Da Vinci Code Truth Home The Holy Grail? The Bizarre Under world of Modern Grail Seekers
The Bizarre Under world of Modern Grail Seekers
Not very long ago, at a party for some friends in New York City, a very successful, upwardly mobile investor, a Harvard graduate, knowing that I was a theologian, asked me how the church could have gotten away with the oppression of women for so many centuries. And also how could the institutional church of the first few centuries possibly have been so successful in suppressing the truth about Jesus' marriage, and about the arbitrary way the New Testament letters were collected. He was serious! I asked myself how such an educated man could have accepted, unexamined, the outrageous theories set forth in a best-selling suspense novel regarding the origins of Christianity. The answer, at one level, is simple. We are in the age of credulity. Remember the prediction spoken by Ivan, one of the four sons in The Brothers Karamazov, to wit, "If there is no immortality then everything is permitted"? Well, we're here!
How did we arrive at this point? What are the main components of today's gullibility? Two come to mind, different sides of the same coin. The first is a widespread disillusionment with the certainties of the Enlightenment. We don't want everything to fall under the judgment of pure reason. We want music, we want to feel free. So much in our contemporary culture helps nurture such skepticism. Have you noticed how often the news media insert words like, may be, possibly, the alleged, and the like? So many certainties are now up for grabs. Taboos of yesterday are today's permissions. To add insulting timing to the injury of anti-clerical skepticism, the recent revelations about the Roman Catholic Church and its wayward priests has lent credence to theories of institutional conspiracy to hide the truth. The faddish label for our disillusionment, postmodernism, stands, roughly, for proclamations about the death of meta-narratives, the end of grand theories about life and the cosmos, whether it be Marxism, Darwinism, or indeed, Christianity.
In this atmosphere it's much more fun to think of Westminster Abbey as the place for a most excellent adventure in discovering clues for the "Rosy flesh and seeded womb," rather than the meeting place for traditional worship, the crafting of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the tombs of Britain's heroes of the past. And it is impish delight to think Jesus was ascribed divinity by a vote, as the book claims, and that the New Testament was organized by the Emperor Constantine, rather than to accept what comes across as the austere tradition of the church. Traditional truth seems so cold compared to romantic escapade.
There is a second, related reason for our widespread credulity. We need to have meaning and identity. That is part of who we are. Human beings cannot live at peace without making sense of things. However, being skeptics, we have to have it on our own terms. We need to find answers that work for us. So we are more drawn to the exotic, to vague spirituality which can allow us to "believe without belonging," to be soothed by the unusual, as long as it is somehow manageable. Renaissance art, a controllable Jesus, a Holy Grail which may not be the cup used in the last supper, but still contains the blood of Jesus, representing the "chalice" of a Mary's womb. So... we can be enlightened feminists, without the Enlightenment, we can save women from oppression without doing the hard work of social legislation for their benefit. We can even love France without loving the French! How? Through Jesus, not the Son of God who will come again to judge the world, but an inspired human being who married and produced a race of French Kings. When you want something badly enough it becomes believable.
A little over a third of the way into Dan Brown's fast-paced novel, The Da Vinci Code, Sophie and Langdon are hot on the trail of the most explosive secret in Western history. "Is it possible," Sophie asked, drawing Langdon back, "that the key you're holding unlocks the hiding place of the Holy Grail?" The key is in the artwork of Leonardo Da Vinci found in Florence's Uffizi Gallery. "In the bizarre underworld of modern Grail seekers," the narrator tells us, "Leonardo Da Vinci remained the quest's greatest enigma. His artwork seemed bursting to tell a secret, and yet whatever it was remained hidden, perhaps beneath a layer of paint..."
Notice the generous dose of doubt combined with the familiar places of European museums and chapels. Just like our newscasters, we wonder, is it possible? Is there not something there, something we deeply long for, something far away, yet accessible to the enlightened mind? Why do we hope in the an alternative reading of the cherished symbols of our own Western art tradition? The answer has something to do with longing. We are nostalgic for something, something better. Was it is the past? Or is it in the future. "God has also set eternity in the hearts of men," Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us. Then it adds, "yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." We somehow know that there is more to the story than the bits and pieces we observe in our short lifespan. "Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover the meaning of all that God has done." (8:17)
Not for want to trying. Some of our efforts are impulsive, risky. Against the bleakness of globalization and the gray hue of market totalitarianism, we (rightly) suspect the answer lies in religion, in something warm and vibrant, something we could not have fully made up. We even correctly judge that it is in something powerful, subversive, salvific. However, we wrongly look in secret societies, such as the Priory of Sion, supposedly founded in 1099, with documents discovered in the 19th century revealing the true meaning of the Holy Grail. We are so desperate in our search we become intrigued with the Gospel of Nicodemus, the long-haired beloved disciple, the parallels between Christianity and pagan cults.
The true answer may be a meta-narrative, a grand theory, but it has a face. It is, indeed, warm and vibrant, powerful and subversive. At the same time, this true answer is open to investigation. It is centered in Jesus, not the enlightened moral teacher of liberal thought, but the God-Man, the Second Person of the Trinity, come into the world to seek and to save his lost people. The apostles proclaimed it, and did everything in the open. (Acts 26:26) It is not the Jesus of the holy Grail that is lost, it is we, who stray, and hide from God. It is not we who must find him in some desperate search for the Grail, but him who, in his relentless quest of love, finds us in order to dignify us all, both men and women, if we would but lift the empty hands of faith to receive his free gift.
Dan Brown's story is great fun. Who does not enjoy a page-turner, especially when the mystery is both exotic and comfortable? It's quite natural. The Bible's story is far better, far more surprising. There is mystery, but because of God's love, the mystery is revealed and made accessible to us. (Ephesians 3:9) There is suspense: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways." And there is dénouement : "But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things." Who is this Son? "Through him he made the universe, the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." There is tragedy, and there is triumph: "After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." And best of all, because of all he went through, he is now able to save those of us who trust him, and who admit they have no power in themselves to go through the trials of life and to face death: "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is also able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:18)
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