WORD FROM THE PASTOR: All DaVinci, All the Time

      Our society is pretty much saturated in The DaVinci Code. It has been for awhile–for several years, it has seemed like every third person I pass on the street is reading the book. But things have reached a point of frenzy with Ron Howard’s film. Scarcely a day goes by when the newspaper doesn’t have something in it about the Code. And now there’s a Da Vinci videogame coming out, and even a Da Vinci diet. There must be two dozen Christian books responding to the Code on the market (some of them very fine, others almost as full of mistakes as the Code itself).

      At the risk of contributing to the saturation, I wanted to make a few comments about the film in this month’s messenger. (I also plan to deal with the Code in my Trinity Sunday sermon on June 10-11, if you want to invite interested friends for that Sunday). Christians can’t stay quiet about this book and movie because, if taken seriously, it does tend to undermine a lot of what we believe, teach and confess.

      I will say, however, that when it comes to attacking the Christian tradition, the film backs off quite a bit from the book. Certainly the film corrects a few of the historical absurdities in the novel. For instance, the book’s figure of five million women burned as witches has been revised downing the film to fifty thousand. (However, the impression remains that witch-burning was a uniquely Roman Catholic activity, when in reality Lutherans, Calvinists and Episcopalians also executed plenty of witches). When Leigh Teabing makes his ludicrous statements about the Council of Nicaea (that before Nicaea Jesus’ followers saw Him as simply a mortal prophet, not as God-become-man), Robert Langdon replies that plenty of Christians believed that Jesus was God long before Nicaea. (In the book, Langdon seems to agree with Teabing. By slightly reshaping the Langdon character, the film more or less removes the biggest question I had about the book: How did a guy like Robert Langdon–whose knowledge of religious history is so woefully defective–ever get tenure at Harvard?) Material has been added to the end of the film that gives a much more positive impression of prayer to Christ and worship of Christ. (One wonders how much of this improvement was suggested by Tom Hanks–he belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which officially condemned the book for its misrepresentations of Christian history).   On the other hand, however, the film has been altered to give a much more sinister picture of the contemporary church, especially in its Roman branch. A secret society of bishops called "the Council of Shadows" has been added to the story. They engineer murders to try to cover up Christ’s marriage to Mary Magdalene–indeed, they are committed to killing all living descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (In the book, no such Catholic conspiracy exists–both the church and Opus Dei are innocent pawns with no direct complicity in murder. Indeed, one of the most attractive aspects of the book is the way it refuses to take the cheap and easy route of making contemporary Catholic bishops the bad guys. Alas, the Director-Formerly-Known-As-Opie waltzes right down that cheap and easy route). Also, Leigh Teabing seems to do much more raving about the evils of the church and of traditional Christianity in the film than he did in the book.

      So, Hollywood giveth, and Hollywood taketh away. In many respects, the film is less objectionable than the book; but in the way it unfairly treats our Roman Catholic friends, it is more objectionable.

      The most important thing people should know about The DaVinci Code is that Christians have worshiped Jesus as God from the very beginning of Christianity. The idea that Constantine invented the doctrine of Christ-as-God in the early fourth century is absurd. (The book and film both unfairly slander Constantine. He was a deeply flawed person, but certainly was a sincere believer. The Greek Orthodox Church regards him as a saint; and, oddly enough, our church apparently does, too, since his name is included among the commemorations of noteworthy believers in the calendar of the new Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod hymnal!). 

      In fact, the one thing ancient Christianity was virtually unanimous on was that Jesus was not merely a mortal man.  Some saw him as a super-angel, some as a semi-divine being who was a little lower than God, some saw Him as an emanation from the Godhead–and the majority, of course, embraced the Scriptural view that He was God and man in the same person. But, except for a tiny group called the Ebionites, no one saw Him as mere man. The idea that the authors of "Gospel of Philip" or the "Gospel of Mary" wanted to present Jesus as a "mortal" is incredibly wrong-headed. Their brand of Christianity hated the flesh and physical reality–the last thing they wanted to do was present Jesus as a mere, physical man. Christ as a mere man is a concept more at home in 19th century Protestant liberalism than in second century Christianity.

      So when it comes to the divinity of Christ, The DaVinci Code makes claims that are absurd on purely historical grounds (much less theological grounds!)

      One thing that becomes clear in the film (much clearer, I think, than in the book) is that Leigh Teabing’s agenda is to discredit Christianity and minimize its influence in the world. Is this also the agenda of The DaVinci Code? I hope not–but I fear so! The good thing about the book, though, is that it starts conversations about Jesus. And we should always be eager and ready to confess that Jesus truly is the Son of God, God and man in one person, who came into the world to save us. And we also should be eager to proclaim that Jesus truly does have a family around today–that family is called the church.  And we are part of that family! We are part of the "royal bloodline" because we’ve been washed in the precious blood shed on the cross!

      God loves you and so do I!