The Da Vinci Cloak

"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith…
—Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, Dec. 25, 2005

An Opus Dei priest once explained the Devil thinks this business about God’s love being the Church’s sole goal is just a clever PR campaign cloaking its real desire for power.

Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code," has further developed the Devil’s theory in his intricately woven tale slanderously alleging a Vatican engaged, not in spreading this "good news," but, in a conspiracy to cover up historical truth. The film version, though panned a "stodgy, grim thing" by Variety film critic Todd McCarthy, will spread this slander further.

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As an antidote to this poison, Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel have carefully deconstructed Brown’s untrue claims in their book "The Da Vinci Hoax."

Olson spoke on Tuesday at the Archdiocesan Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., run by Opus Dei, explaining how Brown "uses falsehood" to make further false claims. His interest in the book all started, he related, four months after its April 2003 publication, when he received a call from a friend upset over Brown’s "assertions about Christianity and the person of Christ." So he began to pour over the reader reviews and was "struck" that people focused not on "the characters, the writing, the plot" but precisely on the historical assertions, writing at length "about how much they had learned about Church history, about Jesus Christ, about Mary Magdalene…"

He found these reviews particularly alarming given the lack of historical grounding within the evangelical community of his youth. "Essentially" he grew up to believe "Church history went like so — Jesus, the Apostles, Billy Graham." He said he filled "this 2000 year gap in my knowledge" in Bible College while studying under some "pro-Catholic" professors and reading Catholic authors Gerard Manley Hopkins and Flannery O’Connor and later G.K. Chesterton, Walker Percy, and Russell Kirk. "At some point,” he said he realized "there was… a rich (Catholic) heritage… I had never explored, never known about."

Fast forward to "The Da Vinci Code" and after reading the book, itself, red pen in hand, "saying no, no, no" — based also on his knowledge of fine art — he grew increasingly concerned that, given widespread ignorance of Christ and Church history, people would give credence to Brown’s claims. So he enlisted co-author Miesel in a quest to give readers "a fuller context historically and theologically for the various assertions about Jesus, the early Church, the Gnostic writings, Gnosticism and so forth" by illuminating the origins of these ideas, how history dealt with them and "why they shouldn’t be taken seriously."

The main false assertions: Jesus — mere mortal — was married to Mary Magdalene, goddess, whom the Church discredited; they had a daughter, and royal and clerical descendents, signifying that Magdalene — not the Last Supper chalice — is the true "Holy Grail;" the Church, working through "secret societies," has hidden these facts through the centuries, lest women gain a power base in the Church. Furthermore, Christian faith was stolen from pagan religions; the Gnostic gospels describe the real, human Jesus; and Roman Emperor Constantine, who edited the thereby fraudulent gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and declared Christ divine, thus quashing paganism, in order to solidify his own power base.

The story/plot, with further false assertions: Proof of Mary Magdalene’s marriage to Jesus is contained in Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, where she is seated to Christ’s right. Da Vinci, grandmaster of the Priory of Sion, tasked with keeping their marriage secret, interlaced his paintings with codes concerning this secret.

The whole conspiracy unravels over roughly 24 hours, after the elderly Louvre Museum curator is found murdered inside, bloody code on his body, and Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon (i.e., Tom Hanks) is consulted. Stunned to find that it leads to a stream of Da Vinci clues, he joins French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu and discovers the curator also belonged to the Priory of Sion. Soon implicated in the murder, they flee the police, commencing a battle of wits with Opus Dei monk Silas, who is intent on stealing the Priory’s secret, with the duo equally intent on deciphering the puzzle before it is lost forever — a quest leading to England where wealthy Holy Grail expert, Sir Leigh Teabing, uses the Gnostic gospels to demystify the unfolding story.

"My basic concern," said Olson "is that people" will take this book/movie as "some sort of authentic historical guide… seeing the claims as being very true and telling the real story about Christianity and Catholicism." But, he readily rebuts each false claim. For starters, "there’s no evidence," he says, for the foundational claim that Jesus and Mary were married — "No serious biblical scholar thinks that Jesus was married."

There is evidence, however, of Brown’s bias fueling his claims: Much of his theories derive, courtesy his wife’s frequently flawed research, relying heavily on works by Margaret Starbird — former Catholic, now radical feminist — who detests Christianity, mercilessly attacking it in her writings.

Sounds like the makings of a novel uncloaking the true story of "The Da Vinci Code" — the underlying dagger being spiritual unrest. Call it "The Da Vinci Cloak."