Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
One does not have to hold a praiseworthy, or even a defensible point of view to be a great writer. A year or two ago Newsweek published a chapter from one of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, a series about a pubescent warlock – not exactly something Christians ought to be happy with, but a spellbinding piece of writing. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code comes from the same mold, an inviting piece of writing, conveying a message somewhere between silly and dangerous. The characters are engaging – one gets to know and like the hero immediately, and the heroine shortly thereafter. The reader soon comes to hope that the novel will have them marrying and riding off into the sunset at its end. The villains are introduced slowly, and sometimes with an element of surprise – they are cast as members of opposing forces, between which fate has placed the quick witted hero and heroine. The descriptive elements are good, centering around art, architecture, and the Church; the technical details are usually precise and generally correct; the history is … well … this is a novel. The problem is the message and not the medium.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have cautioned his former pupil, Pope Eugenius III, that repetition tends to make falsehood more and more believable. The first time you hear a foolish notion you might just laugh. The second time you hear it, it is still foolish, but it has the ring of familiarity: “I’ve heard that before somewhere.” Repeated hearings raise the falsehood to the level of a theory: “Gee, a lot of people say the same thing – I wonder….” Throw in the testimony of a few experts, dressed in the appropriate scientific or academic costumes, surrounded by gold-stamped books or high tech laboratory equipment, and the former falsehood-become-theory is promoted once again to a possible fact: “I saw someone from Harvard explain it on television….” And, of course, continued repetition turns the possible into the probable.
The falsehood associated with The Da Vinci Code is known as the “goddess movement,” the worship of the “feminine principle,” “ancient natural religion,” “Wicca,” or any of a number of other pagan notions. The first time most of us heard anything about “the goddess” was probably back in the late 60s, when – along with clown masses, pentecostal masses, and polka masses – we began to hear about naked nuns running around in the woods, worshipping mother earth with their bodies. In those days, the idea of a naked nun spread-eagled in the woods was either an absolute blasphemy, or a back slapping hoot of a joke, but no one took it seriously – no one though of it as “religion.” Today we routinely see articles about how paganism is resurgent, often at the expense of Christianity, and how the Church leadership itself is adopting the pagan principles of “the goddess.”[i]
It is hard to say whether Da Vinci is just another attempt to earn a few dollars from the latest fad, or an actual attempt to promote “the goddess.” Only on page 451 – after absorbing a great deal of history that “sounds like something I’ve heard before on TV” is the reader told that the first four hundred fifty pages were simply in the hero’s dream (talk about “deniability”!). Da Vinci‘s plot revolves around the foolish notion, popularized in a 1982 pseudo‑history, called Holy Blood, Holy Grail – itself not a bad “read” until about halfway through, its authors, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, announce the thesis that the Merovingian kings were descended from Jesus Christ and His wife, Mary Magdalen!! – and that this kingly bloodline still runs in people alive today. As evidence Baigent and Company had no more to say than, in effect: “It could have happened; therefore it did happen.” Da Vinci acknowledges the “dubious leaps of faith in their analysis,” but is, itself, an attempt to raise this foolish notion to the level of a competing theory.
As the story goes, God is the female-male dyad, “Shekinah-Yahweh” (Da Vinci, p. 309), Mary Magdalen is “the goddess” or the “feminine principle” in the divine plan to return to things to the “ancient religion” – Mary is “Yin” to Jesus’ “Yang,” as it were. After the crucifixion, Jesus’ plan was to leave the Church in Mary Magdalen’s keeping, but her position was usurped by Peter and the other male chauvinist Apostles (p. 248). She and Jesus’ child, Sarah, escaped to France with the help of Joseph of Arimethea (p. 255). Sarah’s descendants were the kings of France – until the Church, run by the successor henchmen of Saint Peter, plotted to replace them with Pepin and the descendants of Charlemagne (p. 257-8).
The Church, then, is the “bad guy,” foisting a misconception of the “ancient religion” on the people, making it, and women in general, out to be malevolent, and replacing it with a male dominated substitute. The Emperor Constantine chose the books of the Bible, eliminating those which mentioned the “feminine principle” (p. 231) and called the Council of Nicæa, which turned the mortal Jesus into the Son of God (p. 233). The Church invented “the concept of ‘original sin,’ whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy” (p. 238).
All of this probable theory was “substantiated” by “a stash of hidden documents [four trunks full] buried beneath the ruins of Herod’s temple, which had been built atop the ruins of Solomon’s temple.” The documents had been discovered by none other than Count Godefroi de Bouillon, a descendant of Mary Magdalen, and ruler (not king) of Jerusalem around 1099. De Bouillon established the Knights Templar to secretly excavate the documents, and a secret society known as the Priory of Sion to protect and perpetuate the secret of the royal bloodline (p. 157‑8).
The Da Vinci Code is set in the early twenty-first century, a little bit after the millennium. The recently deceased Pope (presumably, John Paul II) and Opus Dei, the personal prelature created by the late Pope, are cast (as is usual when liberals do the casting) as militant conservatives. Under a more enlightened new Pope, Opus Dei fell into disfavor and threat of being disbanded, causing its Prelate to embark on a desperate attempt to steal the documents of Godefroi de Bouillon in order to blackmail the new Pope into allowing Opus Dei’s continued existence (p. 415-7). The Prelate’s attempt is the basis for all the murder and skullduggery in the book.
The other “bad guys” are rogue elements of the Priory of Sion who want to see the secret documents released because “Something had to be done. [Lest] the world be ignorant forever … [lest] the Church be allowed to cement its lies into our history books for all eternity … to influence indefinitely with murder and extortion” (p. 408-9).
The hero and heroine, of course, are the reasonable people in the midst of all this: « religion is bunk, to be sure, and its more aggressive male tendencies need to be tempered with the wisdom of “the goddess” – but on the other hand, religion can be a civilizing and comforting influence, and its devotees ought not be so suddenly deprived of all their deeply held beliefs. » They are an rather chaste couple for a novel which aims at a radical revision of human sexuality as a mode of religious expression. The novel itself is relatively modest, even in its description of a meeting of the Priory of Sion in which this “mode of religious expression” is publicly carried out by the Grand Prior and his wife. That is precisely the great danger of this book – liberalism is made to look so reasonable and chaste at the expense of a foolish looking Catholicism.
Hopefully, this review will not motivate anyone to buy the book, nor make anyone more comfortable with “the goddess” by virtue of having read about “her” here before. In spite of the writer’s ability to craft a reasonable and likeable hero and heroine, the history which they cite may sound good but it is false. The “goddess” is bunk! Repeat that a few dozen times, so you remember that you have heard it before. For you will hear about “the goddess” again. Liberalism runs the world, and liberalism is fueled by subjective opinion and self indulgence, the antithesis of truth and morality. To continue to survive and prosper, liberalism will struggle, vainly of course, to defeat Jesus Christ, who is the Truth and the Author of the moral law. Look for more nonsense about “the goddess.” And say it again a few dozen times: The “goddess” is bunk!
You said that some of
the history in the novel, The Da Vinci Code, was not accurate. Can
you be more specific? And why does it matter?
Answer: It is a novel, and
virtually all of it takes place in the protagonist’s dream, but Da Vinci’s
author, Dan Brown is rather meticulous in his presentation, giving the
impression that the book is one of historical fact. On (un-numbered) page one,
he writes: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret
rituals in this novel are accurate.” A number of key assertions upon which
the story is based are, however, false. Given the plot of the book, a trusting
reader would be led to the false impression that Catholicism was a fraud all
the way back to Saint Peter.
Answer: It is a novel, and virtually all of it takes place in the protagonist’s dream, but Da Vinci’s author, Dan Brown is rather meticulous in his presentation, giving the impression that the book is one of historical fact. On (un-numbered) page one, he writes: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” A number of key assertions upon which the story is based are, however, false. Given the plot of the book, a trusting reader would be led to the false impression that Catholicism was a fraud all the way back to Saint Peter.
In very general terms, Da Vinci asserts that Jesus Christ was a normal man, married to Mary Magdalen, and the father of their child, Sarah. Jesus intended that Mary would lead his church after his death – but Mary’s position was usurped by Peter. In the early fourth century Constantine made political capital by backing Christianity, having Christ declared divine, and suppressing any writings that hinted at Mary Magdalen’s rightful place! Mary Magdalen died in France, but the bloodline she created with Jesus was the line of the Merovingian Kings!
Let us put some of these assertions in chronological order, and see if they are accurate. Quotes from Da Vinci will be given in a san-serif type face and will be followed by a page number.
For the Church to perpetrate such a fraud, She would have had to both tamper with Her own Scriptures, and arrange for the Jews to alter theirs as well – a highly unlikely conspiracy! The Old Testament book of Genesis, which describes the fall of man, predates the Church by at least 1,500 years (Genesis 3). While the production of children was highly esteemed, long before Christ, the Law of Moses decreed the ritual impurity of menstruation and childbirth (Leviticus 12 & 15) – a ritual prescription which, in fact, has not been honored by the Catholic Church at least since the Council of Jerusalem in 49 AD (Acts 15).
Not if they got caught! Women were admitted only to an outer court of the Temple, separate from the men. “Shekinah” is simply the Hebrew term for God’s divine presence in the Holy of Holies, as He was present in the pillar of fire and dwelt in the Meeting Tent of the Exodus (13:21; 40:35) While temple prostitutes were employed by some of their pagan neighbors, they were strictly forbidden to the Jews (Deuteronomy 23:17). Through the Prophet Osee, God promised ruin to those who offered sacrifice with prostitutes (4:14). The sons of Heli were removed from the priesthood, in part because they had relations with women at the door of the Meeting Tent at Silo (1 Kings 2:22), before the Temple was even built. An “Hierodule” is not a “priestess,” but Greek for a “temple slave,” – the Jews employed neither. The only women with a function remotely associated with Jewish liturgical worship, were those who served at the entrance to the Meeting Tent during the Exodus (38:8), and those who sang Psalms in the Temple’s court of the women (1 Esdras 2:65).
Da Vinci has this backwards. The Bible is an expression of the Catholic Faith, and not the other way around. The heresies expressed in the Nag Hammadi writings are just a christianized version of the Gnostic heresy. Frivolous, fabulous, and heretical writings have always been around; they simply do not express the Catholic Faith taught by our Lord to the Apostles, and therefore they could find no place in the Bible. Catholics could not accept the Gnostic “scriptures” any more than they could accept the Koran, even though both have something to say about Jesus Christ. There was a high degree of agreement among patristic writers as to which books actually contained the inspired word of God.[ii] No later than 190 AD the writer of the “Muratorian fragment” produced a list of inspired books, listing most of those found in the modern New Testament, and excluded by name several others which were not considered scriptural.[iii] The Dead Sea Scrolls are all of the Old Testament period and have no more bearing on the Gospels than any other pre-Christian writings.
The “unaltered gospels” are not gospels, but simply an attempt to attract the gullible to Gnosticism, with its promises to reveal “the hidden secrets of the universe” much like the Rosicrucian coupons in the old Superman comic books! Few women governed anything in the ancient world, so Da Vinci’s merely mortal feminist Jesus leaving Mary Magdalen to run things would have been naïve in the extreme.
Those Gospels which actually reflect the teaching of Jesus certainly picture Him as a celibate, and His Father as one who would reward Jesus’ followers who had “left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name’s sake.” But in the very same Gospels – only verses earlier – Jesus clearly reaffirmed the divine institution of marriage, declaring “a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh” and declaring that the union of marriage was of lifelong permanence, “now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”[iv] The physical union of man and wife is a holy creation. One can be holy (or unholy) in celibacy or in marriage.
Critics can point to some statements of early Church Fathers and local synods which did cast marital relations in a less than holy light. Invariably, these statements come from thinking contaminated by or over-reacting to Gnosticism, or from holding on to no longer valid ideas from the Mosaic Law. Such tentative statements did not survive as the Church more fully developed her theology of the seventh Sacrament; for example, in modern documents like Arcanum Divinæ or Casti connubii – or even in the fourth century, with the intervention of Bishop Paphnutius of upper Egypt at Nicæa.[v] The marital relationship is a holy one, neither to be ashamed of, nor to shared with anyone outside of the intimate union of husband and wife.
In the secular sense, there was no chance that “Christianity was on the rise” without Constantine’s decision to make it legal in the Empire in the early fourth century. The Church was small and persecuted. It appealed primarily to the lower classes and to women – to those who did not have to periodically profess pagan beliefs to avoid losing military, social, political, and economic status (or even their heads). Only with Constantine’s display of interest in Christianity did It become popular among influential people.
We know that early Christians believed Christ to be God. Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus/Bithynia from 111-113 AD wrote to Emperor Trajan of the Christians that: “they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god,”.[vi] The Council at Nicaea assembled in 325 not to discuss whether Jesus was human or divine, but, rather, was He a created God (the Arian position) or an eternal God (the Catholic position) – divine in either account. The debate was intense because the formula championed by the Catholics – that the Son and the Holy Ghost are “of one substance with the Father” – brought back memories of the older heresy of Sabellianism. Sabellianism or Modalism held that the Trinity existed sequentially, not simultaneously – that the divine nature was a sort of “theological putty” (one substance) which morphed from Father to Son to Holy Ghost.[vii] While both sides of the debate viewed Christ as far more than a normal mortal, the Arian side – taken by Constantine – held Christ to be something less than did the Catholic side. Constantine demoted (not promoted) the status of Christ. Again, Da Vinci has it a bit backwards.
The “Holy Grail” according to Da Vinci, is the bloodline of Christ, and it is documented in papers contained “
&nnbsp; The “Q” Document is not claimed to exist anywhere, even by the rationalist Protestants who proposed it as the hypothetical “Source” document they needed to place the writing of Matthew and Mark later in time than otherwise believed. (Q is for “Quelle,” or “source” in German). Although the Jews of Jesus’ time were often literate, the idea of personal journals being common is absurd. The production of papyrus was extremely labor intensive, and produced a very fragile “paper.” More durable vellum or parchment made from animal skins was even more costly, and not easily carried about. The copies we have of the Gospels exit only because monks were willing to transcribe them from earlier copies – not because anyone carried them overseas to France, rattled them around for a few centuries, and then buried them in a box in Jerusalem.
The Merovinvians were a barbarian tribe that came to power in northern France around 500, and were replaced by the family of Charlemagne in 751. The legends about Mary Magdalen in France all put her and Lazarus in Marseilles, so she would have had to do some traveling – admittedly possible. There is no explanation of how tons of documents made their way from France to be buried beneath the Temple of Jerusalem. The temple had been destroyed in AD 70, so the remaining rubble would not have been particularly protective of the chests. When Christianity became legal it was Constantine who took interest in Jerusalem, but Da Vinci portrays him as the villain. In any event he was too early. The barbarian invasions that brought the Merovingians to power destabilized the entire Roman Empire, making Jerusalem an unsafe place to hide anything valuable. It was occupied around 600 by the Persians. By the time the Merovingians actually needed a safe haven, Jerusalem had passed from the Persians to the even more difficult Moslems. The Temple site is the third most holy place in Islam, the shrine of the Dome of the Rock – under which a group of Frenchmen trying to burry four huge chests would likely have been skinned alive.
Jerusalem was liberated by the crusaders, of whom Godefroi de Bouillon was the first ruler of Jerusalem (he refused the title of “King,” saying that belonged to Christ alone). But Godefroi was a descendant of Charlemagne, and not a Merovingian – he had little or no time to superintend the removal of the supposed chests by the Knights Templar, dying just about a year after taking Jerusalem in mid-July 1099.[viii]
The suppression of the Knights Templar is blamed on the Church, trying to intercept and destroy the Grail documents. The history is quite different. Pope Clement V was certainly blameworthy for his failure to protect the Templars, but the real culprit was Philip IV, who, through his lieutenant, Guillaume de Nogaret is associated with three separate actions that twentieth century writers might describe as "Gestapo-like" ‑ the expulsion of the Jews and Lombards from France, the physical attack on Pope Boniface VIII, and the arrest and suppression of the Knights Templar in Catholic lands. All of these attacks were economically motivated by Philip’s constant war with England. Philip stole the property of the Jews and Lombards, battled Pope Boniface for the right to tax the French clergy at Rome’s expense, and murdered the Templars to avoid the repayment of the monumental debt which he owed them. Philip had the Chutzpah to claim that French debts to the Templars were to be written off as the cost of prosecuting them.[ix] In Philip’s mind anyone to whom he owed money was a heretic – the charges against Boniface VIII, the Jews, the Lombards, and the Templars were so outlandish that they would have been funny had they not brought the exile, torture, and death of so many innocent people.[x]
In short, Da Vinci is nothing more than a novel – not based on anything resembling reliable history.
[i] For recent examples, see Zenit: The World Seen from Rome, “The Return of Paganism: As Christianity Declines, Superstitions Gain Force”. 7 February 2004, ZE04020701, http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=48649 ; Paul Likoudis, New Oxford Review, “The Mercy nuns and the new religion,” 11 February 2004 http://www.cruxnews.com/articles/likoudis-11feb04.html
[iii] Theron, Evidence of Tradition, pp. 106-113. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/muratorian-latin.html
[iv] Matthew xix; Cf. Mark x; Luke xvi-xviii.
[v] Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum Divinæ, 10 February 1880; Pope Pius XI, Casti connubii, 31 December 1930; Paphnutius is found in Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter XI http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-02/Npnf2-02-06.htm#P173_39581
[viii] Piers Paul Reid, The Templars (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999), p. 77, 87.
[ix] Edward Burman, The Templars: Knights of God (Rochester Vermont: Destiny Books, 1986), 158-175; Sophia Menache, "The Templar Order: A Failed Ideal?" The Catholic Historical Review Vol. 79, No. 1 (1993): 16-17.
[x] Joseph Strayer, The Reign of Philip the Fair, 275-276; The General Assembly of Paris, June 1303, in Julius Kirshner and Karl F. Morrison, Readings in Western Civilization, Vol. 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1986), Doc. 64, pp. 383-393.