Quoth the Sage: “Never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful.”

But if a soul is not beautiful, how can it see the First Beauty?  It must make itself beautiful.  But how can it make itself beautiful?  It must have an exemplar to follow.  But surely the only true exemplar of Beauty is Beauty itself.

So how can the soul make itself beautiful in order to see Beauty, unless it has first seen Beauty?

What Plato’s language of rebirth and memory captures, well before Plotinus’s language about the ascent of the soul toward Beauty captures the same thing, is a real necessity of prior knowledge of some things, some things that Aquinas would call “known in a general and confused way” but not known clearly and perhaps not even consciously.  The soul begins by knowing something about beauty.  Based on that, it can make itself a little beautiful.  Being more beautiful, it can see and recall beauty more clearly.  And hence it makes itself a little more beautiful.

But this account of the journey of the soul, by steps, to some great but dimly foreshadowed End, is nothing other than a literary construction known as a Quest.  When Perceval (or any other knight, for that matter) sets out to find the Holy Grail, he knows what he seeks, but not how impure he is or how unworthy to find it.  As he realizes his defects, he undergoes purification.  The purification is what enables him to see what he could not see before.

And it all comes down to the seeing.  Is there a medieval Grail legend anywhere in which the knight takes the Grail home, quaffs mead from it at feasts, gives it to his lady, or donates it to the local museum?  The desire for the Holy Grail is not the desire for acquisition but for Sight.

But the distinction between the pleasure of acquisition and the pleasure of seeing is exactly the distinction that Aquinas draws between the Good and the Beautiful.

Now at last all is clear.  The knight questing for the Holy Grail is the divine spark of the Soul seeking to return to its first sight of Beauty.  The Primal Beauty is the Holy Grail.

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