Dan Brown has placed a novel entitled The Da Vinci Code before the Catholic world. The book has sparked a lot of criticism, not least among Catholic apologists. Why has this book caused such controversy?
To begin, The Da Vinci Code is a shocking and engrossing book. It is not easy to put down because of its portrayal of and allusions to scandal, cover-up, conspiracy, chases, and a graphic sex ritual. The alleged scandal is that the Catholic Church has been suppressing this sex rite even though Jesus intended His followers to perform it.
If that wasn't enough, Jesus practiced the rite with Mary Magdalene who bore a daughter named Sarah. Thus a supposed “holy lineage” is born. This is the basic historical plot of the book, alongside the story of the main characters fleeing the police.
Dazzling? Yes, and this is part of the problem of the book. Dan Brown is a gifted writer in that he can create elaborate schemes with a lot of fast action and fast talking. He gives us just enough history to make his plot sound convincing, leaving the reader somewhat bewildered. In short, his work is sensational.
Brown consistently states that he “researched” the book for a year before writing. Most faithful Catholics who read the book disbelieve him on the grounds that one can’t possibly research that long and come to the conclusions of the book. But we may be misunderstanding. What faithful Catholics think of as “research” into early Church history is studying the writings of the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers. But what kind of research would one do if one mistrusted the Fathers? The logical thing to do is look up “other resources.” This is precisely what is at the heart of The Da Vinci Code.
One of the negative effects of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment was a mistrust of Divine Revelation as a source of knowledge. “Reason alone,” apart from faith, became the slogan. The Church, already scoffed at in post-Reformation Europe, had to defend herself against self-styled “Rationalists.”
The Rationalists knew they could not attack the Church head-on with her highly organized structure. To get at the Church, they focused on discrediting the Bible. Various claims of the Church were found in the Bible, and as a tangible document, it was open to attack. Thus was born the “historical-critical” method for studying the Bible.
The method involved dissecting and analyzing the Bible, not for the glory of God and deepening of faith, but to discredit its divine inspiration. The Rationalists’ aim was to “reconstruct” the Church by their machinations and effectively destroy her apostolic tradition. Beginning with a denial of the faith, they made a doomed attempt to debunk the claims about Jesus through history. They had to account for the existence of the Church and the existence of faith in her members through the theories of secular humanism. Everything, including the Bible’s origin and composition, had to be accounted for in merely human terms. It rose to such a pitch that it prompted Pope Leo XIII to write the encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893) in response. During this period, manuscripts were discovered that revealed more of Christian history. Instead of being studied and placed in their correct context in light of Revelation, these documents were given more credence than the canonical writings.
One find in particular occurred in the 1940s. Several manuscripts were uncovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. They were written by heretics in the early Church called the Gnostics. Viewed with the Rationalists' skepticism, these documents became leading “evidence” in the case against orthodox Christian doctrine.
The sensationalism soared: “New documents that rival the Bible? Do tell!” This was the attitude of many post-Enlightenment scholars. Dr. Elaine Pagels, a Neo-Gnostic and one of Brown’s sources, indicates this in her book, Beyond Belief, breathlessly recounting when she first heard about these documents. Reading her story, one can sense the sensationalism and her predisposition to accept the Nag Hammadi documents.
Now we come to The Da Vinci Code. Brown has inherited the mistrust and sensationalism of the post-Enlightenment world. An example of this is in chapter 55. Through his character Leigh Teabing, Brown says the following:
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” (emphasis mine)
Among other things, Teabing goes on to disparage the Divinity of Christ and uphold the Gnostic writings. The above citation on the Bible is Brown’s phantasmal attempt to strip it of any trace of divine origin by exploiting its human composition. This indicates the disparaging influence of the Rationalists.
Merely one of many, this example indicates how Brown discredits the Fathers and exploits Gnostic writings in the Code. That was his “research,” and it told I mean sold a much better story than the real history of the Church’s timeless struggle against the powers and principalities of this world.
An injustice has been done to Catholics and the world at large. Many people do not understand theological jargon, and Dan Brown’s book becomes a benchmark for inane theories dressed in a sensationalistic format. People may not have training or patience for historical or theological technicalities, but slap a soap opera scandal in front of them, and you have their undivided attention.
© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange
(Kevin Symonds writes from Steubenville, OH where he is an M.A. Theology student at Franciscan University. To learn more about him and his writings, visit him on the web at www.kevinsymonds.com.)