The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction

By Fr. Gary Coulter Go to Fr. Coulter's Homepage Sign my Guestbook

Talk given on Oct. 28, 2004, Omaha, Nebraka

Go to my pages on Da Vinci Code Resources and Who is Mary Magdalene?

See my Attention-Getter. Althout unrelated to the Da Vinci Code, it shows how easy it is to manipulate the facts and write a book just like it.

Introduction

There is a certain gullibility for conspiracy theories, and currently exploiting that is "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown. This is now a best-selling novel which, because it is engagingly written, is being treated as plausible. Yet it contradicts holy Scripture and the doctrines of Christianity by re-explaining Jesus by playing on ever-popular biases against the Catholic Church.

How many of you here have read the The DaVinci Code? Whether or not you've read it, you must have heard of it. What does the novel say? The book claims that Mary Magdalene was actually the Holy Grail, that it is she, rather than Saint John, who is pictured next to Christ in Leonardo DaVinci's painting "The Last Supper" and she, not Peter, was to be leader of his new church. Therefore a secret society, the Priory of Sion, is the keeper of this truth and the true religion, both of which, of course, have been covered up by the Vatican for all these years. The central plot of this mystery novel is whether these secrets will either be lost forever or revealed for all to know.

Readers who do further research and exercise critical judgment will discover that assertions made in The Da Vinci Code about Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalen, and Church history lack support among reputable scholars. Writers much more qualified than myself in areas such as art, esoteric religions, and medieval history have already discounted the bizarre notions included in this work of fiction masquerading as fact, and you can look at their reviews on my website.

Before we start I want to refer you to some bibliography. First is the review by Sandra Miesel in the September 1, 2003 issue of Crisis magazine entitled "Dismantling The Da Vinci Code." She takes up many of the preposterous claims and provides far more thorough evidence and research than I would have time to muster. For those who are willing to take the time to get to the bottom of the issues raised in The Da Vinci Code, I also recommend reading The Da Vinci Hoax by Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel or Amy Welborn's book, De-Coding Da Vinci. A very consise yet also quite comprehensive book, is Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code by Steve Kellmeyer, which has the interesting format of going page by page through the novel and countering its assertions.

Book Reviews

*The aforementioned Miesel, a medieval historian, concludes her review by writing that, "in the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess." She goes on to note that, unfortunately, the damage is done because "after all, how many lay readers will see the blazing inaccuracies put forward as buried truths?"

*Andrew Greeley, the liberal Catholic priest who never goes out of his way to defend the Church's teaching or history, nevertheless writes in the National Catholic Reporter, "Brown knows little about Leonardo, little about the Catholic church, and little about history." That's too bad because this book is about Leonardo, the Catholic Church and history.

* And my favorite. Peter Millar, writing in the London Times, seems to have liked this book a tad better than I did. He writes, "This is without doubt, the silliest, most inaccurate, ill-informed, stereotype-driven, cloth-eared, cardboard-cutout-populated piece of pulp fiction that I have read. And that's saying something." I'll only add one thing to his list: it's also blasphemous.

I will try to focus on answering what I feel is the largest dangers in this book: the many errors and misconceptions that abound concerning the Catholic Church and its teaching.

The fact page

The first page of the print version of Dan's Browns book opens with a prologue: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." As Kellermeyer puts it: "It isn't clear whether he violates this promise or not, since he doesn't tell us whether these "facts" are accurate in his fictional universe or in this one."

For me it is quite clear that the book isn't even close to history or reality on such a large number of points I can only cover a few of them. It's asserted at the beginning that there are facts at the foundation of what is otherwise a work of fiction, yet beginning about page 238 this novel takes a turn in the complete opposite direction - numerous things begin being proposed as if they well might be factual, things which in fact are quite preposterous.

One simple example. The claims is made that the Church burned 5 million women as witches in the late middle ages. But look at facts like: 1. most witch executions were carried out by secular courts, not the Catholic Inquisition, 2. more witch executions occurred in the protestant areas of Europe like Germany, Switzerland and Eastern France, not Spain and Italy, 3. many men were executed for witchcraft, it wasn't targeted specifically at women, and not all convicted witches were burned 4. last, there is documented evidence of only 15 thousand executions, and even the most liberal, secular historians say less than 50 thousand deaths could have taken place, not 5 million. Only the popular wiccan version of history continues to promote such extraordinary inaccuracies.

The first page also claims there are two factual entities on which this work of fiction is based: the first is that the Priory of Zion, which is a factual entity, just not the one Dan Brown claims it to be. The second is the prelature of Opus Dei, the existence of which is of course also a fact. Yet, as we will see, everything this mystery novel says about the historical reality of Opus Dei is completely fiction.

Patently inaccurate

Composition of the Bible

Brown claims the Bible was largely written and compiled by fourth century Roman emperor Constantine. So where does the Bible come from? Brown make's a big deal about the bible not being "faxed from heaven". This much is true. Jesus did not give his disciples a bible. Rather his apostles and their companions wrote the books of the New Testament in the first century. After the death of the last apostle, there is no new revelation. These books and letters were passed down to succeeding generations of Christians and read in the churches.

Yet, in the second and third centuries, Gnostic heretics began to manufacture writings that falsely claimed to be from the apostles, but since they had not been passed down in the churches from the beginning, they were rejected. In response to these new, false writings the churches drew up lists of the authentic books that had been handed down from the apostles.

What criteria was used to define which books are inspired? Which books were faithful to the reality who Jesus was, as has been taught by the apostolic tradition? Which books were in use in the liturgy of Christian churches? Which books come from the time of the apostles? Which books are quoted by the Fathers of the Church?

The process by which the canon of Scripture was formed was largely complete well before the time of Constantine (in the early fourth century), and he made no contribution to it. There were a few Old Testament books that continued to be discussed after Constantine's time in the late fourth century - further illustrating that he did not collate the Bible. No Bible scholar holds that Constantine played such a role in the development of Scripture. Dan Brown is simply wrong.

He also asserts there were "more than eighty gospels" (p.231); the number 80 is factual-sounding, but has no basis. It's not just unsubstantiated; it is false. In the late 100's, long before the canon of the entire New Testament was officially pronounced, the Christian bishop Irenaeus asserted that the number of authentic Gospels is four.

The third to fourth century gnostic writings Brown uses to give a facade of scholarship to his fiction were all written years after the four Gospels that the Church eventually came to judge canonical. The writings he uses are all spurious and non-historical.

What is Gnosticism

This was the "new-age" religious movement of the early church, combined various ideas from Jewish, Christian, pagan and occult traditions. This makes it hard to say exactly what their changing belief was, but the primary elements they nearly all insisted on is the we are saved through a particular enlightenment, which lead to a special knowledge (Gnosis) of God.

The Gnostic stories speak of a competing, evil God being responsible for creating the physical world, and wickedly entrapping sparks of the Divine Being (souls) with matter (bodies). Therefore the goal of the gnosis, their esoteric teachings and rituals, was for us to escape the evil, material world and return to the divine being from which we come.

Because the Gnostics did not accept the Incarnation of Jesus in human flesh, they also believed the gospels were not to be taken at face value but as stories with hidden symbolic meanings. Thus, for the Gnostics it was possible to write new 'gospels,' since they were not bound by what may or may not have happened while Jesus was on earth.

Brown cites certain Gospel such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary, but forgets to tell us that these works date from around 250 AD, hundreds of years after the Christian gospels.

Brown also claims "the earliest Christian records" (including gospels) were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts (pp.234, 245); and that the Nag Hammadi texts "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms" (p.234) E.g. p. 234 states that "Some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950's hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert."

None of the Dead Sea Scrolls are Christian documents at all, let alone Christian gospel-accounts. They are Judaic writings dating from 130 B.C. to A.D. 68 — many are copies of books of the Old Testament; others are commentaries; some are writings about a particular sect of Judaism, the Essenes, who lived there.

Nag Hammadi refers to a jar of ancient texts found in a cave in the Egyptian desert in 1945, containing 2nd-4th century Gnostic documents. Yet these "secret" gospel haven't been much of a secret. The Church and scholars have always known about them. We knew of them and their teachings from the Church fathers of the 2nd-4th centuries, who often were writing to refute them. (Irenaeus (2nd century)- Against Heresies, Tertullian (early 3rd century) - Against Marcion, Hippolytus (early 3rd century) - Refutation of all Heresies).

Origen (early 3rd century) in his Homily on Luke 1:1 writes: "I know a certain gospel which is called ‘The Gospel according to Thomas' and a ‘Gospel according to Matthias,' and many others have we read - lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only the four gospels should be accepted."

Lastly, it is strange that Brown claims the Gnostic gospels show a very human Jesus, since they do the exact opposite - they did not want to associate him with the material world which they considered evil. They contain almost no narrative or stories about the life and death of Jesus. Rather they present him as a rather shadowy figure, a divine teacher, but not human.

Divinity of Christ

A central premise of the book is the idea that the fourth century Roman emperor Constantine invented the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus for political reasons, and then excluded all gospels but the four canonical ones as part of a power grab. The historical evidence, however, clearly shows that the New Testament and the very earliest Christian writings believed in the divinity of Christ.

Brown grossly distorted image of Jesus is that he's neither the Messiah nor a humble carpenter but a wealthy, trained religious teacher with political aspirations bent on regaining the throne of David. Therefore he marries Mary Magdalen who carries the royal blood of Benjamin, combing these two royal bloodlines in the child Mary Magdalene is pregnant with when Jesus dies.

The apostles and martyrs were willing to give their lives for this weird idea? Of course not. How, then, did the martyrs and we come to hold that Jesus it the Son of God, messiah and risen Lord?

Christians regarded Christ as God long before the Council of Nicaea

Christ's divinity is stressed repeatedly in the New Testament. For example, we are told that Jesus' opponents sought to kill him because he "called God his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18). When quizzed about how he has special knowledge of Abraham, Jesus replies, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58), invoking and applying to himself the personal name of God-"I Am" (Ex. 3:14). His audience understood exactly what he was claiming about himself. "So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple" (John 8:59). The term "Son of God" was ubiquitously used to refer to Jesus, as anyone can see by reading the New Testament (Matthew 11:27, Mark 14:61-62, John 3:16, and so on).

In John 20:28, Thomas falls at Jesus' feet, exclaiming, "My Lord and my God!" And Paul tells us that Jesus chose to be born in humble, human form even though he could have remained in equal glory with the Father, for he was "in the form of God" (Phil. 2:6).

Yet on p. 233 Teabing states, "Jesus' establishment as the 'Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea." And that decision at Nicea was "A relatively close vote." First, is 300-to-3 your definition of "relatively close"? The major theological dispute at the Council of Nicea, in 325, was more like, "How divine is Jesus?" rather than if Jesus is divine. Most bishops affirmed that Jesus was eternal and uncreated; however the Egyptian bishop Arius insisted that Jesus was the first created thing, and therefore lesser than God the father since he is a creature. Neither side viewed Jesus as merely "a mortal prophet."

Adoption of pagan symbols and rituals

Brown follows a long discredited 19th century rationalist argument that attempts to undermine the historical claims of Christianity. These claims allege that early Christianity was heavily influenced by the pagan religions and moments of the Hellenistic world, and therefore it's a kind of hybrid religion. This appears in various groups like the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses who say true Christianity became corrupted in the early centuries. And I'm sure you've all heard and probably believe that the Church took certain pagan symbols and feast days and "Christianized" them. But we must not uncritically accept this assumption which many popular writers make.

The problem is that many of the things the church supposedly adopted were not in practice in the Roman world until the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. Yes, the mystery religions such as sun worship or the Mithras cult were popular in Rome around the time of Constantine. Yet how could these rituals have influenced the Church's worship which developed in the first century? The Church was already worshiping on Sunday and celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25th - these were not instituted by Constantine. Indeed, there is evidence for the opposite claim: some pagan religions may have taken and incorporated elements of Christian belief, borrowing from Christianity's growing strength and appeal.

This is important to keep in mind when The Da Vinci code claims the Church borrowed or stole its key beliefs. Not to mention that there is still a large part of Christianity which has no parallels in other ancient mythology, such as the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ, and the Passion and Resurrection. These beliefs are rooted in historical claims, not mythological stories, and predate any stories that might have superficial similarities.

While I can't go through all the claim's the book makes of paganism being within Christianity, "The Da Vinci Hoax" does a great job of exposing these errors, and also uses a good article by Ronal Nash which can be found near the bottom of my web page: "Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?"

Who is Mary Magdalene?

p. 244 says the marriage of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is "a matter of historical record"; yet the crafty Catholic Church, of course, hid the secret knowledge about Jesus and Mary Magdalene in order to oppress women. This, even though the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary Magdalene yearly.

Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, and she was the first to see Him after He rose from the dead. According to Luke 8:2-3 and Mark 16:9, Jesus cast seven demons out of her. Then she, along with Joanna, Susanna and other women, supported Jesus' ministry. But the Bible does not support the idea that Jesus had a wife. Also, in John 20:16, Mary Magdalene addressed Jesus, after His resurrection, as "Rabboni," which means "Teacher." A teacher-and-disciple relationship is implied — not a husband-and-wife relationship.

Moreover, the early Church was unanimous in regarding Jesus as unmarried. In addition, the authors of the New Testament regularly depict the Church as "the bride of Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:21-33; cf. Rev. 21:9-10). This metaphor would never have developed if a flesh-and-blood "Mrs. Jesus" was living just down the street. Only if Christ was celibate would the Church have come to be depicted metaphorically as his bride.

Some of you may know how ABC broadcast a primetime "investigative" special into the central thesis of the book, that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and had a child. It is worth noting that after this hour long special on "The DaVinci Code," with a panel mostly antagonistic to the apostolic faith, the host had to conclude at the end of the program that there was no proof of any kind for the theories that the book espouses.

Role of Mary

In the second place our faith, unlike most religions of history, does promote a woman as the greatest Christian, the perfect disciple, our Blessed Mother. For all his emphasis on the sacred feminine, Brown and his Harvard "symbologist" are apparently unaware of the most powerful religious symbol of the mother love of God for the last 1,500 years of history, one with a profound impact on painting, music, sculpture, architecture and poetry: the Blessed Virgin Mary. One wonders what Dan Brown's reasons were for ignoring Mary.

Instead The Da Vinci Code asserts the primacy of Mary Magdalene who was allegedly a noble woman of the tribe of Benjamin who married Jesus Christ, who was forced to flee from Jerusalem to southern France with Lazarus after the crucifixion and death of Christ, and whose children with Christ grew up in France, and then that blood line of the marriage of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene has been carried on in the Merovingian dynasty of French kings.

While this sounds preposterous to most of us, this kind of irresponsible thinking about our Christian faith can prove attractive in a culture which is hostile to all faith and looking for ways to discredit faith. If Mary Magdalene is who this book says she is, then our Blessed Mother Mary could never be who we know she is by faith.

By the way, Dan Brown did not think up this idea on his own. The same idea was offered in the 1983 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, - this book is even mentioned on page 253. This and Brown's other sources, all non-scholarly, non-historical and undocumented works, are examined in the critical books I have mentioned.

Leonardo's Last Supper

I'm no art expert, but I have visited Milan and saw the L'ultima Cena, the Last Supper, first hand. If you know anything about the restorations that have been done, then you know this is not the work Leonardo produced. Because of the pigments used and the humidity in the wall, the painting was already undecipherable within 100 years. Very little of the original paint remains and there is nothing to tell us the facial expressions of the Apostles, as only the outlines of the Apostles were still discernible before the restorations completed in 1954.

For more information of Leonardo DaVinci and the art mentioned in the book, see the article by Bruce Boucher in the New York Times. He is an art historian who demonstrates that Brown's novel is full of big holes in the art department. Leonardo depicts St. John exactly the same as the other artists of his time, who always depict John as a beautiful young man sitting on the right of Jesus.

Priory of Sion

Dan Brown claims The Priory of Sion is a true historical reality. But not the same one found in the book, where he calls it the "oldest known secret society in the world." An inordinate amount of research has been done about the Priory of Sion, all of which documents the spurious nature of the claims of its existing before the mid-1900's.

The priory was created in France in 1956 by a man named Pierre Plantard. He claimed it was much older, for he created the Priory of Sion legend in an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate that he was the uncrowned king of France. Page 208 says The Dossiers Secrets "incontrovertibly confirmed" that "Priory Grand Masters included Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo," and others. Yet this document found in the Paris National Library in 1966 was quite certainly part of the eccentric ambition of Plantard, creating the documents to back up his claim to the throne. To support his claimed historic link with the past, he claimed his new found "Priory" developed from ancient groups like the Knights Templar.

Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were founded to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. Yet almost everything Brown says about them is patently false. As Sanda Miesel says, "The Templars had nothing to do with the cathedrals of their time, which were commissioned by bishops and their canons throughout Europe. They were unlettered men with no arcane knowledge of "sacred geometry" passed down from the pyramid builders. They did not wield tools themselves on their own projects, nor did they found masons' guilds to build for others. Not all their churches were round, nor was roundness a defiant insult to the Church. Rather than being a tribute to the divine feminine, their round churches honored the Church of the Holy Sepulchre."

Note that it was not the Pope who tried to destroy the Knights Templar, but rather the French king, who the Pope was unable to stop because he was living in Avignon, France at the time and was under the control of the King and dependent upon him. Living in France, not in Rome, the Pope was quite unable to throw their bodies in the Tiber as the book claims.

New Age

One of the more disturbing things about Dan Brown's book is that it is a primer in practically every new age technique or approach there is, from tarot cards and pentagrams to anagrams to numerology to astrology -- you name it -- practically everything on the new age menu finds its place somewhere in this book and it is presented in a way that is attractive and engaging.

The new age movement links into a widely-held perception that the time is ripe for fundamental changes, and thus also seeks to destroy the credibility of the Catholic Church. This can be done by direct attacks on our faith -- for instance replacing our Blessed Mother as the exemplar of faith with Mary Magdalene, or by causing great confusion among the people that there is a spark of the divine within me that enables me to save myself without reliance on the grace of Jesus Christ. I simply have to find that secret spark and force within.

A great fear of mine is that someone reading this book might find himself or herself very powerfully invited into this new age world, which is a world that cannot accept that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world -- let there be no mistake about that.

An essential tenet of New Age spirituality is the rejection of organized religion, because in their judgment it has failed to answer their needs. Indeed, at the heart of New Age is the belief that the time for particular religions is over, looking for a new spirituality which is a syncretism of esoteric and secular elements such as ancient Egyptian occult practices, early Christian gnosticism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, mediaeval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and so on.

Mind/body split

True to its new age context, Brown's book resorts to the Gnostic mind/body split so definitive for the new age movement. Remember the realism of Christ -- in His Incarnation He took flesh. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit did not want to be present to the world simply as an idea in people's minds or as an inspirational figure or character in a story. As the Gospels, St. Paul and the Fathers of the Church have taught, the real flesh of Jesus Christ, not some esoteric secret wisdom, is the means of our salvation. Gnostics were antagonistic to the flesh; and interestingly, much of the antagonism toward the Church today stems from opposition to her teachings about sexuality, marriage and celibacy and the nature of ordained priesthood, all beliefs that take flesh seriously.

Jesus Christ took flesh but we see in Brown's book that the Holy Grail is not His chalice and in the end it is not Mary Magdalene's womb or even the body of Mary Magdalene wherever that might be entombed. The Holy Grail is whatever anyone thinks it might be to cause an uplifting and enthusiastic freeing response, whatever that means. In the end the new age movement sees the individual human mind as God, and reality as whatever the human mind thinks it is, and that is rather disastrous.

Sex is dirty vs. Sex is holy

Throughout the book, the Church is attacked for being anti-sex and anti-woman, while it claims the ancient rites glorified sex and celebrated the "sacred feminine."

First of all, the Church is not anti-sex; Catholic families that follow Church teaching on such matters normally include numerous children; and, though this may be news to some, those children weren't brought by the stork. No, the Church doesn't discourage sex, only its misuse. Throughout history, she has condemned as heresy the dualistic view that everything of the material world, including sex, is evil. Within its rightful sphere, marriage, the Church is the greatest defender of the beauty and dignity of the physical act.

Sex is good, great, holy

Whenever we approach something holy we become aware of our own imperfections, our own unwillingness and failure to be what God intends us to be. Sex is a gift from God by which a man and woman who have given themselves entirely to each other in the bond of marriage can express their love and the gift of themselves to their spouse, while naturally participate in the life-giving richness of God. If we are aware of the holiness of the sexual act we will give it the dignity and joy it deserves.

Unfortunately, too many Christians still think the Church teaches that sex is something dirty, a necessary evil for the propagation of the species, but you can't have any fun at it, so the Church is going to make up lots of rules that say 'don't do this' and 'don't do that'. The churches teaching on things like pre-marital sex and artificial contraception are not things it made up, they are logical conclusions once we realize the awesomeness and holiness of this gift.

Opus Dei

If all you know about Opus Dei is from Dan Brown, you would believe it is a Catholic sect, focused solely on wealth and power, while degrading women and obsessively focusing on corporal mortification, whose members would engage in murderous conspiracies, etc.

The book is one long, abusive attack on the prelature Opus Dei, completely without merit I know that the words ‘personal prelature' sound very technical, but the reality is quite simple. Prelatures are one of the ways the Church is trying to respond to the specific pastoral and evangelizing needs of our times. It is a portion of the people of God - much like a diocese - except it is scattered worldwide instead of having territorial boundaries. It has a Prelate (bishop), clergy and lay faithful who have a special task to perform. In the case of Opus Dei the task is to spread the awareness of the universal call to holiness among ordinary lay people, through the sanctification of their work and other social and familial activities. That is the service the Church expects of the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei.

Note that Opus Dei is not a religious order, and therefore its members do not wear any type of religious habit, in fact just the opposite, they live in the world. Yet for some unknown reason, Dan Brown keeps has Silas, the Catholic lay member of Opus Dei dressed like a monk.

Bodily Mortification

The foundation of the Church's teaching on mortification is the fact that Jesus Christ, out of love for mankind, voluntarily accepted suffering and death (his "passion") as the means to redeem the world from sin. Christians are called to emulate Jesus' great love and, among other things, join him in his redemptive suffering. Thus Christians are called to "die to themselves." The Church mandates certain mortifications — fasting and abstinence from meat — as Lenten penances. Some people in the history of the Church have felt called to undertake greater sacrifices, such as frequent fasting or using a hairshirt, cilice, or discipline.

Granted, such practices are out of vogue, and far be it from me to advocate them when rigorous penance for me involves sitting on the couch instead of laying on it, but many of the great saints who practiced corporal mortification are explicitly recognized by the Church as models of holiness, e.g., St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas More, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Vianney, and St. Therese of Lisieux.

The Curé of Ars [St. John Vianney] said once to a priest who lamented the coldness of his parishioners and the sterility of his zeal: ‘Have you preached? Have you prayed? Have you fasted? Have you taken the discipline? Have you slept on boards? Until you have done these things, you have no right to complain.'

Dan Brown fixates in a very distorted and exaggerated way on the two traditional corporal penances. One is the flagellum (a small whip of cords with which one might strike one's back to recall the pain of the suffering of Christ). The other is what the book calls a cilice -- traditionally also called the catena, the Latin word for a chain, which was wrapped around either the thigh or the stomach area, to cause genuine discomfort and remind oneself of and share in the sufferings of Christ. Neither the flagellum nor the catena was ever meant to draw blood.

The use of these penances as described in Brown's book insinuate a masochism built into the spirituality of Opus Dei which is outrageous. They have a long tradition in the practice of the Church, which has always watched that they remain properly ordered and no abuse or misunderstanding would creep in. To insinuate that somehow these penances are inherently masochistic and are some kind of an abuse is outrageous.

Several times, Dan Brown's fanatical Opus Dei member says the phrase "Pain is good". Yet no true Christian would say such a thing. We do not intentionally go through life seeking pain - God is our source of grace, not pain - however if we can remain open to God during times of suffering, it can be a channel of grace, a moment for cooperating with God. The Church teaches us that our own suffering can be redemptive, because through suffering we can participate in the passion of our Lord. With that in mind, perhaps the suffering I endured in reading The DaVinci Code was not without meaning.

Yet the Church has never taught that inflicting pain on oneself could forgive sins. The sacrament of confession is the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins won for us by Christ in His death on the cross, not by whipping yourself until you bleed.

Church

Brown's use of the term "Vatican" is woefully inaccurate. He depicts the "Vatican" as conspiring with Constantine to suppress the Gnostic gospels in the early 4th century. However, the Vatican Hill was a disorderly cemetery at that time. The "Vatican" is also involved in the suppression of the Templars, though the headquarters of the pope at that time was the Lateran Palace (and the pope was in Avignon, France anyway). Brown also refers to what he calls the Secretariat Vaticana which is in charge of papal finances. Presumably he means the secretary of state, though that official does not in fact control Vatican finances. It wasn't until the 14th century that the Popes resided at the Vatican Hill, since the Lateran Palace was destroyed by fire.

Conclusion

On page 267, Teabing asks what would happen if people found out that the greatest story ever told (referring to the Biblical story of Christ) "is, in fact, the greatest story every sold." I hope that now you know who's really using misinformation to sell a story. The "fact" statement on page 1 is egregiously deceptive; there seems to be no reason for page 1 to exist except to mislead readers. By surrounding them with misunderstandings, misstatements and mistakes, Dan Brown purposely tries to breed distrust of the Catholic Church and Christian faith.

As Olson & Miesel say, "Playing to his readers' biases and weaknesses, he insists history cannot be known, but he still offers a history based on "fact" and "research". He claims that religion is a crutch, but he has written a book permeated with an esoteric, syncretistic religiosity. He implies that there is no truth, but he offers up secret gnosis about reality.… He wants readers to think for themselves, but he himself relies almost exclusively on a small collection of recent books laden with conspiracy theories unsubstantiated by reputable scholarship. In a word, the novel is a mess". (p. 43)

Can good come from this book?

The book has raised public interest in the origins of the Bible and of central Christian doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus Christ. These topics are important and valuable to study, and I hope that interested readers will be motivated to study some of the abundant scholarship on them that is available in the non-fiction section of the library.

I must agree with Amy Welborn that the reason so many people are embracing the claims of the Da Vinci Code is because they truly do not know Jesus. At the center of these issues is not an issue, but a person. If we are going to be witnesses to the truth and defend our beliefs, we have to know Christ, we need to pick up our bibles and read the four Gospels. It is there we find that truth and goodness, perfection and salvation do truly exist, and they can be found in Jesus Christ, crucified, died, risen and alive in his Church.

Thank you for your time and God bless each of you.

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