"Everyone loves a conspiracy," says the librarian in "The Da Vinci Code." She is right, and in the novel we have conspiracy and counter-conspiracy, woven through the history of Europe for 2,000 years. At the heart of the story is the Roman Catholic Church: misogynist, oppressive, and dishonest to the core. The plot of "The Da Vinci Code" turns on one great secret, forever suppressed by the Church: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. But the Church, according to the book’s characters, has been hiding more than just a fact. For the celibate men wielding power in the Church have always feared and hated the whole principle that Mary Magdalene represents: the Sacred Feminine.
Let’s start with the historical claims made in The Da Vinci Code. Are some or all of them true? We begin to think they might be. All the churches deny them, of course, not just the Roman Catholic Church. That’s hardly surprising. The claims are chiefly about the world’s churches, their power and the lies their power is based on. For centuries the celibate men in charge of the churches belittled women and warned against the sexual pleasure that women can enjoy and share with men. Why should we believe church leaders now--most of them men, many of them celibates--when they decry Dan Brown?
How strange it is, say church leaders, that so many readers cannot tell fact from fiction: the facts told in the Bible, from the fiction told by Dan Brown. But we all know that the churches themselves cannot agree what in the Bible itself is fact and what is fiction. Why should we respect the churches’ views about Dan Brown when those churches cannot agree about their own Bible?
We can see why they are having trouble. The theory on which "The Da Vinci Code" is based was set out at length in the 1980s book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," co-authored by three writers. One of them, Henry Lincoln, was challenged about his book’s claims. They were surely incredible? Lincoln replied: "Is it more plausible that a man should be married and have children, or that he should be born of a virgin, attended by choirs of angels, walk on water and rise from the grave?"
It is a perfectly sensible question. Why should we believe the bizarre stories about Jesus? It is, for a good many of us, not enough to be told we must believe what is in the Bible by churches whose power and wealth depend on our believing that the Bible is true.
Faced with the success of "The Da Vinci Code," Cardinal Bertone of Genoa in Italy has joined the fray. The book, he says, "aims to discredit the Church and its history through gross and absurd manipulations. You can find that book everywhere and the risk is that many people who read it believe that those fairy tales are real. I think I have the responsibility to clear things up: to unmask the cheap lies contained in books like that."
Of course, if we choose to take the Cardinal’s word for it, the issue is closed. But "The Da Vinci Code," if it aims to discredit anything, aims to discredit cardinals. The Cardinal may be right in everything he says, but his interests are obviously served in saying it. He is using his position to urge Catholic bookshops not to sell the book and Catholic readers not to read it. This sounds like the Catholic Church trying to suppress a book that is so popular because it tells us how ruthlessly the Catholic Church suppresses books.
How much of what we read in the novel is true, how much is plausible, how much is fanciful? We will start by telling the story of Christendom as told to Sophie by Teabing and Robert. We will then move backwards through history from the 20th century to the first, picking out some of the moments and movements that matter most for the plot of "The Da Vinci Code"--and for anyone with an interest in the history that has made our world what it is today.