Theologian Prefers Father Brown to Dan Brown

Alan Schreck loves a good mystery.

When he’s not giving theology lectures at Franciscan University of Steubenville or writing books, he likes to crack open mystery novels.

But he didn’t enjoy reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown — and he believes the forthcoming movie version will show “how strange the story actually is.”

He shared his thoughts on the controversial book with Register correspondent Annamarie Adkins.

What was it like for you to read the Da Vinci Code as a theologian?

I suppose it was like a U.S. military expert reading a Tom Clancy novel or a scientific crime scene investigator watching “CSI” or reading a crime novel.

You judge whether a novel is good by how credible it is. From a theological and historical standpoint, The Da Vinci Code isn’t very credible. In fact, it’s really “un-believable.”

I understand that you like to read mystery novels. From that perspective, what did
you think of The Da Vinci Code?

The Da Vinci Code certainly is fast moving, has plenty of intrigue and has a fairly intricate plot. But it also is a book clearly making a statement about Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church under the pretext of fiction, and that tainted it for me. I think the upcoming movie version will actually reveal how strange the story actually is.

Personally, I prefer Sherlock Holmes, Chesterton’s Father Brown, and more traditional mystery stories and action novels that are more believable in their premises and less pretentious.

By caricaturing the representatives of the Catholic Church and glamorizing the “smart” skeptics like Teabing, Dan Brown promotes an ideology that is unjustly derisive of traditional Christianity and ridicules the Catholic Church.

Yet it is fueling interest in the Gnostic “Gospel of Judas.” The Da Vinci Code is rife with Gnostic references. Why do you think modern audiences are so interested in Gnosticism?

The concept of a “secret” or hidden knowledge about the divine — Gnosticism — has always been enticing. St. Paul warned his disciple, Timothy, that the time is coming when people will have “itching ears” and “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4).

Besides this perennial appeal of supposed secret knowledge, today many people seem to believe that the truth is often suppressed or covered up by the “establishment” to keep themselves in power. Dan Brown’s book plays on this idea that the truth about Jesus has been suppressed or covered up by the religious establishment, in this case by the greatest and most ancient Christian establishment, the Catholic Church.

However, the intention of the early Christian Church was not to “cover up” the truth, but precisely to uncover the truth about Jesus. On the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, I address how the early councils of the Church examined and judged these conflicting teachings about Jesus that were being circulated in the first centuries after Christ.

It’s easy to forget that literally dozens of so-called “Gnostic gospels” have been discovered, each of which has some bizarre teaching that is totally out of line with the Gospels and writings accepted by Christians. One of Dan Brown’s characters quotes the Gnostic “Gospel of Philip” to substantiate his story about Jesus’ spousal relationship with Mary Magdalene.

St. Paul also addressed this when he warned Christians that if anyone comes proclaiming another Gospel — don’t listen! “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

I wonder if these folks who take the Gnostic gospels seriously ever ask the question: “Why wasn’t there a church of the disciples of Mary Magdalene or a church of the disciples of Judas, the true apostle?” Who could really believe that Jesus’ mission depended on a secret plot he hatched with Judas or on children he fathered from Mary Magdalene? If hardly anyone believed the teaching of these Gospels when they were written, why should we believe them now?

The “Judas Gospel” is just a piece of parchment lost in the sands of Egypt that never amounted to anything and was forgotten. At best, it is an historical curiosity. Yet, whenever someone finds a “new” gospel or implies that the Gospels of the New Testament don’t tell us the full truth about Jesus, like Dan Brown does, you will have some people, even scholars, ready to claim that at last we have the “real story” about Jesus.

To what resources would you refer someone to learn the truth about Christ and his Church?

Of course, I would suggest the reading of the Bible, beginning with the Gospels — first the Gospel of John — and eventually the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

However, many people need to begin with a relatively simple, clearly written explanation of the Catholic faith and the history of the Catholic Church. This is why I have written my books Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs, The Essential Catholic Catechism, and The Compact History of the Catholic Church, all from St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Regarding The Da Vinci Code itself, I would recommend the website and the book Da Vinci Deception by Mark Shea and Ted Sri from Ascension Press.

If you could sit down with Dan Brown, what would you say to him?

First, I think I’d try to get to know him and to understand his perspectives. I would ask him whether he really believed in the religious concepts in his book. Would he stake his life on the truth of it? If he said “Yes,” I’d ask him why he trusts the Gnostic “Gospel of Philip” over the testimony of the four Gospels. I’d ask him how he dreamed up his interpretations of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Mona Lisa.

I’d ask him whether he really had a problem with Opus Dei and the Catholic Church, and if so, from whence did those negative conceptions come? Then, I hope I’d be able to tell him a bit about my own spiritual journey and why I am a believing Catholic Christian.

Annamarie Adkins writes from

St. Paul, Minnesota.