Friday, November 13, 2009

The Cup of Christ and the Grail

The scene at Château Villette occurs almost exactly in the middle of The Da Vinci Code and in many ways represents the heart of the novel. It certainly generated passion within the audience with its discussion of Constantine’s role in the establishment of Christianity as well as the results of the Council of Nicaea and of course the suggestion that Jesus was “a man” married to Mary Magdalene who together produced at least one child.

Anyone who read the novel was privy to Robert Langdon’s comment to Sophie suggesting that "hearing the story of the Holy Grail from Leigh Teabing was like hearing the theory of relativity from Einstein." We’re led to believe that Teabing is the expert. In the larger scope of the gemstone of books, Teabing is more the devil’s advocate stirring up emotions and causing people to argue all sides of the subject. Most everything that Teabing says should be taken seriously…but not literally and certainly not as truth without exploring all sides of the argument.

The scene at Château Villette calls to action the questions that Langdon raises in the beginning of the movie: “How do we sift truth from belief? How do we penetrate years, centuries, of historical distortion…to find original truth?”

Teabing is very subtle, but he seems to be fully aware of the difference between the original story, The Story of the Grail, in which the Grail was merely called "the grail" and the continuations and renditions that followed which used the term "the Holy Grail."

Both he and Langdon comment that Sophie is a virgin—“a person who has never heard the true Grail story.” I suppose this means that in her imaginary existence she never encountered The Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes else she might have recognized certain synchronicities between it and the story she was acting out.

The drawing room at Château Villette has a fireplace big enough to roast an ox; the fireplace inside the hall at the Fisher King’s manor house is big enough for four hundred men to gather round and not one would be chilly. Teabing is a crippled old man…as was the wounded Fisher King and if we consider each of their underlying identities, both had occasion to be called "Teacher.” Sophie watches and listens intently as the Holy Grail is symbolically paraded before her; in the original story, Perceval watches as the grail passes by with every course of dinner that is served.

Teabing is correct when he says that in order to fully understand the Grail we must understand the Bible. Actually, the relationship between the two is reciprocal because the story about the grail reveals the primary message of the Bible. For a brief moment we might think that Teabing seems to appreciate the role the Bible plays…yet as soon as he makes the correlation between the two he begins to discredit the integrity of the book and uses his own interpretation of other people’s opinions and beliefs to accomplish the feat. He has a book of art called La Storia di Leonardo pulled from the shelf while drawing attention to quotes attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci: Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!

Teabing argues that the Bible is a product of man, not of God, and has evolved through innumerable translations, additions, and revisions. To add insult to injury, the handpicked volume became the Vatican's truth and anyone or anything that attempted to introduce discrepancies was declared a heretic.

"Nobody is more indoctrinated than the indoctrinator."

"What he means," Langdon said, "is that we worship the gods of our fathers."

"What I mean," Teabing countered, "is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false. As are the stories about the Holy Grail."

With Teabing, we need to weigh each sentence individually.

Teabing shares Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper which he claims is synonymous with the Holy Grail. In the artwork Jesus is seated with His disciples at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, an event that ushers in Passover. Teabing asks Sophie to close her eyes and tell him the number of wine glasses that appear on the table in the painting. In both the novel and the movie, Sophie responds that there should be one cup on the table, "The chalice." And yet two thoughts come to her mind: the Cup of Christ followed by the Holy Grail.

In the novel, when Sophie opens her eyes she counts thirteen small stemless glass cups on the table, yet makes the comment that no chalice is present. In the movie, when she opens her eyes, she claims there is “no single cup” on the table. "No Holy Grail." By her words there is nothing in the painting from which Jesus and the disciples could drink wine irrefutable discrepancy between the two presentations of The Da Vinci Code.

And yet Dan Brown and Akiva Goldsman concur on Teabing's reaction: "A bit strange don't you think, considering that both the Bible and our standard Grail legend celebrate this moment as the definite arrival of the Holy Grail. Oddly, Da Vinci appears to have forgotten to paint the Cup of Christ."

Actually, there’s more than one issue to resolve here. First, there is the discrepancy between the novel and the movie concerning the number of cups on the table and the only way to resolve it is to go to the source, the painting itself. A quick search for Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper on the Internet reveals people in the audience have already traveled this path and noted that not only are there thirteen small stemless cups on the table, but there is also a chalice etched on the side of the column on the left, directly above the disciple's head. Now, this hidden in plain view chalice further confuses the issue because Teabing—the novel's resident expert—fails to recognize its presence while insisting that Leondardo included the ‘V’ shaped space between Jesus and the disciple sitting to his right to depict "the chalice" or Holy Grail, claiming that it represented Mary Magdalene's womb and the bloodline of Jesus.

What is the grail? What is the Cup of Christ? What, if anything, does the "V" formation in the midst of people at the table represent?

The source for the grail is of course The Story of the Grail, the story that introduced it to the world, and within it the grail appears in only one scene. It is carried by a maiden in a procession that begins with a squire carrying a pure white lance that always has a drop of blood forming at its tip, followed by two squires carrying candelabra of fine gold with candles blazing, and another maiden with a silver platter. The grail is made of the purest, finest gold, decorated with gems, the costliest and rarest jewels that could be found on land or at sea and when it comes into the room, it casts such a brilliant light that all the candles suddenly seem pale. But while the Fisher King and Perceval enjoy a multi-course feast, the only bread that they eat is covered with slices of a peppered haunch and there is no ceremonious passing of a cup between them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the description of the grail that Chrétien uses likely comes from Ezekiel 28:13:

"You were in Eden, the garden of God, every precious stone
adorned you: ruby, topaz, and emerald, chrysolite, onyx,
and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and beryl. Your settings and
mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created
they were prepared."

In this regard, the grail is likened to the spirit—a vessel of divine energy—that holds a single mass wafer, symbolic of a unified life free of sin. It represents the journey or soul of a civilization that arrives following the bleeding lance. In the original story, the grail is not the Cup of Christ.

The Story of the Grail incorporates a golden cup which appears much earlier in the tale. It is a cup which has been stolen from the king just as Perceval arrives at King Arthur’s castle in his quest to become a knight. As the youth approaches, he passes a warrior at the gate who boasts of his prize:

"Right to his face, I have snatched up and carried off his golden cup filled with his wine!”

Perceval was much more interested in acquiring the armor colored red that the warrior at the gate was wearing and rode his hunter into the castle and straight to the hall where King Arthur was fretting over his loss while his knights sat around a table recovering from their recent battle. The youth is both rude and impatient in his demands to be made a knight which irritates the seneschal.

“My friend, you’re absolutely right.
Go seize the weapons of that knight!
Now they belong to you, and you’ll
discover that you were no fool
to come here for his armor red.”

Perceval accepts the seneschal’s words as truth and rides out to the gate where he tells the warrior to doff his arms or he will personally take them off…which he does after sending his javelin through the warrior’s eye and brain.

Now, Yvonet had followed Perceval out of the castle and laughs while the youth attempts to undress his foe. Rather than watch him slice the warrior into bits and pieces to get the armor off the body, Yvonet shows him the proper way to unfasten pieces and properly attire himself. The first thing the newly adorned knight does is hand the golden cup to Yvonet:

“Take back the golden cup and bring my greetings to the king.”

The fact that Perceval returns the golden cup that has been stolen from the king is as important to this story as the procession of the bleeding lance and the grail. But it also raises the question of what Chrétien de Troyes was trying to convey by suggesting the golden cup or Cup of Christ had been stolen to begin with.

In the Bible, the Cup of Christ indeed makes an appearance the evening of the Last Supper. Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-25, and Luke 22:7-23 each describe Jesus and His disciples celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is a feast that all of the descendants of Israel were instructed to celebrate every year going forward in rememberance of the Lord's Passover.

Exodus 12:12-20 (King James Version)
12For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
13And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
14And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
15Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
16And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.
17And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
18In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.
19Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.
20Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.

In the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus breaks the unleavened bread which he claims is symbolic of his body and shares a cup of wine that he asks each of the disciples to drink from saying it is the “blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

But the events of this evening were far from over. After dinner, Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and he told them to wait while he went to another spot to pray.

Matthew 26:37-44
37And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
38Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
40And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
42He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
43And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
44And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

In The Story of the Grail, the bleeding lance only passes by once in the procession at the Fisher King’s manor house while the maiden with the grail passes through the room with every course of dinner that is served. We’re privy to the understanding that God is served by the grail, but we have yet to respond to the question of why the lance was bleeding.

How can the five book gemstone guide our quest in sifting truth from belief?

In the movie Forrest Gump, mama always said “There’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes.” Then Lieutenant Dan loses both his legs in a battle...and he tells Forrest exactly how he feels about it:

“You cheated me. I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field! With honor! That was my destiny! And you cheated me out of it! You understand what I’m saying Gump? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. I had a destiny.”

In The Da Vinci Code, after Silas has broken the floor tile and retrieves the stone etched with Job 38:11, he walks to the altar where a Bible is open in order to find out exactly what this verse says. When he reads "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further," he realizes he'd been intentionally misled. Silas ventures up to Sister Sandrine’s room to question her and the last words she ever speaks are “Jesus had but one true message.”

Like Silas, we need to open a Bible to discover what the one true message of Jesus was.

John 12: 46-50
46I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
48He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
49For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
50And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

The Cup of Christ—the destiny Jesus came to fulfill—and the one true message of everlasting life are intricately connected to the bleeding lance...and the grail, which is "such a holy thing." But there's more to this story than what meets the eye. Teabing is passionate in his desire to reveal the truth about the Sacred Feminine...and at the end of The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon takes up his quest.