The following article was produced by Light for the Last Days and is reproduced with their permission. Further materials are available from Light for the Last Days, BM 4226, London, WC1N 3XX. Tel 020 8445 1451.
Shaking the foundations of Christianity?
The Da Vinci Code is an action packed thriller novel by Dan Brown which has become a best seller shortly to be made into a film. It is also a powerful attack on the foundations of Christianity. Of the book’s nearly 600 pages only a few have spiritual significance. I will ignore the story which is a compelling and exciting one (although very far fetched) involving murder in the Louvre, a police chase from Paris to London, secret societies, cracking codes and narrow escapes from death for the hero, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor, and heroine, Sophie Neveu, a French code breaker.
The ‘behind the scenes’ antagonists in the book are the Priory of Sion, where it is claimed the secret of the ‘Sangreal’ (Holy Grail) has been hidden, and Opus Dei, a Catholic sect prepared to kill in order to discover and destroy this secret. In the introduction Brown claims that what he says about both groups is factual and that all descriptions of ‘artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in the novel are accurate’.
Claims of The Da Vinci Code
The Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 by the French king Godefroi de Bouillon. He was possessor of a powerful secret that had been in his family since the time of Christ and founded the Priory to preserve this secret, which was contained in documents hidden beneath the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. These documents had been retrieved by the Knights Templars during the Crusader time.
The Templars became rich through the banking system they set up, but in 1307 Pope Clement issued sealed orders that they were heretics guilty of devil worship and claimed that God had told him to eliminate them. They were purged on orders from the Vatican but the documents were saved and entrusted to the Priory of Sion which is a secret society preserving the information from generation to generation. Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and Victor Hugo were prominent members. (As a point of information Sir Isaac Newton was a Bible believing Christian who published articles on prophecy and the return of the Jewish people to Israel with a similar view to our own!) The documents reveal information about the Holy Grail, which is not (as is popularly believed) the cup that Jesus drank from at Last Supper in which Joseph of Arimathea caught his blood at the crucifixion.
The expression used for the Holy Grail is Sangreal, which in old French can be divided as san / greal (holy grail) or sang / real (royal blood). The real meaning of the Holy Grail is that it is the royal blood line of Jesus and Mary Magdalene who were married and had a child who was the ancestress of the French Merovingian kings. It turns out that Sophie Neveu is of this blood line at the end of the novel.
Council of Nicea
This has been suppressed from the time of the Council of Nicea in AD 325 when, under the influence of Roman Emperor Constantine, the New Testament was fixed with its present four Gospels which were selected from numerous other documents containing details of Jesus’ life. The other writings contain information about the alternative Jesus who was just a great man, married to Mary Magdalene. They were destroyed on the orders of the church.
The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus was not part of original Christianity and was narrowly voted in only at the Council of Nicea. Jesus had entrusted the future of the church to Mary Magdalene which upset the male disciples of Jesus. The New Testament now accepted by the church is not the genuine account of the life of Jesus or of the early church therefore Christianity as we know it today is built on a lie.
This is a male dominated conspiracy to obliterate ‘the sacred feminine’ and goddess worship from religion. Within the concept of ‘the sacred feminine’ is the idea that women should be priests and that the sexual act should be considered a pathway to commune with God. Sophie’s grandfather, Jacques Saunière, (whose murder sets the ball rolling in the novel) turns out to have been a high priest of the ‘sacred feminine’ and Sophie had been alienated from him because she found him engaged in a group sex act known as Hieros Gamos.
The church suppressed this teaching and as a result became male dominant, resulting in wars and ‘life out of balance’, with women-hating societies showing disrespect for Mother Earth. The Holy Grail itself is an ancient symbol for womanhood celebrating the power of the feminine. The church through the story of Eve committing the original sin puts the blame on woman, but the Grail elevates woman, in particular Mary Magdalene who ‘carried with her a secret so powerful that if revealed it threatened to devastate the very foundation of Christianity’ (page 322).
Response to the Da Vinci Code
The claim that the book is historically accurate does not stand up to examination. The original Priory of Sion was a regular Catholic priory of monks which existed from around 1100 to 1617. The Priory of Sion relevant to this issue was invented by a Frenchman called Pierre Plantard in the early 1960s. Plantard was an occultist who admired Hitler and thought the world should be ruled by a ‘government of spiritual elite’. He fabricated documents about the Priory of Sion which was supposed to have preserved records of the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (of which he was one of the descendants). He then placed them in credible places including French museums with forged certificates of authentication. Plantard died after being involved in a financial scandal in 1993. Documents were found in his apartment certifying him to be the true King of France. Not the most credible of information sources!
In the novel Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, is the source of much of the supposedly accurate historical information and an unsuspecting person could easily be fooled into thinking that this eminently reasonable man is speaking the truth. The other source of information is Sir Leigh Teabing who turns out to be a villain, but nevertheless the information he presents on the Holy Grail is done in an authoritative way which appears to be historical and accurate.
In fact Langdon and Teabing give numerous pieces of false information. For example Teabing claims that at the Council of Nicea the Emperor Constantine led the bishops to declare Jesus as Son of God by a vote – ‘a relatively close vote at that’ (page 315). This was a new idea because ‘Until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless, a mortal.’
In fact the Council of Nicea did not invent the divinity of Jesus. This was the claim of Jesus Himself (‘I and My Father are one’ John 10.30), not only taught by the Apostles in the New Testament but also affirmed by a huge number of writings of early Christians which predate the Council of Nicea (AD 325) by up to two hundred years. It is true that the Council of Nicea fixed the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus in its creed. This was in response to the heretical teachings of Arius who taught a similar doctrine to today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, that Jesus is not of ‘the same substance as the Father’ (i.e. that he is a kind of lesser god who takes second place to the Father). When it came to voting on this issue was it a ‘relatively close vote’? Not quite. Only two out of more than 300 bishops failed to sign the creed!
In order to create the wrong idea of Jesus the book claims that the ‘Bible as we know it today was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great … 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.’ (page 313). Again this took place at the Council of Nicea, according to the book.
In fact the issue of which documents should be included in the New Testament was not even debated at the Council of Nicea. It was at the Third Council of Carthage in AD 397 that the New Testament was fixed in its present form. In making this choice the Council was not imposing something new and alien onto the church, it was merely codifying what was already the established practice of Christian communities.
There is internal evidence within the New Testament itself that the Apostles recognised which texts were considered ‘scripture’. In 1 Timothy 5.18 Paul refers to Luke’s Gospel as ‘scripture’ (graphe) quoting both Deuteronomy 25.4 and Luke 10.7 as such. In 2 Peter 3.15-17 Peter recognises that Paul’s writings were authoritative and then refers to ‘the rest of the scriptures’ and warns his readers to beware of those who twist their meanings. This implies that he considered Paul’s writings to be scripture as well as other documents which are not named.
The writings of early Christians show a clear acceptance of the four Gospels as the genuine account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons around AD 180, wrote, ‘For as there are four quarters of the world in which we live and four universal winds, and as the Church is dispersed over all the earth, and the gospel is the pillar and the base of the Church and the breath of life, so it is natural that it should have four pillars, breathing immortality from every quarter and kindling the life of men anew. Whence it is manifest that the Word … has given us the gospel in fourfold form, but held together by one Spirit.’ (Against Heresies III). He goes on to affirm the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the authentic accounts.
Quotations from the New Testament in early Christian writings are so extensive that it could virtually be reconstructed from these writings without the use of New Testament manuscripts. There are no less than 36,289 quotations from the New Testament in the works of the early Christian writers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius. The New Testament is the world’s best documented work of ancient history, with over 24,000 manuscripts, the oldest of which is part of the Gospel of John, conservatively dated at 125AD. The world’s second best documented ancient book is Homer’s Iliad of which we have 643 manuscripts. (Information from ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict‘ by Josh McDowell).
So what about the ‘over 80 gospels’ allegedly considered for inclusion in the New Testament? It is true that there are many other writings than the New Testament about Jesus and the Apostles, many of which exist in fragment form only. Some of these writings were little more than fiction using the characters of the New Testament but writing something imaginary like the Da Vinci Code itself. Many of them were written to justify some new teaching which often deviated from the New Testament teaching of the Apostles. Some of these teachings have become mainstream in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
For example in order to make Mary into the Eternal Virgin of Roman Catholicism one has to do something about the fact that the New Testament teaches that Jesus had brothers and sisters, who would have been born in the normal way to Joseph and Mary after the Virgin Birth of Jesus. So a story is invented in the ‘Protoevangelium of James’ of Mary being placed by her parents in the Temple from the age of 3 to be brought up by the priests and then being given to Joseph upon her miraculous pregnancy as a wife. Joseph was an old widower who already had children. By this device Mary is able to be the perpetual virgin and Jesus is able to have brothers and sisters. Needless to say there is no biblical basis for this at all.
Other writings were created in order to justify views considered heretical by New Testament teaching. For example docetism teaches that Jesus was not really human at all but only seemed to be a man. So we read in the ‘Acts of John’ 93: ‘Sometimes when I went to touch him (Jesus), I met a material and solid body; and at other times when I felt him, the substance was immaterial and bodiless and as if it were not existing at all.’ It is not surprising that such documents were rejected by believing Christians as they conflict with New Testament teaching that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.
The most common heretical view was Gnosticism, a heresy which plagued second and third century Christianity and taught that the Creator God was distinct from the supreme Divine Being. It taught that there was a special knowledge ‘gnosis’ through which people could discover that Being. In many ways this is parallel to modern New Age ideas with its concept of a spiritual experience enlightening you to discover the ‘god within’ and its teaching that God is in everything.
The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has Jesus say: ‘He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am and I shall be as he.’ ‘The kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realise that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ ‘It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.’
All of these quotations would fit Jesus into the New Age philosophy which is so popular today. They conflict with Bible teaching which tells us that God is separate from His creation and that inside of us is a sinful human nature which we need to be set free from by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. He cleanses us from sin and dwells within us by the power of His Holy Spirit when we put our trust in Him.
There was no great conspiracy organised by the Emperor Constantine to reject the other gospels from those considered to be scripture. Early Christians rejected them for the same reasons Christians today reject the Book of Mormon or the writings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology and any other cult group – because they conflict with revealed Word of God.
In ‘The Da Vinci Code’ Teabing quotes from the ‘Gospel of Mary Magdalene’ as one of his sources for the claim that Jesus was married to Mary, saying that this and the Gospel of Philip are ‘unaltered gospels’ (page 334). This might sound a powerful claim, but in fact it is a total fraud. This Gnostic gospel dates from the middle of the second century and is known only from three fragmentary manuscripts.
Although the New Testament does not refer to the Gnostic gospels (for the simple reason that it was written before them) it does refer in the later epistles to the kind of teaching that they would embody. Paul wrote of those who preached ‘another Jesus’ as a result of which people received ‘a different spirit’ and followed ‘a different gospel’ (2 Corinthians 11.4). See also 1 John 2.18 and 2 Peter 2.1. The Da Vinci Code is the product of teachings about ‘another Jesus’ who is not the real one. There is nothing new about this and no doubt it will contribute to the spread of false ideas about who Jesus is in our time. Jesus prophesied that in the end times there will be other ‘false prophets’ and ‘false messiahs’ (Matthew 24.24).
The concept of the ‘sacred feminine’ in the book ties in with the kind of ideas now popular in our post Christian world. In the novel Sophie has been alienated from her grandfather because she saw him take part in a sex ritual called Hieros Ganos. He was committing a sexual act with a woman while surrounded by a circle of masked men and women dressed in black and white. When she tells Langdon what happened he explains to her that she had ‘unwittingly witnessed a two thousand year old sacred ceremony … Since the days of Isis sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven. By communing with woman, man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God.’ (Page 409-10) Langdon goes on to say that the use of sex to commune with God ‘left the Church out of the loop’ and so ‘they worked hard to demonise sex and recast it as a disgusting and sinful act. Other major religions did the same.’ (411)
Langdon then recounts a lesson he taught at Harvard where he spoke about this and a student asked, ‘Are you saying that instead of going to Chapel we should have more sex?’ The question is ironic but Langdon’s reply points us straight to the philosophy which underpins the novel and leads to the view that sex is somehow a bridge to God: ‘The next time you find yourself with a woman look into your heart and see if you cannot approach sex as a mystical, spiritual act. Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine’ (412-3).
In an age when sex dominates everything it is not really surprising that someone would come up with the idea that sex is a channel to God. This mixture of New Age mysticism seeking the ‘spark of divinity’ and sexual promiscuity is bound to be attractive to the world today but it is another cruel deception leading to guilt, bondage and despair. In fact sexual promiscuity creates a barrier between human beings and God who is holy. But the book does more than just promote free sex. It promotes something even more dangerous – by mingling sexuality with spirituality it opens the way into the kind of cult prostitution which took place in pagan temples in the days of the Bible. This was the focus of the Hebrew prophets’ denunciations and something the disciples of Jesus sought to liberate people from through the Gospel. Corinth, where Paul had his most fruitful ministry, was notorious for its cult prostitution in its temples.
Far from leading to the knowledge of God this led to degradation, abuse of women to fulfil men’s lust, unwanted children, some of whom were offered as child sacrifices to pagan gods. It was a revolting religion against which the Gospel really was a liberating force bringing dignity to men and women. The clear teaching of the Bible is that the sexual act is a gift of God only to be performed in private between one man and woman committed to each other in marriage. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6.18 ‘Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.’ We can thank God that there is a way out of this degradation – through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus who was without sin and died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world once and for all.
Finally the book pits two forces against each other – male dominated Roman Catholicism, seen as an oppressive force, versus ‘the sacred feminine’, which is really recycled Gnosticism. Neither of these actually represents the real Christianity of the New Testament, which turned the ancient world upside down with the Gospel message, setting people free from the slavery of sin to live new lives enjoying God’s forgiveness through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. For further information on this and related subjects send for past articles from Light for the Last Days on the Gnostic Gospels and the Real Jesus.