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Gnosticism, Anti-Catholicism and the Da Vinci Code

Jeremias Wells

The Da Vinci Code did not break new ground, but continued in a long line of scurrilous books that attack Catholic belief. Like most symbolic literature, it was written on two levels. The writer had the ability to construct a tight, fast-paced narrative about a man and a woman fleeing from dangerous enemies. Interspersed with the story line was a running dissertation that exhibited the most sacrilegious, abysmal understanding of theology and a grotesque, erroneous view of history. But more important, the novel serves as an excellent compendium for the Gnostic, anti-Catholic belief-system that has been used in recent decades to undermine and replace a Christian civilization based on Church teaching.

While the couple falls into one improbable trap after another only to survive by an even more impossible escape, the various characters reveal the most preposterous hoax about Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene and the origin of the Gospels. On an earlier page the author, Dan Brown, cleverly lists a couple of facts, one of which is mere speculation, to give the impression that the impious fraud is based on solid research. In order to give credence to the absurd thesis of the book that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, Brown is forced to claim that the Church has been involved in a two thousand year effort to suppress the truth. Perhaps we should try to answer the question so cynically asked by Pilate, “What is truth?” lest we fall into the same error that the Roman governor did—ignore the Truth while it was standing in front of him. The highest form of truth is when the mind is in conformity with God. Obviously, the main Gnostics in the book ignore the principle of Truth.

A detailed analysis of the incredible plot line will add nothing to the main thrust of the story which is to locate the Holy Grail, not the chalice of the Last Supper but the body of Mary Magdalene and attendant documents, for, according to the author’s pernicious imagination, she carried the blood of Our Lord in her womb. Brown also involved secret and mysterious documents of fictional church history relating to Mary Magdalene that passed through the hands of the Knights Templar. The pretended deviation of the latter from their exalted vocation, reaches such ridiculous lengths as to be a caricature of the absurd.

All the prominent characters portrayed in the book, most of them adherents of New Age Gnosticism, are involved in the quest. One of the “loyal” Catholics, a particularly homicidal brute, is a member of the Opus Dei, which comes in for rather heavy bashing. The reader gets the unavoidable impression that all Catholics suffer from an enormity of defects with no rewarding virtues while the Gnostics exhibit brilliance, erudition and scholarship. The overriding theme of the novel is that there are two basic forces in the world and that after centuries of repression, the Gnostics are finally getting the upper hand. Gnosticism as an anti-Christian movement (not an alternative form of Christianity as some claim) opposed to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the God man, has existed throughout history except for the first few decades. But for the moment at least, let us look at the growth of the sect in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Modern Gnosticism
Modern Gnosticism manifests itself in many of the revolutionary currents that are degrading society today from the feminists and homosexuals to the pantheists, radical environmentalists and evolutionists. We must also keep in mind that evolutionism is not only an inherent doctrine of Gnosticism but also communism and the Modernist heresy condemned by Saint Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Charles Darwin laid the foundation for the New Age mysticism by concocting the highly popular but never-proven theory of evolution. This abominable theory which is nothing more than Gnostic ideas dressed up in scientific clothing denies the transcendent Creator and anticipates one of the central heresies of The Da Vinci Code by implying that the Bible is not a reliable record of Divine action.

Other influential thinkers of the nineteenth century who have adversely affected modern thought were Gnostics or introduced ideas that clearly had Gnostic elements. When Georg Hegel introduced evolutionary thought into the concept of linear history by claiming there was no such thing as being, just becoming (further developed as dialectics), he gave birth to several streams of ideas not the least of which was Karl Marx’s communism (adding materialism to Hegel’s dialectics). Another evil genius of the late nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, generated another stream of destructive ideas by claiming that most of our neuroses and mental disorders stemmed from suppressed sexuality.

An equally famous collaborator, Carl Jung, a self-professed Gnostic, changed direction by studying Hinduism and Buddhism and delved into the pantheistic concept that the earth has a spirit which gives it life much like the Catholic belief that the principle of life of the body is the human soul. The psychotherapeutic offspring of these mind-science pioneers have created a climate where restraint, self-denial, the family and the Catholic Church are seen as unhealthy carriers of mental disability.

Many streams split off, wander about causing immense damage only to rejoin the main line later. Secular humanism, which stresses that God does not exist, became the central philosophy of the American public school system through the work of John Dewey. It now has joined the New Age movement by forcing into the school curriculum its so-called values such as a reverence for Hinduism, mother earth, and the use of psychological or mind-altering techniques, yoga and transcendental meditation.

The “Secret Gospels”
One of the main characters of the novel who is given impeccable credentials by the author as a member of the British nobility and a royal court historian viciously attacks Catholic belief by cleverly utilizing an actual discovery. Modern Gnosticism gained a great advantage when fifty-two ancient texts were found buried in an earthenware jar near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. After translations proliferated, Gnostic believers quickly claimed that the mysterious writings were actually the true gospels that had been suppressed by overbearing and oppressive leaders of the early Church.

Often called the secret or hidden gospels, they are in fact neither. Only four have the name “gospel” attached to them and they in no way resemble the richness and historicity of their four counterparts in the New Testament. Many Church Fathers, of which Saint Irenaeus (A.D. 125–203) is the best example, wrote volumes refuting the writings of the Gnostics of the mid-second century who they quite correctly saw as subverting the beliefs established by Christ and the Apostles. The texts found at Nag Hammadi are either based on the earlier heresies or are Coptic translations of them. Since the oldest text did not appear until around AD 150, we are not talking about two systems that developed side by side as the Gnostics would have it. The organized, monolithic, hierarchical Church had predated these writings by several decades, perhaps even a hundred years. Therefore the so-called hidden gospels represent the effort of a group of dissidents and malcontents bent on subverting the traditional beliefs established by Divine Revelation.

However, it was not its intrinsic worth that made the find valuable but the way it could be exploited by numerous Gnostic-leaning “scholars” and a sympathetic, anti-Catholic media. The publication of the Nag Hammadi texts resulted in an enthusiastic acceptance of the ancient texts, especially one titled the Gospel of Mary. Elaine Pagels, a National Book Award winner from Princeton University, played a significant role in creating a favorable climate for New Age religion. In her quest to blend Christianity with Buddhism, she sees Christ not as the Lord of history, but as an amiable spiritual guide who is more congenial to modern concerns of female advancement and multiculturalism.

Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, assumed a human body while retaining His divine nature, came upon earth to teach us what we must believe and suffered excruciating pain to indicate His infinite love for us and open the gates of heaven. The Gnostics accept none of this. They believe that salvation comes from a secret knowledge or gnosis that one ultimately finds within himself which frees the divine spark in all of us. To them God, the Creator of heaven and earth is evil and the good god, the god of light, is off in the distance somewhere, having little to do with our earthly life. Since sin has been abolished (actually never existed) in their thinking, the only reason for Christ’s coming is to liberate the forces of light from their prison of matter.

The Da Vinci Code abounds in theological and historical errors so badly that each time it enters into either field you can assume some distortion will result and you will be correct most if not all the time. Two of the most egregious falsehoods will illustrate this point: the compilation of the canon of the New Testament and the divinity of Christ. According to the novel’s chief intellectual and court historian, the New Testament “was compiled and edited by men [in the fourth century] who possessed a political agenda…to solidify their own power base.” Not only is this a malicious fabrication but it shows no understanding of the nature of the early Church.

The Nature of the Catholic Church
Since one of the hallmarks of modern Gnosticism is rebelliousness against authority and disdain for institutionalized religion, we should see what they find offensive in the Catholic Church. The Church was founded by Jesus, the Word of God, and is called the Mystical Body of Christ. So we are talking about a divinely inspired, universal (Catholic) Church in space and time—not something fleeting and subjective. Christ as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is the intellectual image of the divine essence of God the Father. But two other realities proceed from this: the New Testament (including the canonical Gospels) is the Word of God and the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles is also the Word of God since He gave them their authority.

Throughout history the power of the Word preserved itself through the renewal of officials who preached the Word and guarded it against all corruption. As a result, Christianity and the Catholic Church are built on a solid foundation and because of its hierarchical nature the Church possesses unity and harmony which lead directly to God and from God through grace and the Sacraments.

The Growth of the Church
After the death of Our Lord, Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean through the preaching of the Apostles and disciples. Their success can be measured by the opposition which they aroused. At Philippi: “These men are making a great disturbance in our city” (Acts 16:20); at Thessalonica: “These fellows, who have turned the world upside down, have come here too” (Acts 17:6); at Ephesus: “Not only in Ephesus but almost throughout the whole of Asia, this Paul has, by his persuasion, induced a great number of people to secede” (Acts 19:26).

The personality of the early disciples and the truth of their message contributed much to the spread of Christianity especially when it also demanded a reorientation of life. The preaching of the Apostles and their miraculous signs certainly moved many hearts, but in the end it was the personal appeal of Christ as manifested in His life, death and resurrection whereby God had reconciled mankind to Himself. In any event, the Church existed and developed for approximately fifteen years before the first Gospel was written. The Gospels came from the Church and not the other way around.

The Authenticity of the New Testament Gospels
One area of attack against Christian tradition has been to sow confusion and doubt about the authorship of the four Gospels, but the perpetrators of these assaults only reveal their ignorance of the existing documentation. Numerous ante-Nicene (composed before 323) writers such as Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (140–202), Tertullian of Carthage (150–220) and Origen of Alexandria not only list the four evangelists but give supplementary information that adds to our understanding of the purpose and circumstances of their composition.

The Apostle Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and did all in his power to induce the Jews to accept Christianity. The followers of Saint Peter in Rome prevailed on his pupil, Mark, to leave them with a written account of Peter’s verbal teaching. Luke, a Greek-speaking gentile, wrote about the truth he had learned in his many journeys with Saint Paul. John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” wrote his Gospel in Ephesus to crush the errors of the growing Gnostic movement that denied the divinity of Christ.

The first two Gospels cannot be dated with precision, only to the closest decade. Matthew’s Hebrew text was written between AD 40–50 and the Greek translation followed approximately ten years later. All the evidence indicates Mark’s Gospel was composed during the period AD 53–63. Luke’s Gospel coincides with Paul’s first Roman imprisonment during the years 61–63. John’s Gospel has always been traditionally assigned to the year 100.

The diffusion and integrity of the Gospels can be proven by comparing the quotations from the New Testament of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria (150–215). Irenaeus quotes the New Testament 1,819 times, Clement 2,406 times, and Tertullian an incredible total of 7,259 times. A comparison of these texts with each other and the New Testament as it exists today shows that the readings are essentially the same. Since over 4,000 very old manuscripts or fragments exist we can say that there is more manuscript evidence of the Gospels than for any of the ancient Latin or Greek classics and much closer to the original autograph copies.

The Divinity of Christ
Our investigation into the integrity, historicity and authorship of the Gospels show that they are authentic, reliable documents and we will use them to refute what is probably the most monstrous fabrication in Brown’s novel. His court historian makes the most outrageous statement that “until THAT moment in history [323], Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, But a MAN nevertheless. A mortal.” (Emphasis in the original.) In his cleverness, the author introduces Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea (both badly distorted) to lend historical weight to his statement, but our principal concern is the denial of the divinity of Christ.

Incredibly, few read the Scriptures properly for Saint John puts that myth to rest in the very first line of his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word (In principio erat Verbum), and the Word was with God (Et Verbum erat apud Deum) and the word was God (Et Deus erat Verbum). And so John emphatically declares that the Word, Jesus Christ, possessed eternal preexistence, was distinct from the Father and that He was divine, therefore consubstantial with the Father.

Saint John makes numerous references to the intense discussions that Our Lord had with the Scribes and the Pharisees in the Temple at Jerusalem. In chapter 10, John relates that Jesus explained to the Jews (v. 30), “I and the Father are one.” They certainly understood Him for they “took up stones to stone Him.” (v. 31) A few moments later (v. 38) Christ said, “the Father is in me and I in the Father,” which aroused the same fury. Of the many references, one more should suffice. During the trial before the Sanhedrin on the morning of the Crucifixion, the High Priest demanded by his legitimate authority, “Art thou the Christ the son of God?” And He answered, “Thou hast said it!” Thereupon, the Sanhedrin passed the death sentence. Christ willingly died for the truth of His divinity.

One historical observation, however, remains quite true: that there are two basic forces in the world, good and evil, truth and falseness. From the Sermon on the Mount to the Last Supper, Our Lord himself emphasized the eternal, irreconcilable conflict between the spirit of the world and the spirit of God which would result in a fierce persecution of His Holy Church. Indeed the Church suffered several centuries of persecution, heresies and two waves of barbarian invasions. During the Middle Ages, mankind reached the apex of Christian Civilization when all human relations, all human institutions and even secular governments were permeated by the doctrines of Christ. Then civilization went into a reverse mode marked by a religious revolution, then a political revolution, and finally economic and social revolutions. In this reverse process Christianity appears to be reaching the worst stages of the ancient persecutions. The Da Vinci Code mirrors the mentality behind that persecution.

 

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