The main thesis around which this popular novel is constructed is that what history knows as "the Holy Grail" is
really a collection of documents and objects that prove a powerful secret. The secret is that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife
and bore him at least one child, and that this bloodline has had a long history in Europe and still exists. In many ways
the book is a novelization of material explored in depth in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a study of this Grail tradition written
in 1982 by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.
As a novel, The DaVinci Code is very good. I found it hard to put down. There are fascinating switchbacks and surprises
in the plot, which rollicks along as a wonderful murder mystery.
That being said, I am more concerned to comment on the basic thesis I noted above, the way history is used to support
these remarkable conclusions, and the consequences of believing this hypothesis. This book and others attempt to present
an alternative history of the early Church. Presumably, this is because the standard view of the beginnings of Christianity
is considered defective, deficient, and somehow obsolete.
Thus the current widening debate over the beginnings of Christianity and the editing of the New Testament has profound
implications concerning what it means to be a Christian. Questions like, "Who was Jesus, really?", "Where
did the Bible come from?" and "How was the Church founded?" matter both to those who follow Christianity and
those who seek to discredit it.
Invariably we approach such questions with preconceived agendas. We look into the matter trying, consciously or not,
to find something. This prior bias governs which texts we read as well as how we read them. It gives us a reason to lift
up and give special emphasis to those texts supporting our hypothesis, and to dismiss as a product of someone’s
later editing anything that detracts from it.
Using this kind of research, it is possible to "prove" that Jesus was just about anything. We could begin with
the hypothesis that Jesus was, say, a homosexual, a woman, a space alien, a Capitalist entrepreneur, a guerrilla fighter,
a tenured professor, or a Cynic philosopher, and then show how the texts allow for or even supposedly prove this possibility.
By approaching the texts with this kind of filter, it becomes possible to remove all unacceptable elements, and only see those
pieces supporting the original argument.
This is the approach used in Holy Blood, Holy Grail (especially pages 284-356, where we find the authors' review of ancient
texts and history) and adopted by Brown in The DaVinci Code. It was also used by the Templars and their successors in the
Priory of Zion, which is why it works so well in these recent books. Beginning with a legend about Mary Magdalene’s
flight to southern France, a story is concocted about her bearing Jesus' offspring. Her descendants are said to have ruled
kingdoms in Western Europe. Proof of this was brutally repressed by the Church who had deliberately edited and corrupted
the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the apostles. But the truth was supposedly unearthed in Jerusalem during the Crusades,
and kept as a rarefied secret from the wrath of the Church by a succession of smart and famous people. The "evidence"
is never made public, which preserves the whole business from the kind of scrutiny to which they are so willing to subject
the New Testament and the early Church.
In an effort to destabilize the beginnings of Christianity, some may be seeking to destroy, or at least transform, Christianity
itself. I don't doubt that often Christianity needs to change; we Reformed Christians have as a motto: Semper Reformanda,
which means we see that the Church is "always being reformed." The question is how.
The Holy Grail myth and its long history may have to do with a desire to reform Christianity to include pre-Christian
goddess religion, or some consciousness of the "divine feminine." Certainly the Church can learn from suppressed
elements of its own history, as writers like Margaret Barker have shown. But my hunch about this resurgent Holy Grail material
is less romantic. This mythology was more likely developed to suit powerful commercial interests who stood to benefit from
the Crusades and from a diminishment of the Church’s power, like the Templars and their sponsors.
This may be seen as but one dimension of the broader momentum of Modernity, which is to impress the Church into service
of its own secularizing regime. Spirituality is thus reduced to an opiate aiding individuals in coping with and becoming
more productive within a global consumer economy. These Holy Grail revelations seem to tend in the direction of a sex cult,
as in The DaVinci Code and another book called The Templar Revelations. What religion could be more fitting for the age of
True reform in the Church is its perennial effort to remain faithful to its Sovereign, the Word and Spirit of God. Over
time the Church as an institution has certainly wavered and been seduced away from faithfulness into various errors and atrocities.
Most of these resulted from an overly intimate relationship with worldly power and wealth, ie. Imperialism. Yet God has
always raised up souls to reform and restore the Church, from the Hebrew prophets to our own day.
Faithful reformers do not approach the text objectively or without bias. (This is in any case impossible.) They come
to the tradition with a definite prejudice in favor of God’s saving love for the world, revealed in Jesus Christ
by the power of the Holy Spirit. Real reform in the Church restores and strengthens this good news. Everything else is a
narcissistic and self-indulgent distraction.