I am not habitually speechless, but I find myself almost tongue-tied at the number of sane and intelligent people who take seriously the claims of the popular novel, The Da Vinci Code. Discounting the self-deluded who use it as an excuse to "lose" the faith they never truly had, the situation points up the deep ignorance of many nominal Catholics. This is not an indictment: It is a summons to knowledge.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a new website (www.Jesusdecoded.com) designed to help save people from the gossamer bliss that comes from the anesthetic quality of ignorance. The Da Vinci book creates a fantasy about Mary Magdalene, while claiming to base this on serious research. It develops a half-baked version of the heresy of Arius, who was more erudite, if less entrepreneurial, than the novel’s author. The book makes ridiculous and anachronistic speculations about the Emperor Constantine and the Christian creed. All this is exposed on the bishops’ website, and is treated at even greater length in various pamphlets and books by other writers who have made something of a cottage industry out of showing the delicacy of the novel’s familiarity with history.
We might expect that a generation the majority of whose college seniors cannot identify Lincoln or Churchill, might confuse St. John and St. Mary Magdalene. One can only hope that when a best-selling novel flaunts ignorance to a pyrotechnical degree, readers will realize how easily they are duped and how much they must learn. Lent is an appropriate time for such learning. G. K. Chesterton devoted a book to the mystery of Catholicism called The Thing. Anyone who allows his brain a little exercise from time to time will face the fact that the Catholic Church has been the most important "Thing" in the annals of civilization. But if it is only a "Thing," and not Christ among us, it will haunt to distraction. Catholicism haunts the minds of men as the Ethical Culture Society or Anti-Vivisection Society does not, and haunted men do not write books about albino Unitarian assassins. The whole world was haunted until it was inspired by the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth. Of course, we are free to remain ignorant, as Pontius Pilate preferred to do. It is only speculation, but he may have spent his retirement back in Italy reading some morbid novels.