"Da Vinci Code's" Devilish Gaffes
Interview With Father Manfred Hauke

LUGANO, Switzerland, JUNE 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Dan Brown's best seller "The Da Vinci Code" says the Church demonized the symbol of Venus and killed millions of women accused of witchcraft.

Not so, says Father Manfred Hauke, a professor of dogmatic theology and president of the German Mariological Society, who responds to those accusations in this interview.

Q: Is it true that the Church has demonized the pentacle, a five-pointed star inscribed in a circle, symbol of Venus?

Father Hauke: This is a typical example of the novel's lack of historical credibility. Suffice it to consult the appropriate dictionaries to verify that even the basic data in no way agrees with what he upholds on the pentacle.

It does not seem that the origin of the sign is known with exactitude, though historical evidence has existed in Egypt since 2000 B.C. An astronomic connection with the planet Venus does not seem evident.

The Pythagoreans used the pentacle as a salvific sign, which they related to health itself. Beginning with this tradition, since the 16th century the pentacle became a symbol of doctors and was related by Cornelii a Lapide to the five wounds of Christ.

In the Byzantine army, vanguard combatants carried small shields with the "pentalpha," a tricolored pentacle, as a sign of salvation. If the ancient Church of the first centuries had made the pentacle a demonic symbol, such use would not have been possible.

Moreover, the pentacle appears no less than as a magic and apotropaic [designed to avert evil] sign in ancient Gnosis and in the Jewish Kabala of the Middle Ages. Its relationship with modern occultism goes back to this context.

Therefore, the idea upheld by Brown that the Church altered, with calculated malice, the symbol of the goddess Venus into the sign of the devil has no foundation.

Q: More serious, however, seems the accusation against the Church of the witch hunt.

Father Hauke: Indeed, this is the only point that has some historical basis. Recalling the "Malleus Maleficarum," the character Langdon maintains: In 300 years of witch hunts, the Church burnt at the stake the astonishing figure of 5 million women. The guilt of the witch hunt is therefore entirely attributed to the Church -- the Catholic Church -- which thus sought to destroy "freethinking women."

There is a smidgen of truth in these affirmations, but peppered with enormous and incorrect fundamental exaggerations. To approach the phenomenon in an appropriate manner, one must begin from the dark reality of magic that tries to obtain superhuman effects through recourse to occult powers, linked with the intervention of demons.

This practice, sadly, again rather widespread at present, is the object of an explicit and severe condemnation already in the Old Testament, where capital punishment is provided for witchcraft….

This punishment, moreover, is one of those established by the Code of Hammurabi, toward 2000 B.C. in ancient Babylon. Whoever follows recent research on the phenomenon and knows the experiences of exorcists, cannot deny that witchcraft exists today with all its pernicious effects, which can be effectively combated by the spiritual means of the Church.

Of course, one must be careful not to confuse real interventions of the evil one with people's superstition and credulity, who see the devil's tail where in fact it doesn't exist.

The deplored "witch hunt" was not caused simply by belief in witchcraft, but by a collective hysteria unleashed at the beginning of the modern era, and by absolutely unacceptable methods used to detect men and women witches.

Torture in fact led to "confessions" of invented offenses, suggested by the accusers themselves. The direct responsibility for sending alleged evil ones to be burned at the stake is that of the state authority. The collective hysteria, which culminated in the years 1550-1650, spread above all through the Germanic and Slavic countries and much less so in the Mediterranean ambit.

Recent research has made it possible to revise the figures relative to the persons executed as witches. According to Danish scholar Gustav Henningsen, in the course of four centuries, when active persecution of witchcraft was practiced, some 50,000 people were killed -- and not 5 million as Brown maintains -- of whom close to 20% were men.

The figure in general was lower in Catholic countries, which were not undermined by the Protestant Reformation.

In Spain, Italy and Portugal of the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century, there were 12,000 prosecutions against alleged female and male witches; only 36 people in these thousands of trials, were subjected to capital punishment.

In Rome, fewer than 100 people died for the offense of witchcraft. The first case of which we have knowledge was in 1426 and the last in 1572. The vast majority of the trials of the Roman Inquisition concluded for lack of evidence.

During the prosecutions against female witches, tremendous errors were committed, but this does not justify, on the historical plane, the spread of a black legend, as Brown has done, which sees "the Church" as the only one responsible.

Q: In what sense does Dan Brown follow the feminist currents?

Father Hauke: In radical feminism, we find different currents, often opposed. There is a view that minimizes the difference between man and woman, propounding an androgynous ideal: It is equalitarian feminism.

The other tendency exasperates the distinction between the sexes, declaring the woman superior. In the religious ambit, this gynocentric feminism is manifested in the veneration of a "goddess."

Also in this case, Brown presents a strange and untenable mixture between two currents. On one hand, he praises the androgynous model and, on the other, defends a preponderance of the "goddess," placing a matriarchy at the origin of human history.

Both feminisms are not in accord with a healthy anthropology: Equalitarian feminism does not respect the difference between man and woman, even though claiming their equal dignity, while gynocentric feminism denies precisely the equal value of the sexes, while still exalting their difference. The aspect that is deficient in both views is the concomitance between equal dignity and complementarity, typical of Christian anthropology.

Q: But don't you think that in the Church there have also been unjust discriminations of women?

Father Hauke: The relationship between man and woman is based on creation, which is a good thing, but it is continually threatened by the consequences of sin. For this reason, also in the Church there has been, and at times still are, unjust discrimination in respect to women.

John Paul II spoke of this in his "Letter to Women": "Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women's dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. …"

Q: Do you not have the impression that the biblical image of God continues to be represented preferably with "masculine" symbols?

Father Hauke: I would say yes, though one also finds "feminine" features when, for example, God's action is compared to the tenderness of a mother. See Isaiah 49:15 -- "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you."

The "masculine" accent given to the image of God is based, for Christianity, on the revelation of Jesus who speaks of our "Father in heaven" -- and not of "our Mother on earth."

The Son of God was incarnated in the masculine sex, a fact destined to endure also in the transfigured corporeal nature. The Holy Spirit instead bears in himself some features that, from the symbolic point of view, could be approximated to feminine aspects, though these aspects cannot be exaggerated in a "feminine" representation, remote from the Holy Spirit.

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Archbishop Amato Comments on "Da Vinci Code" and "Gospel of Judas"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican official says that attempts are made to slander and discredit the Church because it is the only institution that explicitly defends questions that are fundamental to man.

Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reflected Wednesday on Vatican Radio on publications such as "The Da Vinci Code" and the "Gospel of Judas."

"It is a fact that today one can speak badly of the Pope without impunity, as is being done in Germany with some cartoons," the prelate said. "One can also falsify at will the history of Christianity without the least respect -- I won't say, for religious -- but for elementary historical ethics."

In this connection, the content of the cited works, "lacking in real foundation, ? seems a calumny against the Church, aimed at discrediting it," the Vatican official said.

He suggested that the attacks have arisen because "the Church is today the only institution that clearly and explicitly protects human life from the beginning until death, that protects the family, that says a clear word on topics of sexual and bioethical ethics, that proposes the values of the Ten Commandments."

Distorted

Of "The Da Vinci Code," Archbishop Amato said that "the whole book is a wicked distortion of the truth."

"For example, to deny Jesus' divinity and affirm that it was invented by the Council of Nicaea in the year A.D. 325 means to falsify history," he observed.

"Immediately after the death and resurrection of Christ," the archbishop explained, "around the A.D. 40s, the Church sang the famous hymn contained in the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: 'Christ, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.'"

To defend the truths of the faith, the Church "continues its work of defense of the doctrine through the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops," and through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which "continues to protect the Christian people also through the correction of mistaken theological theories," said Archbishop Amato, 67.

In his opinion, "the Churches and Christian communities should speak out strongly, should cry out the truth from the rooftops, as the Gospel says, to stop the lies that, unfortunately, use all the weapons of media persuasion to achieve this mass consensus."

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A "Da Vinci" Nudge to Believers
Meeting at Angelicum Reflects on Fiction-Reality Tie

ROME, MAY 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A symposium held at a pontifical university called the movie "The Da Vinci Code" a "sign of the times" which challenges all believers to demonstrate their faith.

The symposium at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, was held Wednesday, the day in which the film was presented in at the Cannes Film Festival, in France.

The "sign of the times" conclusion was voiced by Dominican Father Bruno Esposito, vice rector of the university, at the meeting on "The Da Vinci Code: Reflection on the Fiction-Reality Relationship."

In the debate held at the school, Father Esposito, who is also a professor of canon law, said that "man is not against God but against a mistaken idea of God," and that is why it is necessary to address a phenomenon such as "The Da Vinci Code."

Such an engagement, he said, is "not in a spirit of defense or confrontation but as an examination of conscience by believers, who must be committed to a new evangelization."

Benedetto Ippolito, a professor of the history of medieval philosophy at the "Roma Tre" university, explained the success of Dan Brown's novel in a cultural context dominated by "conspiracies and mysteries."

It is "a scene in which God is absent, in which God is not necessarily denied but lived in another dimension," said the scholar.

High price

Ippolito, who is also a professor at the University of the Holy Cross, explained that today there is a tendency to "consider Christian truth as a theory or even an invention."

This vision implies paying a high price, he said. "The loss of the sense of truth implies the loss of the sense of freedom."

On addressing the meeting, Joan-Andreu Rocha Scarpetta, a professor at the Regina Apostolorum university, said that "Dan Brown's work is a cultural thermometer that leads to reflection on contemporary religiosity."

In particular, Rocha acknowledged that the novel might cause confusion in people who do not have "the tools of discernment necessary to understand what is behind it."

Rocha, who directs Regina Apostolorum's master's program on "Church, Ecumenism and Religions," noted that the books of the New Age current are so successful because they emphasize "believing" without "belonging" and "they present reality as false and truth as esoteric and critical of institutions."

Bernardo Estrada, a biblicist from the University of the Holy Cross, defined the Gnosticism of a certain apocryphal gospel of the second century -- which Brown makes ample use of in his novel -- as "the greatest threat Christianity had" because this philosophical-religious current professed the rejection of Christ's death on the cross and resurrection.

Signs

Estrada assailed the novel's gross distortion of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

"It was a relationship in spiritual harmony," he said. "More than that, Jesus made an exceptional gift to Magdalene, the only one charged with announcing the risen Jesus, even before Peter."

Father Esposito, the vice rector, concluded by appealing to believers to "give signs ? against the relativism and voids that humanity demonstrates."

"The challenge," he said, "is directed to us, ourselves, not to those who sell these books and films."

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"Da Vinci Code" as an Opportunity for the Church
Interview With Philippe Oswald of Famille Chrétienne

ROME, MAY 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- This week's release of the film "The Da Vinci Code" could turn out to be positive, says the head of a French weekly magazine.

"An opportunity has been given to us to show the true face of the Church," affirmed Philippe Oswald, editor in chief of Famille Chrétienne.

In this interview, Oswald shared his views about the Dan Brown novel and about the conclusions of a survey on the book's impact on the Church in France.

Q: On the occasion of the release of the film "The Da Vinci Code," you are publishing a survey carried out with IPSOS Institute. What are the important points of this survey?

Oswald: Out of every 10 people, without distinctions of categories, questioned in France by IPSOS on Christ and the Church, three thought that Jesus certainly or probably never existed; one judged that he was an impostor; only two affirmed his divine nature. Seven said he changed nothing in their lives; eight thought the Church was an invention of men.

It is futile to underline how this result confirms the growing distancing of the French from the faith and simple Christian culture.

In this sample, of 1,000 individuals surveyed, 21% had read and 47% had heard talk about the novel "The Da Vinci Code." Adding both, 68% of people surveyed, more than two-thirds, knew more or less what it is about, obviously a considerable ratio!

However, the survey has confirmed some disquieting differences among those who had read or had heard talk about the novel, and those who had no idea of its content.

For example, close to half -- 48% -- of readers of the book do not see in Jesus anything other than a man, as opposed to less than a third -- 29% -- of those who have not read it.

The readers of the book were induced to think that Jesus did not resurrect; among them, the ratio of those who deny the resurrection is 10.7% higher in relation to those who did not know the novel.

They also no longer think that the Church has a positive role -- 14% more than those who do not know the book.

More than one-fourth -- 26.4% -- of those who have not read the book think that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife or mistress; this figure is already impressive. But of those who have read the book, close to half -- 48.3% -- came to this conclusion! Does this not call the Church to an examination of conscience?

Q: How do you explain the passion for this film and the police intrigue invented by Dan Brown?

Oswald: Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained the strange success of a novel obstinately anti-Christian such as "The Da Vinci Code" by noting "the extreme cultural poverty of a good part of Christians who often do not know how to give reasons for their hope."

"The Da Vinci Code" is certainly a "thriller" full of twists. But its success is still strange, if one considers the number of implausibilities it accumulates, not only in regard to the Church but to history in general, including art history -- what it says about Leonardo da Vinci, supposedly affiliated to a "Priory of Sion," founded in fact by an illuminati in 1956, should make it lose all credibility.

Having said this, the enthusiasm is also explained by the masses' fondness for conspiracy theories and the growing challenge to religions, which also affects Christianity, and which is particularly addictive among the old prejudices against the Catholic Church, allegedly "totalitarian" because it is hierarchical. What is more, the Church has the audacity to warn persistently about moral behavior.

The magisterium's positions on unconditional respect for life, from conception until death, and heterosexual and indissoluble marriage, attract a priori challenge or rejection.

However, the Church is "saved" for a majority of people surveyed, whether or not they read the book, because of its humanitarian commitment. At least, this is how we interpret the 63% of positive and very positive answers from the totality of people questioned, but with the 14-point gap as already indicated by the readers of "The Da Vinci Code," compared to those who have not heard talk about the book.

Q: As editor in chief of a Catholic family weekly, why do you feel it is important to report on controversial aspects of Dan Brown's history?

Oswald: Within a few days, on May 17, the manipulation of "The Da Vinci Code" novel will reach new levels with the première in Cannes of the film inspired by it.

Dan Brown's ruminations on the alleged "secrets" of the Church, Jesus' person, his relations with Mary Magdalene, the "invention" of Christianity by Emperor Constantine, or the dark intentions attributed to Opus Dei, will have a redoubled impact on spectators who, in the majority, have but a vague idea of the Catholic religion. It would be discouraging.

But we can also say that an opportunity has been given to us to show the true face of the Church. Not only does it have nothing to hide, but comes out into the open to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

Moreover, our survey also reveals that if 30% of people who read the book think that it is essentially "rather true," 30% judge it "completely false." Without prejudging the effect the film will have, does this not "draw" open avenues for a strategy of communication, or better, of evangelization?

We have conceived our reply to "The Da Vinci Code" in the spirit of judo -- that sport of nonviolent combat, which consists in turning the adversary's force against him. It consists of a series of four numbers [of Famille Chrétienne] -- May 13, 20, 27 and June 4 -- with surveys, interviews, feature articles, etc.

They can be received without charge by requesting them at the site www.davincicode-laverite.com.

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John L. Allen JR  (May 12, 2006)

Today marks exactly one week from the release of "The Da Vinci Code" movie, and for those keeping score, we now have six current or former Vatican officials who have come out swinging against the "Da Vinci" phenomenon.

In March 2005, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa compared Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code to rotten food, and branded it "a sack full of lies." Bertone called on Catholic bookstores not to sell it.

More recently, the Preacher of the Papal Household, Italian Capuchin Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, offered an unstinting challenge to "The Da Vinci Code" (while referring to it only as "a certain film") in his homily at St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday.

"Christ is being sold again, no longer to the leaders of the Sanhedrin for 30 denarii, but to editors and booksellers for billions of denarii," Cantalamessa said, in the presence of the pope. "No one will succeed in halting this speculative wave."

The current secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato, added his voice to the chorus two weeks ago during a conference on Catholic communications held at the Opus Dei-run Santa Croce University. Here is what Amato said, arguing that the anemic Christian response to The Da Vinci Code is an example of what he called the "extreme cultural poverty" of today's Christians:

    Otherwise it's impossible to explain the strange success of an obstinately anti-Christian novel such as The Da Vinci Code, which is full of calumnies, offenses, and historical and theological errors regarding Jesus, the Gospels, and to the church. Similar calumnies, offenses and errors addressed to the Koran or the Shoah would have justifiably provoked global protest; directed, however, at the church and at Christians, they have impunity. I think that in these cases Christians should be more determined to reject lies and gratuitous defamations. I recall that in 1988, when I was at that time in Washington, D.C., the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" by Martin Scorsese was shown. That film, extremely annoying and improbable, was not only contested in lively fashion because it was historically false, but was also boycotted at the box office, receiving a merited economic boycott.

Amato added, "I hope that you all will boycott the film."

Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian who serves as the Vatican's top official for liturgy, upped the ante even further recently by suggesting the possibility of lawsuits.

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"There are some other religions which, if you insult their founder, will not just be talking," Arinze observed in an interview with the Rome Reports television agency. He spoke as part of a documentary the agency prepared on The Da Vinci Code, titled "A Masterful Deception." Arinze recommended practical responses to the novel, possibly including legal action against the author.

In the same documentary, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and himself an Opus Dei member, called The Da Vinci Code a fantasy, "ridiculous" and totally ignorant of how the church really works. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said it was disturbing that "no respect is being shown for the hundreds of millions of people who believe in Christ, the church and the Gospels."

The film opens worldwide May 19. In what must be a galling twist for these Vatican officials, Rome has been plastered with posters promoting the film for the last several weeks.

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Scholars setting record straight on Mary Magdalene

Modern biblical scholars are trying to set straight centuries of erroneous Christian tradition regarding Mary Magdalene, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is the least of their concerns.

According to Catholic News Service, in 591 AD Pope St Gregory the Great preached a sermon in which he identified as one person the New Testament figures of Mary Magdalene, the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet and washed them with her tears, and the Mary who was the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany.

Although he was only reflecting a tradition that had gained some ground in the West (and was resisted by many of the church's early theologians), the sermon became a reference point for later scholarship, teaching and preaching in the West, Fr Raymond F Collins, a New Testament scholar at the Catholic University of America, said in an interview.

The Greek Fathers - the great theologians of the early church in the East, who wrote in Greek - consistently maintained that Mary Magdalene, the unnamed repentant sinner and Mary of Bethany were three distinct women. That remains the tradition in the Orthodox churches.

The identification of Mary Magdalene as a repentant sinful woman was solidified in the Latin Church for centuries by the use of that story, reported in the seventh chapter of Luke, as the Gospel reading for Mary Magdalene's feast on 22 July. In fact, in the Roman Calendar before the Second Vatican Council, the day was called the feast of "Mary Magdalene, penitent."

Sr Elizabeth A Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University and a Sister of St Joseph, said the version of Mary Magdalene as "the prostitute to whom Jesus forgave much and who loved him ... took on a profound Christian ideal of a sinner who repents and therefore is a model for Christians in that way."

"But what got lost in the process," she said, "was her actual role as a leader of witnessing to the Resurrection in the early church."

She said that the repentant prostitute version of the Magdalene is "robbing us of [appreciation of] women's leadership at a crucial moment in the early church. In other words, in a way it's easier ... to deal with her as a repentant sinner than as she emerges in the Gospels in her own right."

Fr Collins said: "Luke describes Mary Magdalene as a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, and that characterisation of Mary Magdalene is repeated in the longer canonical ending of Mark's Gospel."

But he noted that in Jesus' time it was not uncommon to attribute physical or mental afflictions to demonic possession and this did not imply that the possessed person was sinful. "Whatever affected Mary Magdalene was considered to be the effect of demonic possession so she would not have been considered a public sinner the way the medieval legends have made her out to be," he said.

He said she is called the Magdalene because she comes from Magdala - a fishing village up in northern Galilee.

He said one also learns from Luke "that she supported Jesus from her resources," suggesting that she was a woman of some means, and that she was one of several women from Galilee who were disciples of Jesus and followed him.

Luke's Gospel is the only one that mentions Mary Magdalene by name in the narration of Jesus' public ministry. But all four Gospel writers place her as a witness to Jesus' death on the cross, a witness to his burial and the chief witness to his resurrection, making her one of the most significant female figures in the Gospels apart from Jesus' own mother, Mary.

Sr Elizabeth said that when one looks at the Magdalene's biblical role as the one the risen Christ appears to and commissions to announce the good news to the others it has "many implications for how we tell the story of the origins of the church."

"There is the typical story of where Jesus chose the Twelve and put Peter in charge and the women, you know, were accessories," she said. "When you put Mary Magdalene into the picture, you can't tell the story that way so simply anymore."

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Da Vinci's Secret Christian Message
Interview With Giuseppe Fornari

ROME, MARCH 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Few would think to question Leonardo da Vinci's genius, yet his life and works have often been the object of serious misinterpretations.

Some books have presented him as an unbeliever and homosexual, who was threatened by the Church. Others, such as Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," present him as a master of esotericism.

To help put things in their right place, philosopher Giuseppe Fornari has just published a book entitled, "La bellezza e il nulla. L'antropologia cristiana di Leonardo da Vinci" (Beauty and Nothingness: The Christian Anthropology of Leonardo da Vinci), published by Marietti.

In the work, Fornari argues that "far from being a heretic and blasphemer, a compiler of riddles (as pop esotericism would like) Leonardo was rather a tormented Christian, irregular by necessity but profound and impassioned." He shared more in this interview with ZENIT.

Q: Several authors have spread the idea that Leonardo da Vinci was a "naturalist" who was distant or even opposed to Catholic thought and culture. In your book, you argue just the opposite. Can you explain why?

Fornari: The principal error, committed for example by Sigmund Freud, lies in attributing to Leonardo a naturalist vision similar to that of the 19th and 20th centuries. There could be no greater distortion of his thought.

Leonardo was already a modern because he saw nature as an immense whole of forces and phenomena that man must try to know, and over which he has the right to intervene, wherever possible.

The great difference in regard to the vision that prevails today, is that for him these forces are of a profoundly spiritual character, understanding spirit as an energy and end which is not material, which is within nature itself, and which refers to a transcendent origin.

And such a vision not only is not in contradiction with the Catholic vision, but rather corroborates it in the most penetrating way.

Undoubtedly it was a vision that was too advanced for the age, as documented for us by the misunderstandings of [biographer] Giorgio Vasari, concerned that Leonardo's scientific researchers might have led him to religiously skeptical and heretical positions.

It is, therefore, an old prejudice, which is based essentially on a misunderstanding.

Q: In your opinion, which are the pictorial works in which Leonardo expresses his affinity with Christian culture and theology?

Fornari: Without a doubt, in all his works with a religious theme, one sees a growing maturation which finds the fullness of its maturity in the "Adoration of the Magi."
A constant in such paintings is meditation on the reality and centrality of the sacrifice, accepted by Christ for the salvation of humanity, a meditation that came to him from Tradition and from the suggestions of theologians with whom he was in contact every now and then, but which Leonardo deepened increasingly in the light of difficult personal experiences, marked by his condition of illegitimate son.

All this led him to give an interpretation of moving truth and profundity to the great themes of the Incarnation, the Fatherhood of God and the motherhood of Mary.

I will give you just one example that impressed me especially during the preparation of the book: the "Benois Madonna" kept in the Hermitage on St. Petersburg.

In this work, still youthful, we see a Mary who is virtually a girl, who gazes with a smile full of ingenuous joy, and with a secret melancholy, barely insinuated, at the Child she holds in her arms, absorbed in the contemplation of a flower, symbol of his future crucifixion.

It is a scene that is charged with moving connotations if we think of the little Leonardo, who was separated when he was still small, from his very young natural mother, Catalina, obliged to marry, in a marriage of reparation, and to leave little "Lionardo" in the father's house.

How can one not refer to the wisely filtrated re-elaboration of a traumatic experience, which Leonardo undoubtedly knew from his mother herself, in addition to his own emotional scars? In this sort of "flashback" one can measure Leonardo's closeness with the most profound content of the Christian message, through the cognitive re-elaboration of his own experience.

Q: You say that for Leonardo artistic beauty is the means by which man is united with God. Can you illustrate this concept?

Fornari: It is an articulated and complex argument because, to reconstruct it, we must unite explicit observations of Leonardo with what can be deduced from other testimonies, above all from his own works.

Leonardo begins with a vision that goes back at least partially to Florentine Platonism, according to which, beauty belongs to an ideal sphere, superior to the corruption of the material world, but this reflection is full of implications that are in no way consoling.

The same prodigious facility with which he knew how to give visible form to this "divine beauty" must have put him on guard. His enormous talent in fact also gave him the power to use it for other ends, such as vanity, ambition and sensuality.

The beauty of art therefore is ambiguous and depends on the way in which we respond with our freedom to its ambiguity: if we opt for its authentically spiritual orientation, or if we remain with a more equivocal vision. I believe this meditation on the ambivalence of beauty, and on its claim on our liberty, became an ever more important topic in this artist's career.

The only way out is the image of Christ himself. By accepting to be equal to us and to die for us, he shows us the only solution: the acceptance of suffering and sacrifice for love of others.

In this way, through him, we can rise again, and the beauty of the world, which seemed to be and was destroyed, resurrects through love.

The image of Christ makes a reality the image and likeness of God, by whom we were created, and the beauty of Christ is revealed as the beauty of the resurrected body, of creation led to redemption.

With God himself, who makes himself our image, we ourselves become his image. I believe that this is the secret of the greatest Christian art, the secret of Leonardo's art.

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The Da Vinci Code’s Sources: Did Dan Brown Really Borrow From Holy Blood, Holy Grail?

Carl E. Olson | February 27, 2006

Novelist Dan Brown is being sued in England for alleged breach of copyright law by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (Dell, 1983). The Chicago Tribune reports that Dan Brown's lawyer has said the following about his client's alleged use of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in The Da Vinci Code:

But Jonathan Baldwin, representing Random House, said Baigent and Leigh were making "wild allegations." He said they were suggesting that "Mr. Brown has appropriated not only the numerous parts of a jigsaw puzzle but the organizational way (Baigent and Leigh) put it together."

"In brief, the complaint appears to be that 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' discloses the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had children which survived and married into a line of French kings, that the lineage continues today, and that there is a secret society based in France which has the objective of restoring this lineage to the thrones not only of France but to the thrones of other European nations as well, and that ('The Da Vinci Code') uses some of this idea," Baldwin said.

He said Brown referred to "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" in his novel, but the earlier book "did not have anything like the importance to Mr. Brown which the claimants contend it had."
So, Baldwin admits to Brown referring to some of the major premises of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York, 1982, 1983) but suggests that Brown's novel does not draw deeply from the book by Michael Baigent, Richard Liegh, and Henry Lincoln, nor really follow its structure or organization. True or not true? Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the attorney for the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail isn't, of course, buying that argument:

Counsel for the two writers today disputed claims by Mr Brown, one of the highest paid authors in history, that their work was "incidental" to the creation of The Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 40m copies worldwide. Jonathan James, QC, told Mr Justice Peter Smith in the chancery division of the high court today that this was an "extraordinary claim that would surprise anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code after reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail".

The QC said Mr Baigent and Mr Leigh's theory had "spawned many other books" that explored aspects of their historical conjecture in a variety of ways. But he added that only The Da Vinci Code had "lifted the central theme of the book"- the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married, had a child, and the bloodline continues to this day, with the Catholic Church trying to suppress the discovery. Mr James said "many people all over the world" had commented that the novel had lifted this focal theme.

Indeed many readers have noticed the "lifting" of "this focal theme" (and others), including myself and Sandra Miesel in our book The Da Vinci Hoax, where we note several times how Brown relies upon the 1983 book. Here in more detail is a look at some of the words, phrases, and ideas that The Da Vinci Code appears to borrow from Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

The Alleged Marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene

At the heart of Holy Blood, Holy Grail's elaborate pseudo-historical meanderings and conspiracy theories is the belief that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. As nearly everyone knows, the central premise of The Da Vinci Code is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married:

"As I said earlier, the message of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record." He [Teabing] began pawing through his book collection. "Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor." (p 245)

Then: "Because Jesus was a Jew," Langdon said, taking over while Teabing searched for his book, "and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son." (p 245)

Compare those remarks to this passage from Holy Blood, Holy Grail:  According to Judaic custom at the time it was not only usual, but almost mandatory, that a man be married. Except among certain Essenes in certain communities, celibacy was vigorously condemned. During the late first century one Jewish writer even compared deliberate celibacy with murder, and he does not seem to have been alone in this attitude. And it was as obligatory for a Jewish father to find a wife for his son as it was to ensure that his son be circumcised. (pp 330-331).

The similarities are obvious, especially the re-use of certain words/phrases: "Judaic/Jewish custom","celibacy was condemned," "a Jewish father ... to find a wife for his son."

On page 246 of The Da Vinci Code, Sophie reads from the gnostic text, The Gospel of Philip (c. 250), citing a passage about the gnostic Jesus and his love for his "companion, "Mary Magdalene, a love demonstrated by many kisses on the mouth. Teabing says, "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse" (p. 246). In Holy Blood, Holy Grail, before providing the same quote, the authors state: "According to one scholar he word 'companion' is to be translated as 'spouse'" (p 382).

Mary Magdalene as the Holy Grail

The Da Vinci Code claims that Mary Magdalene, not a chalice or cup, is the true Holy Grail. Teabing states, "The Holy Grail is not a thing. It is, in fact ... a person" (p 236). And Langdon explains that "the Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church." (p 238).
A few moments later, gazing at a reproduction of The Last Supper, Sophie is told by Teabing that the person seated to the right of Christ in that painting is Mary Magdalene (p 243). And then Teabing states: "The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret––her role as the Holy Grail" (p 244). And: "Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel. She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. She was the womb that bore the lineage, and the vine from which the sacred fruit sprang forth!"

The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail write:

Perhaps the Magdalen––that elusive woman in the Gospels––was in fact Jesus' wife. Perhaps their union produced offspring. ... Perhaps there was, in short, a hereditary bloodline descended directly from Jesus. Perhaps this bloodline, this supreme sang rééal, then perpetuated itself, intact and incognito, for some four hundred years––which is not, after all, a very long time for an important lineage. (p 313)

At the same time the Holy Grail would have been, quite literally, the receptacle or vessel that is received and contained Jesus' blood. In other words it would have been the womb of the Magdalen––and by extension, the Magdalen herself. ... The Holy Grail, then, would have symbolized both Jesus' bloodline and the Magdalen, from whose womb that bloodline issued. (p 400)

Regarding Mary Magdalene's background, The Da Vinci Code says she is of the Tribe/House of Benjamin and "of royal descent" (p 248). Then Teabing states: "By marrying into the powerful House of Benjamin, Jesus fused two royal bloodlines, creating a potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under Solomon" (p 249)

Meanwhile, Holy Blood, Holy Grail states that Jesus, "of the line of David and thus also a member of the tribe of Judah," needed to marry a "Benjamite woman" in order to have a legitimate claim to the throne. "Such a marriage would have constituted an important dynastic alliance and one filled with political consequence. ... Jesus would have been a priest-king of the line of David who possessed a legitimate claim to the throne. He would have consolidated his position by a symbolically important dynastic marriage." (p 347).

Constantine and the Council of Nicaea

Perhaps the strongest evidence of borrowing is found in The Da Vinci Code's remarks about Constantine, Christianity in the fourth century, and the relationship of pagan beliefs to Christian doctrine. Here are some examples:

The Da Vinci Code: Constantine "was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest" (p 232)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "The image of Constantine as a fervent convert to Christianity is clearly wrong. He himself was not even baptized until 337––when he lay on his deathbed and was apparently too weakened or too apathetic to protest." (p 366)

The Da Vinci Code: "In Constantine's day, Rome's official religion was sun worship––the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun––and Constantine was its head priest."

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "The state religion of Rome under Constantine was, in fact, pagan sun worship; and Constantine, all his life, acted as its chief priest."

The Da Vinci Code: "Christian and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two. Constantine decided that something had to be done. In 325 A.D., he decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity." (p 232)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "While Constantine was not, therefore, the good Christian that later tradition depicts, he consolidated, in the name of unity and uniformity, the status of Christian orthodoxy. In A.D. 325, for example, he convened the Council of Nicea." (p 368).

The Da Vinci Code: "Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties." (p 232)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "In the interest of unity, Constantine deliberately chose to blur the distinctions between Christianity, Mithraism, and Sol Invictus––deliberately chose not to see any contradictions among them." (p. 367) It then discusses Christmas and December 25th and (supposedly) shared beliefs between Christianity and Mithraism.

The Da Vinci Code: "Originally ... Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan's veneration day of the sun." (p. 232-3)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "Christianity had hitherto held the Jewish Sabbath––Saturday––as sacred. Now, in accordance with Constantine's edict, it transferred its sacred day to Sunday." (p. 367)

The Da Vinci Code: At the Council of Nicaea, Teabing states, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon––the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus." (p. 233). The vote is described as "relatively close" by Teabing (p. 233).

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "At this council the dating of Easter was established. Rules were framed that defined the authority of bishops, thereby paving the way for a concentration of power in ecclesiastical hands. Most important of all, the Council of Nicea decided, by vote, that Jesus was a god, not a mortal prophet." (p. 368). An endnote states of the vote: "218 for, 2 against," which is far closer to the truth than Teabing's claim.

The Da Vinci Code: "To rewrite the history books [states Teabing, the historian], Constantine knew he would need bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. ... Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned." (p. 234)

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: "Thus, a year after the Council of Nicea, [Constantine] sanctioned the confiscation and destruction of all works that challenged orthodox teachings––works by pagan authors that referred to Jesus, as well as works by 'heretical' Christians. ... Then, in A.D. 331, he commissioned and financed new copies of the Bible. This constituted one of the single most decisive factors in the entire history of Christianity and provided Christian orthodoxy––the 'adherents of the message'––with an unparalleled opportunity" (368). Then, on the next page, the authors state that "the New Testament itself is only a selection of early Christian documents dating from the fourth century. There are a great many other works that predate the New Testament in its present form" (p 369). The authors argue that those other documents depict Jesus as being human only, even "all too human" (p. 270).

Many Streams, Same Water

On page 253 of The Da Vinci Code there is a list of four titles found on the bookshelves of historian Leigh Teabing. "The best-known tome," Teabing tells Sophie, is a "tattered hardcover" book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. He adds: "This caused quite a stir back in the nineteen eighties. To my taste, the authors make some dubious leaps of faith in their analysis, but their fundamental premise is sound, and to their credit, they finally brought the idea of Christ's bloodline into the mainstream" (p 254). What Teabing thinks "dubious" remains unclear since he refers to or repeats most of the major claims of the book. And Brown also seems agreeable to those claims, as he explained in this December 17, 2004, National Geographic article:
"I began as a skeptic," Brown says in the special, which premiered this past Sunday. "As I started researching The Da Vinci Code, I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory about Mary Magdalene and holy blood and all of that. I became a believer."

It's worth noting that the other three sources listed on the same page of the novel as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, all draw heavily from that same work. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, authors of The Templar Revelation (Touchstone, 1998), write that Holy Blood, Holy Grail was "originally a particular inspiration to both of us" and that "we owe a debt of gratitude to all these writers for the light they have shed on our shared areas of investigation, but we believe that all of them have failed to find the essential key to the heart of these mysteries" (p 16). At least part of that "heart" is the belief Jesus was a high priest in an Egyptian mystery religion oriented around the worship of Isis and Osiris, and was "not so much the Son of God as a devoted Son of the Goddess" (p 297). Although Brown passed over that notion, he did apparently take up many of Picknett and Princes' strange ideas about the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci, drawing heavily from the first chapter of their book, "The Secret Code of Leonardo da Vinci" (pp 19-35) in making his claims about The Last Supper and Virgin of the Rocks, most notably the idea that the person to the right of Christ in the first painting is Mary Magdalene (in The Messianic Legacy [1986], the sequel to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, it is claimed that Jesus' "twin brother", Jude Thomas, sits as his right hand in that painting [pp 96-97]).

The other two books, Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 1998), and The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company,1993), are by Margaret Starbird, a former Catholic catechist who has been described by Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong as "a seeker after truth, not a defender of doctrine. She recognizes that orthodoxy is orthodox because it won and not necessarily because it is true" (from back cover of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar). Starbird admits that she turned her back on orthodox Catholic teachings after reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the 1980s: "The more deeply involved I became with the material, the more obvious it became that there was real substance in the theories set for in reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail. And gradually I found myself won over to the central tenets of the Grail heresy, the very theory I had originally set out to discredit" (The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, xx-xxi). (How ironic that Brown's admission of falling under the spell of the holy blood theory so closely echoes that of Margaret Starbird. Could that admission be borrowed as well?)

Whether or not Brown has infringed upon copyright laws is up to the English court of law. But it is clear that he has gone to the Holy Blood, Holy Grail well many times, both directly and indirectly incorporating large amounts of information from that book into his novel. Such, apparently, accounts for his vaunted research and scholarship. And so the Coded Craziness continues, bouncing from best-seller charts to courts of law to the silver screen.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

•• Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code | Excerpts from The Da Vinci Hoax |
   Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel

•• The "It's Just Fiction!" Doctrine: Reading Too Little Into The Da Vinci Code |
     Carl E. Olson


Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.

He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com .

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The Code and Gnosticism: A Response to Steve Kellmeyer
by Carl Olson April 17, 2006

When Sandra Miesel and I wrote The Da Vinci Hoax, we expected to be criticized by fans of The Da Vinci Code (TDVC). And we expected that some of that criticism would be uncharitable and illogical. We haven't, so to speak, been disappointed. But when a fellow Catholic and critic of TDVC recently wrote a column titled "Does Ignatius Press promote Gnosticism?" and made a number of dubious and incorrect statements about The Da Vinci Hoax, I was both surprised and disappointed.

The article was written by Steve Kellmeyer, a graduate of Franciscan University and author of several books, including Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, a 96-page work published in 2004 by Kellmeyer's Bridesgroom Press. I have never met Kellmeyer or spoken to him (nor have I read Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code), but have read several of his articles in recent years.

"The whole Gnostic line is just a throw-away argument"

Kellmeyer's article seems to have been inspired, in part, by my April 5th post on the Insight Scoop blog, which addressed the media furor over the so-called "Gospel of Judas," a gnostic text written sometime in the late second century A.D. At the end of my post, I provided a quote about gnosticism from The Da Vinci Hoax. Kellmeyer left a comment, stating, in part (all quotes by Kellmeyer are in blue text):
You know, everyone is on about how the Da Vinci Code is Gnostic. The whole argument is crap. ...

Just because you guys keep saying it is Gnostic doesn't make it so. DVC isn't Gnostic. It takes the Gnostic gospels as much out of context as it does the real Gospels. The whole Gnostic line is just a throw-away argument Brown uses to open a discussion on the idea that Jesus was really just a man. He mentions the Gnostic thing for about three pages, then never returns to it.

In fact, the whole DVC plot-line is built around a paganized version of the Theology of the Body. You know - sex is holy, marriage is holy, women should be treated like goddesses (i.e., in the image and likeness of God). That's Catholic doctrine.
That comment then led to an exchange of remarks between Kellmeyer and Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press and associate publisher of IgnatiusInsight.com. In that exchange, Kellmeyer made the following statements:
Not everything Marx said related to economics, nor does everything the Gnostic gospels say relate to Gnosticism. A careful DVC reader who is knowledgeable about Gnosticism will recognize that Brown uses the Gnostic Gospels twice (once from the Gospel of Philip to "prove" that Jesus was married - no Gnostic would do that) and then he never uses them again.

But Catholic apologists were so bent on finding a heresy in DVC that they immediately fixated on the word "Gnostic" in the book, even though that was essentially the only heresy Brown DIDN'T espouse (pardon the pun). The whole thing is laughable. The Gospel of Judas is in the news precisely because Catholic apologists have been advertising a heresy that didn't exist. ...

I don't believe the novel even uses the word "Gnostic." It certainly doesn't use a single Gnostic idea. It quotes from ancient documents that have Gnostic elements, but it doesn't use the Gnostic elements and it doesn't use the quotes to support Gnostic ideas. The only reason it quotes from those documents is that they are ANCIENT and they aren't Christian. That lends a veneer of respectibility to the entirely modern argument that is brought forward - the modern infatuation with goddess worship. ....

And don't hand me that bit about Catholics having no influence on the media. There have been a lot of Catholic apologists on a lot of MSM outlets and all of them having been pushing this Gnostic line. If you all are so inconsequential, then why did you print all those books and DVDs? Who did you sell them to? Give me a break.
Over at The Da Vinci Hoax blog, Kellmeyer's comments -- made in response to this April 11 post -- were even more caustic:
Will Ignatius be producing a DVD that exposes the erros in their own Da Vinci Hoax? Such as the erroneous idea that the DVC is Gnostic, an idea promulgated by Ignatius Press (among others), an idea which made the current uproar over the Gospel of Judas possible? I'm just looking forward to an admission of error here, that's all.
And, after Brumley responds -- "If Steve Kellmeyer is looking for an admission of error, he is certainly free to offer one" -- Kellmeyer writes:
Alright. "On behalf of Mark Brumley and Ignatius Press, we apologize for having mislead people into thinking the Da Vinci Code was a Gnostic heresy, when it has nothing to do with Gnosticism at all. Dan Brown's execrable research, which we were attempting to debunk, was in this case matched by our own failure to read and think about what he actually wrote. As a result, we spend a fair amount of time in both our book and our DVD tilting at straw men. Again, Ignatius Press deeply apologizes for the errors in its material." Just send that out in a press release, Mark. Thanks.
Gnosticism and the Code

I quote these comments at length because as surprised as I am at Kellmeyer's insistence that Sandra Miesel and I misrepresent what TDVC says about gnosticism and that, in fact, we have created a "straw man," I am even more surprised at the uncharitable and mocking tone of Kellmeyer's comments. Granted, they are made on a blog, and are therefore far more informal than remarks found in articles or essays. Yet, apparently upset that Brumley had finally blocked him from making further comments on the two Ignatius Press-operated blogs (because Kellmeyer failed to change the sarcastic and angry tone of his comments), Kellmeyer decided to take his criticisms to a broader audience, publishing "Does Ignatius Press promote Gnosticism?" on the "Renew America" website on the afternoon of April 12th, less than two days after his first comment on the Insight Scoop blog.

And so, since I know that some readers are puzzled about Kellmeyer's article and since many of Kellmeyer's accusations call for correction and/or response -- especially since a couple of those accusations are quite severe -- I am going to address the comments made in that article and make some related observations related.
"Gnosticism: The Religion of the Code" | That's Chapter 1 of Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel's book, The Da Vinci Hoax. While the book has been a moderately competent debunk of Dan Brown's novel, there has always been one aspect of it that has been in error, and it is admirably laid out in the title to chapter 1.
The Da Vinci Hoax has been moderately competent enough to earn strong praise from Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago ("the definitive debunking"), Dr. Philip Jenkins (author of Hidden Gospels), Dr. James Hitchcock, Dr. Darrell Bock (New Testament scholar and author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code), The Washington Times, and many others. And FaithfulReader.com, in a review of several "debunking books" (including Kellmeyer's book) says of our book: "More than the other titles, this book looks at the cultural and religious factors that have combined to contribute to the success of DVC" and "[its authors] provide a wealth of richly detailed historical and theological information in their extensive volume."
Gnosticism has absolutely nothing to do with the Da Vinci Code.
And yet Kellmeyer, in one of his comments on the Insight Scoop blog, states: "A careful DVC reader who is knowledgeable about Gnosticism will recognize that Brown uses the Gnostic Gospels twice (once from the Gospel of Philip to "prove" that Jesus was married - no Gnostic would do that) and then he never uses them again." So "absolutely" must not be completely absolute.

More importantly, within the novel itself are the following references to gnosticism and gnostic texts:

•• On page 231 of TDVC, the character Leigh Teabing claims that "more than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament...," a clear reference to gnostic texts, even though Brown's numbers are well off the mark.

•• On page 234, Teabing refers to "the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate," first mentioning the Dead Sea scrolls, then "the Coptic Scrolls [found] in 1945 at Nag Hammadi." The Nag Hammadi documents, which were discovered in Egypt in 1945, include numerous gnostic texts. They also fueled a resurgent interest in gnosticism that has been quite influential over the past several decades (more on that below).

•• Later (p 245), Teabing opens "a huge book" identified asThe Gnostic Gospels, referring to either the 1979 book by Elaine Pagels -- a key work in bringing some of the Nag Hammadi texts to a popular readership -- or to The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation (Anchor Bible Reference Bible), in which case Brown has the title wrong.

•• Teabing explains to Sophie that the these documents are "the earliest Christian records," but that "they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible." This is a key theme in the novel: the gnostics were the first and real Christians, and the gnostic texts offer the earliest and most accurate account of the life of Jesus. And it is obvious that this claim has resonated strongly among TDVC readers (including many talking heads in the mainstream media), despite the equally obvious fact that Brown knows little about actual ancient gnosticism or gnostic teachings.

•• Teabing quotes a passage from the gnostic text, "The Gospel of Philip," seeking to prove to Sophie from the text that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. He also references "several other passages" to the same end. In writing this section of the novel, Brown most likely relied upon the work of radical feminist and former Catholic Margaret Starbird, author of The Goddess in the Gospels andThe Woman With the Alabaster Jar. Both books are prominently mentioned in TDVC (p. 253). Both books, especially The Goddess in the Gospels, draw upon gnostic texts and gnostic/neo-gnostic themes, especially the elevation of androgyny, subversion of orthodox authority, and the pursuit of elite and hidden knowledge. Starbird, in The Goddess in the Gospels, uses the quote from "The Gospel of Philip" to support her beliefs that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were sacred lovers, that the Magdalene was persecuted by the orthodox Church, that God can be known through direct experience without need of a Church or structure, and that the Church hates the sacred feminine (pp 119-122). All of these neo-gnostic/neo-pagan notions are picked up and used by Brown.

•• On page 247 of TDVC, Teabing quotes from the gnostic text, "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene." Later, on page 248, he refers to the gnostic "gospels" as "unaltered gospels," again feeding the myth that gnosticism presents a more historically accurate picture of first-century Christianity (a myth also used by those promoting the "Gospel of Judas").

•• On page 308, Langdon explains to Sophie that gnosis —— "knowledge of the divine" —— is achieved through "sacred marriage", or "physical union." This is a neo-gnostic reworking of the ancient gnostic notion of syzygy -- the spiritual wholeness achieved when spiritual beings exist in male and female pairs (more on this below).

There's no doubt that Brown is rather clueless about ancient gnosticism, which most scholars agree appeared in the early to mid-second century A.D. Those who have read our chapter on gnosticism (pp 45-72, The Da Vinci Hoax) know that we take Brown to task for his skewed and selective use of gnosticism. But, we also explain in detail that his sloppy and syncretistic use of gnosticism -- especially as it is blended with radical feminism, goddess worship, and other New Age notions -- is characteristic of what Dr. Carl A. Raschke, author of The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the Origins of the New Religious Consciousness (Nelson-Hall, 1980) a study of gnosticism in recent centuries, calls "modern gnosticism." As Raschke and many others have shown, this modern form of gnosticism (like ancient gnosticism) thrives on revolting against "organized" or "conventional" religion and often promotes deviant forms of morality, especially sexual mortality. In the first chapter of our book, we write:
"These comments [by Pagels] touch on gnostic themes found within The Da Vinci Code: suspicion of tradition, distrust of authority, dislike for dogma and objective statements of faith, and the pitting of the individual against the institution. There is also the promise of secret knowledge, which is one of the reasons for the novel's success. Readers believe that they are being let in on a secret that has been hidden for centuries -- a bloody and damning cover-up by an ancient and powerful institution. This has always been the promise of gnosticism: freedom from authority, insight into reality, and enlightenment that goes beyond normality." (The Da Vinci Hoax, pp 46-47)
TDVC's promise of secret knowledge involves not only the "truth" about oppressive institutions (the Catholic Church), but the means to direct spiritual experience, such as that described on the final page of the novel (p 454), when Robert Langdon falls on his knees "with a sudden upswelling of reverence" as he encounters the goddess Mary Magdalene ("the wisdom of the ages," another neo-gnostic conceit). Or via sexual intercourse, which Langdon says clears the mind and allows man to "see God." The radical dualism between "the spiritual" and institution is a central theme of TDVC, which constantly depicts Langdon -- the sophisticated, intellectual Harvard "symbologist" -- as having intuitive, special knowledge (a form of gnosis), while the Catholic Church (or Opus Dei, or "the Vatican") controls Catholics via fear, superstition, and suppressive doctrines and practices. This is simply a reworking of the ancient gnostic belief that a few, elite individuals will know the truth, while the rest of humanity is doomed to live without it.

Radical Feminism and Neo-Gnosticism

Our chapter on gnosticism has several pages devoted to modern radical feminism and its use (or, misuse) of gnosticism to promote beliefs that undermine orthodox Christianity by selectively appealing to ancient gnosticism. When we describe gnosticism as "the religion of the code", we do not argue that Brown is a true-blue, second-century gnostic, but that he (like many radical feminists and New Age types), uses certain gnostic elements to promote his particular anti-Catholic ideology and pseudo-spirituality.

Nor do we deny that he points readers toward embracing the "sacred feminine" and rediscovering goddess worship. On the contrary, we point out several times how radical feminism has been at the forefront of using (oftentimes selectively) ancient gnostic texts to promote, among other things, goddess worship, pro-androgynous beliefs, and anti-Christian attitudes. Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, writes: "Feminist scholars and theologians have been the most ambitious in using the newly found gospels [referring in particular to the Nag Hammadi documents] to reconstruct the early churches in their own image" (Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way [Oxford University Press, 2001], 124). As Jenkins demonstrates in a chapter titled "Daughters of Sophia", use of gnostic texts by feminist activists began in the nineteenth century and was especially popular in the 1890s and early 1900s. In a lecture, "How Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars," given in August, 2000, Jenkins provides a detailed history of the marriage between feminism and gnosticism, and states:
"Particularly between about 1880 and 1920, a cascade of new discoveries transformed attitudes to early Christianity, both the mainstream and the heretical fringes. The most exciting find involved portions of the Gospel of Thomas located in Egypt, and then known simply as the Sayings of Jesus. Though the work did not have quite the revolutionary impact that it has on modern scholars, quotations from Thomas were appearing in works of popular piety long before the Nag Hammadi finds. And just as modern writers claim Thomas as a fifth gospel, so many experts a hundred years ago awarded a similar laurel to the recently found Gospel of Peter. Many of the insights and observations which have been based on the recently found Gnostic texts were also well-known before 1900. Even the special role of women disciples, which has attracted so much comment in recent years, was already being discussed in that epoch. The notion was quoted in feminist and New Age writings of the early twentieth century - and though this tends to be forgotten in modern writings, both feminists and New Age adherents wrote extensively on early Christianity in this period. Radical perspectives on religion were not an innovation of the 1960s. The new speculations reached a mass audience through magazines, newspapers and novels: they were thoroughly familiar to any reasonably well-informed layperson."
Jenkins later states: "If we look back a century or so, we find that not only were early heresies still known and studied, but they achieved a popular audience in large measure through their appeal to occult and esoteric movements, who saw the early Gnostics as their spiritual ancestors." He then shows howthe Theosophical movement, various occult movements, and many Westerners attracted to forms of Asian mysticism have drawn heavily from ancient gnosticism in creating syncretistic forms of spiritualities. He notes that
"...it was the early esoteric writers who first comprehended the implications of the new documents for women's role in early Christianity. Indeed, the materials were present for a feminist revision of early Christian history. Just how thoroughgoing such an endeavor could be was indicated by Frances Swiney's important book The Esoteric Teachings of the Gnostics (1909), which is virtually forgotten today. Though she writes from an occult or theosophical perspective, Swiney has much in common with modern scholars like Elaine Pagels or Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who attempt to restore the lost voices of the women of early Christianity."
Philip G. Davis, professor of religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, has also studied this connection extensively, especially in his book Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality (Spence, 1998). He writes: "People who were dabbling in esoteric traditions like Gnosticism, or attempting to rediscover the spirituality of the ancient Egyptians, Norse, or Celts, frequently came face to face with female images of the divine. These goddesses or female symbols from the past seemed to offer stimulating insights into modern life. Gnosis, one of the most 'academic' of New Age journals, devoted its entire Fall 1989 issue to the Goddess" (Goddess Unmasked, p 20).

One example (out of many possible examples) of the recent feminist use of ancient gnosticism can be found in Riani Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (Harper & Row, 1988), which, in the words of one reviewer, "has inspired a generation of women and men to envision a truly egalitarian society by exploring the legacy of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping cultures from our prehistoric past." Many of Eisler's claims will be familiar to readers of TDVC, especially when it comes to ancient gnostic texts: "To gain a better understanding of the real nature of early Christianity, we have to go outside the official scriptures contained in the New Testament to other ancient Christian documents, some of which have only recently been found" (pp 124-25). She then discusses the Nag Hammadi documents, the work of Elaine Pagels, and argues that the first gnostics were persecuted by "orthodox" Christians because they believed in "the idea of the divine as female" (p 127). She then argues -- without support or citation -- that ancient gnosticism was derived "from the earlier religious tradition when the Goddess was worshipped and priestesses were her earthly representatives" (p 128).

Another key connection between radical feminism, gnosticism, and goddess worship is, we write in The Da Vinci Hoax, "a deity who is a perfect balance of feminine and masculine." Here is a lengthy quote from our discussion of this topic:
Some gnostic groups believed that the divine should be considered "masculofeminine -- the 'great male-female power.' Others claimed that the terms were meant only as metaphors, since, in reality, the divine is neither male nor female. A third group suggested that one can describe the primal Source in either masculine or feminine terms, depending on which aspect one intends to stress." Pagels adds: "Proponents of these diverse views agreed that the divine is to be understood in terms of a harmonious, dynamic relationship of opposites -- a concept that may be akin to the Eastern view of yin and yang, but remains alien to orthodox Judaism and Christianity" (Gnostic Gospels, 123-24).
The gnostic deity is both god and goddess, and the Gnostics despised the Christians for "suppressing" the feminine nature of the godhead. In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon lectures Sophie about this, telling her that the Priory of Sion believes that the Emperor Constantine and his successors "successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity" by employing "a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine", destroying goddess worship and insuring that modern religion would be male-oriented (TDVC, p 124). This suppression resulted, Brown's novel tells readers, in a warped and unbalanced humanity, overly masculine and lacking in feminine balance: "The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man's world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll." Readers are informed that the "male ego" has run amuck, without being balanced or controlled at all by its feminine counterpart. This has led to the "obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life", resulting in imbalanced lives, "testosterone-fueled wars", woman-hating societies, and "a growing disrespect for Mother Earth" (TDVC, pp 125-6).

Many gnostics not only believed the true God is androgynous, but that humanity was also meant to be androgynous, or "masculo-feminine". Some gnostics interpreted Genesis 1:27 as saying God created "male-female", not "male and female". Certain gnostic texts describe the Divinity as a "bisexual Power" and state that humanity is a "male-female being". There are references to God as Father and Mother -- a "dyad" of both masculine and feminine. This focus on an androgynous ideal is often referred to in contemporary, neo-gnostic works as "wholeness", a favorite term among many feminists as well. Margaret Starbird, whose books The Woman with the Alabaster Jar and The Goddess in the Gospels are referred to in The Da Vinci Code, repeatedly refers to "the partnership paradigm", which she describes as "the imaging of the Divine as both Bride and Bridegroom". This is necessary, she explains, so that the "collective psyche" of humanity will be healed, made whole, and restored. The essential purpose of this? "We must value our own feelings and emotions, our own intuitions, our own experience, our own selves. We must honor our own journeys." Wholeness, it seems, is merely self-absorption and narcissism.

The idea of an androgynous, "whole" humanity makes an appearance in The Da Vinci Code. In talking to Sophie about the Mona Lisa, Langdon claims that the Mona Lisa is "neither male nor female", but an androgynous portrait that is "a fusing of both" (TDVC, p 120). This is wishful thinking on the part of Langdon (and Brown), since reputable art historians agree the portrait has nothing to do with androgyny, but is simply a masterful painting of an Italian lady, (most likely Mona Lisa Gherardini, the wife of merchant Francesco del Giocondo). However, the idea that Mona Lisa depicts an androgynous person does fit with the gnostic beliefs that those who were enlightened by gnosis needed to be in pairs -- male and female -- forming a perfect whole, or "syzygy". Thus, Jesus would require a female counterpart who would make him complete; in gnostic writings that woman, of course, was Jesus' "consort", Mary Magdalene. (The Da Vinci Hoax, pp 50-54, some footnotes removed).
Muddying the waters, of course, is the fact that Brown proposes the androgynous ideal and maintains a traditional romance story involving Langdon and Sophie. Yet, although he fails to spell it out in any detail, Brown's description of Jesus as the sexual partner of Mary Magdalene draws from this gnostic idea (again, relying heavily on the work of Margaret Starbird, whose books obsess over this topic). Since, Jenkins explains, "the Gnostic world-view demanded that spiritual beings exist in male and female pairs, forming a common whole, a syzygy; how could Jesus exist without his counterpart, with whom he merged in spiritual -- and perhaps sexual -- union?" (Hidden Gospels, p 142).
Brown, again, brings together two contrary perspectives: a neo-gnostic, spiritual union between the feminist Jesus and the goddess Mary Magdalene (via Starbird), and the marriage and bloodline of the mere mortal Jesus who inspires followers but does little else (via Holy Blood, Holy Grail). Confused, absurd, and muddled -- yes. But this, again, is par for the course for an author who seems willing to use whatever is at hand (or whatever was handed to him by his wife) to move his story -- and its anti-Catholic agenda -- along.


Is the Jesus of the Code Really Gnostic?

So, does Brown skew the truth about early gnosticism to fit his needs? Absolutely. Is Brown's depiction of ancient gnosticism often inaccurate? Undoubtedly. Has Brown's novel brought an incredible amount of attention to gnoticism and gnostic texts? Most certainly. It has also fed off a curiosity about gnosticism and "lost gospels" and "hidden Scriptures" that already existed. The fact is, both ancient and modern forms of gnosticism don't worry too much about logic and coherence, but are interested in knowing secrets, subverting power, mocking orthodoxy, and freeing themselves from the mundane world of daily living. Which is why Teabing mockingly describes Christianity as "the greatest story ever sold" (p 267) and why Langdon, who epitomizes the modern gnostic ideal, assures Sophie that "those who truly understand their faith understand the stories are metaphorical" (p 342).
In defending the Ignatius book against this charge, Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius, has this to say, "DVH makes a sophisticated argument re: Gnosticism and the DVC. Brown draws on some elements of Gnosticism, frames some of his arguments based on how Gnosticism is used by others today, and ignores other aspects of Gnosticism that contradict his overall thesis."
Quite right, just as I have summarized.
Now, as I have pointed out elsewhere, The Da Vinci Code's contact with Gnosticism is essentially non-existent. It quotes from two documents that contain Gnostic elements: the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In neither case does Brown use the Gnostic elements in those documents, nor does he use the quotes that he does draw from the documents to support any Gnostic idea whatsoever.
This is not accurate, as my comments above show.
In fact, every idea that he brings forward concerning Jesus is antithetical to Gnosticism.
This, I think, gets at the heart of where Kellmeyer disagrees with Sandra and me. We do agree that the Jesus described by Brown in his novel really isn't the Jesus found in many of the ancient gnostic writings. But Kellmeyer seems to think that gnosticism is defined solely on its depiction of Jesus and that gnosticism is an all-or-nothing belief system. Both assumptions are incorrect. One of the remarkable things about TDVC, I think, is that it purports to be about Jesus -- but really says almost nothing about him (essentially what I've described above). This latter point, however, should not be overlooked too quickly, Part of the "code" that readers are given access to in the novel is the assertion that Jesus is of little consequence today, but was in his day simply a nice guy who "inspired millions to better lives" (p 234) and who was later used by Constantine to establish Catholicism and solidify the "Vatican power base." Or, in the words of Teabing, the "most profound moment in Christian history" was when Constantine created "a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike" (p 234). The statement is incredibly ridiculous, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that this is how many people understand the gnostic "gospels" (nice, human, real Jesus) versus the canonical Gospels (fake, unreal, god-only Jesus).

Noted Scripture scholar N.T. Wright, in a 2005 talk, "Decoding The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy," discussed the popularity and appeal of neo-gnosticism:
One of the basic fault lines in the contemporary Western world is the line between neo-Gnosticism on the one hand and the challenge of Jesus on the other. Please note that, despite strenuous attempts to make this line coincide with the current sharp left-right polarization of American culture and politics, it simply doesn't. Nor, for that matter, does it coincide with the polarizations of British or European culture either. So what is this real, deep polarization which runs through our world?

Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search. But this is not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says "I'm really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly" -- the theme of half the cheap movies and novels in today's world. It appeals to the stimulus of that ever-deeper navel-gazing ("finding out who I really am") which is the subject of a million self-help books, and the home-made validation of a thousand ethical confusions. It corresponds, in other words, to what a great many people in our world want to believe and want to do, rather than to the hard and bracing challenge of the very Jewish gospel of Jesus. It appears to legitimate precisely that sort of religion which a large swathe of America and a fair chunk of Europe yearns for: a free-for-all, do-it-yourself spirituality, with a strong though ineffective agenda of social protest against the powers that be, and an I'm-OK-you're-OK attitude on all matters religious and ethical. At least, with one exception: You can have any sort of spirituality you like (Zen, labyrinths, Tai Chi) as long as it isn't orthodox Christianity.
That, I think, perfectly describes the neo-gnostic "spirituality"advocated by TDVC.

The "Gospel" of "Judas"

Kellmeyer wrote:
Recently, Carl Olson wrote a column for Ignatius Insight complaining about the uproar over the Gnostic Gospel of Judas. Since his column accepts comments from readers, I pointed out that the uproar was in part fueled by his erroneous book and DVD -- he and Ignatius have been promulgating information on a heresy that the Da Vinci Code never even refers to. Two years of Ignatius' hype concerning this straw-man argument undoubtedly played no small role in the rising interest in Gnosticism.
Then, in another article, "The Gospel of Judas" (April 14, 2006), he wrote:
Now, why is such a silly document getting so much press coverage? Because a bunch of Christians - especially a bunch of orthodox Catholics - made sure it would. For the last two years, the people who took on the role of official debunkers to Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, have been insisting that Brown's work is a Gnostic heresy. It is nothing of the sort.
First, I'm not sure how Kellmeyer can pass judgment on the content of our DVD (hosted by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.) since it just came out. In fact, I haven't even seen the final product as of this writing.

Secondly, the statement about our book fueling the controversy around "The Gospel of Judas" is silly and misinformed. For example, a search of Google News produces some 754 news articles about "The Gospel of Judas." A search for "The Gospel of Judas" and "Da Vinci Hoax" produces one article: Kellmeyer's. Meanwhile, a search for "The Gospel of Judas" and "Da Vinci Code" produces 163 articles, including this April 11 piece, which contains this quote: "'I think the massive media interest in the 'Gospel of Judas' is related to the whole 'Dan Brown phenomenon'," said Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, referring to the US author of the international bestseller, 'The Da Vinci Code'." That same connection has been made by many observers, most of whom are likely oblivious to our book.

The interest in "The Gospel of Judas" is due to a number of factors: 1) a very deliberate and successful marketing campaign by National Geographic, 2) the media's general enthusiasm for "secret gospels" and anything that undermines traditional, orthodox Christianity, and 3) a substantial interest in alternative, customized, flexible, amoral, and self-serving spiritualities.

The Popularity of Gnosticism

The point I want to focus on here is that gnosticism/neo-gnosticism has been of great interest to many academics/scholars, the media, and the general populace for quite some time -- long before Dan Brown and I began writing books. This fact is addressed in a recent document, which states:
At the same time there is increasing nostalgia and curiosity for the wisdom and ritual of long ago, which is one of the reasons for the remarkable growth in the popularity of esotericism and gnosticism. Many people are particularly attracted to what is known ↓“ correctly or otherwise ↓“ as "Celtic" spirituality, or to the religions of ancient peoples. Books and courses on spirituality and ancient or Eastern religions are a booming business, and they are frequently labelled "New Age" for commercial purposes. But the links with those religions are not always clear. In fact, they are often denied.

An adequate Christian discernment of New Age thought and practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox. John Paul II warns with regard to the "return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practising gnosticism ↓“ that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian". An example of this can be seen in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.
That quote comes from "Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life -- A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'," produced by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on February 3, 2003 -- ÂÂ a month before TDVC was published. That document mentions gnosticism and neo-gnosticism numerous times. Therefore, should we assert that it undoubtedly played no small role in the rising interest in gnosticism?
After all, even the word "Gnostic" never appears in the Da Vinci Code. Certainly none of its ideas are present in the Code.
As we've seen, the word "Gnostic" does appears in TDVC (p 245), as does "gnosis" (p 308). (Besides, if it doesn't appear in the novel, how can Kellmeyer state, in a comment on our blog: "But Catholic apologists were so bent on finding a heresy in DVC that they immediately fixated on the word "Gnostic" in the book"?) As I've shown, many gnostic and neo-gnostic ideas are found in the novel. Yes, gnosticism is remarkably complex, which may account for some of the confusion about how it is used and misused by Brown.
Gnosticism is a remarkably complex and relatively obscure heresy that almost no one knew existed prior to the erection of the strawman argument.
This remark is simply off the mark. So "obscure" is gnosticism that the Catechism of the Catholic Church references it as the first heresy confronting the early Church (par 465) and the New American Bible describes it, in a footnote to 1 Timothy 6:20-21 as "the great rival and enemy of the church for two centuries and more." One of the first great works of Christian apologetics, Adversus Haereses (or "Against Heresies"), written by St. Irenaeus in the late second century, was a refutation of gnosticism. Manichaenism, a very popular form of gnosticism founded in the Middle East in the third century, had an adherent named Augustine for many years. And now, due to the popularity of TDVC, a number of novels and books are being produced that feature the Cathars, a gnostic movement that thrived in western Europe during the tenth century.

Since the publication of TDVC, sales for books such as The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief (about the gnostic "Gospel of Thomas"), both by Elaine Pagels, have increased. The latter book, published in May 2003, was a New York Times best-seller and was given all sorts of media attention (none of which, I should point out, mention me or The Da Vinci Hoax, possibly because our book wasn't published until June 2004). The jacket for Beyond Belief states that "the impulse to seek God overflows the narrow banks of a single tradition." Pagels, of course, is hardly on the fringe, but has a Ph.D. from Harvard, is a professor at Princeton, and has won numerous awards for her books espousing a feminist, neo-gnostic spirituality.

And what about Dan Burstein's Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The DaVinci [sic] Code, published in April 2004, and featuring essays by various authors, including some whose work was relied upon by Dan Brown? It has sold three million copiessince it was published! Included are numerous essays about gnosticism and the "Gnostic gospels" (one section is titled "The Lost Gospels"). Many other examples could be given, including the November 2003 ABC primetime special, "Jesus, Mary, and Da Vinci," which prominently featured Pagels, Karen King (The Gospel of Mary of Magdala), and Margaret Starbird. In a revealing interview with Beliefnet.com, the host, Elizabeth Vargas (a Catholic), stated: "After I got the assignment, I began reading [many books]. There have been books around for decades talking about Mary Magdalene and theorizing about her importance--scholarly looks at aspects of Bible history, like Elaine Pagels' Gnostic Gospels. I didn't know that there were Gnostic gospels." Again, I must point out how little involvement I had with the special, with the exception of a review of it that I wrote for National Catholic Register.

A search for "gnostic" on amazon.com turns up over 250 titles. Numerous books have been written in the past forty years about gnosticism and the gnostic texts; some of them have sold very well. Evangelical author James A. Herrick, in his book The Making of the New Spirituality (IVP, 2003), provides a detailed history of modern gnosticism ("The Rebirth of Gnosticism," pp 177-203) from the Enlightenment era to 19th-century America to Carl Jung, Jean Houston, and various works of popular science fiction. And there have been several books in recent years detailing the decades-long relationship between radical feminism and neo-gnosticism, including God or Goddess?(Ignatius, 1995) by Manfred Hauke, The Feminist Question (Eerdmans, 1994) by Francis Martin, Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (Ignatius, 1991) by Donna Steichen, and The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (Ignatius, 1992), edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock. You can also read pages 89-98 of our book for an examination of how the gnostic Mary Magdalene, as appropriated (or created) by Brown and various radical feminists, is mixed with neo-gnosticism and neo-paganism.
Given how bad Dan Brown is at research, it isn't clear he even realized he was quoting from Gnostic documents. There's certainly no evidence he taught anything approaching Gnostic philosophy.
Although I understand the temptation to make light of Brown's research, the novelist knew he was using gnostic texts, even if he didn't fully know what they meant. He refers to the "Gnostic Gospels" on his website and in his witness statement, given in London during the recent trial involving his publisher, he mentions the "Gnostic Gospels" several times, including this reference: "In chapter 58 of The Da Vinci Code I cite a passage from the Gospel of Philip and another from the Gospel of Mary, which both allude to Mary Magdalene's relationship with Jesus and her important role in his Church. The Gospels of Philip and Mary both come from the Gnostic Gospels and I recall seeing them in many sources" (par 192).
So, when I heard about Carl's column, in which he laments the existence of an uproar he and Ignatius helped to create, I asked Carl and Mark to give me one example of Gnostic philosophy, theology or even general thought in the Da Vinci Code. They couldn't.
This essay is my first response to Kellmeyer's assorted comments, so I'm not sure why he says I couldn't give him a response -- especially since he allowed all of 24 hours to do so (that is, before he claimed I wasn't able to provide an answer).
I pointed out that Brown quoted from ancient documents that contained Gnostic elements, but Brown never, in fact, used any of the Gnostic elements. Indeed, as I realized later, if we were to use this new Ignatius Press standard for what constitutes adherence to a particular philosophy, we would be forced to insist that Ignatius Press supports Dan Brown's philosophy and theology, since their book quotes from The Da Vinci Code. If Brown quoting from Gnostic documents makes him Gnostic, then Ignatius Press quoting from the Da Vinci Code makes them adherents to Dan Brown's philosophy. QED.
Again, silly.
The Ignatius Press' position is quite clear: "DVH makes a sophisticated argument re: Gnosticism and the DVC. Brown draws on some elements of Gnosticism, frames some of his arguments based on how Gnosticism is used by others today, and ignores other aspects of Gnosticism that contradict his overall thesis."

The argument is apparently quite sophisticated -- so sophisticated, that it is not something Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press, or Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel, the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax, are willing to actually enunciate to the rest of us.
Perhaps I should apologize that my life doesn't revolve around answering mocking questions at the drop of the hat?
Carl and Sandra give a basically accurate description of what Gnosticism teaches and then say, "Gnosticism was exclusive, elitist, and esoteric, open only to a few." But Brown's argument is precisely that pagan goddess worship -- which is NOT Gnosticism -- was NOT elitist, esoteric or open only to a few.
That's only part of the story. Yes, Brown's narrative states that pagan goddess worship was once the norm (and all was perfect because of it). But he also says:

•• Judeo-Christianity destroyed goddess worship: "Genesis was the beginning of the end for the goddess" (p 238). The goddess was "banished" (p 239) and the old pagan religions were destroyed by Christianity. Or, as Brown wrote in his witness statement: "My reading convinced me that there was a great case to be put forward that woman had been unfairly treated in the eyes of society for hundreds of years if not longer, and that religion had played a big part in this" (par 112).

•• Women have "been banished from the temples of the world" and have been demonized by conservative religious groups (p 125). The goddess has been "obliterated" from "modern religion forever" (p 124).

•• Enlightenment comes from a perfect balance of male and female elements -- ÂÂ an androgynous ideal captured by Leonardo da Vinci in "Mona Lisa" (p 120). Balance, harmony, peace and respect for "Mother Earth" will be restored only when women are restored to their proper place (p 126)

•• Jesus was 'the original feminist" (p 248) who "intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene."

•• Peter and the other apostles ruined that plan (p 248). Mary Magdalene's reputation was attacked (pp 249, 254, 261) and her "name was forbidden by the Church" (p 254).

•• "History is always written by the winners" (p 256), so the "truth" about Jesus and Mary Magdalene has been largely hidden for centuries. The Church has used violent and dark means to keep people in the dark (cf., p 407). But some, such as Teabing and Langdon, know the truth.
•• The Holy Grail involves discovering/recovering the "sacred feminine", as well as knowing "secret history" and "lost documents" and finding a "glorious, unattainable treasure" in a "world of chaos" (p 444).

So, in the end, the hero (Langdon), who helps Sophie (Sophia!) find her family and her true heritage (descendent of Jesus) is finally initiated in full into the mystery of the "sacred feminine," marking some sort of ascension into a state of higher spiritual awareness/knowledge -- a thoroughly neo-gnostic idea.
In fact, the whole DVC plot-line is built around a paganized version of the Theology of the Body.
Dare I point out that TDVC never uses the phrase "theology of the body"? Or that ritualized and "sacred" sex hardly adds up to a form of the theology of the body? Regardless, I address this particular argument at length in the May 2006 issue of Saint Austin Review, which includes an article by Kellmeyer that fleshes out (no pun intended) this argument, and my response to it. As I wrote in my response:
It's very revealing that when fans talk about the Code, they don't usually discuss the characters, the plot, or even the sex. No, they focus on the claim that Jesus is not who the Church tells us he is, that this is further proof of how horrible the Church is, and this in turn validates how smart and open minded they are for embracing these "facts." They talk about how they are "spiritual," not religious and congratulate themselves on finding a "truth" that works for them. In a recent issue [October 2004] of the Village Voice, a leading voice among alternative, radical perspective, Curtis White summarized it this way:

"The Da Vinci Code is important as an expression of a desire for a spirituality that cannot be had within the confines of the institutionalized church. More simply yet, it is the popular expression of a desire for a kind of meaningfulness to life that is missing for most of us. And certainly, it is the scandalous expression of a willingness to be disobedient to achieve the heretical end of a salvation outside the confines of the church."
It would be difficult to find a better description of neo-gnosticism. And this comes from a fan of the novel who is analyzing the success of TDVC.
I guess they are fighting fire with fire. Too bad the rest of us are too stupid to understand. Just remember: the Ignatius Press use of Gnostic strawmen and/or Gnostic arguments had nothing to do with the uproar over the Gospel of Judas. Not a thing. Just ask them.
Just because you say it is so, doesn't make it so. Provide some proof that our book and our comments about gnosticism have had a direct affect on the media furor surrounding "The Gospel of Judas." Frankly, I'd be flattered (and stunned) if you found any.

Finally, from Kellmeyer's April 14th column about the "Gospel of Judas":
But the constant drumbeat from Christian apologists who don't know history or Gnostic theology has incorrectly painted the Da Vinci Code as a Gnostic heresy, thereby raising interest in a train of thought that had been shown up for a farce over 1800 years ago. Because the Christians kept incoherently insisting Brown's book was Gnostic when it was nothing of the sort, the Gnostic Gospel of Judas is now news.
And now Christian apologists are complaining about the MSM's attention to the newest unveiling of a Gnostic Gospel. No wonder the world laughs at Christians. If these people had only bothered to learn a bit about Gnosticism first, or - better yet - had bought copies of Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code...
In light of those strong assertions, I should point out what some readers already know: that nearly all of the other "debunking" books written by Evangelical Protestants and Catholics include substantial sections about ancient gnosticism and modern gnosticism. These works include:

•• Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D (Thomas Nelson, 2004). Bock is a research professor of NT studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a well-regarded and well-published scholar specializing in NT studies, the historical Jesus and Gospels studies.
•• The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci by Ben Witherington III (IVP, 2004). Witherington is professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books on the NT and the historical Jesus.
•• The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code by Richard Abanes (Harvest House, 2004). Abanes is a noted Evangelical authority on cults and religions and the author of a dozen books on related topics.
•• Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford, 2004). Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina.
•• De-Coding Da Vinci by Amy Welborn (OSV, 2004).
•• The Da Vinci Deception by Mark Shea and Edward Sri (Ascension Press, 2006).

Readers may also be interested in these online articles about TDVC and/or neo-gnosticism:

•• "How Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars" by Philip Jenkins.
•• "Decoding The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy" by N.T. Wright
•• "The New Gnosticism and the 'Scandal of Particularity'" by Christopher Brown
•• "As One Who Serves" by N.T. Wright, in which he discusses the "Gospel of Judas"
•• "Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life -- A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'" by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

It's possible, of course, that the authors of these books and articles addressing TDVC "don't know history or Gnostic theology." Or it could be that Kellmeyer is mistaken in his criticisms and that it is he who has failed to read and think about what Dan Brown, fans of TDVC, and many in the mainstream media have written and said about gnosticism, the gnostic "gospels," and related topics. Although I have no problem arguing over those issues, I do hope our discussion can avoid the sort of polemics and rudeness that not only distract from the topics addressed, but may also cause scandal among readers. All of us who have criticized TDVC agree that it is an assault on orthodox Christianity, especially Catholicism, and I hope and pray we can continue to fight together to defend Truth and to make a defense to those asking us to give an account for the hope within us (1 Pet 3:15).

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The Da Vinci Code and Amy Welborn  (March 2006)

At times it seems that Rome is the epicenter of the universe. Heads of state, movie stars, long-lost friends all seem to find their way here at one point or another. Add to that the special touch of Divine Providence, and every now and then you get to meet someone you've been longing to meet.

I'd heard a great deal about Amy Welborn, former writer for Our Sunday Visitor, now freelance author, lecturer and remarkable mother of five. Many people had directed me to her blog, "The Open Book," and I was curious to meet her.

Welborn came to Rome last week with her husband Michael Duvriel and three of her five children. While primarily a family trip, the English-speaking Catholic community in Rome seized the opportunity to have the author talk about her latest works debunking "The Da Vinci Code." A couple of mutual friends later, I was able to meet Welborn for a talk about her life, work and first trip to Rome.

Much became clear to me when Welborn told me that she had been a teacher for nine years and had a master's in Church history. Indeed her books, her studious rebuttals of "The Da Vinci Code" and her blog all speak of a mission to form and inform Catholics.

Welborn's first forays into literature were a children's book on saints and a series of apologetics books for young people. She says that through her writing, she "was able to continue teaching in a broader way." Her knack, she says, "is taking complicated concepts and making them more understandable especially for young people."

The author explained that she felt inspired to help kids "get past the idea that the Gospels are something far away from them that they can't relate to and see that they are a Truth with the answers to their lives today."

From adolescents to adults wasn't a big leap. Welborn's recent book, "Decoding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of the Da Vinci Code," was written to assist numerous readers of the "Da Vinci Code" who find themselves confused between fact and fiction in the novel.

Welborn's first encounter with the Dan Brown book was a quick (negative) review for Our Sunday Visitor, but she realized that "however silly the story and poorly written the book was, it was very manipulative."

Reactions to her review revealed that the novel had unearthed a deep crisis in catechesis. Recalling a letter from a mother saying that her daughter had "lost her faith" as a result of reading the book, Welborn asked, "What faith, if it can be undone by something off a fiction shelf?"

Reflecting on the problem, Welborn found that "over the past 30 or 40 years, people have come out of catechesis thinking the Gospels are unreliable. People think that the Gospels are more about the Church that produced them than Jesus himself."

Welborn pointed out that some of the staunchest defenders of the book have been people who preface their remarks with, "I'm a devout Catholic but ……" before going on to say "that we can't know anything for sure anyway …… the Gospels came so late." Welborn feels that this results in people who "pick whatever story meets one's needs at the moment."
To answer the many questions surrounding the book, Welborn decided to address the issue at the core. A remarkably simple task as she states, "All you need are sources and logic to unravel the book."

Her newest book, "Decoding Mary Magdalene: Fact, Fiction and Lies" was inspired by her husband who noted that there were no Catholic books setting the record straight on Mary Magdalene.

Welborn said that the real puzzle which emerged while writing this book was "what happened to the devotion to Mary Magdalene?" She found that "after 1,400 years …… devotion to Mary Magdalene was rooted in the three figures in one: sister of Lazarus, the adulteress and the penitent woman." Welborn then explained that, "after Vatican II, they cleared up the confusion but at the same time the bottom fell out of her devotion."

Welborn notes that Mary Magdalene, besides her role as the faithful disciple who is the first witness to the Resurrection, is also a model of penitence. In this respect, she claims that Dan Brown's errors are the most grievous because "'The Da Vinci Code' gives the impression that her repentance is bad."

Continuing, Welborn explains that "the book suggests that the purpose of focusing on her repentance was to focus on her sinfulness, to the effect of demonizing her, which is not true at all."

Welborn clarifies that the reality is exactly the opposite: "Mary Magdalene shows the hope of forgiveness and the reality of forgiveness and how our lives are changed."

As I write this on March 8, International Women's Day, Welborn's words have particular resonance, "Mary Magdalene is not a figure of the lowliness and the horrible state of women, she symbolizes the joy of a Christian life and the joy of forgiveness."

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Meeting The Real Mary Magdalene |
An Interview with Amy Welborn | May 12, 2006


Amy Welborn is a prolific author and widely read blogger. She holds an MA in Church History from Vanderbilt University and has taught theology in Catholic high schools, and served as a parish Director of Religious Education.

Her writings have appeared in many periodicals, including First Things, Commonweal,Writer's Digest, Liguorian, Catholic Digest and Catholic Parent. Her books include the Prove It series, The Loyola Kids' Book of Saints, The Loyola Kids' Book of Heroes, and Here. Now. Two of her most recent books are De-Coding Da Vinci and De-Coding Mary Magdalene, both published by Our Sunday Visitor.

IgnatiusInsight.com recently spoke to Welborn about her books addressing the claims of The Da Vinci Code, especially the many assertions made about Mary Magdalene.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Are you surprised by the longevity of the Coded Craziness and, specifically, the various claims made about Mary Magdalene?

Amy Welborn: I am a little surprised, although the recent frenzy is clearly all about the movie. If there were no film (impossible, of course), this business would have died out a year ago - when it did, indeed, quiet down a bit.

However, the longevity of the claims about Mary Magdalene is the least suprising of all because they predate The Da Vinci Code. Brown picked up a thread in that regard, that was already present in the culture – groups like FutureChurch and Call to Action have been sponsoring celebrations on July 22, Mary Magdalene's feast day, for years now, celebrations that have at their core a call for the ordination of women.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What was your initial impression of The Da Vinci Code when you first read it? Has that changed in any substantial way over the past three years?

Welborn: My initial impression, expressed in a review of the novel I wrote for Our Sunday Visitor, was that it was idiotic and laughably badly written. No, that's not changed, although I do see it as more dangerous now than I did at first.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Fans of the novel keep saying, "Hey, it's just fiction?" How do you respond?

Welborn: I say – they're right. It is fiction. 99.7% fiction. Leonardo existed. Paris exists, and the Louvre is there. That's all true. The rest is fiction.

Seriously (although I do say that), I respond that Brown discussed his book early on as the fruit of "research" and declared he hoped readers would learn something. The book's style lends itself to ignorant readers thinking that they're reading legitimate scholarly opinion – there's a bibliography, the scholar characters refer to real books and speak authoritatively. To someone who doesn't know better, it might sound convincing.

Further, there's something deeper. Even many of those who don't take things like the Priory of Sion or Leonardo's codes seriously, and even those who throw the "It's only a novel" statement in our faces, do in fact take certain aspects of the novel seriously: they do believe that the history of early Christianity is a murky mess, that there's nothing sure we can know about Jesus, and that Mary Magdalene has spent the last 2000 years being demonized by Christianity.

My emails and internet discussion boards clearly show that at some level, a great many readers believe that The Da Vinci Code presents truth about what Christianity is and is not.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Why and how has Mary Magdalene become the poster person for radical feminism and various anti-Catholic conspiracy theories?

Welborn: The rediscovery of gnostic writings that mention a "Mary" has fueled this, as well as a more general scholarly endeavor of re-examining female historical figures in religious history. The gnostic writings have really been key, as some scholars have used – and misused – them to posit an alternative strand of early Christianity ("Magdalene Christianity" it is often called) in which Mary Magdalene, who was clearly important in the Gospels, was a leader of an egalitarian element of early Christianity. There are all kinds of permutations of this, most recently in the quite bizarre Bruce Chilton book Mary Magdalene, in which the Episcopal priest-writer suggests that Mary was trained by Jesus in some sort of intense spiritual kind of "seeing" and her experience of what we call the "resurrection" was the ultimate fruit of that formation.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What do we know about Mary Magdalene and what are our sources for our knowledge of her?

Welborn: Our primary sources for knowledge of Mary Magdalene are in the Gospels. From them, in Luke 8, we learn that Mary of Magdala (a small town on the Sea of Galilee) had been exorcised of seven demons by Jesus, and left everything behind in gratitude to follow him, along with some other women, and provide for the disciples' needs. This could be doing domestic work for them, providing funds to support the ministry, or both.

We then see Mary, in every gospel, at the Cross, then as the first to discover the Empty Tomb.

There is an enormous amount of legendary material about Mary Magdalene in both West and East. It's fascinating and rich. One of the primary strains in the West has her traveling to Provence (an idea picked up by the radical feminist author of The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, Margaret Starbird, and then turned for her own ends) and, along with Martha and Lazarus, evangelizing the area; there is even some medieval art that depicts Mary preaching and baptizing. She was a favorite subject for medieval mystery plays and, of course, art.

But what we know for sure about her is contained in the Gospels.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Why is there such a strong interest in Mary Magdalene?

Welborn: She's an interesting figure, and for many, she represents possibilities – the possibility that in early Christianity, women had official roles of power, that Jesus was married, and so on. It is unfortunate that these days, interest in Mary Magdalene is much higher among non-Christians and marginal Christians than among mainstream Catholics, especially considering the massive popularity of devotion to her throughout much of our history.

IgnatiusInsight.com: The Da Vinci Code centers upon an alleged marriage between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Is there any evidence for such a marriage?

Welborn: No. There's no evidence in Scripture, and the Gospels are forthright about Jesus' familial connections. The Gospel writers name names and discuss Jesus' ambiguous relationship to his family members and his fellow townspeople. They name the apostles and other associates. They name Mary of Magdala, for heaven's sake. Who is, note, called Mary of Magdala, which she would not be if she were married to Jesus. There would have been no scandal in first-century Judaism of Jesus being married to anyone. There was nothing to hide.

In addition, there is no mention of any such marriage in early Christian traditions - the traditions, for example, that give us the name of Mary's parents (Joachim and Anna). No, this Jesus-Mary Magdalene marriage is a twentieth-century creation.

Interestingly enough, in the massive legendary material surrounding the figure of Mary Magdalene, a marriage is mentioned – one of the legends says that the Wedding at Cana was actually the marriage of Mary Magdalene and John the Apostle. John was so impressed with Jesus' miracle there that he abandoned everything and followed Jesus. This ticked Mary Magdalene off to such an extent that she went off and led a profligate life until she, too, saw the truth, and became a follower of Jesus.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the biggest misconception you've found that people have about Mary Magdalene?

Welborn: The biggest misconception, by far, is that the Catholic Church has demonized Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. This has taken hold among the general public and won't let go.

The truth is this: in the first centuries of Christianity, some Church Fathers wondered, here and there, if the named Mary Magdalene might be the same person as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, as well as the repentant woman who comes to Jesus at the end of Luke 7, just before Mary Magdalene is first mentioned by name in Luke 8.

In 591, Pope Gregory I preached a homily in which he explicitly associated all of these women, and identified Mary Magdalene as the sinful woman of Luke 7. From that point on, this was an important part of her identity for medieval Christians.

Note, however, that neither Gregory nor any subsequent preacher or writer "demonized" or maligned Mary Magdalene. It was quite the opposite. She was held up as a model and figure of hope. Her story was told and expanded over and over again, with the focus not being sinfulness, but rather redemption. Throughout the Middle Ages, other aspects entered into the story, as well – her evangelizing in Provence, her supposed decades of contemplative life, and so on. She inspired numerous saints, she was present in art mostly as a faithful disciple at the foot of the cross, either mourning or supporting Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but she was never demonized. She's a saint! Her feast day is July 22!

IgnatiusInsight.com: If you had five minutes with Dan Brown, what might you say or do?

Welborn: Ask him for some money.

Hey, why not? Maybe not for me, but perhaps for some of the thousands of institutions around the world – orphanages, schools, hospitals, old age homes, hospices - that are filled with people who've given their lives to sacrificially serving others in the direst of circumstances, inspired, called and nourished by the One whom Dan Brown continues to exploit, sitting up there in New Hampshire on his wads of cash. He should be ashamed. Perhaps, one day, he will be.

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Multimedia Response to "Da Vinci Code"
Episcopate Rolling Out a Web Site and TV Documentary

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 8, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign will offer key resources to provide accurate information on the life of Jesus prior to the release of the movie "The Da Vinci Code."

Those resources will include a Web site and documentary scheduled to air on NBC-TV stations. Also being produced is a 16-page booklet on "The Authentic Jesus."

On Thursday the Catholic Communication Campaign will launch a Web site, www.jesusdecoded.com, to provide accurate information on Jesus, Catholic teaching, and various topics explored in the Dan Brown novel.

The Web site will explain Catholic beliefs and include articles from theologians, media commentators, art experts and others that provide background and also rebut the speculation and inaccuracies about Christ and the origins of Christianity. Contributing to the Web site is the Prelature of Opus Dei.

Booklet

Also available in March will be the booklet "The Authentic Jesus," which will address questions raised by "The Da Vinci Code" and other popular portrayals of Jesus.

The booklet, produced by the USCCB Committee on Communications, presents authentic Catholic teaching about Jesus and his divinity, the New Testament, Gnosticism, women and the Church, and other important topics in a question-and-answer format.

"The Authentic Jesus" will be available for individual and bulk sale from USCCB Publishing. Also for sale from USCCB Publishing will be a bulletin insert based on the same material.

"Jesus Decoded," a Catholic Communication Campaign documentary that brings authentic Catholic teaching about Jesus Christ into focus, will be available to NBC-TV stations for broadcast starting the third weekend of May.

Scholars interviewed

This first-time airing of the hourlong documentary will highlight clear and accurate information about the person of Jesus, his disciples, and the formation of the books in the canon, or list of books, of the New Testament.

Shot on location in Israel, Turkey, and Italy, "Jesus Decoded" offers a solid Catholic response to "Da Vinci Code believers," concentrating especially on the first three centuries of the development of the Church.

The program includes interviews with scholars versed in art, history and Scripture that help separate Catholic truth from popular fiction.
The documentary will be available for purchase on DVD from USCCB Publishing.

Further information about the documentary is available at www.jesusdecoded.com.

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In Search of the Real Mary Magdalene
Discussion Held at Marianum Faculty

ROME, MARCH 8, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A group of women theologians and a woman journalist met to try to sketch a true portrait of a saint parodied in one of the best-selling novels of all time.

A round-table discussion "Mary Magdalene beyond 'The Da Vinci Code'" took place last Friday as part of the cycle of talks of the Chair "Woman and Christianity" at the pontifical faculty Marianum, directed by the Servants of Mary.

Marinella Perroni, a New Testament professor at Athenaeum of St. Anselm and president of the Coordination of Italian Women Theologians, opened the discussion admitting that she had not read Dan Brown's novel because "it does not warrant my attention."

She warned, in particular, against the temptation "to take Mary Magdalene involuntarily out of the Gospel."

"Out of respect for what is written in the texts and for what the Gospels tell us she must never be taken out of the Gospel," stressed Perroni.

Maria Luisa Rigato, a New Testament professor at the Gregorian University, said she had read "very carefully this interesting 'thriller' of Dan Brown" -- before she proceeded to dismantle the novel's contradictions.

Rigato explained that "according to the canonical Gospels, it is clear that Jesus was celibate and capable of friendships with women and men."

"According to the canonical Gospels Mary Magdalene was not Jesus' wife or lover," she said. "Mary Magdalene is not the same as Mary of Bethany, or Mary the sister of Martha."

A positive announcement

Jesus was an innovator in respect to the Torah and "the Gospel is a positive announcement for women," she continued.
Rigato went on to speak of the Mary Magdalene that appears in the synoptic Gospels and in John's Gospel, saying that in her judgment Mary was not from Magdala in the topographic sense because "Magdala is not a known geographic place."

The theologian believes that this name was coined by Christ's disciples after Pentecost, as it makes reference literally to "migdal," which means tower, and to "gadal" -- "to be large." In other words, it was their wish to express that Magdalene is the one who has been magnified, Rigato said.

Miriam Diez i Bosch, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center on Social Communications of the Gregorian University, said that "Mary Magdalene is an intriguing and enamored woman who leaves no one indifferent and obviously even less the media world that surrounds us."

Diez i Bosch, who is also a journalist who writes for ZENIT, explained the way in which Mary Magdalene is seen today in the media and highlighted "the communicative mechanisms that have made this woman a media figure, but distorted."

"'Magdalenemania' or 'Mary Magdalen according to Brown' are only small fruits of a worldwide operation that challenges believers, in the face of which the Church cannot close her eyes," said the journalist.

Better catechesis

In this connection, she presented some responses that appeared in the international media, and suggested teaching how to distinguish better between reality and fiction, and to improve catechesis.

Diez i Bosch recommended that theologians "explain clearly the figure of Mary Magdalene, going beyond the tragic image of the repentant prostitute and reflecting further on her role as 'apostola apostolorum' [apostle of the apostles] through an endeavor of interdisciplinary transmission that will enable results of the theological research to reach the greater public."

The journalist also called for an endeavor to restore Mary Magdalene to her true role of witness of the Resurrection, stating that "the media -- and Dan Brown -- have a counterfeit icon of Magdalene."

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Dissecting "The Da Vinci Code"
Interview With Apologist Mark Shea


SEATTLE, Washington, FEB. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Millions have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many are expected to see the movie version when it is released May 19.

That is why Mark Shea and Ted Sri -- an apologist and theology professor, respectively -- have co-authored "The Da Vinci Deception" (<>Ascension), a guide that reveals the fact and fiction behind "The Da Vinci Code."

Shea shared with ZENIT the main inaccuracies in the "Code" book, and why they threaten the faith of Christians.

Q: What compelled the writing of this book?

Shea: The short answer is that tens of millions of people have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many have had their faith in Christ and the Catholic Church shaken. This blasphemous book has become a major cultural phenomenon, largely by attacking the very person and mission of Jesus Christ. It must be addressed.

The longer answer is that "The Da Vinci Code" has become the source for what I call "pseudo-knowledge" about the Christian faith.

Pseudo-knowledge is that stuff "everybody knows," such as the "fact" that Humphrey Bogart said "Play it again, Sam" -- except he didn't. Pseudo-knowledge doesn't matter much when the issue is the script of "Casablanca."

It matters greatly when it adversely affects the most sacred beliefs of a billion people, and when it levels the charge that the Catholic Church is essentially a vast "Murder Incorporated" network founded on maintaining the lie of Jesus' divinity and resurrection.

When that happens, very nasty genies get let out of bottles, as when the lies recorded by 19th-century czarist secret police forgers in the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" became the basis for what "everybody knew" about the Jews in the terrible anti-Semitic persecutions of the 20th century.

"The Da Vinci Code" has sold close to 30 million copies. In May, it will appear as a major film and will acquire even more unquestioned authority among millions of historically and theologically illiterate viewers -- unless Christians state the facts and help viewers recognize just how badly they've been had.

The Da Vinci Outreach initiative, led by Catholic Exchange and Ascension Press, will equip Catholics and all people of good will with resources to help them respond to this movie.

Those who say, "It's just a story," simply do not understand that this deception is part of the book's power. People often receive through fiction what they would be on guard against in reasoned debate.

And this is particularly true as Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code," has actually stated he would not change any of his basic assertions if he were writing nonfiction. Brown means for us to understand that his claims about the origins are Christianity are true.

Q: What are the main inaccuracies found in the "The Da Vinci Code"?

Shea: Let me count the ways. Blunders include factual errors and outright lies, large and small, about practically every subject Brown addresses in art, history and theology. He purports that bogus documents that even his questionable sources repudiate are factual.

He claims Leonardo Da Vinci doesn't give Jesus a chalice in his painting "The Last Supper" in order to hint that Mary Magdalene is the true chalice who held the "blood of Jesus" -- i.e., his child -- despite the fact there are 13 cups in the painting.

He chatters about the meaning of an Aramaic word in the Gnostic gospel of Philip, oblivious to the fact it's written in Coptic.

He calls Mary Magdalene the victim of a Catholic smear campaign without pausing to wonder why she's a Catholic saint.

He blames "the Vatican" for various plots and conspiracies that are alleged to have taken place centuries before there was any Vatican to plot them.

And, of course, in the biggest lie of them all, he declares that nobody before the year A.D. 325 thought of Jesus as anything other than a "mortal prophet" until Constantine muscled the Council of Nicaea into declaring him God "by a relatively close vote."

Of course, he does not stop to ask why, if Jesus was just a "mortal prophet," he bothered founding a Church at all -- nor what the Church was about for the first 300 years if nobody was worshipping Jesus as God.

Q: How do these inaccuracies challenge the Church, her teachings and the person of Jesus Christ?

Shea: Brown is attempting to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth. The basic myth is: Jesus was actually a feminist, agog for neo-paganism. The Church supposedly covered up all this with lies about his divinity. Brown's point here is: Let's get back to goddess worship as Jesus intended.

This laughably baseless claim is, of course, utterly contrary to the facts about Jesus. But many in our overly credulous and historically illiterate culture believe it. So Catholics must undertake to catechize not just themselves but their families, friends and neighbors, or they can expect this dangerous myth to continue spreading.

Q: Why is there a concern about Catholics -- and everyone else, for that matter -- viewing "The Da Vinci Code" movie without a discerning eye and solid background information?

Shea: Because it's written with the express intention of destroying faith in Jesus Christ and replacing it with neo-pagan goddess worship.

The problem is the average reader does not know "The Da Vinci Code" actually makes you more stupid about art, history, theology and comparative religion.
"The Da Vinci Deception" and Da Vinci Outreach are there to educate readers on the quite deliberate falsehoods -- as well as ignorant blunders -- that fill the story. We are also including a resource aimed at educating high school students and helping them to tune their "bunk detectors" to Brown's wavelength.

Q: The recent backlash by Muslims against cartoons on Mohammed seems to signal rising tensions between religion and society. What do you think of the timing of this movie?

Shea: Undoubtedly, the promoters of the movie will attempt to characterize Catholic complaints about "The Da Vinci Code's" assassination of the facts as identical to radical Islamist threats to free speech.

The problem with this claim, of course, is that the Church does not condone burning down buildings or threatening people with death, even when they lie about Christ. We simply and politely request that the creators of "The Da Vinci Code" to not palm off scurrilous lies as fact.

Western manufacturers of culture are always braver about smearing the Church than in confronting radical Islam because, as they know perfectly well, the Vatican does not issue "fatwas" or death threats.

Q: How do you hope this book informs those who plan on going to the film "The Da Vinci Code"?

Shea: "The Da Vinci Deception" breaks down in simple terms the basic pattern of lies Brown deploys in "The Da Vinci Code" so that the reader can clearly see the clockwork going on behind this novel.

The book is broken into 100 questions -- as was our previous book, "A Guide to the Passion" -- that walk the reader through the skillful weave of Brown's very artful falsehoods and show you why it's such a scam. Once you understand Brown's game, you start to realize that it is Brown -- not the Catholic faith -- that is taking people for a ride.

We are confident enough in our book that we would, in fact, urge people to go to the film after having read it -- the better to help deluded family members, friends and neighbors see through the scam.

Q: Why are people taking Dan Brown's novels so seriously? In Rome there are even guided tours retracing the places covered in his book "Angels and Demons."

Shea: "The Da Vinci Code" is yet another manifestation of what I call "the latest Real Jesus"; every generation tends to discover the latest Real Jesus.

A hundred years ago, Albert Schweitzer discovered that the Real Jesus was a Social Gospel Protestant. In the booming 1920s, people found that Jesus was actually a poster boy for salesmanship. In the 1930s, the Nazis discovered a Real Jesus who was Aryan, not Jewish, while the Communists discovered a Jesus who was actually the first Marxist.

In the 1960s, the Real Jesus was found to be a flower child in "Godspell" and a devotee of hallucinogenic mushrooms -- which explains all the visions and miracles nicely. In the 1970s, the Real Jesus was found to be a "superstar" as per the diktats of rock culture.

In the 1980s, he appeared on the scene to promise health and wealth and to heal your inner child -- that's when he wasn't suffering existential crises, grappling with his libido and riddled by self-doubt, rather like a self-absorbed baby boomer, in "The Last Temptation of Christ."

In the 1990s, he was suddenly discovered to be an enthusiastic homosexual in the blasphemous play "Corpus Christi."

Today, we live in a culture obsessed with the sex lives of the rich and famous, credulous about vast conspiracy theories, brimming with half-baked notions about paganism and feminism, and hostile to traditional notions of both reason and authority.

By some unfathomable coincidence, Dan Brown has discovered a Real Jesus who perfectly reflects this broad cultural mood. And when people believe things based on such a mood, particularly evil things, this is dangerous to their faith.

"The Da Vinci Deception" is designed precisely to help people stop taking "The Da Vinci Code" so seriously. Happily, Dan Brown and company have made things easy for us in that department.

His book is so laughably bad, its claims so easily and demonstrably false, the whole thing so silly, that debunking takes on a rather gleeful quality -- which is, I think, only fitting. The best cure for "The Da Vinci Code" is, in the end, hearty gales of well-informed laughter.

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FOCUS ON THE DA VINCI CODE
A Da Vinci Code FAQ     By Richard Umbers  
Tuesday, 16 May 2006

While Dan Brown's thriller lacks style and credibility, it still poses unsettling questions about the history of Christianity. We asked philosopher and theologian Dr Richard Umbers to answer some of the questions rising from the Da Vinci Code.


Da Vinci Code author Dan BrownWhat do you think about The Da Vinci Code?

It’s a great read (and a plodding movie) but most of the facts are wrong.

Like what?

Like Constantine inventing Christ’s divinity. The first Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead. This was taken as proof that He was God and not just a man. In the Bible Paul and John say he was divine - remember Thomas placing his hands in the holes in Jesus’ hands and saying “my Lord and my God”? Early Christian writers like Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons also wrote that Jesus is God.

Don’t you think that resurrection story is a bit hard to swallow in today’s world?
It was difficult to accept in the early world too. People would laugh at Paul for preaching about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But then as now it is the bedrock of Christian belief. The Apostles gave their lives for that message. I’m not aware of anyone who says they have seen Elvis at the Laundromat give up their life for that belief.

Didn’t Jesus get married?

In a sense he did. Catholics have always believed that the bride of Christ is His Church. On the Cross He gave up His life for the Church. We celebrate that at Mass every Sunday -– a day that commemorates the day Jesus rose from the dead, the Lord’s day, the first day of the week. Justin Martyr (100–165) tells us that it was the day Christians went to Mass, and he wrote more than 100 years before Constantine was born. If you look at the symbolism of the Mass you can see this more clearly. The altar represents Jesus Christ. The first thing the priest does when he comes in is to kiss the altar!

Wasn’t Mary Magdalene the head of the Church?

Jesus is always the head of the Church. For that reason, Jesus’ mother, the better known Mary, is known as the Mother of the Church. It was to Peter, not Mary Magdalene, that Jesus said you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. That said, the Church has always venerated Mary Magdalene as a saint and taken note of the fact that she was the first person to see Jesus risen from the dead.

But that is from the Bible Constantine edited. There are other Gospel stories that tell a different story. ImageConstantine commissioned 50 copies of the Bible but he didn’t edit it. The four Gospels were well known at the turn of the first century. The Gnostic gospels were written 50 years later, over 100 years after the time of Christ and attributed statements to characters mentioned in the original Gospels. To believe that those characters said what they are supposed to have said is like attributing a speech to Queen Victoria in which she talks about her CDs of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The Jesus Papers says that Jesus made a deal with Pontius Pilate, took drugs and survived the cross. The author of The Jesus Papers, Michael Baigent, tried suing Dan Brown for plagiarism. He lost his case and ended up with a ?1 million bill to pay. The success of the film may boost sales of his books enough to pay his debts.

The judge of the case of Baigent & Leigh v Random House, Justice Peter Smith, had this to say about Baigent: “Mr Baigent was a poor witness. Those are not my words: they are the words of his own Counsel in his written closing submissions (para 111). Those words do not in my view do justice to the inadequacy of Mr Baigent’s performance... he was a thoroughly unreliable witness... he is either extremely dishonest or a complete fool... I can place no reliance on any part of his evidence” (para 231, 232).

Maybe the Church has something to hide -- that’s why it is so worried about these books and the movie. Most people’s knowledge of William Wallace comes from Braveheart (there is even a statue of Mel Gibson in Stirling, Scotland with sword raised shouting “Freedom”). Most people’s knowledge of Christianity and the Church comes from The Da Vinci Code, which in some homes occupies the place once taken by the Family Bible. The Church has every reason to be concerned about the DVC’s bigotry.

Justice Smith notes: “Of course merely because an author of fiction describes matters of being factually correct does not mean that they are factually correct. It is a way of blending fact and fiction together to create that well known model ‘faction’. The lure of apparent genuineness makes the books and the films more receptive to the readers/audiences. The danger of course is that the faction is all that large parts of the audience read and they accept it as truth” (para 81).

Surely the Church had something to hide if it was hunting down heretics who were passing on secret truths? What about the Inquisition?

The Inquisition didn’t begin until the Middle Ages. Its original task was to suppress the Cathars, a destructive suicide cult. It was a war on terror -- not a cover up. So-called “heretics” over the last 2,000 years have believed any number of things; there was never one key teaching which was being passed on.

In 2006 we all realise that everyone should be free to follow the religion of their choice but this is quite a modern idea. And it is not a universal one, either, given the religious discrimination that is practiced today in countries like China or Saudi Arabia.

Dan Brown says that despite the Vatican suppressing goddess worship, heretics have hidden symbols of it everywhere. ImageSpotting errors in The Da Vinci Code is as hard as getting wet in the sea. Let me give one example. The “pentagram” motions of the planet Venus have nothing to do with the length of the Olympiad. The ancient Olympic games were celebrated in honour of Zeus Olympias, not Aphrodite (Venus), and occurred every four years. The five linked rings of the modern Olympic Games are not a secret tribute to the goddess. Each set of games was supposed to add a ring to the design but the organisers stopped at five.

Furthermore, the Templars did not represent cathedrals as the anatomy of women’s bodies. They had nothing to do with the cathedrals of their time, which were commissioned by bishops throughout Europe. Not all of the Templars’ churches were round and roundness itself was not a sign of protest in honour of the goddesses. It was in honour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. If you look at Gothic churches and their predecessors, the notion that the contain female symbolism evaporates. What part of a woman’s anatomy does a transept represent? Or the kink in Chartres’s main aisle? Both Gothic and Romanesque churches inherited the long, rectangular nave from basilicas of the late Roman times, which were ultimately derived from public buildings.

How about Opus Dei -- monks obedient to the Pope’s personal command?

For starters Opus Dei doesn’t have any monks. There are a handful of priests but most of the members are married men and women. The faithful of Opus Dei are not perfect -- some have made big mistakes -- but the idea of mums and dads roaming the streets in search of the Priory of Sion is just fanciful. The Priory of Sion itself doesn’t even exist. It was a hoax set up in the 1950s by a group of pranksters. The BBC exposed the fraud back in the late 1990s.

What is Opus Dei anyway?

Opus Dei is an organization of the Catholic Church. It helps people bring their Catholic faith into every part of their life. It means being a Christian 24/7, especially in the work place. What the gym does for your body, prayer and sacrifice do for your soul.

I thought it was a mysterious sect.

Nothing mysterious about it; it was on the front cover of TIME recently and you can visit its webpage at www.opusdei.org. Taking the Catholic faith seriously doesn’t make you a fanatic.

Do they really whip themselves?

Saints like Mary MacKillop (of Australia) or Mother Teresa have done so as a way of sharing in Christ’s own pain. Celibate members of Opus Dei continue that tradition of the Church. It may not be easy for many people to understand, but traditionally it has been regarded as a kind of suffering for love. At any rate, it’s nowhere near as dramatic as what Silas gets up to. Losing sleep to a crying baby is a far worse mortification and every mum (and dad) does that.

Has the Church asked you not to read the book? I’m a grown up; I make my own decisions.

Why shouldn’t other people read the book or see the movie?

ImageThe Anangu people of Central Australia ask tourists not climb Uluru, out of respect for the spiritual significance that it has for them. But you are still free to climb it or not. They inform you and then make your own choice. As good hosts they are saddened to see someone get hurt. Catholics believe that the Catholic Church is their mother. They are saddened when people read or see a pile of dirt about their mother -– even if it is only fiction. They are especially saddened when that leads to people forming a false impression of the Church.

The Catholic Church is a sign of contradiction. Practicing Catholics are a sign of contradiction. They unsettle people. There is a lot of money to be made out of exploiting that tension. Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code takes every swipe he can, exaggerating some defects and simply making up others. Some people go to jail for writing that kind of religious bigotry. Brown has made $500 million and the money is still pouring in.

Why doesn’t the Church just ignore The Da Vinci Code?

People who would never otherwise read a book have read The Da Vinci Code. How often have people told you: “you must read this”? It doubles as a tourist guidebook (people actually look for blood stains in St Sulpice in Paris). Even intellectuals have succumbed -– much to their chagrin. (The London Times described it as “written in peanut butter prose, with plastic characters and a plot so clunky it rattles”. ).

What’s the secret formula for a successful novel?

A shadowy organisation, an expert, a treasure, a moral grey area -– is the Vatican for us or against us? And all within 24 hours. Above all, Brown writes what people want to hear -– even if it is blatantly contradictory:

    * Men do all the talking about the sacred feminine.
    * There is a prudish romance set to the backdrop of sacred sex rites.

There have always been fanciful works about the power of the Vatican, most famously Dostoevsky’s Jesuit Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov who would condemn Christ himself. Brown, however, has struck a chord with today’s religion-lite. It’s for people who feel that they like symbols and meaningfulness, but nothing too heavy, nothing that would interfere with a comfortable materialist life style. This is a literary version of muzak pumped into funeral parlours.

What are Dan Brown’s sources for his claims?

Lets hear it from Judge Patrick Smith: “Mr Brown is a fiction writer. As a device to writing fiction he is perfectly entitled to dress up factual scenarios to give an illusion that supports his fiction. He is not... going into deep and detailed research for these factual matters. Indeed as he said in his evidence that would be counterproductive; he wishes to create ‘grey’ areas not black and white. He simply needs therefore a mystery and a series of unanswered questions. He can do that without deep research and that he has done” (para 348).

Brown shows no familiarity with the Gospels. He does not know the Catholic Church in general nor Opus Dei in particular. His terminology and tone betray ignorance of the subject matter. His official website flaunts a review from the New York Daily News -- “his research is impeccable” -- but the New York Daily News is better known for celebrity gossip than historiography. In fact, Brown’s is not impeccable research. It was largely his wife’s research on the internet. She left print-outs on his desk as he started typing away at 4 in the morning. She used three sources:

    * Gnostic writings that are not historical works and are of almost no historical value as regards Jesus and the early Church. They are readily available on the internet.
    * Feminist works like The Goddess in the Gospels in which Margaret Starbird argues from silences, fleeting references and her own imagination.
    * Hoax material perpetuated by the pseudo-histories related in The Templar Revelation or Holy Blood, Holy Grail which in turn are grounded on the self-confessed hoax of the Priory of Sion.

If your faith is so weak that The Da Vinci Code shakes it, maybe you never had any.
Faith is not a straightforward matter and religious illiteracy is a global problem deftly exploited by The Da Vinci Code. While we should appreciate this spur to learning more about faith and revelation, it must still be said that everyone has a right to a good name. If someone took your name and address out of the phone book and wrote a novel of lurid lies about you and included your real name and address - how would you feel? What if Sony Pictures was implicated with September 11 or the gunman who shot Pope John Paul II? Would their lawyers be impressed by the defence that the book was only a novel in the fiction section and that those who know you shouldn't be swayed by mere hypotheses?

Dr Richard Umbers, originally from New Zealand, is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature in Sydney.