The Da Vinci Code

The Facts behind the Fiction     by   Father John Flader


(Father Flader is the director of the Catholic Adult Education Centre of the Archdiocese of Sydney. He is also a member of the Prelature of Opus Dei. In this article which appeared in The Catholic Weekly of May 21, 2006, he examines the book and movie)

Background


The book The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, was first published in 2003. Since then it has sold over 40 million copies, an unprecedented success for a book of this type.

The book is a thriller with a captivating plot involving the efforts of a Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon, and a French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, to decipher clues left by Sophie’s grandfather, curator of the Louvre museum in Paris, who has just been murdered. At the same time as they endeavour to solve the mystery, they are pursued by the police since Langdon is a  suspect in the murder.

Sophie’s deceased grandfather was the last remaining member of the Priory of Sion, a shadowy secret society founded at the time of the Crusades, which supposedly held the secret of the identity of the descendants of the marriage between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene through their daughter Sarah. This secret, that the bloodline of Jesus is preserved today in his descendants, is, according to the book, the true Holy Grail. The clues left by the grandfather will help to reveal the secret. Naturally, the Catholic Church does not want this truth to emerge and has been covering it up for 2000 years, resorting to murder in the process.

The “facts” about Jesus’ marriage and his bloodline, and the history of the Priory of Sion, are explained throughout the book by Langdon and Leigh Teabing, an Oxford graduate, who is the “Royal historian”.

Where does Leonardo da Vinci come in? It seems that he was at one time the head of the Priory of Sion, and left clues to the secret in his paintings. Of special importance is his painting of the Last Supper, where the figure next to Jesus, who is normally understood to be the young apostle John, is in fact, according to the novel, none other than Mary Magdalene!

The real murderer is an albino monk named Silas, who is a member of Opus Dei. His murder of the curator of the Louvre is the fourth and last murder of the four remaining members of the Priory of Sion. By obtaining the secret of the Holy Grail from the four before murdering them, he is now the sole possessor of the secret which will supposedly give Opus Dei great power. He goes about his work with great zeal, and uses bloody mortifications to purge his guilt, seemingly enjoying the pain they cause.

Opus Dei, which had been made a personal prelature by the previous Pope, has lost its power with the new liberal Pope, who has cut his personal “shock troops” adrift, but with the information obtained by Silas, Opus Dei hopes to re-establish its power in the Church.

Sounds fanciful? In the extreme. Dan Brown has a very fertile imagination indeed. The novel is a work of pure fiction, from beginning to end. The trouble is, Dan Brown actually believes that he has discovered the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the Priory of Sion and Leonardo da Vinci, and he is now exposing it through the medium of a novel.

Although a work of fiction, the book claims to be meticulously researched, and it goes to great lengths to convey the impression that it is based on fact. It even has a “fact” page at the front of the book underscoring the claim of factuality for particular ideas within the book. As a result,
many readers – both Catholic and non-Catholic – are taking the book’s ideas seriously.

The problem is that many of the ideas that the book promotes are anything but fact, and they go directly to the heart of the Catholic faith.

For example, the book promotes the following ideas:

-    Jesus is not God; he was only a man.

-    Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
                           They had a daughter Sarah and their bloodline lives on in Europe today.

-    Mary Magdalene is to be worshiped as a goddess.

-    The Bible was put together by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine.

-    Jesus was viewed as a man and not as God until the fourth century,
                             when he was “deified” by Constantine.

-    The Gospels have been edited to support the claims of later Christians.

-    In the original Gospels, Jesus directed Mary Magdalene, not Peter to establish the Church.

-    There is a secret society known as the Priory of Sion
               that still worships Mary Magdalene as a goddess and guards the secret of Jesus’ bloodline.

-    The Catholic Church is aware of all this
                and has been fighting for centuries to keep it suppressed.

-    The Catholic Church is willing to and often has assassinated
                 the descendants of Christ to keep his bloodline from growing.

Catholics and indeed all Christians should be concerned about the book because it not only misrepresents the Church as a murderous institution covering up the truth, but also implies that the Christian faith itself is utterly false. It is extraordinary that Dan Brown has been able to get away with attacking the authority of Christianity, the largest religion in the world. If he had written a novel doing the same to Judaism or Islam, or the Mormons for that matter, he would have been in court by now. Or bombed into oblivion.

Then why has the book sold so many copies?

The success of the book is undoubtedly due to a combination of factors:

-    It is a thriller with a well-constructed plot,
          which keeps the reader engaged and eager to read just one more short chapter.

-    It feeds the morbid desire of people who have left the Church or simply do not like it, to           
        know that the Church has such a sordid history,
        so that they have some justification for criticising the Church.

-    The plot will appeal to the numerous “conspiracy theory” devotees around the world.  
                 
This is the conspiracy to end all conspiracies.
                  
-    It has a radical feminist ideology that presents Mary Magdalene as the divine feminine.

-    Many New Age ideas abound in the book.

-    The book had good marketing even before its release.


Dan Brown’s sources

Where does Dan Brown get the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a daughter? Largely from other fairly recent books on the subject, notably Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Messianic Legacy by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Also featured on Dan Brown’s website as sources are such books as The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine by Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird, The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, and  When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone. The titles say it all.

Many of these books base their allegations of Jesus’ marriage and Mary Magdalene’s prominence in the early Church loosely on the Gnostic gospels of the second century. But the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a daughter was a figment of the imagination of Michael Baigent, co-author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

In a 2005 British television documentary broadcast on 3 February 2005, Channel Four’s presenter Tony Robinson asked Michael Baigent the following question in relation to the claim that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and produced offspring: “Do we have any evidence that there was a child?”

Baigent answered: “There’s none whatsoever – that’s purely hypothesis on our part – but I think it’s a plausible hypothesis – that the Holy Grail is the bloodline of David – and if Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married and she was pregnant with this child yes, she would have carried the Grail to France. And I think this is the way that we need to look at this material. Is it true? I don’t know. Is it plausible? Yes.”

Tony Robinson then summed it all up: “So the inspiration for The Da Vinci Code and a whole canon of secret Grail hunts is no more than a Big Guess..”(“Michael Baigent Profile”, on ww.priory-of-sion.com.)

The Gnostics

Going back to the Gnostic Gospels, we should ask “What is Gnosticism?” Gnosticism was an early heresy, which probably arose outside the Church and then came to influence Christianity in the 2nd century. The Gnostics pretended to have the knowledge (gnosis in Greek) which others did not have which would liberate man from the ignorance and evil that characterise the created order and lead him into the kingdom of truth and goodness. They regarded themselves as the elite who had received this special knowledge and were therefore superior to the majority, who lived in ignorance. The Gnostics were dualists, regarding matter as evil and spirit as good. They taught that God was the creator only of the spiritual, and that a “demiurge” was the creator of matter. Since matter was evil, the Gnostics denied that Christ had a material body. They did not accept the validity of all the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and they rejected the authority of the Church and its tradition. After all, it was they, not the Church and the Scriptures, who possessed the true knowledge that would liberate man.

Among the more important Christian Gnostics were Marcion, Basilides and Valentinus, who were condemned by the Fathers of the Church. St Irenaeus of Lyon in 180 AD wrote a long treatise called “Adversus haereses”, against the Gnostic errors, making clear that if one is seeking truth in matters religious, he will find it only in the Church, which has received that truth from Jesus himself and has faithfully preserved it down the ages. It is interesting to note that Dan Brown himself and the writers he has borrowed from are the modern-day Gnostics. They, and only they, are the enlightened ones who have the “truth” about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, a truth the Church has been silencing for 2000 years! But following St Irenaeus, we know that it is the Church, and not Dan Brown, which has preserved the truth and will pass it on faithfully in its entirety until the end of time.

The Christian Gospels

But why should we believe what the Church says and not what the Gnostics say? Couldn’t they be right and the Church wrong? Where does the Church get its knowledge? The Church gets its truth from Jesus Christ himself, a truth that was passed on from Jesus to the apostles and other disciples. This truth was first passed on by word of mouth from the apostles to the early Christian communities. This is what is known as oral tradition. It was concretised in the various institutions of the Church, such as the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments, funeral customs, the celebration of Sunday, the structure of the first communities, etc. Some 20 years after Christ’s death the first Scriptures were written, and practically all of them, with the exception of those written by St John, were written in the 50s and 60s of the first century.

As the Scriptures came to be written, they were recognised as faithful to the oral tradition the Churches had received and were copied and passed on to other communities, or churches. They were read in the liturgy and in other important moments. Thus they came to be accepted as forming part of the canon, or list, of inspired writings. By the end of the 4th century, the full canon of the New Testament was finalised, and it was promulgated at the Council of Carthage in 393 AD. Contrary to what Dan Brown writes, it was not the emperor Constantine that gave the Church the canon of Scripture, but the Church herself. Practically the whole canon was agreed upon long before Constantine, with only a few Old Testament writings still under discussion in the 4th century. The Muratorian Fragment, a document written in the 2nd century, already lists most of the Scriptures that comprise the New Testament canon.

Meanwhile other writings were also circulating among the Churches, some of them highly revered, such as the Didache, an early document describing the customs and beliefs of the early Church, the “Epistle of Barnabas”, the “Letter to Diognetus”, the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch and St Clement of Rome, etc. These were respected but not regarded as divinely inspired, and hence were not included in the New Testament canon.

Other writings were regarded as not faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and were rejected out of hand. Among these were the Gnostic gospels such as the “Gospel of St Thomas”, the “Acts of Peter”, the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene”, the recently discovered and translated “Gospel of Judas”, the Gospel of Matthias, the Gospel of Philip, etc. They were written much later than the canonical gospels, in the 2nd century, to support the Gnostic ideas. It is these Gnostic gospels on which Dan Brown bases his story. As is obvious, these writings have no credibility whatsoever. They were known by the early Church and were rejected categorically.

Thus the whole so-called historical basis for Dan Brown’s novel is flawed. Jesus was simply not married to Mary Magdalene and he didn’t have offspring. The New Testament does not present the slightest suggestion of such a relationship. Moreover, the presentation of Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as his bride in the New Testament, especially in the writings of St
Paul, presupposes that Jesus had no human spouse.

And the Church has not been covering up the Gnostic gospels. They are available in seminary and university libraries all over the world and are studied as examples of early Gnostic writings.

The Priory of Sion

At the beginning of the book, Dan Brown has a page entitled “Facts”, covering two main areas. The first is a statement about the Priory of Sion. It reads:

The Priory of Sion – a European secret society founded in 1099 – is a real organisation. In 1975 Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Sandro Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci.

According to Brown, it is the Priory of Sion that has preserved the secret of the bloodline of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene through their daughter Sarah. Because it allegedly holds the secret of this bloodline, the Priory has been persecuted by the Catholic Church. The organisation is also devotedto worshiping “the sacred feminine” and it holds orgies as a form of ritual worship.

But did the Priory of Sion exist? Is it a “real organisation” as Brown says?

The basis for Dan Brown’s ideas about the Priory, as he says, were some parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets that were discovered in 1975 in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The documents were popularised in the late 1970s and formed the basis of the books Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Messianic Legacy, and later The Da Vinci Code.

But were Les Dossiers Secrets authentic? In fact they were false, and were shown to have been created by a group headed by a Frenchman named Pierre Plantard, who served three stints in jail,  one of them for fraud and embezzlement. Authors Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel write in their book  The Da Vinci Hoax: …the dossiers give every appearance of having been “salted” into the library with pseudonymous by-lines and falsified publication dates. The process somewhat resembles recent cases of people inserting spurious information about works of art into existing library catalogues to create a false pedigree for their merchandise. Dan Brown’s other major source of esoteric ideas, The Templar Revelation, dismisses the dossiers as fabrications.

Even the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Messianic Legacy later came to question them. Researcher Paul Smith and later the BBC in 1996 showed that the Dossiers were fake and were planted in the Bibliothèque in recent times. An extensive chronology of the events surrounding Pierre Plantard, the Priory of Sion, and its eventual demise, was assembled by Paul Smith and can be found at www.priory-of-sion.com.

What then is the real story of the Priory of Sion?

The Priory of Sion did exist but it was a club founded in 1956 by four young Frenchmen for the promotion of low-cost housing. Two of its members were André Bonhomme, who was president of the club when it was founded, and Pierre Plantard, who previously had been sentenced to jail for fraud and embezzlement. The group’s name is based on a local mountain in France (Col du Mont Sion), not Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It has no connection with the Crusaders, the Templars, or previous movements incorporating “Sion” into their names. The Priory was disbanded a few months after it was founded, but in later years Pierre Plantard revived it and claimed he was descended from a Merovingian king and was the “grand master” or leader of the organisation.

He began making outrageous claims about its antiquity, prior membership, and true purposes. It was he who claimed that the organisation stemmed from the Crusades, he (in conjunction with later associates) who composed and salted Les Dossiers Secretes in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and he who created the story that the organisation was guarding a secret royal bloodline that  could one day return to political power. After Plantard’s claims regarding the Priory came to public attention, his former associates contradicted him. André Bonhomme, the Priory’s first president, told the BBC in 1996: The Priory of Sion doesn’t exist anymore. We were never involved in any activities of a political nature. It was four friends who came together to have fun. We called ourselves the Priory of Sion because there was a mountain by the same name close-by. I haven’t seen Pierre Plantard in over twenty years and I don’t know what he’s up to but he always had a great imagination. I don’t know why people try to make such a big thing out of nothing. (André Bonhomme, as quoted in Paul Smith, “The Real Historical Origin of the Priory of Sion.” (http://priory-of-sion.com/psp/id43.html)
   
The BBC itself concluded: There’s no evidence for a Priory of Sion until the 1950s; to find it,
you go to the little town of St. Julien. Under French law every new club or association must register itself with the authorities, and that’s why there’s a dossier here showing that a Priory of Sion filed the proper forms in 1956. According to a founding member, this eccentric association took its name not from Jerusalem but from a nearby mountain (Col du Mont Sion, alt.786 m). The dossier also notes that the Priory’s self-styled grand master, Pierre Plantard, who is central to this story, has done time in jail. (Ibid.)

In 1975, Plantard began calling himself “Plantard de St. Clair” to pretend a connection with a noble Scottish family involved with Freemasonry who had built the strange Chapel of Rosslyn near Edinburgh which figures in Dan Brown’s novel. This is why The Da Vinci Code claims the blood of Christ survived most directly in the Plantard and St. Clair families. Pierre Plantard died in 2000. So again, one of the principal foundations for Dan Brown’s book, that the Priory of Sion is a real organisation dating from the Crusades that has protected the secret of Jesus’ bloodline down the ages, is totally false. Moreover, it had been proven false before Dan Brown wrote his book. With all his supposed historical research before writing his book, he would surely have known that the Priory of Sion was only a short-lived modern club that had nothing to do with Leonardo da Vinci and the protection of any secrets about Jesus Christ. In summary, Dan Brown swallowed Pierre Plantard’s hoax hook, line and sinker, led the world astray through his novel, and is now laughing all the way to the bank.

Leonardo da Vinci

What about Leonardo da Vinci? One of Brown’s claims, indeed one associated with the title of his novel, is that Leonardo painted Mary Magdalene seated next to Jesus in the Last Supper, thereby showing Mary’s prominence in the early Church. What sort of person was Leonardo? Art historian Elizabeth Lev, in an article entitled “The Real Leonardo” posted on the U.S. Bishops’ website on the Da Vinci Code, (www.jesusdecoded.com)  writes that Brown’s throwaway  assertion that Leonardo was “a flamboyant homosexual” remains unsubstantiated, and that his depiction of the artist as a “worshipper of Nature’s divine order,” leaves art historians scratching their heads. The fanciful image of Leonardo as something between a scientist and an animist cannot be inferred either from the artist’s life or his writings. Lev writes: The simple fact is that Leonardo lived a Christian life, framed by his baptism in infancy and the last rites at his death in France. He lived at courts where Christian rite and worship was deeply rooted in daily life. At
the end of his life Leonardo put aside his experiments and dedicated himself to a better understanding of the doctrines of the Catholic faith. He worked for several religious orders, including the Dominicans for whom he produced the magnificent Last Supper. Dan Brown makes the astonishing claim that Leonardo had “hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions.” In fact he had only one, which he never completed. Brown’s theory that the figure of the Apostle John is really Mary Magdalene is ludicrous. To begin with, whereas Brown claims that the painting is on the wall of Santa Marie delle Grazie in Milan, in fact it is in the refectory of the Dominican monastery annexed to the church, where the monks ate all their meals. Not only would such a place be ill-suited for subversive art, given that it was never viewed by the public, the Dominican order had the responsibility of seeking out heresy before it spread. Only a colossal fool would paint a heresy where the monks could study it day after day. And Leonardo was no fool.

But there are other problems. Lev goes on to say: Brown himself notes the next problem, which he never satisfactorily answers. The painting depicts thirteen people. If Mary Magdalene is supposed to be at Jesus’ right hand, that leaves only eleven Apostles. Who is missing? Which of the twelve apostles opted out of the Last Supper? The only Apostle who eventually leaves the meeting, according to the Gospel, is Judas. Yet Judas is clearly pictured in Leonardo’s painting, and the scene portrayed involves Judas himself asking: “Is it I, Lord?” Brown relies on Leonardo’s soft-featured, beardless depiction of John to support his fantastic claim that we are dealing with a woman. This assumption merely reveals Brown’s lack of familiarity with “types” in the artistic conventions of the day. In his Treatise on Painting, Leonardo himself explains that each figure should be painted according to his station and age. A wise man has certain characteristics, an old woman others, and children others still. A classic type, common to many Renaissance paintings, is the “student.” A favoured follower, a protégé or disciple, is always portrayed as very youthful, long-haired and clean-shaven; with none of the hard, determined physiognomy of more weathered men, to show that he has not yet matured to the point where he will question his teacher. Throughout the Renaissance, artists habitually portray St. John in this fashion. John is the trusting student who reclines on Jesus’ breast, the only Apostle present at the foot of the cross. A quick comparison with the “Last Supper” of Ghirlandaio and Andrea del Castagno shows a similarly soft-featured, young John.

In the end, The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction. Brown’s Leonardo is an invented character, light years away from the Christian genius who managed to make people feel as if they were present at one of the most sacred moments in history. But the consciously blurred line between fact and fiction has had the unfortunate effect of making Christians feel ashamed of one our greatest sons. The enduring beauty of Leonardo’s works is intimately wrapped up with their sacred character, and the deeply Catholic culture that embraced them.

So Leonardo, far from being a conniving anti-Christian schemer, intent on revealing in his paintings the secrets covered up by the Church, is simply a great Catholic painter, portraying the depth of divinity and humanity of Jesus and his apostles in the Last Supper.

The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei

Dan Brown not only discredits Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church in his novel. He also grossly misrepresents Opus Dei, an institution of the Church which has been approved by the Church since its foundation in 1928. Before going into a few of the more outrageous claims about Opus Dei in the book, it will be helpful to say what Opus Dei is. In simple terms Opus Dei is an institution of the Catholic Church comprising lay faithful, men and women, married and single, of all walks of life, who by a divine vocation seek holiness in and through their ordinary life in the world. In addition to the lay faithful, Opus Dei also has a small number of priests – some 2000 at present, out of a total membership of some 85,000 – who have been ordained for the service of the lay members. Diocesan priests, who remain subject to their bishop, can also join Opus Dei through the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. At present several million people around the world participate in Opus Dei’s programs and activities, which are conducted in more than 60 countries. Opus Dei has conducted activities in Australia since 1963, at the invitation of Cardinal Gilroy. Since 1982, Opus Dei has had the status of a personal prelature in the Church. Unlike what is suggested in The Da Vinci Code, a personal prelature is not a sort of “personal shock troops” of the Pope. Rather it is part of the hierarchical structure of the Church, headed by a bishop, whose jurisdiction over the members extends only to their spiritual formation and the coordination of their apostolic work. For all other effects, the members are under the jurisdiction of their local diocesan bishop, just like the rest of the Catholic faithful.

In any event, the personal prelature status is nothing special. It was proposed by the Second Vatican Council, and is simply one of several canonical categories the Church has for designating an institution that carries out special pastoral activities. It is called “personal” not because it is subject to the Pope in a personal way, but because the prelate’s jurisdiction over the faithful of the prelature is in view of their personal characteristic of belonging to Opus Dei, rather than in view of the territory in which they live. In this sense it is somewhat like the personal jurisdiction of the Maronite or Ukrainian rite bishops, whose jurisdiction is not territorial but personal.

The founder of Opus Dei, St Josemaría Escrivá, a Spanish priest, was canonised in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who called him “the saint of the ordinary”. Some 300,000 people from around the world attended the ceremony in St Peter’s Square.

1. Opus Dei and monks

Throughout The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei members are presented as monks (or, rather, caricatures of monks) with long flowing robes. While Opus Dei members have great appreciation for monks, in fact there are no monks in Opus Dei. Opus Dei is a Catholic institution for lay people and secular priests, not a monastic order. Its members live in the world like the other faithful, and dedicate themselves to their ordinary work and family life. They do not withdraw from the world like monks. And most of them are married, unlike monks who remain celibate.

Some members of Opus Dei do commit themselves to celibacy, but they too, like so many other celibate lay men and women, are ordinary lay faithful, who dress and live like any other lay person.

2. Opus Dei, crime and power in the Church

In The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei members, especially Silas, the albino assassin, are falsely depicted murdering, lying, drugging people, and otherwise acting unethically, thinking that this is justified for the sake of God, the Church, or Opus Dei.

Opus Dei is a Catholic institution and it adheres to Catholic doctrine, which of course condemns immoral behaviour, including murder, lying, stealing, and generally injuring people. The Catholic Church teaches that one should never do evil, even for a good purpose.

Opus Dei’s mission is to help people seek holiness by integrating their faith and the activities of their daily life, and so its spiritual formation helps members to be more ethical rather than less so. It is interesting to note in this regard that the causes of beatification and canonisation of at
least seven members of Opus Dei are currently underway. Opus Dei members, like everyone else, sometimes do wrong things, but this is an aberration from what Opus Dei is promoting rather than a manifestation of it.

Besides attributing criminal activity to members of Opus Dei, The Da Vinci Code also falsely depicts Opus Dei as being focused on gaining wealth and power. In reality Opus Dei exists solely to help its members and the millions of others who attend its activities to seek holiness in the
middle of the world. It has no pretensions of power, nor does it have any power other than the power of the holiness that its members seek.

3. Opus Dei and corporal mortification

The Da Vinci Code makes it appear that Opus Dei members practise bloody mortifications. In fact, though history indicates that some Catholic saints have done so, Opus Dei members do not.
In the area of mortification, Opus Dei emphasizes small sacrifices rather than extraordinary ones, in keeping with its spirit of integrating faith with secular life. For example, Opus Dei members try to make small sacrifices such as persevering at their work when tired, occasionally passing up some small pleasure, going out of their way to be kind to others, smiling, etc.

As is well known, some Opus Dei members also make limited use of the cilice and discipline, types of mortification that have always had a place in the Catholic tradition because of their symbolic reference to Christ’s Passion. Anyone with experience in this matter knows that these practices do not injure one’s health in any way and at most cause only minor discomfort. The Da Vinci Code’s description of the cilice and discipline is greatly exaggerated and distorted: it is simply not possible to injure oneself with them as the novel depicts. Moreover, their use is motivated by love of God and the desire to unite oneself with Jesus Christ, not guilt, self-hatred or self-punishment.

Moreover, they are used by many people today who are not in Opus Dei. Modern-day people who have used them include Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St Padre Pio and Pope Paul VI, whose process of beatification is underway.

Of interest is the following comment by the Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, Robert Morlino, in an article in the diocesan newspaper “The Catholic  Herald”, on December 18, 2003:
  When I was a Jesuit novice (1964-1965), we were asked to discuss the use of the flagellum [discipline] and the catena [cilice] with the novice master on an individual basis. He would or would not give permission for their use – in most cases he did – but in any event he always revisited and reconsidered this whole matter with each individual novice so that the whole dynamic of the penance would remain properly ordered and so that no abuse or misunderstanding would creep in. Over the two years of the noviceship I myself used the flagellum and catena with some regularity. Most did in those days. To insinuate that somehow these penances are inherently
masochistic and are some kind of an abuse which should discredit Opus Dei before the eyes of the world is outrageous.

 4. Opus Dei and the Vatican Bank

The Da Vinci Code says that Opus Dei was made a personal prelature as a reward for “bailing out” the Vatican bank. Neither Opus Dei nor any of its members helped “bail out” the Vatican
bank. Given its constant growth with the corresponding need to build more and more residences, centres of formation, conference centres, etc., Opus Dei does not have the money with which to “bail out” banks!
In short, the Church’s authorities made Opus Dei a personal prelature in 1982, not because Opus Dei paid vast sums of money, but because they recognised that this new canonical category was a good fit for Opus Dei’s mission and structure.

Conclusion

Although The Da Vinci Code is more hysterical than historical, and it can do much harm to the faith of Christians, at the same time it has presented the Church a golden opportunity to explain the Christian message. People are talking about the book and the film, and it is easy to take advantage of the conversation to explain the truth about what we believe. We could not have a
better opportunity for evangelisation.


Helpful websites

1.    U.S. Bishops: www.jesusdecoded.com

2.    Australian Bishops: www.acbc.catholic.org.au

3.    Catholic Answers: www.catholicanswers.org

4.    Opus Dei: www.opusdei.org

5.    New Australian website: www.thetruthdecoded.org.au

6.    Paul Smith on the Priory of Sion and Pierre Plantard: www.priory-of-sion.com