Why so much interest?
Why has there been such interest in the novel entitled, The Da Vinci Code?
I recall words of St Paul’s second letter to Timothy:
Have nothing to do with godless philosophical discussions – they only lead further and further away from true religion. Talk of this kind spreads corruption like gangrene … upsetting some people’s faith (2 Timothy 2:16-18).
The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then they will shut their ears to the truth and will turn to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
In his first letter to Timothy, St Paul commented:
Some people have missed the way to these things and turned to empty speculation … they understand neither the words they use nor the matters about which they make such strong assertions (1 Timothy 1:5-7).
These words seem to have a strangely contemporary ring. Consider again his advice to the young Timothy:
This is what you are to teach and urge. Anyone who teaches anything different and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is proud and has no understanding, but rather a weakness for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and evil mistrust; and unending disputes by people who are depraved in mind and deprived of truth, and imagine that religion is a way of making a profit. Religion, of course, does bring large profits, but only to those who are content with what they have (1 Timothy 6:3-6).
Is St Paul’s perception appropriate with regard to people’s fascination with the notions and speculations found in The Da Vinci Code? I think it is. Surely we are seeing in the fascination with the propositions contained in the book a clear sign of the weakened state of many people’s faith, and their searching for something that satisfies their curiosity about things beyond.
A believer soundly grounded in faith would quickly dismiss its preposterous claims out of hand, but someone of tentative faith in that shadow land of some faith and some uncertainty is likely to be attracted. And they have been in their hundreds of thousands.
What are some of the attractive appeals to the modern semi-believing and semi-unbelieving mind?
Brown makes all sorts of references to what are sometimes called the Gnostic Gospels. They were written well after the New Testament period and are fanciful documents with references to Christian beliefs and events. Really such works are simply ancient forms of what we now know as New Age writings. They propose all sorts of marvelous ideas which have little grounding in actual fact. An age such as ours has become lured into all sorts of quite fanciful ideas and beliefs. The book has appealed to this curiosity, and been very successful.
The Gospels themselves are very sober and almost pedestrian accounts of events that were witnessed by people. St Luke mentions at the beginning of his Gospel how he sought out witnesses to events in order to record accurately what occurred (see Luke 1:3). Christian faith is grounded in historical fact. The Gospels recorded information which, if inaccurate, would have been contested at the time.
Brown has been able to appeal to contemporary ideology about feminism and fosters various myths. His tired claims about the patriarchy in the Church pander to some popular views. He seeks to dress them up as history. The suggestion that the Lord intended Mary Magdelene to become the head the Church has no grounds whatsoever. Indeed the quoted documents are incomplete and he makes claims from these that cannot be proven. He is reading back into history contemporary pre-occupations.
Christianity has from the beginning recognised the equal dignity of man and woman in a way that was revolutionary in its day. The Church’s history bears witness to the way in which womanhood has been deeply respected and femininity fostered. Women, under Christianity, have been enhanced in their standing and contribution to both Church and State. The Church offers a clear testimony to the recognition of women in her great woman saints and great religious leaders.
As the book states, “Everyone loves a conspiracy”, and the popularity of a book that is just replete with wild theories of conspiracy bears witness to that truth. Rather than careful study of the facts, which has been the work of historians and theologians alike, a good sensational conspiracy will always titillate an immature mind.
The Catholic Church with its rich history and deep tradition of faith and holiness has always attracted the conspiracy theorists – every so often a new book appears with a Vatican mystery to be unfolded. It always sells. And it has become a popular pastime for those fearful of what the Church stands for to demonize Opus Dei. The Catholic Church is composed of ordinary men and women who have embraced faith in Jesus Christ and seek to live a life marked by his virtues – like compassion, humility, service and love.
The most disturbing theme in the book is the deliberate effort to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone to Christian faith. It is not so much that the Christian faith is challenged, people have done that over the centuries, but rather it is the completely specious use of historical events, like the Council of Nicaea, and supposedly the discovery of new documentary evidence to make claims that have no historical or theological basis. The book is insincere and manipulative of the truth, while claiming at one level to be a fictional novel on the other it claims to present facts.
The denial of Christ’s celibacy when there is no supporting evidence is an insult to believers. The Scriptural record and teaching is consistent and clear. No contemporary documents contested the basis upon which Christian faith was based. The book is mischievous at best.
The book has opened up an extraordinary amount of debate. The forthcoming release of the film has already increased the level of debate as tonight shows.
But this debate offers a clear opportunity to put the figure of Jesus Christ and belief about him before the minds of people. It is an opportunity for people at all states of belief or unbelief to ask the question: Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus asked of his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” And then he turned to them and sought their own personal position. Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (see Matthew 16:13-15).
How would we answer?