The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown

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Dan Brown got it right this time, and The Da Vinci Code is a kick. It unfolds as a thriller wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. The thriller races along as the characters solve puzzle after puzzle to crack the DaVinci Code. (Even his web site is fun – it presents a series of puzzles which need to be solved to get deeper and deeper into the site.) One can enjoy the thriller, or the puzzles, or what I truly found fascinating: the enigma behind it all. Was the message of Christ hijacked by the church hierarchy in the First Century, and later institutionalized into the Roman Empire under Constantine? Did heresy become orthodoxy?

The book weaves together two thousand years of conspiracy theories in a tapestry of stunning proportions. In here threaded together are the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, Mary Magdelene, the Holy Grail, and much more. In here is a glimpse of what the Church might have been – a Church without heretics, without Inquisitions, without intolerance, and without the Holocaust. In here is a story where the very people who should protect, preserve and live the secret, fall prey to the allure of ultimate power.

The enigma is no small matter. Gibbons masterpiece – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – asserts that the Christianity of Constantine caused the fall. Untold horrors have been perpetrated in the name of the Lord of Peace. Militaristic fervor abounds over the actions of Islamic Fundamentalism, which often pale in comparison with the skeletons in the closet of our Church. We should constantly remain sensitive to the wisdom of Lincoln, who, when asked during the Civil War if God was on our side, said he rather hoped that we were on God’s side.

And we should find the time to truly enjoy and relish popular fiction of this magnificence.

12 thoughts on “The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown

  1. Duncan,
    Thanks for the recommendation. You’re right. The DaVinci Code is a romp. I only hope that fellow Catholics won’t take the affronts to church dogma so seriously as to keep them from enjoying this book. It’s a fun thriller in the style of Michael Crichton. The story’s conspiracy theory basis we’ve seen before in The Second Messiah, which wasn’t nearly as well written. At least the DaVinci code is categorized as fiction. As to the theories themselves, including the one where the Knights Templar were protecting a royal bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdelane, who knows? The church clearly took a wrong turn during the middle ages and we’ve been recovering ever since. The more we focus on Christ’s message – that of love and forgiveness – and less on all the particulars of points of dogma that we invented in the first place (e.g. original sin), the better off we all are.

  2. Elise, I think the early church had to do something about the spreading heresies (as they put it). The church needed to create more consistency in the messages of all its apostles and bishops. The ‘enigma’ is that the choice made, to prefer the Gospel of John over the other three Gospels, and to exclude the ‘fifth gospel’, the Gospel of Thomas, may have in retrospect been the wrong one. John alone contains the fateful statement: “I am the way, the truth and the light; no one comes to the Father but by me.” This otherwise stirring statement is the source of so much trouble, since it bestows exclusivity on the Church as to Truth. This statement was used to justify horrific episodes like the Inquisition. Without it one could envision a Church of tolerance and universality even within a more proscribed framework of belief than was burgeoning in the Second Century.

  3. Aren’t you making a big presumption from the get-go? Namely, that the Church is of human origin only? What I mean is, if Christ really was who he said he was, the Son of God incarnate, then the authority he gives to the Church to decide things, like which Gospels are legitimate expressions of faith, and also to clarify what spiritual reality is, like original sin, is not human authority at all but divine authority exercised through a human instrument.

    The premise of the book is that the Church has hidden the real Christ, because the Church was run by bad people. But what if the real Christ is who the Church says he is/was? That requires an open-mind and a lot of humility. But isn’t it at least a possibility?

  4. I believe Christ was who he was said to be. The record which comes down to us of his life, death and mission comes through man, and we must exercise caution and profound humbleness in attempting to understand and interpret it.

    Your question is one that has been not only much debated but the source of innumerable wars within Christendom. Indeed, it gets to the heart of the enigma in the book – was the real message somehow lost in the Romanizing of the early church?

    The Catholic Church claims authority of interpretation, I believe through the statement that Peter would be the rock (‘petros’, nice pun) on which He would build his church, but it takes a major leap of faith – not faith in God but faith in man! – to grant the Church infallibility in those interpretations. Did He intend to grant such authority? And does it adhere only to the Roman Catholic Church via the lineage of Papal succession back to Peter? What do you do about the times of two Popes, or the Popes in Avignon, or other anomalies in that succession? What do you do with the whole Protestant movement? Are those interpretations unauthorized? What do you do with the earlier schism of the Orthodox churches? And even further back, there are many non-Roman branches of the Catholic church that have differing doctrine. And even further back – closest to the time of Christ and therefore possibly closest to what He really intended – we had the early Church which let a thousand flowers bloom (meaning many interpretations).

    The problems with claiming divine authority are legion. The worst sort of conflicts come when one side or the other claims divine legitimacy or authority. It seems a better organizing principle of human affairs to accept the fallibility of man. As Lincoln put it during the Civil War, rather than claim that God was on his side, he would rather hope that he was fighting on God’s side.

  5. I have a problem with divine authority. What gets promoted through divine authority in one century – scientific repression, burning millions of people at the stake through the inquisition, imperialistic conquest, selling of indulgences – in a later century gets interpreted as really bad ideas.

    How can we tell the difference between divine authority and someone’s disturbed projections of their inner pyschological state? St. Augustine came up with the concept of original sin. Perhaps he was reflecting on his own propensity to fall off the path. Perhaps it was divinely inspired. But twisted interpretations of original sin have caused a lot of suffering, particularly for women, over the ages.

    When I was a young girl in catechism class I was told that if you weren’t baptized you would never go to heaven, but stay in limbo forever. What about all the people born before Christ? What about the billions of people who never even heard His message? Fortunately, the Catholic Church is pulling away from ridiculously stupid points of dogma. We even finally acknowledged the validity of the Jewish religion. Catholic missionaries are not allowed to evangelize Jews because we now believe that they really do have a special relationship with God.

    Jesus, through his teachings, called upon us to live more loving lives. He told us not to love each other as we loved ourselves, but as He loved us. That is a big step. Forgiveness is hard. Just ask anyone whose child has been murdered. Compassion is hard. We expect others to be better at life than we are. The problem with spending our mental energy hair splitting over dogma points like original sin, the Holy Trinity, and fish on Fridays is that it removes our attention from the core message. Christ saves us not by our belief in Him, but by our living of our lives like Him. Sometimes I think by putting Christ up on a pedastal we get off the hook. He’s God so He can be that way, we’re sinful humans so we can’t. Instead, we argue over the architecture of the pedastal.

    What if Jesus was who the Church said He was? I believe He is. But even the Church now recognizes the importance of Mary Magdelene and that she wasn’t a prostitute. And I believe that the Church wrongly excludes women from participation in leadership, and creates horrible abuses of power by insisting that our priests must be celibate single men. So if this book does nothing more than get people thinking, this is a good thing. Let the debate begin. It is about time that we Christians question the messages of the Church. Perhaps we will all come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Christ and the mystery of what this all is.

  6. Has anybody read Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Ecco? Written in 1989, a splendid book that I think Dan Brown must have read and has borrowed from heavily. If you liked The Davinci Code and are up for the challenge of a more original,more skillfully written deeper plunge into symbology and the mystery of existence- read it.

  7. The DaVinci code certainly raises interesting facts and points of discussion. Given the political and popularity problems survived by the RC Church and more broadly Christianity in general, the real miracle may be the numbers of church goers in the first place. The most poignant section of the book was the common sense discussion of how the bible was put together by Constantine. You read how men guided by spiritual forces and not politics wrought the good book. I beg to differ.

  8. Great book, weaves together bits and pieces from other authors on the subject of Priory of Sion, RC intrigue and conspiracy, Mary Magdelene, and has a fast paced plot to boot. Unfortunately, I think some are taking Brown’s hybrid theories as, if I dare say, “Gospel”. He pulls from a pretty diverse group of fringe/popular researchers like Michael Baigent/Richard Leigh of “Holy Grail/Holy Blood” fame. While not necessarily accepted as true historians in the scientific sense still intriguing and entertaining. Some of Brown’s twists in the plot don’t really lend much to the suspension of disbelief, but seem to fit the purpose of the plot. The plot does seem thin at times and he does go out on a limb with some of the lectures – let’s see the police are chasing me for 4 murders and I am hiding in the back of an armored truck – will I give a lecture on symbology and so-called true histories. I think that seems a bit far. I think overall the book is highly entertaining, and perhaps controversial to those who see a diabolical conspiracy behind every element of history. As for a scholarly work on the deep secerts behind christianity I would say look less to fiction and more to scholars. Great read nonetheless !

  9. Although “The DaVinci Code” may make for an entertaining read, but as a source of information on the early Church and the evolution of Christianity, it is a profoundly flawed work. There is a good reason that it is sold from the fiction section of the bookstore, because it is a work of fiction and in many sections, a work of alternate history to be charitable.

    Its opening claim of the factual accuracy of all matters of history, etc… is itself wildly off the mark. Among the most glaring of errors is Brown’s contention that the Church never proposed the divinity of Christ until forced to do so by the Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century. This statement is just plain false. As the writings of many prominent early Christians like Tertullian, Origin and Irenaeus attest as well as the Gospels and the letters of Paul, the doctrine of the divinity of Christ was well established from the first century onward. The dispute answered at Nicea was not whether Christ is God (both sides accepted his divinity) but whether he was co-equal and of the same substance as God the Father or, as the Arians asserted, a sort of demi-god created by the Father.

    Also misleading is Brown’s premise that the Gospels were the expression of a late, corrupted form of Christian belief. In point of fact, the canon of scripture included in the New Testament are of very early pedigree. The Gospels themselves date back to the first century and were composed within one generation of the events they purport to record and their veracity was accepted from the earliest days of the Church. Rather than the late imposition of a mysogynistic hierarchy, the Four Gospels were hallowed by tradition by the time of their incorporation of the canon. The various apocryphal texts of Gnostic origin to which Brown appeals (like the “Gospel of Thomas”), on the other hand, are further removed from the Incarnation by anywhere from 50-300 years. In addition, only the four Gospels even attempt to recount the events of Christ’s life and ministry. The other Gospels are collections of wisdom-sayings. Consequently, claims that they represent the beliefs of any early Christian community is dubious at best. It is far more probable that they represent a later splintering away from an already established orthodoxy than a coincident tradition later suppressed by an intolerant clergy.

    Other flaws include anachronistic references to the machinations of the “Vatican” during the 4th century (it wasn’t built until the beginning of the sixth century) and during the period of the Avignon Captivity when the papacy removed itself from Rome to a French provincial See through nine pontificates.

    In response to a couple of comments posted here, although abuses unquestionably did occur during the several Inquisitions, characterizing them as “horrific episodes” is a bit excessive. In their time, the Inquisition represented a vast improvement over the quality of civil justice of their time and were introduced in an effort to restrain vigilante justice in which fearful peasants lynched suspected heretics for fear of divine retribution upon their villages. The Inquisition introduce such concepts as rules of evidence, due process and the right of the accused to respond to his accusers they also discounted the evidentiary value of confessions obtained under torture. All in all, it was better to be accused and tried in a church tribunal than by a Prince.

    Finally, in response to the writer who asked about all of the un-baptized and all of those born before the Incarnation (or one might add in ignorance of Christ), the Catechism teaches, “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament…”

    “… the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God…allow[s] us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.

  10. Upon further reflection, I think the point that Chesire11 made regarding the Inquisition is quite interesting. In popular culture we are given a rather one-sided view of the nature and course of the Inquisition. So many standard practices from 500 years ago seem extraordinarly barbaric today. And many, especially non-Catholics, are quick to condemn historial misteps and abuses of the Catholic Church. So we hear about the horrible abuses and think that that represents the whole. The Inquisition would be a great book topic, especially if it were presented in a balanced way, with ample comparisons to the mores of the times and included whatever beneficial impacts there may have been to society. Does such a book exist?

  11. Religious discussion aside, I found the book a touch more boring that Angels and Demons. It starts the same (as do two of his other books), the character goes through the same problems, There’s a girl he’s attracted to…and yet, Angels and Demons was more interesting, more twists and bends. I say read Angels and Demons. (Keep in mind, that i do recommend Da Vinci Code to my friends.)

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