“The Da Vinci Code” & the Incarnation

September 14, 2004

Jesus’ divinity, the Scriptures, and the Church—are all three mere human inventions? They are if The Da Vinci Code has any truth to its premise. This best-selling novel by Dan Brown promotes itself as a historically accurate novel that unveils to its readers long-hidden secrets about Jesus and the Church. Millions have been fascinated by its message and after 77 weeks on the market, it is still at the top of the charts. For us Christians, the book is a great illustration of how central the Incarnation is to our faith. If we mess up the Incarnation, we’ll mess up the rest of Christianity, because everything flows from Jesus Christ as true God and true man.

As I explored in a previous reflection, we Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man—not 50% God and 50% man, but 100% God and 100% man. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. There are generally two ways that people misunderstand this truth. Those without faith see Jesus as a wise man who taught many beautiful things, but not as divine. Those with faith, on the other hand, believe that Jesus is God, but we can sometimes find it hard to believe that Jesus was really like us in every way but sin. In both cases, error occurs when we overemphasize one of Christ’s natures at the other’s expense. This mystery of the Incarnation is at the heart of our understanding of both the Bible and the Church.

The Incarnation and Scripture: Just as the infinite Word of the eternal Father, Jesus Christ, took upon himself our weak human flesh, in Scripture the infinite words of God have been expressed within the finite limitations of human language. Just as Jesus was man in every way but sin, Holy Scripture is human language in every respect but falsehood. God accomplished this miracle through the freedom of the human authors of Scripture (and despite their weaknesses). As a result, the books in the Bible are unique in the history in the world—while fully the product of their human authors, who wrote using their own literary styles and creativity, they are also fully the work of God. Like Jesus, then, Scripture is 100% human and 100% divine.

The same possibilities exist for misunderstanding the humanity/divinity of the Scriptures as for misunderstanding the humanity/divinity of Christ. For those without faith, the Scriptures are not divinely inspired but are simply the writings of men. They deny the divine authorship that is wedded to the human authorship, just as they deny all that is divine in Jesus Christ. We Christians believe that the Scriptures are fully the word of God, but we can sometimes find it difficult to acknowledge that they are truly the work of weak men. It is hard to believe that God could have somehow used his weak followers to write the Scriptures, preserve them throughout history, and even to determine which books in fact were Scripture and which were not. We know that the Bible didn’t just “drop out of the sky” without human involvement, but we might be tempted to imagine, for example, that God sort of dictated Scripture word-for-word to his authors, as a CEO would dictate a letter to his secretary!

The Incarnation and the Church. Likewise, the Church mirrors the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation. Aware that he would one day return to his heavenly Father, Jesus established his earthly Church in order to perpetuate his ministry to mankind throughout the centuries and throughout the entire world. This means that through his Church, Jesus continues to teach his people, as surely as he taught them on the mount. Through his Church, Jesus continues to forgive sin, as surely as he forgave the penitent woman who bathed his feet with her tears. Through his Church, Jesus continues to feed his followers with his own Body and Blood, as surely as he fed the Apostles at the Last Supper. Through the Church, Jesus even continues to raise people from the dead—giving his children a new birth into eternal life through Baptism, a spiritual resurrection even greater than Lazarus’ merely physical resurrection. In other words, through his ongoing presence in his body, the Church, Jesus continues to minister to the world just as he did 2000 years ago!

So in the Church we find a marriage of humanity and divinity, just as we find in Christ and in the Scriptures. Jesus works through all baptized Christians to continue his ministry on earth—all of the faithful, laity as well as clergy. But it takes faith to believe that Christ could work such wonders through normal and weak human beings like you and me. Those without faith, who don’t believe that Christ is God, naturally see the Church as nothing more than a man-made political institution. Yet even among those who recognize Christ’s divinity, many find it hard to believe that Jesus could possibly work through weak mankind to continue his ministry. This is the same mystery that we have trouble accepting in Jesus and in the Scriptures: surely God couldn’t truly become a weak man and die upon a cross? Surely God couldn’t truly give us his word while fully respecting the freedom and creativity of fallen human authors?

To summarize: the union of humanity and divinity found in Jesus Christ is also found in his Church and its Scriptures. It is possible to go wrong by ignoring the divinity in all three (the world’s approach) or by failing to give proper recognition to the humanity in all three (an easy mistake for Christians.) The Da Vinci Code is a perfect example of the world’s approach. It claims that Jesus was just a normal man whose divinity was invented in the 4th century. It claims that the Church is just a man-made political organization founded, not by Jesus, but by a group of jealous, woman-hating disciples. It claims that the New Testament was crafted together by emperor Constantine and church leaders in the 4th century in order to support the “new” concept of Christ’s divinity.

“I’ll never think about Jesus Christ or the Catholic Church in the same way again.” So wrote a reviewer on who had swallowed the historical-sounding lies of The Da Vinci Code. How sad. If we know anyone in a similar situation, perhaps we can challenge them to grow in two areas of their spiritual lives. First, we should challenge them to a greater intellectual understanding of our Scripture, our faith, and our history. If we all knew our faith as well as we knew the latest movies or football scores, nobody would be fooled by the weak claims of Brown’s book. And even more importantly, we should challenge them to a deeper relationship with the Lord through prayer. If a mere novel can lead someone to doubt their faith that Jesus was not really “the Christ” but only a man, then this person has not yet truly encountered Christ in his own life as the infinite God of the universe—true God and true man.

My “Da Vinci Code” resource page : click here

My previous reflection on the Incarnation : “Did Jesus ever have bad breath?” 

A great short overview of the Catholic faith : “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth”

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