Video Clips

The Da Vinci Code by Breda O'Brien

When she worked in the civil service in Edinburgh during the 1950s, my mother-in-law, Pat, found that virulent anti-Catholicism was the norm. For example, one man told her of someone witnessing a group of cowled monks bricking a woman into a wall, and leaving her there. This kind of carry-on was normal for Papists. My mother-in-law found hearty laughter the best response to such tales. Her office colleagues would have got along fine with Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code.

As a piece of pulp fiction, Brown's book is mildly entertaining, though his penchant for long lectures in the final third of the book causes it to flag somewhat. These lectures are addressed to Sophie Neveu, who mainly responds by looking startled, uneasy, shocked, surprised and amazed. She never laughs out loud, a fact that shows that despite being a talented police cryptographer, she is none too bright. The book opens with the murder of the curator of the Louvre, Jacques Sauniere, who when shot in the stomach, realises that he has fifteen minutes to live. What might one do with fifteen minutes? Well, our curator strips naked, and paints a five-pointed star on his abdomen in his own blood. He writes messages in code that are only visible under ultra-violet light, and draws sweeping circles around himself. Then he arranges himself like Leonardo's Vitruvian man, the famous depiction of a naked man with outstretched arms and legs.

All of this is to attract the attention of the afore-mentioned Sophie, the cryptographer. It might seem a tad excessive, given the fact that she is his grand-daughter, and this fact is known in her police unit. It might have been expected that someone might have told her that her only living relative had been shot in the Louvre, even if he had been found fully clothed. It might be worth mentioning, though, that the last time she had seen Grandad, he had been naked, too, and wearing a black mask, while a woman made love to him, in the presence of rows of white-robed women and black-robed men. Not surprisingly, after inadvertently witnessing Grandad's little hobby, she never spoke to him again. Given that her grandfather has been found, bizarrely naked again, it might have confirmed to Sophie that (a) her grandfather was even more of a fruit and nutcase than she originally imagined, or (b) that his pervy exhibitionism extended even to his dying moments. But, no. It convinces her to defy the entire Parisian police force in order to protect a man mentioned in Grandad's dying scribbles, Robert Langdon, a Harvard "symbologist".

It is at this point I can hear my mother muttering, "Codologist, more like." Dan Brown's thesis is that the Catholic Church has been engaged since the time of Christ in suppressing the truth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that they had a child called Sarah, whose descendants were Merovingian royals. Descendants still exist today, and an organisation called the Priory of Sion, of which Grandad was head honcho, has as its task the protection of the tomb of Mary Magdalene, along with four chests of documents proving Jesus wanted the church left in the care of Mary Magdalene, not Peter. The Holy Grail is not a chalice, but the womb of Mary Magdalene. Jesus was never divine, just a inspirational teacher, but the Church has systematically destroyed the "sacred feminine" in order to prevent this truth emerging. One wonders exactly what the Priory of Sion are for? Why don't they just produce their shattering proof of Mary Magdalene being the Holy Grail, and allow her descendants to do whatever it is they are to do? But, no. Much more fun to hold arcane sex rituals and hide from mad, murderous monks, than to actually subject claims to investigation Where to start with Brown's distortions? Well, maybe with his claims that Jesus was just a great teacher, until in a close-run vote, Constantine rigged the Council of Nicea in 325 in order to have Jesus declared divine.

The early Christians had endured torture and death in order to preserve what the Apostles had told them. How likely is it that they would have allowed a massive fraud like this to be perpetrated? One day Jesus is a great teacher, the next day he is divine? Incidentally, only two of hundreds of bishops voted against official recognition of Jesus' divinity. Constantine allegedly dumped some 76 gospels, in favour of the four most patriarchal versions. Never mind the fact that earlier documents are considered to be more historically reliable, and that all four of the gospels in the New Testament predate the dozen or so which were rejected for inclusion. Funny, Brown does not mention either that the Gospel of Thomas, one of rejected texts, ends with a declaration by Jesus that he will make Mary Magdalene male, so that she may be saved. Wonderfully affirming of women, don't you think?

Brown does not do much better with the present day. One character is a homicidal albino Opus Dei monk named Silas. Except that since Opus Dei is not a religious order, it has no monks. The whole point of the movement is that you are sanctified through your daily work, so celibate lay members work in ordinary jobs, where a wool habit might be slightly distracting. Brown paints a picture of a grimly murderous Catholic Church, which has deliberately suppressed the truth of Jesus' marriage in order to oppress women. Patriarchy ousted the loving, peaceful, nurturing goddess worship that rejoices in human sexuality.

Sadly for Brown, there were many versions of the worship of goddesses, and in some religions, goddesses wreaked havoc and destruction. For example, an ancient temple in Turkey dedicated to the fertility goddess Cybele, has niches behind the altar for men to deposit their testicles after they had emasculated themselves in a religious ecstacy.

Brown is making a fortune, mostly because so few people know enough about Christianity any more to know that he is simply re-cycling stories which have been discredited a dozen times before. In an odd way, that may present the Church with an opportunity to tell the story one more time, of a faith that has survived lots of Dan Browns, and still offers sustenance to millions.

(originally published in The Irish Times July 2004)