins of this Body.”
In this passage Thomas Aquinas speaks of the wisdom of God that lives in Paul as the vessel in which the Name of God has been brought to the various nations of the world.
In a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Berlin on the 2nd May, 1912, he calls Paul “the great successor of John.” Dr. Steiner says that Raphael’s School of Athens is the school of Paul. A significant statement for the light it throws on the continuity of the stream of Christianity. Christ had a disciple whom He loved, one of His own immediate disciples. This, as Rudolf Steiner has explained, was the Lazarus who had been recalled to life by Christ and who was the writer of the John Gospel. His immediate follower is Paul, the founder of the School of Athens. There is an allusion to the founding of the School of Athens in the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where we read in the 34th verse: “Howbeit certain men clave unto him (Paul), and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Ageopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Speaking of what is contained in the well-known writings of Dionysius the Aeropagite, Rudolf Steiner has said that it goes back to the teaching of Paul in the School of Athens; it was, of course, not written down until long afterwards, and not by the original Dionysius but of a later successor. Rudolf Steiner pointed out that the disciples of Dionysius were always named Dionysius after their teacher. The so-called pseudo-Dionysius is thus one who imparted, albeit much later, the genuine Pauline teaching. We do not propose here to enter into an investigation concerning the authenticity of the Pauline Epistles; but anyone who knows how to read in them can easily see that their content has its source in the tradition that goes back directly to Christ, John and Paul. And it is because Thomas Aquinas knew this that he spoke as he did of the Pauline Epistles and their wisdom. The secret of these Epistles of Paul, including the Epistle to the Hebrews, has to be discovered by reading them in reverse order. To understand the words of Thomas Aquinas, we need to begin with the Epistle to the Hebrews. There is opened the fountain of grace, as Thomas Aquinas expresses it. This Epistle closes with the words: “Grace be with you all. Amen.”
The Epistle of Paul to Philemon ends with the words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
The Epistle to Titus ends with the words: “Grace be with you all. Amen.”
The second Epistle of Paul to Timothy ends: “Grace be with you all. Amen.”
The first Epistle of Paul to Timothy ends: “Grace by with thee. Amen.”
The nine letters to different peoples (Thessalonians, etc.) end as follows:
t “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
t The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
t “Grace be with you. Amen.”
t “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
t “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.”
t “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
t “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
t “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”
t “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith; to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.”
As we read these closing sentences one after the other, taking the Epistles in reverse order, we find Thomas Aquinas justified in what he says about the connection of these Epistles with grace.
In these Epistles is contained the secret of the Holy Grail. We discover it when we read them right through backwards. At the very end of the Epistles to the Hebrews we find allusion in the 13th chapter and the 20th verse to the “blood of the everlasting covenant,” and in the 12th chapter there is mention of the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, where are the angels; and of the assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in heaven. These words must be brought into connection with the 10th chapter of the Luke Gospel, where we may catch, as it were, a gentle whisper of the secrets of the Grail. For there it is said in the 20th verse that the names of those who are called “the seventy-two disciples of Christ” are written in heaven. These seventy-two are the knights of the Holy Grail; they represent the seventy-two peoples of the Earth. The temple in which, as the Grail saga relates, seventy-two choirs have been erected for them, is the Earth, the body of the Risen One. For the body of the Risen One is the Earth, and the temple of His body is the Earth. And of those who can behold this, who can behold in the Earth the union of the forces of Sun and Moon—of those who can behold the Grail, it is said in the 23rd verse: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see.” In the centre of the Grail temple an altar was erected to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit Who leads a divided mankind—split up into seventy-two languages—back to the primeval language and speech, back to the divine Word. The 9th chapter of the Epistle of the Hebrews tells of this Holy Spirit. There it is shown what the Earth was like before the Deed of Christ and what it becomes after the Resurrection. The Earth is pictured, to begin with, as a tabernacle; but then in the 11th verse it is said: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building.” These words point to the change that is wrought in the body of Christ—the Earth—through the Deed of Christ. Who the high priest really is, in whose place one can in truth only imagine the Christ, is told us in the 8th chapter, verses 1 and 2. “Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” This Epistle being addressed to the Hebrews, the communication concerning the Grail is clothed in a form which they can understand.
The Hebrew people are the people who provided the body for the Christ as a physical body. Now they are to learn what the risen body of the Lord is., Christ has changed the physical body which they themselves provided into the Body of the Resurrection. This is what the Hebrews are to understand. It is told them in the 7th chapter, verses 14 and following: “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
The order of Melchisedec means that the new tabernacle is the tabernacle of the Sun, as the old tabernacle was the tabernacle of the Moon. For the body of the old Adam was born of the Moon; was born, as is said in the John Gospel, of the will of the flesh, of the will of man. But the body of the new Adam was born of God, not by the power of the Moon, not by the force that is inherited from generation to generation, not by the rhythm of the Moon that holds sway in the embryonal life and growth. The new Adam was born by the power of the Sun. Thomas Aquinas knew that, hence his famous sentence: homo hominem generat et sol. This is what the Christ brought to pass. He carried the power of the Sun into the power of the Moon. Christ unites Sun and Moon in the Earth, beholds the Holy Grail. The union will indeed only be fulfilled in the future; but Christ has by His sacrificial Deed given a turn to world-evolution which shall lead to that event. Therefore it is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the 2nd chapter and the 5th verse: “The world to come, whereof we speak.” This Epistle to the Hebrews tells of the great and mighty change that is wrought in man and in the worlds by the Deed of Christ, which is the source and fountain of all grace. And so we read in the 1st chapter, verses 10 and following: “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands; they shall perish; but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.” All this is the revelation not of a man but of the Risen One Himself, Who has become the teacher of John and of Paul. John—the Lazarus who has been resurrected from the dead—has in him the resurrection power of Christ, and Paul has been converted by the Risen One. And so the School of Athens is the School of the Risen Christ. This is indicated in the opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.”
It would obviously be necessary to study each single verse of the Epistle from this point of view. In a short essay like this it cannot be done, but if anyone will follow the guidance of Thomas Aquinas and make a study of all the Pauline Epistles in the manner that we have briefly sketched for the Epistle to the Hebrews, he will find that the source and fountain of grace—Christ risen in the body—is indeed his teacher. In the 1st and 2nd chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews, mention is made of the Hierarchies and of their relation to the Christ and to man. It is said: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels. . . . But he who was made a little lower than the angels—we see that it is Jesus, crowned through the suffering of death. . . .”* The author of the Epistle of the Hebrews would say to us: Christ has descended from the consciousness of the Logos through the spheres of the angels down to human existence. He has humbled Himself and abased Himself, but we read in the 5th verse of the 2nd chapter: The world to come, whereof we speak, hath God not put.
*The English translation has been slightly altered.
In subjection unto the angels, but—so he means—unto Christ. We must therefore look for the Name of Christ—the true Name of Christ—high above the sphere of the lower angels. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says in the 2nd chapter and the 12th verse: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren”; and it is in reference to these words that Thomas Aquinas points out how one may contemplate the “precious liquid” wherewith the precious vessel is filled, and which is none other than the divine Name. The secret of this Name is contained in the four following epistles to the four leaders of the Church.
The epistle of Paul to Philemon is a letter of introduction. Onesimus is commended to Philemon. This Onesimus Paul calls his son, whom he has begotten in his bonds. It is clear that we have here to do with a figurative mode of speech. A spiritual event is described; it is a sacred gift of the spirit that Paul has bestowed upon Onesimus. Before he had received it, as is indicated in verse 11, Onesimus would have been “unprofitable” to Philemon, but now he can be of great profit to him, wherefore Paul sends him. This first epistle is thus a man. Paul sends not a message, but a messenger. He speaks of him in verse 12 in a deeply significant way. He says Onesimus is his own heart. We miss the point altogether if we interpret what is said in this epistle as though Philemon had a good-for-nothing servant whom Paul converted after he had run away from Philemon, and whom he is now sending back with this letter. That is nonsense. One would not say of such a servant: “He is my own heart, I have begotten him.” In verse 17, Paul goes so far as to say: “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” And the verses that follow, where again one could easily misinterpret—they too are to be taken in a spiritual sense. It is a special kind of discipleship that is here suggested.
In the next epistle, the Epistle of Paul to Titus, he speaks no longer merely of a discipleship, but in the 3rd chapter and 5th verse of the “washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” In the second Epistle of Paul to Timothy he addresses Timothy in the 3rd verse of the 2nd chapter, and calls him a soldier of Jesus Christ. He says in the 3rd verse of the 1st chapter that he remembers Timothy without ceasing in his prayers night and day. In the first Epistle, in the 7th verse of the 1st chapter, he speaks of the master or teacher, no longer of the disciple, nor of one who has undergone the washing of regeneration, nor of the soldier of Christ; he goes beyond all these and speaks of those who desire to be “masters of the law.” There is a gradual advance in these epistles. And the mastership consists in this, that he who attains it learns to know the name of the Lord. For this he must of course prepare his soul. Paul speaks of this preparation of soul in the picture of the widow, where he says in the first epistle to Timothy in the 5th chapter and 5th verse: “Now she that is a widow indeed (he means the soul of man) and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.” Such a widow is the soul of Paul himself, for he spoke of his relation to Timothy in this way, that he had him in remembrance night and day. In verse 9 of the 5th chapter he gives a warning not to take any such widow under threescore years. The Grail saga gives the very same indication when it says a man must ride sixty miles through the wood to come to the Grail mountain. Rudolf Steiner once told me that these sixty miles are sixty years of life. Whoever acquits himself thus comes to the “mystery of faith in a pure conscience” as it is said in the 9th verse of the 3rd chapter. In the 5th verse of the 1st chapter, the whole is summed up in the words: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”
But whither, we needs must ask, does this way lead? What does man find by following this path? He finds, as is told in the 16th verse of the 6th chapter of the first Epistle of Timothy, Him “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen nor can see.” It is thus required of man to take the path leading to something no man can see. No less is required than to take the path that leads to the Supersensible. Therefore is it said in the 16th verse of the 3rd chapter of the 1st Epistle to Timothy: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world.” Faith is there for those who cannot see. It is thus by the angels alone that a full knowledge of the Name of the Lord can be attained; to men it can only be preached. But Christ, as is said in the passages quoted above, stands higher than the angels, and this is expressed in the words: “He is the Lord.”
And so the Name of Christ is the Divine Name, the Name of His Glory. That is the message of these four epistles. Their theme is that he alone finds the Christ in His glory who lifts himself to the stage of mastership where he becomes like unto the angels. Such a one was Thomas Aquinas, who for this reason went by the name of Doctor Angelicus. In the nine following epistles we are shown how the stream of grace is guided to the various peoples, to each one in its own special manner. Here again it is always the Lord Jesus Christ, and ‘Kyrios,’ of whom Paul speaks. The whole secret of the divine Hierarchies and of Christ’s relation to Them is contained in these epistles. It is impossible to make mention here of all the passages that bear on this; they can be found by reading the epistles, though one will need to make use of the original Greek as well as the translation.
To take one example, in the Epistle to the Ephesians the words occur: “How that by revelation he made known until me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” What do these words mean? They signify that since Paul has received the mystery of Christ and of His place in the Hierarchies, therefore can not the Gentiles also find access to Christ? Or the Gods of the Gentiles are the Hierarchies. And he to whom the mystery of the Hierarchies has been revealed—he is the apostle of the Gentiles. Therefore he says in verse 8: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers (these are names of the Hierarchies) in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
Thomas Aquinas is indeed right when he says that Paul has made clear the whole ordering of the mystery of the Divine Name and has marked its stages. The word gradalis that he uses means ‘gradually,’ or ‘stage by stage.’ Hence the word Grail. The mystery of these stages and of this Name is at the same time the mystery of the Holy Grail. The descent of Christ from the heights of divine wisdom through the Hierarchies of the angels to human existence—that is the very kernel of the teaching of the School of Athens and also of the history of the Holy—‘gradually’ descending and ascending—Grail.
*First published in Die Drei, Vol. VI., No. 9 (Stuttgart).
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