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The Da Vinci Code: A Critique

The Da Vinci Code: A Critique

Dan Brown's best-selling The Da Vinci Code, although a novel, has made some wonder if perhaps its outrageous claims about Catholicism's history might be true. Why? Because Brown states as "Fact" on page 1, a number of things. First he claims the Priory of Sion is a real organization. As we shall see, it existed, but it's a fake. At the bottom of that page comes another "Fact": "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." That is sufficiently vague to make the casual reader think the historical claims might be accurate, while at the same time allow Dan Brown to respond to critics, "I didn't say all the historical data were true!"

This all makes for very interesting reading for anyone who would love to think that the Church is founded on a hoax, so as to ease their conscience in the realm of morality. And, indeed, some have fallen for the Code, as if this fictional work, based on fictional works, might have some truth to it.

There have been many books and articles written debunking the Code, but the ones I've seen seem rather complex. So, here is an attempt at a super-concise, uncomplicated critique.

The Da Vinci Code is a novel which claims Jesus, just a man, not a God (until Constantine declared him so), was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child. The Church hid all these things to suppress the "sacred feminine" and goddess worship. A group of Gnostics kept this secret alive even to today by way of the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar (pp. 255-257).

Priory of Sion?

Getting back to Brown's "fact" about the Priory of Sion, which according to the book, kept alive all the above secrets since the first century, it indeed existed in 1099. However, it had no connection with the Knights Templar which Brown claimed (based on the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail) was empowered by their secret knowledge and passed it on through the centuries up to the present Priory of Sion. In fact, the priests of the Priory went off to Sicily when their church was destroyed in 1219, and were said to have become Jesuits in 1617. [1]

The contemporary Priory of Sion was a society established by Frenchman Pierre Plantard and friends in 1956 (as a tenants' association [2]) ended a year later, and then was revived as a phony society in 1962. Plantard claimed a connection to Templar secret documents, and was actually interviewed on BBC television as a Templar expert. Alas, Messr. Plantard, linked via the Priory to the death-amidst a financial scandal-of an alleged previous Priory Grand Master, Roger Patrice Pelat, was apprehended and had to admit under oath that the entire Priory thing was a fake. The BBC revealed this fact in 1996, as have others. Perhaps Dan Brown didn't get the word. [3]

As to Victor Hugo, Isaac Newton, and Leonardo da Vinci being members of this secret group, this is based on the phony Dossiers Secrets found in Paris' National Library in 1975, which Plantard claims to have planted there. Even one of Brown's sources, The Templar Revelation, concedes that the Dossiers are fake. [4]

In 1989 Plantard returned to the Priory after a five year hiatus, and rewrote its myths, repudiating the previous myths which Michael Baigent and co-authors had meanwhile presented in Holy Blood, Holy Grail .. [5] In fact, Plantard's son wrote in 1989 that there was no connection between the Priory of Sion and the "Order of The Temple" and that "all this succession of Grand-Masters" in Holy Blood, Holy Grail stemmed "from people's imaginations..." [6] (It seems we have here a case of the pot calling the kettle black!)

So much for the Priory of Sion "fact." If the Priory of Sion is fake, so are all its alleged "secrets," including Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene, their child, goddess worship, and the sacred feminine.

Perhaps those who have read this far already see the "emperor's new clothes" on Brown's Code . Nonethe­less, for those who want more, let's try to identify some additional historical errors in his book.

Divinity of Christ?

First, until the "close vote" at the Council of Nicea in 325, Jesus was not believed divine, according to Brown's Leigh Teabing, but only a "mortal prophet" (p. 233). Teabing suggests that Constantine, in an attempt to unify his empire, "financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels which spoke of Christ's human traits, and embellished those gospels which made him godlike. The old gospels were gathered up and burned" (p. 234).

Of course, Brown... er, Teabing has no explanation as to how all the Christians just went along with Constantine's divinizing Jesus. According to them, Christians followed this mortal man for almost three centuries, and then, all of a sudden, they worshiped him as divine. This would be comparable to the Pope announcing tomorrow that John the Baptist had been divine, and henceforth we should worship him as part of a quaternity. Far out, no?

In fact, Constantine did indeed want to unify his empire and did request the Council of Nicea to get the Christians to stop quarreling about the errors of Arius, who said Jesus was more than human but less than divine. However, the Church Fathers (i.e., the holy early leaders) had often spoken of the divinity of Christ. Ignatius of Antioch (died c 107) wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, "There is but one Physician, ...both made and not made; God existing in flesh." Further on he states, "...he [Jesus] will be within us as our God-as he actually is." And later, "...for our God, Jesus Christ, was according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary..." In another letter he refers to Jesus as "the Christ God." Justin Martyr (c 100-165) attests to Jesus being God, and Irenaeus (c 130-200 AD) speaks of Jesus as "the Mighty God coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men." Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215) wrote, "He [Jesus] alone is both God and man..." [7] It seems that these leaders beat Constantine to the punch.

As to the "close vote" at Nicea, it was, according to one of Brown's sources Holy Blood, Holy Grail (p. 473, which he apparently ignored), 218 for divinity, 2 against. [8]

Of course, there is a rather crucial question to be asked: if Jesus did not claim to be God: why did they kill him? And, why would thousands die as martyrs in the first century for a religion if the founder hadn't claimed to be God and hadn't accomp­lished his own resurrection from the dead?

Sacred Feminine?

Another point in the book is made by Robert Langdon: "The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predom­inantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean" (p. 238). He goes on to say, that the Church, "had ...forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine" (p. 239).

Close. The Church did indeed want to sup­press goddesses, since there are no such things in the Judeo-Christian tradition. There was just one God, and He spoke of Himself in a male role (but is not essentially male or female, as the Catholic Catechism teaches, para. 370). In fact, devotion to Mary was held back in the first century to avoid having people divinize her, as a carryover of the pagan goddesses. It was only in the second century that Marian devotion (a valid "sacred feminine," though not divine) began to develop. [9]

Gnostic Gospels?

And, of course, the original history of Christ was in the four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, not in the Gnostic gospels, as Teabing suggests (p. 245). Most scholars date the gnostic gospels from the mid-second century on. "Dr. Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina, in his book Lost Christianities... dates none of the Gnostic gospels before the ‘early 2nd century.' Many are dated in the third, fourth, and fifth century." [10] The Gnostic Gospels were rejected not only because of their Gnostic errors and hyper-feminism, but because they were too late to be considered. The four canonical gospels (written in the last half of the first century) were already widely used and accepted long before the Gnostic Gospels came along. [11]

If Brown got it wrong on the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, the Gnostic Gospels, and the Constantine rewrite, his whole argument falls apart. The secret sacred feminine is just a late Gnostic idea that never caught on, because it had no basis in truth. And, of course, the marriage of Jesus is as absurd as it sounds.

It seems that the Code is full of historical errors, even among its "facts." To be sure, Brown could argue, "I didn't say that everything in the book is historically factual." Indeed he did not. And, indeed, there are some historical facts in his book, but not nearly enough to make this fiction worth believing.


1. Carl E. Olsen and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax, henceforth DVH, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004, p. 233.

2. Alain Jourdain, "A Best-Seller Is Inspired by An Old Swindle Originating in Annemasse," from Tribune de Genève, 16 Sept., 2004, found at, p. 2; and Luc deBraine, "Best-seller ‘The Da Vinci Code' Is Based on A Deception," Les Temps (Swiss newspaper), 15 March 2004. Found at, p. 4.

3. DVH, pp. 234-239. See also, Paul Smith, "Priory of Sion Debunked," at, pp. 2, 3.

4. DVH, p. 228.

5. DVH, p. 238.

6. Thomas Plantard de Saint-Clair, Vaincre No. 3, September 1989, p. 22; as found in Paul Smith's article, "Michael Baigent," at, p. 2.

7. DVH, pp. 117-120.

8. DVH, p. 172.

9. Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, London: Sheed and Ward, 1987, pp. 33++.

10. DVH, p. 64.

11. DVH, p. 63.

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