The da Vinici Code: In Search of the Divine Feminine
By Charles Rush
September 28, 2003
do not usually preach on murder
mystery novels but so many people asked me to read the da Vinci Code because they wanted to know what was fact from fiction. It is a great airplane read, short
chapters, lots of action, and sinister conspiracy.
The plot takes place mainly in Paris and London in many Churches that you have visited, as well as the
Louvre, so well traveled tourists feel like insiders
In the book, some overzealous Catholics from Opus Dei are on a frantic
search for the same relics as the secret members of the Knights of Templar.
These relics could prove or disprove a secret that the Knights of Templar have
kept for several centuries and the Catholic Church desperately wants to
What is the secret? The secret is that Jesus was not in fact celibate or
ascetical. Rather, he was actually married to Mary Magdalene. And she was not
actually a reformed prostitute as depicted by tradition. All
that was embellished by the Catholic Church in order to ruin her reputation and
divert attention away from the truth.
But wait, there’s more. She not only married Jesus, they had children.
And these children married into the Merovingian dynasty of French royalty and
have been leaders here and there, albeit secretly, throughout European history.
Aha. At last we have a plausible explanation for the French messianic
You may ask why exactly why the Catholic church
is threatened by all this? The answer is that they have a deeply vested
interested in an all male clergy that is celibate and that would be upset by
such a revelation.
It turns out that this is just the latest chapter in a very long dispute
between the Vatican and the Knights of Templar and the Freemasons that
stretches back several centuries. In the wider tussle, the
Vatican has consistently held up an overly masculine god to
support their overly masculine faith for the all male priesthood. Meanwhile, the
Knights of Templar and the Freemasons have been keeping alive the roots of an
ancient tradition that celebrates the divine feminine and finds an inclusive
place for women and a more holistic sensual ethic as well.
Where does Leonardo da Vinci fit in all of
this? The leaders of the Knights of Templar are a tightly held secret. It turns
out da Vinci, so goes the novel, was the head of the
Knights of Templar for a short while. Furthermore, Leonardo actually left behind
hints of the divine femine in his work that quietly
undermined the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church that he worked for.
Unquestionably, one of the most intriguing claims is that this is to be found in
Leonardo’s famous rendition of the “Last Supper”.
I read the book on the way to Italy this summer and was curious enough that I actually went
to the monastery in Milan to see the famous painting. Since I see that we have
the Church treasurer and lawyer here today, I am wondering if I can deduct the
cost of the trip as sermon research.
The Last Supper is much bigger than I thought it was. It is in the
refectory of the monastery and covers the whole wall over one end of a room the
size of the sanctuary. Leonardo experimented with tempra’s and the Last Supper was one of his bombs. The
painting was already degrading less than a century after it was completed. So
even with the restoration it is not easy to see.
In the novel, it is claimed that [slide 1] you can see in the painting
tell tale signs of da Vinci’s critique. You have the 12
disciples. Here I’ve included their names. The disciple seated to the right of
Jesus is not actually given a name but is referred to as the beloved disciple.
In the gospel of John, the beloved disciple is John. Tradition holds that he
actually took care of Jesus’ mother after Jesus death and
But in the painting, is this really John. Or… could it actually be Mary
Magdalene, the real beloved disciple that tradition seeks to gloss over? I must
admit that it is a very feminine looking disciple is it not? You have to admit,
just looking at the painting, that it is very suggestive.
The novel actually suggests that da Vinci was
intentionally sending a message in this painting. You notice that there is no
chalice in the picture. The novel suggests that the reason there is no chalice
is that Mary Magdalene is actually the chalice, the fabled Holy Grail. That the
Holy Grail is actually simply a symbol to express the fact that Mary Magdalene
holds the blood of Jesus that she bore him through their relationship and that
this relationship has been suppressed by the Catholic Church, lo these many
centuries. And the reason that da Vinci did this and
knew about all this is because he was actually the head of the Knights of
Templar who were vested with the mission to keep the secret and keep secret the
names of the children who were born to them.
Naturally, a number of you e-mailed me from the beach and said ‘Is this
true?’ It appeals to our deep desire for espionage. Despite been hard nosed New
York realists, almost all of us secretly want to believe that the beneath the
world of appearances, there is another level of mysterious intrigue that must be
decoded, deciphered, that something is at stake of life and death significance,
and that in order to save civilization we must run through dark alleys with
girls we’ve just met. Okay that last fantasy is my own… but you get the
And sometimes, it is true. Alas, with Leonardo, almost nothing is
actually known about him, despite the incredible growth of his fame through the
centuries. There is no evidence that he was ever the head of the Knights of
Templar. As to the painting itself, it is not surprising that the chalice is
missing the text for the painting comes from the Gospel of John and there is no
Eucharistic overtones in that text. That comes from
Paul. Finally, we
come to the beloved disciple, who is very
The novel suggests that lots of art historians have observed this and
debated about. That is not true. Rather, this suggestion appears to have been
the clever invention of the author of the novel. And it is clever because the
beloved disciple is rather feminine.
However, I should point out a couple things. First, it was a common
practice to depict the beloved disciple as a youth. Second, it was also common
practice to depict young men in a rather feminine way. When you think about
it, that is still true today. Just remember the last
couple Calvin Klein ad’s or look at the photos in today’s NYT
I show just one picture here from Leonardo’s own work, the depiction of
John the Baptist, who is also depicted as very young and who is has a hint of
femininity about him as well. More broadly, I could show dozens and dozens of
other examples of this same phenomena in Italian
churches from the Renaissance. Why this is the case, I’m not as sure. The point
here would merely be that we don’t need an esoteric explanation for a feminized
youthful John. It was an established stylistic interpretation in
But could the Catholic church have been
suppressing the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Yes, but no. As
my friend, John Matheney, says, who works at the Pentagon. Do not conjure up conspiracy before you rule out
the most enduring reason things get bungled on a massive scale, human
That was his answer in short to why we couldn’t find Osama bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction, or Saddam
Hussein. And something similar is likely here. What about Mary Magdalene and
It appears that the Freemasons indeed believe that Mary and Jesus had a
relationship. The novel also point to the Gnostic gospel of Mary Magdalene which
says that Jesus loved Mary more than the other disciples. That is a real text
from a Gnostic gospel that we have discovered. There is actually another Gnostic
gospel, the Gospel of Phillip, that reports that Jesus kissed Mary on the ….
Blank. There is actually a tear in the text at this point. It could be
deterioration. It could be some pious monk that read it and didn’t like it and
poked it out. Who knows?
These Gnostic gospels were written between 200 and 350 a.d., which is to say, fairly late. They were written about
100-150 years after the books of the bible. They point out that there was
already a tradition about a special relationship between Jesus and Mary
Magdalene at that time.
Most of my friends that are New Testament scholars will simply say that
and only that. It was a tradition, one among many. There are many different
gospels about Jesus that didn’t make it into the bible for various reasons. That
may come as a surprise to some of you because we Ministers don’t spend much time
explaining how the bible was formed, partly because no one is completely sure.
But there were many different gospels and they contain not only different
interpretations of Jesus, sometimes they are down right
As one friend of mine says, it points out that with Jesus, it wasn’t like we went straight from Jesus to the
bible to the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed in a straight arc like the
Catholic church has led ordinary people to believe. Jesus was more like a hand
grenade that sent many different traditions raidiating
out in different vectors all at once.
A very few of them became the direction that Orthodoxy would develop
through and the others just atrophied over time. If the Catholic Church has a
reigning sin, it is intricately wrapped up in its reigning virtue. They were,
indeed responsible for establishing our core doctrines and establishing which
books of the bible were normative and which were not. But their desire to be the
one genuine authority, to speak with the magisterial imprimatur for the
Almighty, has led them to act as though these other traditions do not exist.
Indeed, as you know, at several points in history, we have not only persecuted
dissenters, we have tortured and exterminated them, in
our zeal to be right. I say we because these were our forefathers too, even as
Let’s take this a step further. What if Jesus was married? Would the
Church need to suppress that fact? If Jesus was a sensual being, would that
undermine our Christology?
I posed that question to three New Testament
scholars in the past couple weeks, all Protestants I might add, two of the three
being Princeton people. They all agreed that if that were the case, we
would have a different figure to follow. And they all agreed that if that were
the case, the Roman Catholic church would have serious
issues rethinking the substance and shape of their piety. But they all agreed
that, No, we wouldn’t necessarily have anything to worry about. They all agreed
that for historical reasons alone, Jesus probably was actually a single man who
was standing in an ascetical prophetic tradition. That explains more and has
less problems than trying to explain him as a married
person, let alone someone who was only secretly married.
But the novel does point in the direction of what would be a problem if
Jesus were to be married. The part of the Church that is trying to suppress this
information is a overzealous group from Opus Dei, a
renewal movement in the Catholic Church that wants the Church to return to the
piety of previous centuries and sees modernity as an outright
That movement, in the Church, is for real, even if the monk in the novel
is a caricature. But the people who would be threatened are the people that have
developed asceticism as the primary route to spirituality.
The suggestion in the novel is that what the Church lost over the
centuries is any substantive divine feminine and that I think is largely right.
And it has been a loss of tragic proportions, not only for our attitudes towards
women but also for our attitudes towards sensuality as a spiritual expression,
and our view of God as well.
And it could be a mysterious intrigue, but it can also be explained by
the very pedestrian avenues of power and convention.
By convention, I simply mean that the early church, in this case, just
absorbed the attitudes of the culture around them and over time baptized those
prejudices with the patina of religious orthodoxy. I read Edith Hamilton’s
volume The Roman Way this summer. In
the introduction, she says that Rome can be set apart from all other ancient cultures in its
attitudes towards women. In particular, she says that when Roman fathers taught
their daughters that women and women alone were solely responsible for chastity
and that chastity was the main virtue in a relationship, they managed to sell
women a bill of goods in scope and breadth such as had never been achieved. That
ethic, she points out, would not have played in
Greece at all. The only surprising thing about the observation
was the fact that she underscored just how many of our Western assumptions about
women find their source in Rome. Women got all the responsibility, none of the power,
all the guilt, and precious little fulfillment. The rest of her wonderful book
shows how these attitudes affected Roman theatre and how that theater is still
part of our culture to this day, the public and the private, the Senate chambers
and the bedroom.
The scripture that we read earlier this morning, written about 200 years
after Jesus by a pious Roman is a perfect illustration of just how Romans
thought about women, they should be covered, quiet and in their place. By the
way, scholars now point out that this scripture is a negative proof that early
Christianity was quite liberating for women. They wouldn’t have written about
the need to keep women silent and covered if they weren’t already talking out
and standing on an equal footing with men. But as Christianity settled in
comfortably in Rome, over decades and centuries, Church leaders, who were
increasingly men, just adopted the pious social mores of
Rome as common sense and baptized them as
And this got a fresh burst of impetus around the year 350 a.d. when Christianity became the official religion of the
Roman empire. At
that time the Emperor Constantine called together an ecumenical council at Nicea that met for a year and church leaders came from every
country and there they officially adopted the Nicene Creed that summarized
official doctrine. But Constantine did something else that is generally not written about
but very important. He was looking for a way to lead outside the Senate and his
brilliant solution was to invent a new class of social leaders, Bishops. The
church already had Bishops, spiritual leaders that over saw churches.
Constantine gave them land, large municipal stipends, and command
like unto a regional governor. Those who won the battle to establish orthodoxy
also got power, money, control. Not surprisingly, men
stepped up to the plate in a big way when this kind of leadership was the prize.
From then on, men led and the scope of their influence grew
Thirdly, during the first 3 centuries after Jesus, the Church
institutionalized ascetical movements, and over the next few centuries made them
normative. And with all of that was born the Monastery.
Asceticism has always been part of Christianity but it assumed a more
major place than I think it should have. Despite many good things that
monastery’s have done, and despite many fine people that they have produced, the
sexual asceticism that they fostered was disastrous in the bigger picture. Now
our sexuality was something to be controlled, conqured, ashamed of. Ultimately, we produced millions of
repressed people. Given the background cultural assumptions that women were
responsible and guilty, our theologians projected upon women that they were the temptress despite the quite obvious fact
that it is men who are almost autonomically programmed
to merge with anything that will stand still. It was a bizarre
Broadly speaking, it ran completely contrary to what we knew in our souls
from our own experience. Namely that a loving sensual expression is not dirty
but divine; namely that finding someone who understands us, holds us, who shares
the night with us is one of the most precious gifts that God gives us in this
life; namely, that great lovers are reciprocal in their giving, gracious with
each other like elegant dancers that bring out the best in each other; namely,
that a spiritual sensuality is something to be celebrated, cultivated, and
spread. In our souls, we know that the whole event of falling in love is a
fundamental spiritual experience. It has that Wow quality, like Juliet in the
wonderful movie Shakespeare in Love,
throws open her window and says, “It’s a whole new day”.
We know in our souls that the miracle of birth, the great mystery of
birth, is a fundamentally good spiritual experience. You can hardly even speak
the Wow that you have been blessed.
These are the spiritual norm. They celebrate women. It is a reciprocal
exchange between men and women. And just think how different
Western civilization would have been if we had incorporated this into our
spiritual teaching the past two centuries. Because the fact of the matter
is this, I know other Ministers and Priests are thinking positively about
spiritual sensuality, but for me, the first time I ever heard it from the pulpit
in my life time was out of my own mouth.
I must simply quit for lack of time. The novel may have ultimately been a
little goofy but the spiritual quest probably is not. Mr. Brown merely
articulated what we have all felt growing up that there is a lack in our
spiritual lives, a hunger for the divine feminine as a positive force, not just
to be tolerated but celebrated because it is good. Let’s figure out a way to
incorporate it into our tradition in a holistic manner and while we are at it
create a way for our children to grow into integrated sensual beings that have
something better to choose from than commercial porno or staid repression. We
can get it better, much better I am sure. There will be more to follow.
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