I’ve loved the legend of King Arthur since I saw the Disney version of the The Sword in the Stone, but my favorite version of the story is T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. The book is broken into four parts. The first part is where Disney got there idea to show King Arthur as Wart, a squire to a young night, with the wise but fumbling magician Merlin as his tutor, who teaches him wisdom by turning him into various animals. It goes on to tell the story about Arthur becoming King of England and his Knights of the Round Table, who would be taught to use their skill in battle not for the own gain, but to defend the helpless. King Arthur dies in the end, but the legend is that he will one day return to reestablish the Kingdom.
King Arthur, of course, is a Christ figure. Christ is the true King who came into the world as a nobody, who came “to serve and not to be served,” and who came to teach us to fight for truth and goodness, to help others, and to put their good ahead of our own. He died, but He rose from the dead on the third day. He ascended into heaven, but we believe that He will come back again to fully establish the Kingdom of Heaven.
Before his final battle with Mordred, when King Arthur knows that he and his knights must die, even in victory, he takes a young page on the side and tells him this: “Now this king had an idea, and the idea was that force ought to be used, if it were used at all, on behalf of justice, not on its own account. Follow this, young boy. He thought that if he could get his barons fights for the truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as once it used to be. So he gathered together all the true and kindly people that he knew, and he dressed them in armour, and he made them knights, and taught them his idea, and set them down, at a Round Table. There were a hundred and fifty of them in the happy days, and King Arthur loved his Table with all his heart.”
After telling the page about his idea, King Arthur tells him that they won’t survive the battle, except for one page, “This page was called Tom of Newbold Revell near Warwick, and the old King sent him off before the battle, upon pain of dire disgrace. You see, the King wanted there to be somebody left, who would remember their famous idea. He wanted badly that Tom should go back to Newbold Revell, where he could grow into a man and live his life in Warwickshire peace—and he wanted him to tell everybody who would listen about this ancient idea, which both of them had once thought good. Do you think you could do that, Thomas, to please the King? The child said, with the pure eyes of absolute truth: ‘I would do anything for King Arthur.”
Like that young page, we have been taught the great idea of the King. This idea is the love and mercy of God who came Himself to suffer and die for our salvation, who rose again from the dead, and who will come again to establish His Kingdom of Peace. We are sent out into the world to spread that great idea, the Gospel, and to ensure, as King Arthur told Tom, “Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle, like those ones here. I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind. It has flickered often. I am giving you the candle now—you won’t let it out?”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.