[Note: this essay was originally published ten years ago, when the movie “The Da Vinci Code” was released.]
This week we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the event that took place 50 days after the Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and infused them with the power and courage they needed to spread the Good News in a hostile environment.
It has been about two weeks since the new Tom Hanks movie, “The Da Vinci Code,” was released, and this is a good time to discuss both the movie and the Holy Spirit, as one is being hyped to the max right now while the other has all but been forgotten. (If you’re not sure, the Holy Spirit is NOT the one receiving tons of media hype these days.)
The movie, based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, makes some rather outlandish claims about the history of Christianity, including: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a daughter; in the year 325 A.D. the emperor Constantine declared Jesus to be divine, an idea that had not occurred to anyone prior to the 4th century; Constantine rejected dozens of other gospels and rewrote the four that are in the Bible; and the Catholic Church has for centuries suppressed the truth about Jesus, using lies, deception, and murder.
In my mind, the most disturbing aspect of “The Da Vinci Code” is not that Brown wrote a story that is sacrilegious and blasphemous toward Christianity. Archbishop Angelo Amato, a top Vatican official, noted that if “such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust, they would have justly provoked a world uprising.”
But as anyone following the news in recent years knows, it is perfectly acceptable in our culture to trash traditional Christian beliefs—and especially Catholic beliefs—with impunity. Brown states in the book, “everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false,” and then spends the rest of his novel trying to convince readers it is true. Ho hum, another Christian basher. It’s getting rather routine.
And in my mind, the most disturbing aspect of “The Da Vinci Code” is not that Brown portrays fiction as if it is historical fact. Brown coyly tries to have it both ways, asserting at times that his book is a novel, while at other times claiming that he is presenting the truth. For example, when the book was first published in 2003, Brown told National Public Radio that his characters are fictional but “the ancient history, the secret documents, the rituals, all of this is factual.” That same year he told CNN that “the background is all true.”
There is a wealth of historical evidence that demonstrates beyond a doubt that Brown’s version of history is simply ludicrous. Even secular historians are in agreement that the early Christians, from the 1st century onward, believed that Jesus was divine. Ho hum, another modern relativist who thinks “truth” can be whatever someone feels it is. This too is rather routine these days.
No, in my mind, the most disturbing aspect of “The Da Vinci Code” is the fact that so many faithful Christians have no clue about the history of the early Church, and as a result are accepting Brown’s fantasy as plausible. Most Christians are quite ignorant about the early centuries of Christian history, and dare I say, virtually ALL Catholics—my own people—are completely in the dark about the fascinating story of the growth and development of the early Church.
It’s almost as if some people—people who identify themselves as Christians—really WANT the “Da Vinci” story to be true. Author James Hitchcock points out, “Millions of people read The Da Vinci Code not because they necessarily believe its absurd story, but because it creates a myth that serves certain emotional needs and allows them to be ‘religious’ without submitting to the demands of faith.”
Hitchcock explains that the story “is not merely another ‘liberal’ revision. It is nothing less than the claim that Christianity has been a deliberate fraud almost from its beginning, that the true story of Jesus was suppressed, and that only now are we finally learning what it was all about.”
The philosophical worldview of “The Da Vinci Code” is a mixture of New Age spirituality, neo-gnosticism, and radical feminist goddess worship. It tells us to look for God not above and beyond us, but rather inside of us. Instead of God coming down to meet mortal humanity—most obviously at the Incarnation, when the Second Person of the divine Trinity took on human flesh—the “Da Vinci” view claims that people already have the “divine spark” within. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “We don’t need no stinkin’ Savior, we can save ourselves.”
Combined with our culture’s intense distrust of all authority—especially Church authority—and our culture’s rampant narcissism, “The Da Vinci Code” is the perfect vehicle for this new wave of feelings-based spirituality.
What does all this pop culture stuff have to do with Pentecost and the Holy Spirit? Ah, I thought you’d never ask. Let’s review what Jesus told us about the Holy Spirit. In John’s gospel Jesus said, “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.” A little later Jesus also said, “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”
From the very beginning the Church has firmly believed that the Holy Spirit—who Jesus called “the Spirit of truth”—has been guiding the faithful, keeping the Church from embracing erroneous doctrines. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of the New Testament documents to write the truth about God; it was the Holy Spirit who guided the Church to choose which documents belonged in the Bible; it was, and is, the Holy Spirit who makes sure the Church teaches the truth about the life of Christ and God’s plan of salvation for the world.
As mentioned last week in our discussion of the so-called “Gospel of Judas,” the National Geographic Society (NGS) firmly believes that historical events are ultimately the result of human politics, power, and public relations. The sensationalistic TV special produced by the NGS claims that the people with the most power and influence, the early Catholic leaders, forcibly suppressed another version of the story of Jesus, a version that makes Judas the good guy.
“The Da Vinci Code” has the same view, claiming that the organization with the most power and influence, the Catholic Church, has suppressed the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and the true Gospel of the “sacred feminine.”
In both cases the religious beliefs that have emerged down through the centuries are based solely on human efforts. The group with the most power—the Catholic Church—ended up “winning” the PR battle. God was not a factor.
But in the views of both the “Gospel of Judas” and “The Da Vinci Code,” God is a silent, powerless wimp. Sinister men were able to squash God’s true message.
Well, I don’t know about you, but the God I worship is not a powerless wimp. And He is not silent. He didn’t go to all the trouble of creating mankind in the first place and employing a wonderful plan of salvation after mankind rebelled, to then just sit back idly as His plan was being suppressed. The God I worship is not that impotent.
The only “version” of history that makes any sense at all is that God employed His wonderful plan of salvation, and then insured that the plan would be known to all the world by sending the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” to “guide [us] to all truth.”
The other “versions” of history may give people a warm fuzzy feeling, and make them think that they possess secret, special knowledge—not to mention allowing them to focus on themselves rather than the much more difficult requirement of denying themselves. However, the Good News of Jesus Christ, preached beginning on the Day of Pentecost in the year 33 A.D. and continuing unchanged to this very day, is the true Truth. And it is the only “version” of the story, guided and preserved by the Holy Spirit, that can get us into Heaven.