Print Edition: March 8, 2015
Sign-up for our E-letter!
To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
BY ANNAMARIE ADKINSRegister Correspondent
MALAGA, Spain — Some Catholics may be bracing for a new
onslaught of confusion about Christ, his teachings and his Church when The Da Vinci Code
movie opens May 19.
But few may be aware of a challenge on another front: a
growing genre of books that takes Church history and gives it a fictional twist
under the auspices of entertainment and enlightenment.
The crop of books set to be released this year — some
reportedly researched and concocted even before Dan Brown’s bestseller hit
bookstores — are written by American, Spanish and British authors; all are
being translated into dozens of languages and are set for large first runs with
high profile publishers.
Most focus on the supposed deep, dark secrets of the
Church, such as crusades against rival sects, the lost treasure of the Knights Templar, and what really happened at the Last Supper.
The Register interviewed three authors of these religious
thrillers to find out whether their books may further malign the Church.
Javier Sierra, an author from Malaga, Spain, promises to
“reveal the unknown secrets” behind Leonardo Da
Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper” in his novel The Secret Supper.
“Of course, my book is a fictional work, but based upon
real documents, bibliographical sources and characters of 15th-century Italy,”
Sierra told the Register. “My idea is to offer a possible explanation to the
anomalies included by Leonardo in his painting. And if I use a novel, and not a
historical essay, it is because Leonardo did not explain ‘The Last Supper’ in
any of his notes.”
Those “anomalies,” according to Sierra, include the fact
that neither Jesus nor his apostles have halos, that Jesus is not consecrating
the Eucharist, that there is no meat on the table (there should be a Passover
lamb), and that there is no chalice. They correspond with the beliefs of the Cathars, members of a heretical religious sect that lived
in southern France and northern Italy in the Middle Ages and were dualists —
believing that a good god of spirit was continually at war with an evil god of
Sierra surmises that Da Vinci
incorporated Cathar elements into the painting
because “it was a challenge to paint a Cathar scene
in the very heart of a Dominican priory and the Milanese headquarters of the
Inquisition,” he said.
But Bruce Boucher, the Art Institute of Chicago’s director
of European Decorative Arts, Sculpture and Ancient Art, said that Sierra’s
claims were highly unlikely.
“I don’t think that the Dominicans — who were considered
models of orthodoxy — would allow Leonardo to introduce schismatic beliefs into
‘The Last Supper,’ commissioned for their refectory. Patrons had their own
ideas of what should be in a painting,” Boucher said.
“There was a Florentine tradition of painting scenes of the
Last Supper for convents and priories that stressed the sharing of a meal
between Christ and his disciples — it was an imitation of Christ and his
disciples when the Dominicans came together for meals.”
Author Kate Mosse splits her time
between homes in West Sussex, England, and Carcassonne,
France, and has set her novel Labyrinth
in Languedoc in southwest France during two different
time periods: the early 13th century and present day.
The plot revolves around three parchments bound into books,
said to contain an ancient secret dating from 2,000 years before the Christian
era in ancient Egypt; the books are lost during the Albigensian
Crusade against the Cathars and rediscovered some 800
“In Labyrinth, I
was not writing about the Church or deliberately seeking a religious theme,
more that it was the place and the history of the region that inspired what is
an adventure thriller,” Mosse said.
“The history of the Catholic crusade against the Cathars is well documented and not under dispute. At the
heart of Labyrinth is a respect for
faith and what it means, although there is certainly a criticism of intolerance
and the inability of any organized religion to allow others to follow their own
morality and faith.”
However, medieval historian Thomas Madden, chairman of the
history department at Saint Louis University, cautions against misconceptions
about the history of the Church and the Cathars.
“Catharism flourished because the
secular lords either ignored the heresy or actively promoted it,” Madden said.
“In the 13th century, Pope Innocent III called a crusade against those lords.
“It is simply untrue that this crusade was a ‘genocide’ or
that it was even a way to destroy the cult. Instead, it was a means to replace
those lords who refused to see to the spiritual health of their people,” he
Madden stressed that after the crusade there were still
plenty of Cathars.
“The heresy vanished, though, under the subsequent efforts
of the Inquisition. The vast majority of Cathars,
instructed by the inquisitors, were restored to the Catholic faith.”
The Templar Legacy
The search for the lost Templar
treasure in a little town in Southern France is the plot for Steve Berry’s The Templar Legacy.
The author and lawyer from Camden County, Ga., was sure to include a writer’s
note at the end of his book to help his readers distinguish between fact and
fiction. He wrote that he created the Gospel of Simon for his book and used an
alternate concept of how Christ may have been resurrected that is found in Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s
Search for the Origins of Christianity by John Shelby Spong,
retired Episcopalian Bishop of Newark, N.J.
Berry went on to say in the note: “The conflicts between
the four books of the New Testament relative to the resurrection have
challenged scholars for centuries. The fact that only one crucified skeleton
has ever been found does raise questions, as do many comments and statements
made throughout history.
“One in particular, attributed to Pope Leo X (1513-1521)
caught my attention. … His statement is short, simple, and strange for the head
of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, it was the spark that generated this
novel. ‘It has served us well, this myth of Christ.’”
Father John Paul Echert,
Scripture scholar and pastor of Holy Trinity and St. Augustine parishes in
South St. Paul, Minn., clarified some of Berry’s contentions.
“The statement falsely attributed to Pope Leo X, ‘It has
served us well, this myth of Christ,’ was alleged long ago by an apostate
English Carmelite, John Bale, in his 16th-century satire, The Pageant of the Popes,” Father Echert
said. “There is no basis for this attribution and rarely, if ever, is any
context for the statement provided. Never has any legitimate papal text been
cited to substantiate this allegation.”
Father Echert also addressed
Berry’s comments about the resurrection in the Gospels:
“With regards to seeming conflicts between details of the
various Gospels, including the resurrection accounts, the faithful Christian
must affirm that the Bible is the Word of God, and therefore free from all
error, for God cannot deceive or be the author of error.”
The Jerusalem Bible, in a note to Matthew 28:10, says that
“these very divergencies of tradition are far better
witnesses than any artificial or contrived uniformity to the antiquity of the
evidence and the historical quality of all these manifestations of the risen
When asked about causing confusion for readers, Berry said,
“I would certainly hope readers understand that The Templar Legacy is a work of fiction,
concocted out of my imagination. A story. Meant to entertain you. Nothing more.
“But if at the same time the story stimulates the mind,
causes the reader to question, then great,” Berry said. “That’s what Dan Brown
did so well. He made people think — and is that so wrong?”
Christians can do their own research about the groups or
eras that novels and non-fiction books spotlight — and help to catechize others
with their deeper knowledge of Church history.
“Rather than only worrying about The Da Vinci Code knock-offs, worry about
non-fiction books, too — you’ll find many full of poor information,” said
Sandra Miesel of Indianapolis, journalist and
co-author with Carl Olson of The Da Vinci Hoax. Miesel
suggests reading up on the Knights Templar in Peter
Partner’s The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and Their Myth.
Madden recommends getting a dependable history of Catharism, The Cathars by Malcolm Barber.
When encountering a relative, friend or coworker who has
been misled about the Church by historico-religious
thrillers, De-Coding Da
Vinci author Amy Welborn, from Fort Wayne, Ind.,
encourages Christians to see it as an opportunity to share knowledge and faith.
“It is not a time to judge or be fearful,” she said. “If
someone is really into this, don’t run away or avoid conversation; invite the
person into discussion and suggest reading other books.”
Olson, of Eugene, Ore., said he sees it as a spiritual
battle over souls.
“Throwing out knowledge isn’t the only solution. We need
factual responses but we also need true Christian responses to these souls who
are troubled by the Church and are struggling with questions.”
Annamarie Adkins is based in
St. Paul, Minnesota.
Copyright © 2015 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material from this website without written permission is strictly prohibited.
Accessed from 220.127.116.11