11 July 2004

Shorter than any book on The Da Vinci Code

Have any of you seen the Coen Brothers' masterpiece Fargo, perchance? It opens with the following claim:
'THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.'
When the film was being made, one of the cast, Steve Buscemi or William H. Macey - I'm not really sure - asked to see the official records and newspaper articles about the real series of crimes. He was laughed at, and told the crimes had never happened. The disclaimer was part of the film. It was as much a work of fiction as what followed it...

My point?

Well, over the last couple of nights I've been reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It's a book that's garnered a lot of attention, and several of my friends have read it and recommended it to me, so I was curious. The story proper is preceded by a statement beginning
'Fact: The Priory of Sion - a European secret society founded in 1099 - is a real organization. In 1975 Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion...' and firmly stating that 'All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.'
As I read the book, I assumed Brown's opening claim was operating on the same basis as that at the start of Fargo. It was part of the book. Like what follows, it was utter fiction...

At least I hoped so, because if it was genuinely meant to be taken as fact, then Brown is a liar, a fool, or a mere idler, as the book is littered with spurious claims, presented as though they're, um, gospel truth.*

I mean seriously, there's something wrong with a book where it's claimed that the Merovingians rather than the Romans founded Paris... that the planet Venus traces a pefect pentacle in the night sky... that the Olympic games were held in honour of Venus rather than Zeus and were held every eight years rather than four... that the Papacy was based in the Vatican in the third century - it was a graveyard then... or that the Papacy was based in the Vatican when the Popes were holed up in Avignon... that five million women were burned as witches by the Catholic Church over three hundred years - the figure's more like a maximum of 50,000, and that's including men and those who weren't burned as well as those slain by Protestants... that irrational thought is considered left brain, when the left side of the brain controls analytical thought while the right side is the less rational and more 'artistic side'... or that a cross with all arms of equal length 'carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin cross' despite being the standard 'Greek' cross.

And those are only the little lies.

Sang Raal, San Graal
Without giving away too much, Brown's book begins with the murder of the curator of the Louvre, who turns out to have been a prominent member of the Priory of Sion, a secret society which has existed since the Middle Ages, dedicated to hiding the 'Holy Grail'. But this 'Grail' is no cup, rather it consists of the relics of Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus, whose true identity was suppressed by the church; supposedly, the Magdalene was with child at the time of Jesus' death and fled to Gaul, where her descendents eventually became the Merovingian kings.

None of this was shocking to me; I'd heard it all before, when I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail back in my mid-teens. I'd been shocked then to discover how the Gospels were full of contradictions, that oodles of gospels had been suppressed by the Church, by Jesus almost certainly having been married, and by the way that he could so easily have faked his death. The stuff about the Merovingians, and the Priory, and their henchmen in the Templars didn't interest me quite so much, though I was taken with the history of the Grail, and by what happened in the Albigensian crusade.

Anthony Burgess had evidently been impressed by the potential of the tale, as the book's flyleaf bears a quotation from him where he remarks
'it will seem to some a crackpot exercise, but these young men are no fools: they have learning, energy, enthusiasm tempered by skepticism... it is typical of my unregenerable soul that I can only see this as a marvellous theme for a novel.'
Well, with The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown rose to the challenge. Such a pity he did such a bad job -- the book's a fast paced airport novel, sure, but is marred by cliched characters and a plethora of absurdities which surely even the densest of editors ought to have noted.

But as it happens, none of that bothers me quite so much as the claim of truth on the opening page. We're obviously meant to take the esoterica of the book at face value, when in fact it should be treated with a rather liberal shovelfull of salt. Irritated by the constant errors - or lies? - in the text, I began to scrawl comments in the margins, annotating the whole book.

This, for the record, is something I never do. Now, however, I have a new book tattooed with green corrections. Oh well.

Secrets and Lies...
The Priory of Sion, the conspiracy at the heart of Brown's book, and its pseudohistorical inspiration, did indeed exist, but it was never quite so prominent as the likes of Brown would have us believe.

It appears to have been founded a few years after the Second World War by one Pierre Plantard, a convicted fraudster, being disbanded in October 1956. The society, in which there had been only a handful of members, was opposed to the gentrification of the surrounding area. Itwas revived in 1963, this time to aid Plantard's false claim to the French throne -- the Priory was dedicated to the revival of chivalry and monarchy in France, and Plantard claimed to be descended from the Merovingians. Plantard and his cronies concocted a false history of France and the Priory, planting numerous false documents in museum and library archives in order to support his claims.

(There was a real, and entirely separate Priory of Sion, for what it's worth, based in Jerusalem originally and absorbed into the Jesuits in 1617. But that's got nothing to do with this laughable thesis.)

Was Simon a Saint?
No conspiracy theory is complete without those stalwarts of superstition, the Knights Templar. Brown follows the Holy Blood, Holy Grail argument that the Templars were a front for the Priory of Sion, and were accordingly suppressed by the Papacy in the early fourteenth century.

Further he claims that all Templar churches were round, since they were really a sect of cryptopagans - one character describes the Templar Church off London's Fleet Street as
'Pantheonically pagan! The church is round. The Templars ignored the traditional Christian cruciform layout and built a perfectly circular church in honour of the sun. A not so subtle howdy-do to the boys in Rome. They may as well have resurrected Stonehenge in central London.'
Well, aside from the fact that round temples weren't that common in the pagan world - with the exceptions of the temple of Apollo at Delos, and the Pantheon in Rome, how many Greek, Roman, or Egyptian round temples can you think of? -- it's not true to imply that the Templars were unique in the way they built round churches, or that they did so in honour of the sun. Round churches - or more accurately, churches with round naves - were commonly used by other military orders. There's one in Essex, for example.

Why? Well, for the simple reason that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built on the ancient hillock of Calvary, had a round nave. Jerusalem was the centre of the medieval world, and most medieval maps centred upon it. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the most sacred place in that city, marking the place where Christ died and the garden tomb where he rose. By modelling their churches upon the Holy Sepulchre, the Military Orders paid homage to the most important place in their world.

And what of the annihilation of the Templar order? Well, according to Brown, on Friday the thirteenth of October in 1307 hundreds of Templars were killed and interred on the orders of Pope Clement V - many being 'burned at the stake and tossed unceremoniously into the Tiber River'. Clement felt the order had become too powerful and needed to be stopped, and so planned with Philip IV of France to crush the order and seize their treasure and secrets. The Templars had honoured a stone head named Baphomet, and Clement used this as the linchpin of his case against them, arguing that Baphomet was the Devil.

Fascinating, eh? Utterly wrong, but fascinating nonetheless.

Philip the Fair of France used bribes to ensure that the archbishop of Bordeaux was elected pope in 1305, and bullied him into moving the Papal seat from Rome to Avignon - from where it would be tricky to scatter ashes in the Tiber. Clement V was sickly, weak, and terrified of Philip. This was understandable; his predecessor had died shortly after being seized by Philip's troops when they had attacked and plundered the Papal palace.

The Templars were by far the wealthiest organisation in Christendom, and Philip was determined to make their wealth his own. Unfortunately, as their wealth was within the ecclesiastical domain, Philip could not simply seize it unless they were found guilty of sacrilege. With the help of a few degraded Templars, he - not Clement! - issued secret orders to have all the Templars arrested on 13 October 1307.

A litany of charges were drawn up, all staples of the heresy trials carried out against the Cathars of southern France. The captured Templars were horrifically tortured, and many pleaded guilty to charges - some even did so because they feared the ferocious tortures in store for them.

This corrupt investigation had taken place without Papal authorisation, and Clement protested vigorously, annulling the trial and suspending the powers of all bishops and clergy involved in it.

Unfortunately, the admissions of guilt were in the open, and Philip coached seventy-two Templars to speak of their crimes to the Pope at Poitiers. Clement was then compelled to open a new commission which extended to everywhere Templars were to be found. The Templars were found innocent of the charges in virtually every country except France. Those who had previously confessed but now admitted that they had lied to save their own lives were considered relapsed heretics, and were burned at the stake. The Grand Master was one of these, having refused to repent for his sins, since he said that he had never committed them and that the Order was innocent of all charges.

Despite his attempts to rescue the order and stand up against Philip, Clement eventually gave way, and decided to have the order dissolved, though not condemned.

Now, where does this leave Brown's conviction that the order worshipped a stone head named Baphomet? Well, considering the fact that hundreds of Templars were tortured, and the conventional nature of the charges, it's interesting that only a handful said anything like this - and again, bear in the mind that people are apt to say anything when tortured.

Two Carcassonne Templars said they had adored a wooden image called Baphomet, a Florentine one called it Mahomet, and another templar described it as a severed head with a long beard. It's hard to believe that the Templars would have worshipped the head of Mohammed - Mahomet - considering that over two centuries 20,000 of them had died in the defence of the Holy Land. Could it have been a representation of the severed head of John the Baptist, as venerated by the Knights Hospitaller? Or was it simply a case of desperate men making outlandish claims to persuade their tormenters to stop?

Heroes in a half shell...
So much for the Templars having been suppressed as they were a front for the Priory. What then of Leonardo Da Vinci, who Brown presents as having led the Priory between 1510 and 1519?

Leonardo couldn't have been Grand Master of the Priory at that point, since Plantard's Priory lay more than four hundred years in the future. Leaving that aside, however, Brown's book is filled with information about Da Vinci's life and work, much of which is spurious, being at best speculation.

Brown's hero describes Da Vinci as a ''flamboyant homosexual' who hypocritically accepted hundreds of Vatican commissions. Neither statement is true. If Leonardo was homosexual, he certainly wasn't flamboyant about it, although in 1476 he was accused of homosexual contact with a 17-year old model. The accusation was anonymous, and considering that this was a common way of blackening people's names back then, Leonardo may well have been innocent.

As for his acceptance of hundreds of Vatican commissions? No, only one, I'm afraid, unless you count his designs for fortresses in the Papal states. He may not even have completed the one painting commissioned by Leo X, and only a couple of small paintings of his have been positively identified as painted during his generally unhappy stay in Rome.

Brown's identification of the Mona Lisa as a secret self-portrait of Da Vinci is possible, despite the traditional view that La Giaconda, as it also known, depicts Mona Lisa, the wife of a prominent Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Admittedly, a digital comparison of the painting with a self-portrait of Leonardo gives an exact match, but this may just be due to both being painting by Da Vinci in the same style.

Brown takes a while to discuss the Madonna of the Rocks housed in the Louvre.
'Oddly, though, rather than the usual Jesus-blessing-John scenario, it was baby John who was blessing Jesus... and Jesus was submitting to his authority! More troubling still, Mary was holding one hand high above the head of the infant John and making a decidedly threatening gesture - her fingers looking like eagle's talons, gripping an invisible head. Finally, the most obvious and frightening image: just below Mary's curled fingers, Uriel was making a cutting gesture with his hand - as if slicing the neck of the invisible head gripped by Mary's claw-like hand.'
I mean, where do you start with this, aside from wondering what hallucinogens Brown was taking when he looked at the picture? How about with the fact that Uriel is pointing, not cutting anything? And that Mary's hand doesn't look remotely clawlike? Yes, it's palm down, but that's more as though it's being lowered to rest on Jesus. Yes, Jesus. The child that's sitting looks younger than the kneeling one. The kneeling one is paying homage; the sitting one is giving the blessing. It looks as though John is paying homage to Jesus - his junior by six months, and that Uriel is pointing at John to indicate that he will precede Jesus and announce his coming.

So the people who ordered the picture weren't happy? Well, of course not - they'd given Leonardo very specific demands, and he hadn't met them. There's no need to imagine any secret heretical messages hidden in the painting.

Central to the book's presentation of the Grail as Mary Magdalene is Da Vinci's Milanese masterwork, The Last Supper. Noting that despite the Gospel accounts, Jesus does not have an obvious chalice or grail, and that the apostles all have their own glasses, Brown's argument is that the character to the right of Jesus is in fact Mary Magdalene.
'Sophie examined the figure to Jesus' immediate right, focusing in. As she studied the person's face and body, a wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was, without a doubt... female.'
Female? That seems unlikely, as none of the sketches Da Vinci did as preparations for this show any female faces. What's more, the 'hint of a bosom' is caused by a crack in the plaster, and she's dressed in the same fashion as the other apostles; would a woman wear male clothing? Besides, if that figure was a woman, then there's be an apostle missing from the scene. Not just any apostle either - St John, the one who was most dear to Jesus.

John's gospel records how he had been leaning against Jesus when Jesus announced that one of the apostles would betray him, and how Peter had beckoned to him to ask how it was. That's what Da Vinci is showing - the consternation on the faces of the apostles after Jesus' revelation, and John, depicted as a typically androgynous Da Vinci youth, leaning towards Peter to listen to him.

Gospel Truth, honest!
Ah, Brown would say, but the Gospels don't reflect the reality of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Smeared by the early church as a former prostitute, in the Gospels she is simply one of many followers of Jesus, notable for telling the apostles about the empty tomb.

The traditionally accepted Gospels, that is. After all, Jesus' life was 'recorded by thousands of followers across the land... More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.' Many of the other gospels have been preserved in the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls, described by Brown as 'the earliest Christian records'.

These so-called Gnostic Gospels make it very clear that Mary Magdalene was in fact the wife of Jesus. Brown has one character read from a couple of these gospels:
'And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than all of us?"' - Gospel of Philip

'And Peter said, "Did the Saviour really speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?"
And Levi answered, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like an adversary. If the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us."'
- Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Brown notes that it's not really surprising that Jesus should have been married. After all, he was a Jew. As one character notes 'the social decorum at that time virtually forbade a Jesus man to be unmarried.' And none of the Gospels specifically state that he was unmarried; surely if he had been unmarried, which was unusual at the time, then one of the Gospel authors would have mentioned this?

(This is taken further by the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail who argue that as he is often addressed as 'teacher' Jesus must have been married, as the Mishnaic Law forbade unmarried men from being teachers; against that, only his followers call him 'teacher' and Jewish officials reportedly wondered what authority he had to teach, suggesting that he was not qualified to do so (Mark 11.28). That book also argues that the Marriage of Cana must have been Jesus' own marriage - that's a decidely muddled section - and conflates Mary of Magdala, the woman who anointed Jesus, and Mary of Bethany into one person, who is the only feasible candidate for the wife of Jesus.)

As presented by Brown, Mary Magdalene was smeared by the early church as a common whore in order to discredit her royal lineage and special status. She was of Benjamin and Saul's royal line, just as Jesus was of Judah and David's, and their's was a sacred marriage with the potential to make a serious claim to the throne. Further, Jesus' church was to be founded, not on Simon Peter, but on the Magdalene herself, and would hold feminist principles in high regard, honouring the Goddess - as represented by the Magdalene - just as much as God.

Amazing, eh? Alas, it's balderdash again...

To start with, there's a dangerous argument from silence here... Jews would have seen it as weird for Jesus not to have been married, and the canonical Gospel writers don't remark on this, so he must have been married.

Well, no. First of all, celibacy was very common among the Essene sect at Qumran, and their teachings dovetail with those of Jesus to a striking degrees, so him being unmarried is far from unlikely. Furthermore, Brown assumes that the Gospel writers wrote for a Jewish audience, who might have wanted to know this - but at least three of the Gospels are primarily written for Roman or Hellenised audiences. And on top of that, if Jesus were married, it would be odd for the canonical Gospel writers never to have specifically mentioned his wife. It would certainly have been strange for Saint Paul to have missed out in his first letter to the Corinthians on an opportunity of using the example of Jesus to defend the apostles having wives: 'Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas?' (1 Cor. 9.5)

But what of the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi scrolls, the 'earliest Christian records'? Surely they're evidence of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Well, no. In the first place the Dead Sea scrolls aren't Christian documents. But the Nag Hammadi scrolls? Well, considering that the canonical gospels predate even the Gnostic texts by between fifty and a hundred years we should probably favour them. Some Gnostic Gospels were written in the third, fourth, and even fifth century.

The Gnostic gospels aren't quite as clear on this issue as Brown seems to think anyway. The manuscript Gospel of Philip has a lacuna in the text, so rather than saying that Christ used to kiss Mary often on her mouth it simply says he kissed Mary 'on the ...'. Furthermore, the so-called Gospel of Thomas, the most well-known of the Gnostic texts, ends with a message that belies the feminist take Brown has on the Gnostic gospels: 'Simon Peter said to them: "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."'

But then, it's a bit much to expect consistency in Gnostic texts, since the basic point about Gnosticism in all its forms was its disdain for the physical world - the Gnostics were big on celibacy, for what it's worth, and would surely have frowned on a marriage between Jesus and the Magdalene, sacred or not.

The Gnostics had a rather ahistorical approach to things, since God himself (or herself?) would hardly care for this material world, and as a result felt free to treat Jesus as a metaphor or myth, making up stories about him. It seems bizarre to treat their representation of Jesus as historically accurate. In fact, it fundamentally abuses the texts, which are designed as wisdom literature, not as spiritual narratives.

Who controls the present controls the past... Who controls the past controls the future
Yes, but why should we trust the canonical Gospels, even if they do predate the Gnostic ones? One of Brown's characters claims that '...history is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books - books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe.'

As far as Brown is concerned, the winners who have written our history are the Emperor Constantine and the post-Constantinian Catholic Church (Brown seems hardly aware that there are other Christian groups, whether they be Orthodox or Protestant).

As Brown presents it, Jesus was regarded as a mortal man, albeit the rightful king of Israel and a great spiritual leader, for the first centuries of the Christian era. In Constantine's day, the official religion in Rome was the cult of the Invisible Sun, with Constatine as Pontifex Maximus - chief priest. There was great turmoil between the followers of Jesus and the devotees of the Sun, so Constantine, 'a lieflong pagan who was baptised on his deathbed, too weak to protest', set out to bring peace to Rome by unifying the two religions.

He merged the symbolism of the two religions in many ways and held the ecumenical Councel of Nicaea in 325, at which 'many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon - the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus'.

It was, as Brown sees it, the Council of Nicea that established Jesus as the Son of God; it was a relatively close vote too. This was crucial to Constantine's plans to consolidate the unity of the Empire and the establishment of the new Vatican power base. In order to ensure this could happen, '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.'

You've probably guessed where I'm going to go with this. Again, Brown's hypothesis, while intriguing, is wrong in almost every aspect.

First of all, it's absurd to say that the official religion of the Roman state in Constantine's day was the cult of Sol Invictus. Roman religion at the time of Constantine was a mishmash of the old Roman gods, neo-Platonic and neo-Pythagorean philosophies, and new cults such as those of Isis, Mithras, the Great Mother, and the Invincible Sun. There was a high degree of syncretism with Gods being identified with each other within the framework of Greek mythology. There was no official religion, as such.

Constantine himself had been a devotee of the Invincible Sun, but was favourable to Christianity before the Battle of Milvian Bridge; after that battle he converted, and issued an edict of toleration - the 'Edict of Milan'. He certainly supported the Christians, but he did not make Christianity the official state religion - that was to wait until the reign of Theodosius, over half a century later.

But what about Brown's conviction that he was a pagan who merely attempted to merge Christianity and 'paganism' for reasons of realpolitik? Well, it doesn't really fit in with the times. Rationalism was rare at this point in Roman history, and unlike the early Empire, Romans really did believe in their gods. It's hard to believe that Constantine was merely pretending to be a Christian. Besides, Christians only made up a miniscule percentage of the population of the empire as a whole.

On the other hand, it has to be conceded that his religious journey was clearly not even. He may have adopted Christ as his patron at and after Milvian Bridge, but his coins still showed pagan deities, notably the Sun. It's probable that, in typically pagan syncretistic fashion, he was identifying the Christian God with the Sun, thinking them the same thing. This could explain why in March 321 he made it law that the 'Day of the Sun' -- already the primary Christian day of worship -- should be a day of rest. For all that, however, his understanding of Christianity undoubtedly deepened over time, and his use of pagan symbolism declined over time, especially after he moved to the East.

But what of his deathbed baptism? Surely that suggests that he wasn't a real convert? Well, no, because that was common practice in late Antiquity. Baptism washed away all sins, so it made sense to delay baptism until one could sin no more. Understandably, the Church denounced this notion of delayed baptism, but Constantine may have felt he was a special case, God's delegate on earth superior even to the apostles' successors. When he was being baptised he told the bishops that he had hoped to be baptised, like Christ, in the Jordan, but it appeared that was not to be; if, however, he should recover, then he was determined to live openly as a full Christian.

What then of the Council of Nicea, and the Constantinian Bible? Well, the latter is easily dealt with. There was no such thing. I've talked about the compilation of the Bible before, but what it comes down to is that Christians had been debating which books were authentically inspired and worthy of canonical status for alomost two centuries prior to the Council of Nicea. By the late second century the four canonical gospels, which have been securely dated to the first century, were almost unanimously regarded by Christians as the only divinely inspired ones.

Irenaeus, for example, writes:
'Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia... It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are.(Against Heresies 3.1.1, 3.11.8)
The list was more-or-less fixed long before Constantine's day, and he had no input into the overall canon, which was eventually listed in the late fourth century as the fourty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven of the New.

But what then of Nicea, and the decision by a relatively close vote to raise Jesus to the status of 'Son of God'? Nicea was indeed called by Constantine, and it did concern Jesus' nature, but it wasn't about recognising him as Son of God. All Christians already did that. The issue to be settled at the Council was the so-called Arian heresy, where Arius, an Alexandrine priest, had taken a unitarian view, rather than a trinitarian one. He believed that rather than there being one God in three persons, Christ being one of those persons, there was simply one God, and that Christ was a mortal, created by God, who was at best raised to Godliness.

The first Council of Nicea took place in 325, with at least 232 bishops in attendance. We know only of two bishops, Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, who opposed the adoption of the Nicene Creed, which firmly defined Christ as being 'the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God) light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made.'

That really doesn't strike me as a close vote. Less than one per cent of the bishops there opposed this...

I know, I know, in theory Constantine and the Post-Constantinian Church could have falsified the records for the Council as they did the Bible and presumably all the writings of the Church Fathers who spoke of Jesus as God. But if Constantine really did this in 325, do you not think people might have been startled by this? Do you not think the sudden elevation of Jesus from man to God might have caused chaos in the Roman empire, and torn the Catholic Church asunder?

I think we have to concede that, like just about everything else in the book, Brown's ideas about Constantine are utter tosh.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary...
So where does that leave his view that Catholicism disregards 'the feminist principle', and by ignoring Mary Magdalene pays no honour to women?

Well, funnily enough other Christian groups tend to think that Catholics pay too much honour to women, by venerating Jesus' own mother as the greatest of the saints. They certainly don't ignore her, feeling that as Jesus was made from her flesh she herself must have been specially sanctified by him, and that she was assumed bodily into heaven... she's honoured as a virgin and as a mother. Is that really scorning 'the sacred feminine'?

Yes, but what about the Magdalene? Brown has one of his characters announce that 'The quest for the Holy Grail is literally the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene. A journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one, the lost sacred feminine'

Well, she's not entirely ignored. After all, being regarded as the patron saint of sinners means we all have something very much in common with her. And if you really want to pray at her bones, the Greek Church claims that her relics lie in Istanbul, while as a result of the medieval French belief that she came to France, her head is supposedly to be found in the Dominican church at La Sainte-Baume in Provence.

It's be a lot easier than being chased around by the French police and an Opus Dei assassin, after all.
*And before anyone says that views put forward in the novel don't necessarily tally with the author's own views, he repeats his claims on his website.

No comments: