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ON DAN BROWN'S THE DA VINCI CODE: CHAPTER 81 TO THE EPILOGUE AND AN AFTERWORD ON TEABING AS HISTORIAN
1. The landing and fooling the authorities especially by hiding their captives might beyond the literal suggest the need to defy conventional authority be it civil or ecclesiastical to achieve a greater good. Is such ever morally sanctioned?
2. Just as an exercise, would the categorical imperative apply here, or do the ends justify the means? Given Teabing's radical and to most historians inaccurate account of ecclesiastical misconduct, how might his own behavior measure? Are he, Langdon and Sophie the Martin Luthers of their day? We will consider Teabing's motivations below. May one violate a law for what is perceived as a good? Recall Kierkegaard's favorite Scriptural passage and what he used it to illustrate. He wrote of Abraham in Fear and Trembling:
There was one who relied upon himself and gained everything; there was one who in the security of his own strength sacrificed everything; but the one who believed God was the greatest of all. There was one who was great by virtue of his power, and one who was great by virtue of his hope, and one who was great by virtue of his love, but Abraham was the greatest of all, great by that power whose strength is powerlessness, great by that wisdom which is foolishness, great by that hope whose form is madness, great by the love that is hatred to oneself.
Much of the Code's wisdom 'today' is regarded as foolishness, but Schopenhauer allegedly remarked, "All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
3. How would you rate the characters we are discussing in light of the above reflections?
1. The message from the box, with its allusion to Mary Magdalene, is on page 342, along with a map of London, and Teabing reasons it references an ancient Templar church in London.
2. Existentially, the chapter is important. More and more, Sophie understands that she, alone, will have to make the decision of what to do with the Sangreal documents. Literature abounds with parallels. Achilles in The Iliad comes to a moment when he realizes the honor code (Book XII) might be based on false assumptions which governs his absolute rejection of the embassy's gifts (Book IX). Likewise, the 'modern' epic Lord of the Rings finds Frodo on an 'anti-quest' to put something back -- which he alone, despite assistance especially from Sam, must achieve. In epics the fate of nation or race or as in Paradise Lost, the soul of man hangs in the balance. The Da Vinci Code, with its transcontinental scope, assumes epic-like perspectives, especially for Sophie whose decision could alter history. We might ask, however, improbable this sounds, if Luther and Galileo knew?
3. Their discussion offers another opportunity to explore a universal. When questioning the validity of the New Testament, Langdon observes, "Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith--acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory and exaggeration, for the early Egyptians through modern Sunday School. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors." (p. 346) [EVERY and FAITH are italicized in the text]. My comments for Chapter 1 discuss the implications of his remark. In their present context, how valid are they? Can we know God directly? What is the purpose of trying to transcend? Can it be done, and if so, is an organized denominational construct mandatory? What prevents transcending?? Recall what we Plato and Jung have argued.
If metaphors are innate to the human condition, a category for Kant, then we might ask why? If God lacks gender, why did Jesus in the Lord's prayer and throughout the gospels refer so frequently to his heavenly Father? Was he literal or metaphoric? So are metaphors gateways to processing what otherwise could not be? In our empirical age, we tend to reject the non-analytical, and poetry becomes secondary to scientific wisdom, but should we deny the wisdom of the latter?
4. Of note in the rest of the discussion in Langdon's empirical approach. He advises Sophie that as a historian, he would love to examine the documents to "...see religious scholars have more information to ponder the exceptional life of Jesus Christ" (p. 346). Should this be allowed, he ponders, because there is always the risk of finding new information that might mandate revisionism of a text. Recall Orwell's 1984. Here, we might ask if the Gnostic gospels should be destroyed, or what to do with Sacred Scripture in the Galileo case where literal vs. metaphoric swung in favor of the metaphoric when 'scientific observation' disproved the geocentric literal belief that the earth stood still not to be moved. Click here for my article on Galileo and the Church.
5. Notice how the Chapter ends. Langdon has gotten Sophie to agree that religious allegory has helped "...millions of people cope and be better people." (p. 247). But like all good teachers, he has been demonstrating for Sophie an exercise in dialectic. If she asserts that religious truths be rejected because they may not be literally true, then what, Langdon asks, of "...a mathematical cryptographer who believes in the imaginary number 'i' because it helps her break codes." (p. 347). All she could do is question the fairness of the conclusion with a frown. What are the last words in the chapter?
6. This novel has been critiqued by Catholic and Protestant scholars for attacking Christianity, for denying the divinity of Christ, and for disputing the authenticity of Sacred Scripture as inspired, but what of disputes within Christianity...
--for Catholics: was Luther correct in denying papal infallibility?
--for Protestants: does Purgatory exist, and is transubstantiation a metaphysical reality?
1. A photograph of the Temple Church is on page 248, and Templar 'tombs' (?) on page 353,
2. Employing a deception (see above) they gain access to the crypt--ends and means again?
3. Hopefully, the believe the quest nears completion, but...
4. Is lying ever justified? We recall in The Republic that guardians may lie to the citizens of the state "the noble lie" or "magnificent myth" but not the converse. Will the lie about Sir Christopher Wren backfire?
1. Silas, still bound in the back of the limo, does seem to have faith in Divine Providence, which appears sustained when Remy frees him...do motives matter?
2. More is learned of the Teacher who seem almost omniscient, appearing able to orchestrate what scenarios he wishes actualized, part of which included completing job (p. 356).
3. Fache's frustration mounts as once more his prey has eluded him, and a phone call from Aringarosa inflames already exacerbated passions. Who is controlling whom as the Bishop is ordered to land at Kent, not London?
1. Part of the poem reads, "You seek the orb that ought be on his tomb," (p. 359), and IF Teabing is right, the Temple Church on Fleet Street should answer their questions about Mary, the sacred feminine and the secret documents outlining the blood line of Jesus, but what about the questions Teabing may not even realize he is asking about himself?
2. See question 4 for Chapter 83. How does the alter boy shock Teabing?
3. The alter boy himself, at the end of the chapter, is in for a shock of his own...ends and means again.
1. Silas may not use force to apprehend the cryptex. Are the Teacher's concerns pragmatic, expedient or moral...or some combination?
2. Would Langdon really smash the cryptex to protect Sophie and Leigh? Do you think Brown is developing a love interest between Sophie and Langdon?
3. Do we know the identity of the Teacher? Jesus often spoke of not really being known or speaking in metaphors to confound those not will not recognize truth, even when it should be most apparent. Can that apply to the Teacher? What motivates Remy? What was he promised? (p. 364): "Remy didn't give a damn about the Grail, except that the Teacher refused to pay him until it was found..." See Mark Chapter 4, 21 ff:
21 ...A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand?
22 For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.
23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.
24 And He was saying to them, Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides.
25 For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
26 And He was saying, The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;...
33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it;
34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.
What is being hidden in The Da Vinci Code that will be revealed and by whom and for what purpose? Perhaps that is one of the novel's most fundamental questions.
4. The chapter ends with a hostage situation in progress and a kidnapping. Does Remy really hate the Teacher? With Remy's insistence that Silas take the cryptex, the monk feels fully vindicated (P. 366): "...his red eyes gleaming with the self-satisfaction of vengeance," but the novel has more than a bit of irony...how dramatic is it: what might we have reason to suspect?
1. Skeptics (and for you Star Trek fans again, consider Capt. Janeway's remark that "...if we scratch deep enough we'd find a scientific basis for most religious doctrines." (Season Three's Sacred Ground) always tend to believe the supernatural is what science has yet to uncover. Certainly Star Trek's creator argued such in his Humanist interview: Click here.
2. Does Collet's discovery of sophisticated eavesdropping equipment at Teabing's sustain this argument?
-Chapters 88, 89, and 90:
1. Do you believe Fache's admission to Sophie on the phone that he now knows Langdon is innocent, or do we have another illustration of the 'noble lie' at work? What motivates Fache? Notice again the reference to his career if a prominent American were falsely accused.
2. Sophie however does reveal Remy's kidnapping of Teabing.
3. With what is Vernet primarily concerned? Who else has the same concerns?
4. In Chapter 90, a list of prominents including Sauniere who had been bugged is revealed. Who has the kind of power and for what purpose is the surveillance being conducted?
1. How is Silas' faith tested in this chapter? Why does the Teacher want Remy and not Silas to deliver the cryptex? By now, we know the Teacher has a 'grand design,' only part of which are known.
2. The narrator's omniscience forbodes ill for the monk, described as "...poor, twisted..." (p. 378), suggesting a none too pleasant fate awaits him. Are characters such as Silas meant to evoke pathos? Is that what their authors intend? In gothic fiction such may often occur...consider Ambrosio in The Monk, the creature in Frankenstein and Renfield in Dracula. They commit horrific crimes, but part of any romantic's 'manifesto' is that environment shapes character. To what degree are they partly or fully responsible for their actions?
3. If the chapter's end also implies 'the end' for Silas, then what 'environment' may be responsible? Why does the Teacher want Remy to take him to Opus Dei?
1. The Grail quest continues as King's College Library.
2. A search of the data base perhaps reveals another connotation for KNIGHT LONDON POPE TOMB (p. 383).
-Chapters 93 and 94:
1. The tone of Chapter 93 obviously suggests ? regarding Silas?
2. Is his ''resting place' meant as an indictment of Opus Dei?
3. How omniscient is the Teacher?
4."Murder most foul" in Chapter 94. The Teacher suggests it was the best he could do (p. 387). Why does the Teacher commit the crime? Brown uses FEAR and IMPLICATE to describe the Teacher's motivation, recalling something Teabing had told Langdon and Sophie about self-preservation: "In my experience...men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire. I sense a desperation in this assault on the Priory." (p. 276). That line is essential to understanding Teabing. What does he REALLY fear?
5. If moral standards (Thou shalt not kill) would mandate murder as repulsive, does Teabing's killing of Remy undercut any credibility he might otherwise have, regardless of the 'righteousness' of his quest? How would you rate his self image?
6. Aringarosa in London demands to be taken to Opus Dei
1. On page 391 ff, we know that Langdon and Sophie finally understand the meaning of the cryptex poem, so POPE is Alexander, and KNIGHT is Sir Issac Newton, and TOMB is Westminster Abbey (p. 393).
2. The chapter reminds us that Sauniere was "...a frighteningly clever man." (p. 393). In the Gospels, Jesus admonishes the wise that intellectual sophistication will NOT earn a heavenly reward, which perhaps is one reason, He often used children as a metaphor for worthiness. We recall Wordsworth's line in "My Heart Leaps Up" about children and fathers. Does the gospel mandate per se undermine and nullify what the clever do in this novel, even if crimes were not involved.
1. Dramatic irony? Silas shoots Aringarosa...what philosophically has happened? How accidental is it in the larger, more philosophical sense? Must such an event occur given the events the teacher initiated?
2. Recall Luke 11:17: "But he knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house."
1. At Westminster, Langdon and Sophie know they cannot finally complete the Grail quest unless they have the cryptex (p. 398) which via Silas and Remy had found its way to the Teacher.
2. A photograph of Newton's tomb with the orbs appear on page 401.
3. The Teacher, needing Langdon and Sophie as bait, marks his time (p. 402)
1. What biblical allusion frames the Teacher's note to Langdon? Why used here?
2. Traditionally, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been seen as the 'new Eve,' but the focus of the sacred feminine in the novel has been Mary Magdalene. If so, and Sophie's full name means 'new wisdom,' why is the garden imagery so fundamental? Is she the 'new Eve?'
3. Recall that Campbell in The Power of Myth (p. 47) argued that we would be babies if we remained in the garden. Has Sophie and Langdon's Grail quest been a necessary condition to understand that paradox. Recall..
4. Notice too the archetypes involved. (p. 406). Note the descriptions: hint, "As they hurried down the dark corridor..."(p. 407). Where are they going psychologically? Conrad's Heart of Darkness would provide clues..Click here for my Jung article.
5. Teabing awaits them at the dead end, and interestingly as Langdon sees him, he thinks he is dreaming!! (p. 408)
1. Teabing reminds Sophie and Langdon he is a man of honor and begs their indulgence while he explains...is he?
2. It appears Sauniere was 'eliminated' because he failed, at the appointed time, to release the Sangreal, and thus betrayed the Priory and all it represented. As an aside, if murder is the solution we might ask Teabing, however righteous, about what John Paul did after the attempted assassination. How would he respond and why?
3. Teabing's proof for Sauniere's silence was his alleged sell out to the Church after the murders of her family: mother, father, grandmother and brother, is seems "...were not accidental" (p. 410). [NOT is italicized in the text].
4. Is Teabing insane? Is he Richard III (A cinematic sidebar: Who played Richard and Teabing in the respective films?) Richard Sophie recalls, though, her grandfather's wanting to tell her the truth about her family. Is this it? Like Richard, does he murder while he smiles? We will explore Teabing's motivations below.
5. Sophie's incredulity on page 411 may well match the reader's as Teabing admonishes that Sauniere was already dead, killed by the Church, which he warns could not be "...permitted to influence indefinitely with murder and extortion?" (p. 411). Even if every accusation leveled against the Church in the novel were true, how could Teabing use such to justify his action? There is a book entitled How the Catholic Church Built Civilization by Thomas E. Woods (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publications, 2005) which goes a long way in explaining how the much maligned Church in areas of science, farming, medicine and education saved the culture it so often has been accused of destroying. Ironically for The Da Vinci Code, Woods notes (p.211) that women owed the Church much as it fought to abolish the sadistic sexual practices that shaped the classical world. By arguing for sex within marriage and the forbidding of adultery, women eventually became much more than property: "These principles account in part for why women formed so much of the Christian population of the early centuries of the Church. So numerous were female Christians that the Romans used to dismiss Christianity as a religion for women." (p. 212). Woods attributes this to the prohibition of divorce and adultery. Such allowed, he believes, woman to find autonomy and protection in Church law. For those wanting a non-ecclesiastical perspective, readers of Dracula know that the "women's question," or in today's language, feminism found expression in the novel which, in many respects, dramatized misogynism to the degree that Van Helsing observes in Chapter 18:, "Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man's brain- a brain that a man should have were he much gifted- and woman's heart. The good God fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when He made that so good combination".
Nonetheless, Teabing's anti-clerical bias may allude to a character in The Canterbury Tales, but how much of the above is known by Brown and Teabing?
6. As a gesture of 'good faith,' Teabing 'offers' the cryptex to Langdon and Sophie. In this chapter we learn the role of Silas, the fake kidnapping and why Remy had to be eliminated. His justification for Remy's murder is italicized on page 414: "Every Grail quest requires sacrifice." He further gloats, without revealing full details, how his infiltration of Opus Dei was designed to "...bring about the demise of the entire Church." (p. 414). What has been sacrificed already?
7. Ironically, is he worse than that which he condemns. Sophie thinks so, as she vows to see him in prison for murder. Why this fate? Does the novel cultivate a climate of moral promiscuity?
1. Does Aringarosa believe he has been deceived, and by whom? Does his apology to Silas recall John Paul's? We learn via flashback that when at Castel Gandolfo (Chapter 34), the Secretariat Council embarrassed by Opus Dei's "political fallout,"(p. 416), "...voted unanimously to revoke the Vatican's sanction of Opus Dei." (p. 416). Enraged of course and not hesitating to remind the Cardinals of the financial arrangement between the Vatican and Opus Dei, Aringarosa warns that the Church is in much greater danger from liberal incursions that dilute Christ's message in the name of progress: "People have lost respect. The rigors of faith are gone. The doctrine has become a buffet line...choose whatever combination pleases you and ignore the rest. What kind of spiritual guidance is the Church offering? " (p.417) The bishop find the reply horrifying, "Third-century laws...cannot be applied to the modern followers of Christ. The rules are not workable in today's society." (p. 417). Joan Chittister, OSB, writing in The National Catholic Reporter in 2003 commented: "One poll of U.S. Catholics found that though almost 90% of Catholics admire the pope personally, 83% of them disagree with his positions on birth control, married priests, and the ordination of women. In European cities, at the very heart of old Christendom, the annual baptism rate itself is barely 5% and those who are baptized are almost never weekly churchgoers. For the first time in history, for example, only 42% of the Irish go to mass on Sunday. And yet, more than 250,000 people, representatives of groups from all over the world, showed up in the piazza of St. Peter's Basilica to mark the 25th anniversary of the papacy of John Paul II. They all call themselves Catholic. They also all believe different things now. So, how is it possible to belong to a church whose beliefs you dismiss?"
Her last paragraph strikes a chord for readers of Dan Brown: "What happens to women whose belief is real but for whom it is the all-male rituals themselves that alienate? What, if any glue is left to bind them, too, to a church in change? Patriarchy, take warning."
2. Of course the issue is complex. Many found Vatican II's reforms disquieting. Interestingly the Prologue to The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Whoever teaches must become "all things to all men" (I Cor 9:22), to win everyone to Christ. . . Above all, teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety with one and the same method! Let them realize that some are in Christ as newborn babes, others as adolescents, and still others as adults in full command of their powers.... Those who are called to the ministry of preaching must suit their words to the maturity and understanding of their hearers, as they hand on the teaching of the mysteries of faith and the rules of moral conduct." But this would hardly be an endorsement of subjectivism in the matters quoted above: the Catholic Church will not sanction birth control or abortion for example regardless of public pressure or church attendance. The question, though is this: can a Catholic have an abortion, or practice birth control or not attend mass regularly and really be considered "practicing."? So regarding abortion, the Catechism states unequivocally, "  Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish...God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes."  Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.
The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense,"...and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.
Note what I have bolded, but not everyone has an abortion. Suppose we examine attending mass. If failure to attend mass Sunday and Holy Days without sufficient cause renders the subject in mortal sin, and mortal sin, a grave offense against the will of God--in this case the first commandment, means damnation if the soul does not repent before death, then I know more than one devout Christian that strictly speaking would be in trouble...but knowing how they live and what they do for other, I don't think they are.
3. Perhaps the conclusion of the chapter offers a solution. Countering Silas' rage and threats of vengeance, Aringarosa pleads, "Silas...if you have learned nothing from me, please...learn this." He took Silas's hand and gave it a firm squeeze. "Forgiveness is God's greatest gift." (p. 418). When Silas protests, he is advised to pray. Is that not the essence of true Christianity, and ironically the lesson we were meant to draw from the Jesus-Mary Magdalene relationship? Remember what Campbell believes.
1. More biblical allusions appear. When Teabing asks Robert if he is for or again him, are we to recall Jesus' warning, in Matthew 12:30: "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters?" Given his crimes, is Teabing the anti-Christ? Langdon's response seems to endorse the "gray area" (p. 419) the gospel passage seems to reject.
2. Hoping for more time, Langdon mentally focuses on solving the cryptex's riddle, thus satisfying his own curiosity while simultaneously placating Teabing. Notice the setting, "...Britain's oldest apple tree..." (p. 420)
3. Sophie, finding Teabing morally repulsive, urges Langdon to in no way cooperate with the man holding the gun, a "...lone knight, surrounded by unworthy souls..." (p. 423).[Italics also in the text.] Is Teabing psychopathic? What really motivates him? We are getting closer to the answer.
4. Appropriately, the password to open the cryptex is APPLE (p. 423): "His [Newton's] labour's fruit! The Rosy flesh with a seeded womb!" (p. 425). [Italics also in the text.] Is the message a fusion of science (Newton and the proverbial apple) and faith (Genesis)? Langdon's ruse of destroying the cryptex worked, of course, as Teabing is disarmed and arrested by Fache. In custody, and very appropriately, Teabing screams LIKE A MADMAN that Langdon has the secret, the map to the Grail. (p. 425). Robert's last words in the chapter pronounce an important moral judgment. He admonishes Teabing that "Only the worthy find the Grail, Leigh, You taught me that." (p. 426).
1. Silas appears morally absolved. Has he followed Aringarosa's words and repented. Has he died a martyr?
2. Given this chapter and the Church's decision to sever ties with Opus Dei, what judgment is Brown ultimately making? Was his intention to assault Christianity?
1. On page 427, Fache summarizes Teabing's 'accomplishments,' which despite their moral depravity, were nonetheless brilliantly conceived and orchestrated. Does the summary remind you of a major character in a Shakespearean tragedy?
2. Evaluate his tactics....how was his influence and control so surreptitiously successful? (.p 427)
3. Has Aringarosa been used by the Teacher as Silas had been? Page 428 offers a significant clue to the Shakespearean comparison: "...feigning French accent and a pious heart..." (p. 428). Who in Shakespeare feigned a pious heart to bring down many, and could the parallels extend to Silas and Aringarosa's counterparts?
4. We also learn in the chapter the reason for Aringarosa's demanding money from the Vatican. What had the Teacher and Teabing intended as a safeguard?
5. This chapter as well ends with faith triumphant as perhaps a reward for trust in God. Bishop Aringarosa's bequest to the families of the murdered families, and Fache's apparent vindication at the hands of Collet, someone he wronged, count for much. What are Aringarosa's last words in the chapter?
-Chapters 104 and 105:
1. Reconciliation of opposites (making connections others fail to see) is a major theme in romantic literature (see Coleridge). Chapter 104 continues to dramatize the concept. Rosslyn Chapel, the hiding place of the Grail, seems for Sophie to evoke almost subconscious memories--perhaps, as Jung notes, what the years might have suppressed: "...the memories came flooding back..." (p. 437).
2. These pages began by discussing Langdon's fondness for connections, a mode of dialectical inquiry endorsed throughout the novel. As Brown prepares to close, we are reminded again of its importance. As Langdon listens to the docent's family history and integrates it with what he knows of Sophie's, "...an unimaginable web of connections..." emerge. (p. 440). This symbol becomes its major embodiment:
As a comparative point, recall lines 619 ff. of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in which his shield is described: "Then they showed forth the shield that shone all red, / With the pentangle portrayed in purest gold."
3. The connections are dramatized when Sophie meets her grandmother, Marie Chauvel and discovers the truth about her family's tragedy. We find that her family's death might not have been an accident since Sophie's parents were carrying royal blood and posed a great risk. Consequently, the Priory had moved to protect Sophie and her grandfather whose conduct now becomes explicable.
4. Ironically, the Chapter suggests that the Church needed not to fear a literal revelation of the Priory's secrets, for "...There is nothing in the Priory doctrine that identifies a date at which the Grail should be unveiled. In fact the Priory has always maintained that the Grail should never be unveiled...It is the mystery and wonderment that serve our souls, not the Grail itself. The beauty of the Grail lies i her ethereal nature...for most...the Holy Grail is simply a grand idea...A glorious unattainable treasure that somehow, even in today's world of chaos, inspires us." (p. 444)
Recall John, 18:36, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn't be delivered to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here." Yet, Langdon is still drawn to the literal...he wants to know (443) if the Grail really is at the Chapel...Apparently not, according to Marie, but notice how the chapter ends...there is a separation as the dialectic mandates, but hints that a reconciliation will follow in Florence...
5. As a parallel, during Gawain's second 'trial,' he is kissed by his host's wife (the sacred feminine), but, "...The lady lightly bends / And graciously gives him a kiss; / The two converse as friends / Of tre love's trials and bliss." (ll. 1503-1507), and in wishing to know more biography, the hostess speaks of "bold knights" who "Suffered heavy sorrows out of secret love." (ll 1516-1517). The consummation is not physical. In terms of this Grail quest poem, the hostess tries more than once to tempt Gawain to sin--i.e, "...But so fair was his defense that no fault appeared, / Nor evil on either hand, but only bliss." (ll. 1551-1552). This too sustains the non-physical, but after taking her green silken belt and thus yielding to temptation, he confesses, but does not tell the truth to his host (ll. 1940 ff.). This poem of 'test theology' seems on the surface to be a cautionary tale about resisting feminine wiles as lines 2407 ff. and especially lines 2444 ff. suggest. After his confrontation with the Green Knight during which his fallibilities emerge, the poet recounts a history, as Chaucer's Wife sarcastically does, of men who fell to women. Significantly, Gawain sees the belt, the girdle, as a remembrance of the "...faults and frailty of the flesh perverse" (l. 2435); in other words, the failure to maintain transcendent values.
6. Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and Keats' Eve of St. Agnes suggests a similar theme. Keats writes of Porphyro interrupting Madeline's dream...
Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,
Tumultuous,and, in chords that tenderest be,
He playd an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence calld, La belle dame sans mercy:
Close to her ear touching the melody;
Wherewith disturbd, she utterd a soft moan:
He ceasedshe panted quickand suddenly
Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.
Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
There was a painful change, that nigh expelld
The blisses of her dream so pure and deep
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she lookd so dreamingly.
Ah, Porphyro! said she, but even now
Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
How changd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thou diest, my Love, I know not where to go.
Beyond a mortal man impassiond far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
Ethereal, flushd, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heavens deep repose;
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet,
Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
Like Loves alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St. Agnes moon hath set.
What is the painful change...from what to what? Can the lovers be compared to Sophie and Langdon? What do they mean to each other and to the quest? Is the quest really over? Can it ever be? What lesson does Sir Gawain take from his Grail quest? Did he 'find' the sacred feminine, and is it literal?
1. Langdon finds himself in Paris again, at the Louvre Pyramid where our story began. He falls to his knees. Why? What does he find? Study the photography carefully, especially page 455.
2. Interestingly the faith-reason dialectic, dramatized in Angels and Demons, seems to suggest faith, a transcendental concept. Langdon thinks he "...heard a woman's voice...the wisdom of the ages...whispering up from the chasms of the earth." (p. 456). This poem by Coleridge, cited before, best sums The Da Vinci Code's intent:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
These pages originated with a desire to determine if the criticism (much of it negative) leveled against The Da Vinci Code were justified. It is not. These pages have alluded to:
Matthew Gregory Lewis
The Gawain poet
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Pope John Paul
Of course these texts could be misused, but I do not think they have been. A novel rich in so many allusions deserves much more serious consideration than has been granted. Perhaps the most serious charge is an anti-Christian bias to the point of the novel being viewed as an attempt to overthrow Christianity. Perhaps this stems from the confusion of the literal and metaphoric. Often the former lead to the latter as it should. Certainly the novel does not condemn Christianity, but it does require we take a hard look at some of organized religion's abuses. If such were not the case, how would some of the more vociferous Protestant critics justify Martin Luther's actions. The fact that Silas and Bishop Aringarosa embrace charity and forgiveness suggests the triumph of Christianity's most important theme: love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. That is what Brown dramatizes.
But what of Teabing? Obviously he is flawed but in a more important way than the errors critics have found in his scholarship. Teabing is a villain in the gothic sense, and he is also a psychopath, brilliant and depraved. Thus he is arrested for murder. I mentioned that he reminds one of a Shakespearean villain, so what character in Othello comes closest to Teabing?
With Teabing, Brown created a master psychopath much as Iago or Richard III. Dr. Tom O'Connor's Antisocial Personality, Sociopathy, and Psychopathy contains descriptions that if applied to Teabing's behavior would identify him as a charismatic psychopath. "Charismatic Psychopaths are charming, attractive liars. They are usually gifted at some talent or another, and they use it to their advantage in manipulating others. They are usually fast-talkers, and possess an almost demonic ability to persuade others out of everything they own, even their lives. Leaders of religious sects or cults, for example, might be psychopaths if they lead their followers to their deaths. This subtype often comes to believe in their own fictions. They are irresistible." Certainly this could be Teabing's resume which goes a long way in explaining his behaviour. As with Iago (See my article), Teabing masterfully creates a reality that contains a core of truth, but is 'spun' with such sophistication that the 'true believers' ( including Langdon) are more than willing to accept. Iago thus is able to manipulate others to the degree that they seek his advice to escape the harmful effects for scenarios he himself created, so Cassio is dismissed from Othello's service, and he subsequently believes Desdemona (the sacred feminine) a whore. So the 'errors' in history Teabing has been accused of perpetrating from the Council of Nicaea to Leonardo's codes to the Priory's keeping the blood line of Jesus secret may contain core truths as these pages have suggested, but in the main are spun to entrap. Why? The motivation of Iago has often defied analysis. My web link offers a possibility, but his anger over not being promoted has often been taken as a starting point, but probably not the real reason.
In the Gothic tradition, a secret sin, called the 'vicious mole' in Hamlet, often has a physical manifestation. Byron, for example, may have had a child with his half-sister, and in his youth, was severely sexually abused. (See my article). Physically, he suffered from lameness and wore a brace that caused horrid pain, both physically and psychologically. Now what of Teabing in The Da Vinci Code? Is his physical affliction a metaphor? Certainly he is charismatic and intelligent, but could his obsession with the sacred feminine come from his biography? Did he/does he experience any romantic relationships? Could the answers explain the joy he gets from his manipulative abilities? If so, despite his psychopathic nature, must we take a second look? To do so, we must examine the allusions to Chaucer that as assessment of Teabing's character has deemed necessary.
One read of Chaucer' Pardoner, for example, suggests his apparent hatred the Church comes from his anger at God. We know from the General Prologue he is a "...geldyng or a mare." (GP l. 691). If is castration were from birth, a congenital defect, then his anger might be directed at God whom he wants to love, but cannot. It is interesting, for example, that the sins he most loathes are those that defile the body of Christ (PT ll. 489 ff.). His tale condemns that which he appears to most want: material wealth as the root of all evil, but maybe he wants acceptance which his fellow pilgrims do not grant and for a reason he cannot change. He too desires the 'sacred feminine' as ironically and with pathos, when he interrupts the arch- feminist Wife from beside Bath. "..Now, dame...by God and by seint John! / Ye been a noble prechour in this cas. / I was aboute to weede a wyf; allas! / What sholde I bye it on my flessh so deere? / Yet hadde I levere wedde no wyf to-yeere!" (WBT ll.164-168). So he seeks the 'sacred feminine' and cannot physically obtain her, but does he try spiritually?
Do these allusions explain Teabing's behavior? Recall his comment in Chapter 62. When speaking of the threat the 'sacred feminine' poses to the Church, he admits that the truly faithful might not be shaken, "But what about the rest of the world? What about those who look at the cruelty in the world and say, where is God today? Those who look at Church scandals and ask, who are those men who claim to speak the ruth about Christ and yet lie to cover up the sexual abuse of children by their own priests?...What happens to those people, Robert, if persuasive scientific evidence comes out that the Church's version of the Christ story is inaccurate, and that the greatest story ever told is, in fact, the greatest story ever sold...The Vatican faces a crisis of faith unprecedented in its two-millennium history."
I added to my Chapter 62 commentary, that Teabing might not be an accurate historian (The Dead Sea scrolls for example do not discuss Christianity), but he's not a bad philosopher or psychologist. In May of 2006, Pope Benedict visited Auschwitz, and while prayerfully lamenting the horrors, said, Why, Lord he asked, did you remain silent? ...and readers of Night know Wiesel's thoughts on God and the holocaust. Might Teabing be echoing the Pope's words in another context?
Is Teabing, like Chaucer's Pardoner, asking, "Why me, God?" "Why am I deformed?" Did his affliction preclude complete fulfillment in his own life? Is his obsession for the 'sacred feminine' a desire to change that, regardless of how? Could such have lead to psychopathic madness? Does his charming and manipulative personality, his persona, fail in Chapter 101 when Langdon tries to 'destroy' the cryptex:
"All of Teabing's hopes and dreams were plummeting toward earth. It cannot strike the floor! I can reach it! Teabing's body reacted on instinct. He released the gun and heaved himself forward, dropping his crutches as he reached out with this soft, manicured hands..." (p. 424)
These lines may be the clue to his character. Notice the point of view--does the narrator know more than Teabing himself? There is a fascinating Canterbury Tales parallel,
With him [the Somnour] ther rood a gentil Pardoner
Of Rouncival, his freend and his compeer,
That straight was comen from the Court of Rome.
Ful loude he soong, "Come hider, love to me," (GP ll. 671-674)
And yet another parallel. When Langdon notes that Sophie knows little of the Grail's true meaning, Teabing replies, "She doesn't know?"...The smile that grew on Teabing's face was almost obscene. "Robert you brought me a virgin?" Earlier, he had noted that his "...only carnal pleasures these days seem to be culinary." (p. 234-235) [KNOW and VIRGIN are italicized in the novel.]
Can we offer the hypothesis that Teabing, like the Pardoner, dearly wants something he cannot have directly, so he uses his formidable intellect and charming personalty to manipulate others around him by any means including the distortion of history, a distortion of which he is quite well aware as much as the Pardoner knows his relics are fakes? Teabing's study is crammed full of artifacts and icons. Are these his relics? Perhaps this is The Da Vinci Code's most subtle irony, and Brown of course knows it.
Remember what he said to Langdon, ""In my experience...men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire. I sense a desperation in this assault on the Priory." What does Teabing fear?
And what of the Teacher? Who is He? This shadowy figure dominates from behind the scenes like Dracula: omnipresent but not literally so. As a metaphor, what might he represent? In any conspiracy theory novel, it is both scary and exciting to contemplate there is 'more to it' than the pages provide. Could he be the shadow archetype embodying the anima-animus struggle within all of us?
What are some questions worthy of debate that the Da Vinci Code suggests:
Brown dramatizes that the repression of the sacred feminine stems from a conscious strategy of the Catholic church. However much historians critique this perspective, and I did give time to Thomas Woods' How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, the allegation raises serious issues worthy of extended debate.
1-Has the Church been misogynistic, and is it today? Should women be ordained priests in the Roman rite, and should clergy be allowed to marry? Is the warrant against these practices scripturally derived?
2-Do the excesses of any institution invalidate the good that it does? We have the Pardoner as example?
3- If Jesus were married, would such detract from his divinity or enhance it?
4- If man is made in the image and likeness of God (the words of the old Baltimore Catechism), then in a sense are we not all descendents of Jesus, and did He not often refer to God as His heavenly father? Fathers by definition have children. In that context, is The Da Vinci Code really so far off the mark?
5-Do we have a right to demand of God answers to our most vexing problems? In Night, Weisel observes that man grows closer to God by the questions he asks which in Biblical times remind us of Job, and in our times Dan Brown.