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Dismissing Da Vinci
from the August 2006 Star Beacon
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven
With each week that Dan
Brown’s blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, remains one of the most
talked-about books in the world, one can almost sense the growing apprehension
of the Vatican.
The innumerable editions
of the book and more than 40 million copies already in print surely must seem
like a bad dream to those who feel targeted by Brown’s allegations of
chicanery and skullduggery within the inner sanctums of the Holy See.
Many critics slammed the
book even as it consolidated its position atop the New York Times reports list
and Amazon.com’s sales charts. Peter Millar, writing in the Times of London,
considered The Da Vinci Code as “without doubt, the silliest, most inaccurate,
ill-informed, stereotype-driven, cloth-eared, cardboard-cutout-populated piece
of pulp fiction I have read.”
Archbishop Angelo Amato, a high-level Vatican official, dismissed Brown’s
best-seller as a work “full of calumnies, offenses, and historical theological
errors.” On the Catholic Answers Web site (www.catholic.com), the question was
posed: “Should other Christians be concerned about the book?” The answer was
clear and unequivocal: “Definitely. Only some of the offensive claims of The Da Vinci Code pertain directly to the Catholic Church. The remainder strike at
the Christian faith itself. If the book’s claims were true, then all forms of
Christianity would be false (except perhaps for Gnostic/feminist versions
focusing on Mary Magdalene instead of Jesus).”
Dan Brown refused to back down. In the face of threats and denunciation, he
responded by telling the Philadelphia Inquirer, “When you finish the book,
you’ve learned a ton. I had to do an enormous amount of research.” He has also
said his book is “meticulously researched and very accurate.”
History may well be in Brown’s corner on certain matters. The Bible is a
carefully selected compendium of writings that were debated by the bishops
attending the First Council of Nicaea convoked in 325 by the Roman emperor
Constantine. Unfortunately, there is no definitive account of what actually
occurred during this historic conclave. The writings of those in attendance
don’t even agree as to the number of bishops present, with reports ranging
from a low of 250 (Eusebius of Caesarea) to 318 (Athanasius of Alexandra). The
main purpose of the synod, however, seems relatively certain. Constantine
needed a reconciled church to create stability within the Empire. The major
rift that needed reconciliation centered on the question of Jesus’s divinity:
Was he the son of God or the son of man?
The bishops (however many were present) overwhelmingly ratified the Nicaean
Creed, which upheld the position championed by St. Alexander of Alexandria ––
that Jesus was indeed of the same substance as God the Father. That having
been decided, along with several other issues (such as the dating of Easter),
Constantine requested that the synod produce a cohesive sacred text as the
agreed basis of Christianity.
This was a formidable task, as many of the gospels in circulation at the time
were deemed blasphemous and a threat to the newly agreed-upon doctrines. It
was seven years before Emperor Constantine received 50 copies of the final
version of the sacred scriptures, handwritten by practiced scribes on
specially prepared parchment. These were distributed throughout the Empire to
standardize Christianity, and the text, the Bible as we know it, has remained
until today the basis of Christian teachings.
It is true that despite Brown’s claim to have researched the matter
thoroughly, he seems to have been casual about some finer points. For
instance, he writes that the establishment of Jesus as the Son of God “was
officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea” and that it was “a
relatively close vote at that.” Yet there is no record of a vote being taken
on any matter during the Council. In other words, while decisions were made,
we do not know definitively what method the bishops used to arrive at them.
However, by basing his book on apocryphal material and giving the fallout from
the Council of Nicaea a key role in the book, Brown has brought to the table a
set of much larger issues for all the world to contemplate: What did the
discarded gospels say? Why did the content of these gospels so deeply concern
the bishops attending the synod that they were not included in the Bible? And
what happened to those gospels? These questions may be far more worth probing
than the theory of a Merovingian bloodline stemming from the union of Jesus
and Mary Magdalene that lies at the heart of Brown’s book.
During Christianity’s early, formative years, a considerable proportion of the
Church’s hierarchy were proponents of the Gnostic teachings, which emphasized
personal experience over dogmatic faith. The Church libraries of the time
contained many such gospels, which were read aloud by the monks for
inspiration. These texts so bothered Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria,
that in 367 he sent out an Easter letter to the clergy all over Egypt in which
he condemned all texts not specifically included on his approved list as “the
invention of heretics.” The meaning was unambiguous: all non-approved writings
were to be immediately destroyed.
Apparently some of the monks defied the bishop’s orders and secreted some 13
papyrus codices in a heavy jar buried under a cliff, where they remained for
over one and a half millennia. These texts, known as the Nag Hammadi Library,
were discovered in 1945 and are believed to be some of the early Christian
Gnostic texts condemned by Athanasius. It turns out that their authors were
not heretics as Athanasius claimed but disciples of Christ, including some of
the original 12 apostles, or perhaps the followers of those disciples. What
they reveal, if true, indeed shakes the very foundations of Christendom.
By popularizing some of the ideas in these texts, as well as highlighting the
Church’s banning of gospels other than those presently in the New Testament,
Brown’s Da Vinci Code (its possible literary and historical failings aside)
seems to have set a fox loose in the henhouse.
Much to the Vatican’s chagrin, the new movie based on Brown’s already
successful book is a smash hit. To quote the Deadline Hollywood Daily (DHD)
Web site: “Da Vinci Code Is 2nd Biggest Opening Weekend of All Time Worldwide
with $224 Million; No. 1 International Opening Weekend with $147 Mil; $77 Mil
U.S. Opening Weekend; Sony Execs Attribute Huge Success to Teen Moviegoers
Globally.” Now the blasphemous word is being spread worldwide to nonreaders,
impressionable teenagers, and God knows who else.
Apparently there is no lid large enough or strong enough to contain what Dan
Brown has unleashed on the bastions of Christianity. DHD further disclosed
that the Vatican’s attempts to censure the film fell woefully short. The Da
Vinci Code “was #1 in predominantly Catholic countries Italy and Spain, and #1
or #2 in every South American territory.”
Now we have the
predictable onslaught on the Internet — the ultimate weapon
of anarchists, modern-day Gnostics, and other radical freethinkers. A few
weeks ago I received a 16-page e-mail that, judging by the number of arrow
brackets preceding each line of text, must have traveled around the world
several times before finding its way to my inbox. The title alone piqued my
curiosity: “The Gospel of Judas, Barbelo, & Long-Kept Secrets.” Since it would
take multiple clones to keep up with the e-mail traffic that penetrates my
spam filters, I generally skim just the first few paragraphs of such a long
message before deleting it. Not so with this one.
Two weeks later, I find myself still referring back to that e-mail. I visited
the Web site of the author, Mary Sparrowdancer (http://www.sparrowdancer.com),
then called her to learn more. She’s as real as you get: knowledgeable,
impassioned, intelligent, and articulate. I’ll pass on a few of her insights
that bear directly on the growing debate between Dan Brown and the Catholic
In the “forbidden” Gnostic gospels that have begun to emerge from antiquity,
we find we have actually been divinely invited to seek the truth and ask
questions, because the truth is never marred or harmed by questions. Asking
questions only serves to make the truth shine brighter. One might wonder into
which direction we should begin a search for the truth at this hour when the
truth about anything is very hard to come by. According to the Gnostic
gospels, the answer from above seems to have been, “go within,” because there
is something within that awaits discovery.
In the Gnostic scriptures, we learn that blind faith has never been demanded
of us. Instead, the one we now refer to as “Jesus” (the J is relatively new ––
it is Iesous in transliterated Greek) urged people to go within and seek the
truth and not stop seeking until they found the truth. Only a portion of this
appears in the New Testament, but a more complete version can be read in the
Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. It includes a curious caveat of wisdom after the
invitation to come seek and find all that awaits us. The caveat warns that
when we discover the truth, we will at first be disturbed as well as
astonished. In the end, however, it is the truth that will set us free.
Indeed, I followed Mary’s lead and took a look at some of the writings in The
Gospel of Thomas. It says: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you
bring forth will save you.” The bishops like Athanasius (and Irenaeus before
him) who advocated the destruction of offensive writings apparently preferred
that the faithful believe the Church was the only route, “outside of which
there is no salvation.” The Gospel of Thomas also quotes Jesus as saying, “I
am the light that is before all things; I am all things; all things come forth
from me; all things return to me. Split a piece of wood, and I am there; lift
up a rock, and you will find me there.” This mystical statement may have been
considered dangerously close to a pantheistic view suggesting that people are
encouraged to discover their own divinity.
Along similar lines, The
Gospel of Philip quotes Jesus: “Do not seek to become a Christian, but a
Christ.” The text has been deemed “an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against
Christ” because of this. But perhaps the most remarkable revelation in the Nag
Hammadi scrolls is the manner in which Christ viewed women. The following has
been translated from The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene):
Peter said to Mary,
“Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell
us the words of the Savior which you remember — which you know (but) we do
not, nor have we heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you
I will proclaim to you.” After delivering the teachings that were given to her
in a vision, she was rebuked by some of the disciples, whereupon Mary wept and
said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I
thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?”
Levi answered and said to
Peter, “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending
against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who
are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is
why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect
man and acquire him for ourselves as He commanded us, and preach the gospel,
not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said” ...
and they began to go forth [to] proclaim and to preach.
The Secret Book of John
offers additional insight into Jesus’s view of the divine feminine. In it John
recalls seeing a brilliant flash of light following the crucifixion from which
he heard the voice of his Master: “John, John, why do you weep? Don’t you
recognize who I am? I am the Father; I am the Mother; and I am the Son.” The
meaning, to John, was crystal clear: the Holy Trinity includes the Holy
Spirit/Divine Mother as the feminine manifestation of God.
All of these words,
apparently, were ones the male-dominated clergy did not want their faithful to
hear. For the past two thousand years, the clergy has had its way. Now, in
large measure because of a book and a movie, there is room for expanded
debate. Dismissing The Da Vinci Code as meaningless pulp fiction may be
like trying to brush off a tsunami with a flyswatter.
Koven is a writer and speaker based in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He is a featured
weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and
Spirituality Forum and the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of
Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, selected by both Allbooks Reviews
and USABookNews.com as the best metaphysical book of the year. For more
information, please visit:
Copyright © 2006 Jean-Claude Gerard Koven
All Rights Reserved.
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