My granddaughter in junior high school, aged thirteen, was given The Da Vinci Code to read by her school, which she read, as did her brother, a freshman in high school. Though my impression of the book gained by superficial information was that it was not good reading, I read the book. The book is brilliant, a page-turner, though it is historically inaccurate, misleading, and harmful.
The book is based on the myth of the Holy Grail, a legend of the twelfth century, in which Joseph of Arimathea is said to have received the grail from an apparition of Jesus and then sent it to his followers in Great Britain. Later writers of the legend said Joseph used the grail to catch the blood of Jesus while he was being interred. The myth has been the subject of many books during the centuries, finding its way into music and poetry. The one unifying theme is that the grail is holy, and he who seeks it must be holy if he is to find it.
The author of the book dismisses traditional descriptions of the grail and states that the true Holy Grail was the womb of Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was a female follower of Jesus, and little is said of her in the scriptures, but our author says she was of royal blood. The church, according to our author, said she was a prostitute, defaming her. Our author says that Jesus and Mary were married and produced children whose descendants are alive today. There is no historical record for such a statement.
Jesus was the original feminist, according to the author, and he intended that the future of the church would be in the hands of Mary Magdalene. "She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ." Mankind found God in sexual ecstasy and this pathway to God was contrary to the teaching of the church. To counter this claim the Vatican was in league with the Priory to prevent the true meaning of the Holy Grail being known and was willing to murder those who would reveal the truth. The church worked hard to demonize sex and recast it as a disgusting and sinful act. The greatest story ever told was changed into the greatest story ever sold.
The thesis of the book is nonsense, only fiction, as the author said, but it is an illustration of the attempts to undermine a religious basis of our society.
The author is correct in saying the Christian church was established by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. Constantine was handsome, brave, energetic, and a superb statesman, but his empire was decaying and he was determined to save it. He was ruthless in the pursuit of his goals. He executed his son for insubordination, and his wife for reasons that are not clear. The Roman state used religion to maintain morality, but none believed in the old gods. Sex ran riot in freedom while political liberty decayed. Many religions tried to fill the need, but none were adequate. Constantine decided that the Christian religion was best suited for the empire's needs, if he could stop the leaders from arguing about silly details. He called a council and made the bishops and lesser clergy agree in what we call the Nicene Creed. If the empire were to be saved, it had to have a creed all agreed to accept. He had his way and became a half-sincere Christian, never forgetting that the salvation of the empire was of first importance. The Nicene Creed repeated in churches today modified the original creed of 325, but only in detail.
The establishment of the church by Constantine was both good and bad. It was bad in that Christianity was directed to individuals while the church of Constantine was a political establishment. It was good in that without political establishment the church we know would not exist. The old Empire continued for another 1150 years, but, more importantly, the established church founded by Constantine fathered the Middle Ages, beginning the modern world. The church became the leader in law, science, philosophy, education, charity, and all things of worth.
The Reformation began March 15, 1517, when Pope Leo X promoted indulgences. Money was needed to repair St. Peter's and indulgences were an excellent method of raising money. With the payment of money, spokesmen for the church assured the faithful that their sins were forgiven and they would emerge from purgatory sooner. An indulgence could be bought for the dead as well as for oneself and family. The papal bull of indulgences never granted the power assumed by the sellers of indulgences, but the Vatican took the money.
Martin Luther posted October 31, 1517, ninety-five theses to the main door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, denouncing the indulgences. His purpose was not to deny the authority of the church but to protest the extravagant claims being made in the name of the church. He also made a translation of the theses into German so that they would be understood by the people. At this time the Pope wanted to tax Germany to finance a new crusade against the Turks. The Diet refused the request saying it had been taxed enough. This refusal, plus the objection to the indulgences, loosened a pent-up anticlericalism that had been growing for generations.
We are saved, Luther said, not by indulgences but by faith. He taught that good works cannot save us from hell and only the redeeming sacrifice of Christ can guarantee us salvation in an after-life. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned." Luther's doctrine of salvation by faith was little different from salvation by indulgences, save that it was without money. Both relied on magic. He believed in predestination, as did Calvin. Because God is omnipotent and omniscient, the fate of man is decided whatever work man does. A strange belief from one who advocated autonomy in the understanding of the scriptures!
The Church of England (the father of the Episcopal Church) began November 3, 1539, by an act of parliament that wanted to reduce clerical wealth and power in England and was sympathetic to the desire of Henry VIII to have a male heir.
Henry's wife Catherine's four sons died, with Mary the only survivor, but she at the age of two was betrothed to the dauphin of France. If no son came to Henry, the King of France would also be the King of England. Henry needed the annulment of his marriage to Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Henry never received an annulment, though the Pope suggested the problem might be solved if he took two wives! The Pope was a captive of international politics and was unable to do anything for or against Henry.
In 1528 a "Supplication of the Beggars" asked the King to confiscate the wealth of the English Church. Extravagant claims were made that sat well with the English nobility: the best lordships, manors, and territories belonged to the church. They owned a tenth of the corn, meadow, pasture, grass, wool, colts, calves, lambs, pigs, geese, and chickens. In 1531 Henry insisted the clergy acknowledge him as "the protector and only supreme head of the Church and clergy of England"-that they should end their allegiance to the Pope. January 15, 1533, Henry married Anne, who was four months pregnant. November 11, 1534, parliament reaffirmed the king's sovereignty over church and state in England.
Henry remained a Catholic in doctrine and persecuted Protestants who disagreed, and he persecuted Catholics who denied his supremacy. This terror continued through the remainder of his reign, with Henry burning, hanging, or beheading those not obedient to him. He was still without a male heir. Anne was delivered of a dead child and he began to think of another wife and accused Anne of infidelity. She was executed. He married Jane Seymour who gave him, at last, a son who became Edward VI, but Jane died twelve days after his birth.
Henry was a cruel, wicked man, England's worst and strongest king, but he made England independent and gave it a freedom fit for its intelligence. Without Henry VIII, said Will Durant, Elizabeth and Shakespeare might never have been.
The problem for the church is to define the Christian faith. The New Testament description of Jesus is full of editorial comment by His followers, but the essential teaching is clear. Jesus revolted against the pretense of religion and preached simple goodness with such persuasion that the world in which He lived gathered to His support, and we have followed the example. The Christian religion as we know it is a flame; a light, but it lives in a human box that does not always reflect the genius of its origin. The church is a needed box, but always imperfect.
The Reformation was a blessing for the Catholic Church because it was released from international politics and could return to its proper function. Has it done so? I get the impression the Pope does his best to influence the church for what is right and proper. On the other hand the Catholic hierarchy in the United States at the moment is calling for amnesty for illegal aliens, which is not its function. Religion is to be directed to individuals, not politicians.
Protestantism is in a state of confusion. The Bible is no longer thought of as the clear, dogmatic word of God because it has been written by men. Authors were searching for God, but they were men. The creeds are not believed, though they are recited every Sunday. Most denominations are ruled by national committees of the denominations, which is the same kind of structure as the Catholic hierarchy. National committees own the property of all churches, plus other assets, so that the life of the local pastor is in the hand of executives. If he does not follow orders, he is in trouble. At the moment, church executives are excited about homosexuality, feminism, and social action, generally of a liberal thrust. Some denominations have churches that are independent; that is, they own their property and can deviate from the hierarchical point of view. These are, largely, Baptist, Quakers, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists. Congregational fellowships have been dismantled, and in the main, having been absorbed into the United Church of Christ, which now owns and controls every congregation.
The future of the Christian faith rests in the lives of local congregations who do their best to live good lives. They follow the inspiration of Jesus of Nazareth and are faithful to their congregations through all of its trials. They are the salt of the earth and of the Christian faith. Without dogmatism, they lead beautiful, practical lives. Church executives would do well to give their full attention to church members and forgo the temptations of power. I suggest church executives have limited terms of two to four years. I have known four bishops. Two were Christian gentleman and two were vain tyrants, one with a national reputation.
Perhaps true Christianity is best illustrated in the mega-churches of our time. They ignore everybody who does not help them do their best to be Christian, including church executives. They sit in seats usually used for theatres. They come in such numbers police are needed to direct traffic. I do not care for their rock music, but they are working at being good people.
We live in an age in which religion and decency are attacked in the name of freedom. All forms of the media are involved in this attack. The Da Vinci Code is a brilliant illustration. *
"Right actions for the future are the best apologies for wrong ones in the past." -Tyron Edwards
* The quotes following each article have been gathered by The Federalist Patriot at: http://FederalistPatriot.US/services.asp.