The DaVinci Code

Selling Modern New Age Gnosticism in a Fiction Novel

After the great Financial success of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", New Age writers found a new way to attack the teachings of Christ and His Church.  This new method is fiction novels, with elements of truth mixed with fiction, and sold in a beleiveable way through story form, a fiction story, but presented as a true story.  "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" at least used the real investigations of some reporters and simply added a little fiction to the story to make it believable.  They then took the facts, black and white, and mixed them together to come up with red.  The fact that their conclusions were totally asinine, escapes the reader, because it is presented as a search for truth.  This search was for clues to the Holy Grail, but when they reached a dead end, they needed a surprising ending so they just made it up.  They ended their search, by claiming they found that the holy Blood and Holy Grail was in fact, Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus.  Such heresy could only be the result of haters of Christ, or demonic.

Knowing that the modern society was seeking justification for its deviant behavior or a canonization of lust, feminism, homosexuals, abortion and uthanasia, Dan Brown saw a way to make millions of dollars by attaching not only morals, but the author of the natural moral law, Christ, Himself.  His hatred for morals and truth gives him an open hatred for the Catholic Church, but unable to win in a logical face to face dialogue, he resorts to attacks through a fiction novel. 

The DaVinci Code can be viewed as merely an ephemeral product of popular culture, but its immense sales insure that it will have influence on people who never read serious books. Dan Brown, the book’s author, has found a formula for becoming rich — sex, sensationalism, feminism, anti-Catholicism and the occult. But it is also obvious that he sincerely hates Christianity and is engaged in an anti-crusade. The culture is ripe for such a debased book, and even some professing Christians are intrigued by it, because New Age philosophy has entered into Christian Churches, even Catholic.

The essence of New Age is the claim that people are free to invent whatever beliefs they choose, because religion is nothing more than the subjective emanations of one’s own soul.  Millions of people read and will read  The DaVinci Code not because they necessarily believe its absurd story but because it creates a myth which serves certain emotional needs, allows them to be "religious" without submitting to any of the demands of faith.

Modern secular culture is fundamentally imperialistic, meaning that, despite all its talk about "tolerance," it cannot tolerate a genuine diversity of beliefs. The Enlightenment critics of Christianity were at least honest in setting forth the issues. But the critics of our own day do not even concede that orthodox believers are truly religious. Instead the New Age phenomenon has appropriated for itself the "true" meaning of all religions and claims to understand those faiths better than the faithful do.

Thoroughly modern people, products of a prosperous and hedonistic culture, do not deny themselves anything. Not believing in the teachings of the various religions, they nonetheless consider it their right to experience the satisfactions of those religions. They cannot tolerate orthodox Christianity because it reminds them that, while Jesus preached the Gospel of love, it was not love as the world understands it, and Jesus is a very demanding master.

For three centuries the standard secularist criticism of religion was simple rationalism — the denial of "things unseen." But human beings have never been able to overcome their intuition that there is much more to reality than the mind can understand and that the most important things, those which disclose to us the meaning of life, are not accessible by empirical evidence.

As a result, secularism, in its attempts to discredit traditional religion, now appeals to the same human religious feelings which it used to deride.    The new method now reaches back into history and claims that what has been regarded as the Christian faith over the centuries was not authentic and that its true meaning is only now being discovered, finding the "real" Jesus not in the Bible but in apocryphal books admittedly written later.

What is the DaVinci Code?

To put the matter succinctly, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Doubleday, $24.95) is overwritten (454 pages), overplotted and overdrawn.  And Christians are likely to find it offensive, although it is exceptionally clever in an intellectual way. It distorts church history while putting a modern dress on the hoary Arian heresy, weaving historical and pseudo-historical threads through a contemporary mystery that is set in motion by the murder in the Louvre of the famous museum's curator.

Brown's novel, his second featuring the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, has also been overbought and overpraised, due at least in part to a marketing ploy which found Doubleday distributing 10,000 free advance copies to the media. This, according to The New York Times, was more copies than any of his previous books sold.

On the surface, the tale involves Langdon and a French police cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, in efforts to unravel puzzling clues crafted by Jacques Sauniere, Sophie's grandfather, as his life ebbed away after he was shot by a monkish albino figure pursuing a religious secret of which Sauniere was the last surviving guardian. Three other guardians were killed earlier.

Because Langdon's name surfaces in Sauniere's cipher, he immediately becomes the chief suspect, making it necessary for him, with Sophie as an ally, to evade the police while following the clues. Which, of course, are also of interest to the killers because Sauniere, before his death, sent them down a blind alley.

As you might expect, however, nothing is as it seems. Sauniere, it turns out, is the head of a secret society, the Priory of Sion, dedicated to protecting historical documents challenging the divinity of Jesus. Moreover, the monkish figure is a member of Opus Dei acting on behalf of the bishop who heads that society. Behind them both is a shadowy character they know only as the Teacher.

(This is apparently open season on Opus Dei. The leadership of the church society was also portrayed as murderous in the recent spy tale, "The Confessor.")

Back to Sauniere. His clues pinpoint the location of the documents. They refer the cognoscenti to famous Leonardo da Vinci paintings at the Louvre, among them the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, in which other clues regarding the nature of the secret are to be found, thus explaining the title of Brown's book.

Now if you have strong feelings about reviews that give away too many details of a mystery (it is in the details, after all, that a mystery achieves the status of a mystery), then you had best stop here and go on about your business.

Brown's secret concerns the Holy Grail

However, the Holy Grail is not the chalice of the Crusades and Arthurian legend but the "cup," or womb, of Mary Magdalene.

As Brown has Langdon explain to Sophie, in da Vinci's rendition of the last supper the Magdalene is the figure generally thought of as an Apostle resting on the breast of Jesus. She is doing so because Jesus, who is a great man but nevertheless only a man like other men, is her husband.

Plunging further into the land of make-believe, "The Da Vinci Code" then identifies Sophie as a blood descendant of that union, this too being among the secrets Sauniere had been guarding, even keeping this knowledge from Sophie.

Moreover, all of this, including a "spiritual" sex ritual which led Sophie to shun her grandfather for 10 years, is tied up with the church's suppression of the "sacred feminine" side of Christianity. One aspect of this suppression was the manipulation of Scripture by the early church, with contrary writings being left out of the scriptural canon.

Through his characters, Brown also posits this suppression as a factor in the development of attitudes which led to the killing of 5 million women during the Inquisition.

One can argue, of course, that in fiction the author has great interpretive leeway. As indeed he does. But Brown mixes actual -- if arcane -- facts with speculation and fantasy in such a fashion that the whole easily takes on that aura of historicity.

To a writer, this is a skill of great value. But, like any skill, it can be put to less-than-honest use. In "The Da Vinci Code" it is used to call into question the basis of Christian faith and to attack the church in a format -- the novel -- where one does not ordinarily expect to encounter argument masquerading as historical truth.

Brown's fantasy is taken from some early books called the Gnostic Gospels, Gnosticism was older and wider than Christianity, affecting Judaism and other religions. It was a "dualism," in which reality is thought to be composed of two irreconcilable principles - light and darkness, spirit and matter. The heresy was its belief that the universe is not ruled by one God, but that there are two warring kingdoms which ultimately will be completely separated from one another.

Gnostics, the Origin of The New Age Movement

The first traces of Gnosticism arise centuries before Christianity and are rooted in the ancient religions of Syria, Babylonia, Phoenicia and Persia, and in the Greek Platonic schools of philosophy. Gnostic communities existed throughout the Roman Empire, and because of the religious apathy toward traditional religion and the fascination with mystery cults, they caused some curiosity. In a sense, they were like the "new-agers" of today’s society. With the founding of our Church and the spread of Christianity, the Gnostics incorporated elements of Christianity into their beliefs. Keep in mind that each Gnostic leader supplied his own nuances to the Gnosticism. Nevertheless, the basic points are as follows:

— Gnosticism is a dualistic theological system. God is all good and the source of all goodness. Everything spiritual is of God and therefore good. Light too is of God and therefore good.

Equal to God but diametrically opposed is the devil who is evil and the source of all evil. Everything material is of the devil and therefore evil. Darkness too is of the devil and therefore evil.

— Regarding creation, the Gnostics rejected Christian teaching. Instead, they posited that a series of aeons emanate from God in descending order. These aeons are paired, being called "syzygies," in almost a male-female sense: so the aeons depth and silence produce mind and truth, which produce reason and life, which produce man and state. All together they form the "pleroma."

— As these aeons recede from God, they become less perfect. The last aeon, the Demiurge, creates the material world due to some flaw, sin or passion. Man is created, but because of some primordial fault, his soul has fallen to this world and is imprisoned in the physical body. While his physical being is corrupt, his spiritual soul is good. In a sense, the good soul is the prisoner of the evil body; therefore, redemption is to release the soul from its bodily prison. To release the soul necessitates awakening the "gnosis," (the wisdom) within, a gnosis which "has fallen asleep" in physical matter.

— According to the Gnostics, individuals fall into three categories: the pneumatikoi are influenced by the spirit, have the necessary gnosis, and are assured salvation; the psychikoi may be saved; and the hylikoi are so influenced by matter that they have no hope of salvation.

Gnostic Teachings

The Gnostics claimed to possess secret knowledge that only an elite could know the hidden truth.

There are things in Gnosticism that the modern mind finds repellent - elitism, weird stories, peculiar rituals, above all its rejection of the flesh. If orthodox Christianity is criticized for not cherishing the body, Gnosticism rejected it entirely.

Gnosticism is now enjoying a vogue, however, partly because it was a religion in which women held leadership roles. This was consistent with its rejection of the flesh, which made sexual identity unimportant. The Gnostics did not accept the Incarnation of Jesus and treated doctrinal orthodoxy as being too literal-minded. The gospels were not to be taken at face value but as stories with hidden symbolic meanings.

Thus it was possible to write new "gospels," since the Gnostics were not bound by what may or may not have happened while Jesus was on earth. Mary Magdalene could become Jesus’ intimate, and the New Testament could be dismissed as essentially false. (Modern people like Dan Brown, who treat the Gnostic gospels as history, miss the point - to the Gnostics themselves it was irrelevant what actually happened when Jesus was on earth, if he ever was.)

The Gnostic gospels are the work of the community condemned by the early Church as the heresy of Gnosticism. 

The Gnostic version of Jesus is not the Jesus of Christianity. For the Gnostics, an aeon united itself with the human person Jesus (just a regular human being for the Gnostics) at the time of his baptism at the Jordan. The Gnostics thereby denied the mystery of the incarnation, that Jesus is one divine person with a divine nature and a human nature. Instead, the aeon united with the human Jesus, appeared as human, and revealed the gnosis needed for redemption. At the crucifixion, the human Jesus died on the cross while the aeon departed; in other words, the human Jesus suffered and died, while the divine escaped. Redemption then is freeing the soul from the body using the gnosis. This form of Gnosticism is called docetism.

This teaching impacted their morality. On one hand, since material things were considered evil, many Gnostics refrained from eating meat, marriage and conjugal love (because one would not want to imprison another soul). On the other hand, since a person who had the gnosis and was under the influence of the spirit was assured salvation, some Gnostics lived licentious lives of debauchery.

In the end, universal salvation will come when the pneumatikoi achieve redemption, the Demiurge is conquered and the material world destroyed.

One last point: the Gnostics also had the Sophia or Wisdom myth. Sophia represented the supreme female principle. In some of the myths she was once a virgin goddess who fell from her original purity and is the cause of the sinful world. In other myths, she is simply Wisdom.

Gnostics Condemned in Second Century.

Here is Gnosticism in a nutshell. Does this sound like Christianity to you? I hope not. Sure, there are hints of Christian themes like body and soul, light and darkness, God and the devil. However, the Gnostics corrupted genuine Christian belief, denying fundamental truths, such as the goodness of creation; the saving actions of our Lord’s incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection; and the sacramental system. Rightly, the Gnostics were condemned by the early Church as heretics. The great defender of the faith was St. Irenaeus (140 -202), who decimated the heresy in his work "Adversus haereses" or "Detection and Overthrow of the Gnosis Falsely So-called."

What are Gnostic Gospels?

Now let’s address a few questions: What are the Gnostic gospels? The Gnostics did produce writings, some of the more well known being the Gospel of St. Thomas, the Gospel of the Birth of Mary, the Gospel according to the Egyptians, the Gospel of St. Peter, Acts of Peter, and Acts of Andrew. These books were written between the years 150 and 250.

Why were they not included in the Bible? They were not included for three primary reasons: First, their origin could not be traced to the apostolic age and genuine apostolic authorship. Second, they were not permitted to be read at Mass. For example, none of these Gnostic writings appeared in the Muratorian Fragment (155), one of the earliest attestations of the books of Sacred Scripture which were permitted to be read at Mass. Third, these Gnostic writings were condemned for their heretical teachings. Even though they had elements of genuine Christianity, their substance was heretical. Great Church authors such as St. Justin Martyr, Origen, St. Hippolytus, St. Irenaeus — to name a few — identified the errors and condemned the works as heretical. Therefore, for these three reasons, none of these Gnostic writings has ever been included in the canon of Sacred Scripture defined and affirmed repeatedly by the Church.

Today's Gnostics even in Catholic Church

The Gnostic writings have received more attention lately because they support a new form of Gnosticism — a radically feminist form of Christianity, which is really nothing more than neo-paganism. This movement uses the teachings found in Gnostic writings to support their desire for female priesthood, contraception, abortion, and deviant lifestyles. They focus their worship on Sophia, the feminine god, not the Heavenly Father or Jesus, true God who became true man. They blame the exclusion of the Gnostic writings on the "patriarchical" Church, instead of admitting the real reasons stated above. They even try to pervert the study of Sacred Scripture to meet their needs, for example, stating that the gospels were not written until after the legalization of Christianity in 313 to support a hierarchical Church. Once again, Gnosticism tries to disguise itself as legitimate Christianity.

St. Irenaeus taught, "It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world" (Adversus haereses, 3, 3, 1). Read the Bible. Read the Catechism. Read the Church Fathers and the great saints. Forget the Gnostic gospels.

Why Gnosticism is accepted today

For l50 years people have been calling the historical reliability of the New Testament into question. But now the Gnostic gospels, which were written later and were never taken as historical documents, are treated as at last giving us a true picture of the early Church. For example, Elaine Pagels, a scholar of Gnosticism, theorizes that Thomas is presented as a doubter in the New Testament in order to discredit the spurious Gospel of Thomas, a theory which is guesswork at best, not scholarship.

Brown’s thriller has had some impact even within Catholic circles. I have heard of a pastor who found it necessary to warn against it from the pulpit, because it was being studied by some of his parishioners. Those intrigued by the book perhaps do not realize how much is being demanded of them. This is not merely another liberal "revision." It is nothing less than the claim that Christianity has been a deliberate fraud almost from its beginning, that the true story of Jesus was suppressed, and that only now are we finally learning what it was all about.

Pagels explains her attraction to Gnosticism because it teaches that "spirituality is essentially within oneself." She calls herself a Christian because Christianity "offers hints and glimpses of spiritual possibility."

This is about as weak an act of faith as it is possible to make and, if such an understanding had triumphed two millennia ago, Christianity today would be nothing but a footnote in books written by historians like Pagels.

Gnosticism, the ancient heresy now revived in, among other places, the best-selling thriller, The DaVinci Code, is enjoying a vogue partly because it insists that the Gospels are not to be taken at face value and the New Testament can be dismissed as historically false, even as a conspiracy of lies.

Part of this appeal, as is inevitable in our sex-saturated culture, has to do with sexual behavior. Modern people are eager to discredit every kind of religious authority, because by doing so they free themselves from every kind of binding sexual morality.

Richard P. Salbato

P.S. Most of the research and wording here was taken from four articles by Fr. Saunders