Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Alternative Christianity?

"Avoid silly and profane myths"

Q. What do Gnostics, Mormons and modernists--and "The DaVinci Code"-- have in common?

A. They all want to change Jesus' ways and the Catholic Church. 

A recent New York Times story (4/ 27) reported how the book, "The DaVinci Code" is causing a furor. Though labeled "fiction" it is doing what the above groups did--trying to alter peoples' views of history, revelation and Catholic teachings. But, according to the subplot of the exciting Times' story, there's a backlash-boomerang phenomenon: many Christian evangelicals and Catholics (and hopefully us!) are responding to the tumultuous bestseller with books, tracts and sermons. This book is dangerous-not only because it mixes fact and fiction (creating a slippery slope of truth and accountability), but, also, there are over 7 million copies in print, and a movie is planned.

Brief synopsis of book (save your money and be saved): A romantically engaged couple, in modern day France, are on track of a so-called "Holy Grail" (not actually a cup), which is supposedly proof of a conjugal relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which traces back to Leonardo Da Vinci, who was supposed head of a secret sect in France guarding the Grail. In their travels the couple learns that Catholics suppressed goddess worship and sexuality, and also "demonized" Mary Magdalene, subverting her role with St Peter as Pope; and that her alleged line of successors carried on thru France. Etc.

According to the Times story, "much of the the DaVinci Code scaffolding of conspiracies was constructed in an earlier best seller, 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail' (1980). It relies on a file of documents found ...that has been since been exposed as one man's hoax." Thus: sources of this book are suspicious. (A recent New York Times Book Review essay was aptly titled: "The Da Vinci Hoax".) Author of "The Code," Dan Brown said that "while the book is fiction , 'it is my own personal belief that the theories discussed by these characters have merit.' " Though he stands by the "Fact Page" of his book, it has been debunked by many persons. For instance: Brown alleges an Infant Jesus kneels for a blessing before John the Baptist in DaVinci's "Madonna of the Rocks" painting. Brown is clearly confused: Christ is blessing and the Baptist is kneeling.

We have seen such tactics many times before in "The Republic of Entertainment"- as author Neil Gabler terms the USA, where fact and fiction blur. Like Oliver Stone's movie "JFK," author Brown asserts an alternative history by "implication transformation": an increase in the decreasing line between truth and suggestion--in the American media (irresponsible "docudramas"), in history (historical fiction) and academe (academic elite conjecturing prejudiced historical bias without facts). All this can turn into a madness against Christianity. For instance, some say Frederick Nietzsche's philosophy-who cried the "death of God" and anti-Christian values --led to Nazism's evils and eventually to deathcamps. Nineteenth and twentieth-century neo-pagan practitioners may have led to the psychologists like Carl Jung's spiritualism and new age foundations of anti-Christian institutions. You see: fiction is sometimes not only stranger than truth; it wants to change truth, subvert it.

The Rev James L Garlow, author of "Cracking DaVinci's Code" wisely said, in the Times' piece: "I don't' think its just an innocent novel with a fascinating plot. I think it's out there to win people over to an incorrect and historically inaccurate view and it's succeeding. People are buying into the notion that Jesus is not divine."

Gnosticism implies that Christian history is an imprisoning antiqueish, structure, unnecessary, and that Jesus is not God, nor, certainly, a Savior. Gnostics were an elitist sect who believed in arcane knowledge to save souls their own, human way. They wanted some apocryphal ("hidden") gospels to be part of the Bible, which is Brown's agenda, saying these unreliable, sometimes unrational accounts are necessary for holiness. "No dice" said the Church-then and now. Saints and popes, aided by Holy Spirit (cf.Acts 15:28 and Jn 16:13-the "Holy Spirit will guide you to all truth"), ruled they are neither inspired nor necessary. Gnostics and Brown subtly claim the Church is therefore suppressing valid spirituality. Not true: seek and find rich spiritual, mystical lessons in the thousands of saints and holy popes, from St Augustine to Gregory the Wonderworker (see below for more examples). The Bible we do have-72 books in the Catholic Bible-- is inspired by God -and, along with approved spiritual treatises by saints, that should be enough.

Mormons in the last century similarly said there was an alternative revelation--to Joseph Smith in New York, which alleged that so-called "lost Israelite tribes" continued via native American Indians to present- day Mormon lineages. And, Jesus wasn't divine or eternal. Thus, Mormons are not Christians. Brown urges similar things in his novel: Jesus as a mere man, and secret lineages which are never, really provable -and therefore not totally dis-proveable, thereby enticing gullible readers into the intrigue. In this century, modernists denigrate the supernatural and miraculous in our Religion-- miracles, mysticism and divine help to the Church. Important point!: Pope Pius X wrote the 1907 encyclical letter, "Pascendi," as a warning against modernism, which he called a "synthesis of Errors". Donald Atwater, in "A Catholic Dictionary, summarizes that letter, and, presciently, the ills of such works today as "The Da Vinci Code"-notice the applicability of the summary of yesterday's errors to today: " Modernism tended to abolish dogmas (which it called symbols), sacraments (which it reduced to faith-nourishing signs), the authenticity and genuineness of the Scriptures, the Church and ecclesiastical authority and discipline. It would reduce Christ to human dimensions and make inspiration a common gift of mankind."

As usual, here is the constant tendency of heresy and history, whether it is communism or Gnosticism: man wants to create God in his own image and man wants to be CEO and re-define what God should have done. The Good News, the silver lining in the contemporary cloud of all this is that some people realize that Christ founded the Church upon Peter and the Gates of Hell would not prevail over this Catholic Unity (cf. Mt 16:18)-at least we're still getting recognized as such! The Bad News: people are believing the attacks upon the Church and Christ. Attacking theories such as rationalism (reason unaided by Faith), scientism (empirical science-as-revelation), Americanism (Catholicism divorced from Rome), et al, say, in essence: you got it wrong-let's now make the Church a democracy (no Pope or hierarchy); no sacred authority (bishops or priests with power), change the Bible thru illicit evolutionist theories, abortion and pan-sexualism, and re-construct "alternative families". And: denying Jesus' divinity implies there is no foundation for a sacred hierarchy or order (kosmos)-which means, ultimately, the rejection of God's order and the triumph of man-almost anything goes: dis-order. Ergo: souls are at stake. "Ideas have consequences." Therefore, Catholics need a shot of "Apologetics 101: How to DeFine and Defend the Faith." But, unfortunately, in some parts of the Catholic Church, modernism has crept in. In America, some cannot accept timelessness-and therefore become marketers or a kind of mystical madness.

Okay, now for a synopsis of the main charges of the book:

  1. The Divinity of Christ was "constructed by the Catholic Church". False. In the Gospels, in the early Church and thru two-millennia, the divinity--"God-ness"--of Jesus is attested to. Jesus says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father"-Jn 14:9; "For in Him (Christ) the fullness of deity dwells (Col 2:9). Brown alleges in his book that the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) was politicized by Emperor Constantine and divinity was foisted by the Church upon Jesus. The New York Times story says: "A wide spectrum of Christian scholars agree the depiction of the Council of Nicea is one of the books most blatant distortions," and quoting Harold Attridge, of Yale Divinity School: "People were thinking Jesus was divine in some sense or another for the first century on." Do you believe Jesus is God?
  2. Christ and Mary Magdalene were "involved". Once again, the Bible, early Church and two millennia of history never report this. If Jesus was married we would have known somewhere, not in secretive fashion. Speculation abounds, and those who believe it are gullible
  3. The "Feminine" in Catholicism is repressed: Not true! Look at the "communion of opposites" (male and female spiritual equilibrium) of, say, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus Himself; of Mary Magdalene and the Apostles-they all "spiritually blended" without "oppression." And there's also strong female saints like Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen counseling popes and priests; John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila teaming up to reform the Church and Carmel; St Francis deSales and Jane Frances deChantal spiritually joining to help laypersons. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II-all these never complained about masculine oppression.

Also, remember: When questioning the Catholic Church, such questioners really become, themselves, alternative fonts of revelation since their standards and "answers" alone seemingly count and are deemed worthy. This happened with the Gnostics, later with Martin Luther and "protestant reformers," and to this day with progressivist Catholics. We need know these serious problems and spiritual solutions…

What to Do:

-Study your faith: get out your Bible, Catechism and saintly texts and study. Apologetics means: Be able to give an "accounting for the hope that is in you" (I Pt. 3:15). -Don't be gullibile: There's both a lot of truth out there (God is effusive-Jesus gives "grace upon grace"-Jn. 1:16), and there's a lot of duplicity and falsity out there. No matter how dressed up or glitzy such books as Brown's are, they are rarely true nor helpful to souls salvation. Don't be taken in by conjecture and hype! -Evangelize: help others to seek and learn and believe the right, holy things. You can do it clearly and compassionately…

Call Our Sunday Visitor-"The DaVinci Code"-for good info-www.osv.com

Father John J. Lombardi

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi