LUGANO, Switzerland, JUNE 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Dan Brown’s best seller “The Da Vinci Code” says the Church demonized the symbol of Venus and killed millions of women accused of witchcraft.
Not so, says Father Manfred Hauke, a professor of dogmatic theology and president of the German Mariological Society, who responds to those accusations in this interview.
Q: Is it true that the Church has demonized the pentacle, a five-pointed star inscribed in a circle, symbol of Venus?
Father Hauke: This is a typical example of the novel’s lack of historical credibility. Suffice it to consult the appropriate dictionaries to verify that even the basic data in no way agrees with what he upholds on the pentacle.
It does not seem that the origin of the sign is known with exactitude, though historical evidence has existed in Egypt since 2000 B.C. An astronomic connection with the planet Venus does not seem evident.
The Pythagoreans used the pentacle as a salvific sign, which they related to health itself. Beginning with this tradition, since the 16th century the pentacle became a symbol of doctors and was related by Cornelii a Lapide to the five wounds of Christ.
In the Byzantine army, vanguard combatants carried small shields with the “pentalpha,” a tricolored pentacle, as a sign of salvation. If the ancient Church of the first centuries had made the pentacle a demonic symbol, such use would not have been possible.
Moreover, the pentacle appears no less than as a magic and apotropaic [designed to avert evil] sign in ancient Gnosis and in the Jewish Kabala of the Middle Ages. Its relationship with modern occultism goes back to this context.
Therefore, the idea upheld by Brown that the Church altered, with calculated malice, the symbol of the goddess Venus into the sign of the devil has no foundation.
Q: More serious, however, seems the accusation against the Church of the witch hunt.
Father Hauke: Indeed, this is the only point that has some historical basis. Recalling the “Malleus Maleficarum,” the character Langdon maintains: In 300 years of witch hunts, the Church burnt at the stake the astonishing figure of 5 million women. The guilt of the witch hunt is therefore entirely attributed to the Church — the Catholic Church — which thus sought to destroy “freethinking women.”
There is a smidgen of truth in these affirmations, but peppered with enormous and incorrect fundamental exaggerations. To approach the phenomenon in an appropriate manner, one must begin from the dark reality of magic that tries to obtain superhuman effects through recourse to occult powers, linked with the intervention of demons.
This practice, sadly, again rather widespread at present, is the object of an explicit and severe condemnation already in the Old Testament, where capital punishment is provided for witchcraft….
This punishment, moreover, is one of those established by the Code of Hammurabi, toward 2000 B.C. in ancient Babylon. Whoever follows recent research on the phenomenon and knows the experiences of exorcists, cannot deny that witchcraft exists today with all its pernicious effects, which can be effectively combated by the spiritual means of the Church.
Of course, one must be careful not to confuse real interventions of the evil one with people’s superstition and credulity, who see the devil’s tail where in fact it doesn’t exist.
The deplored “witch hunt” was not caused simply by belief in witchcraft, but by a collective hysteria unleashed at the beginning of the modern era, and by absolutely unacceptable methods used to detect men and women witches.
Torture in fact led to “confessions” of invented offenses, suggested by the accusers themselves. The direct responsibility for sending alleged evil ones to be burned at the stake is that of the state authority. The collective hysteria, which culminated in the years 1550-1650, spread above all through the Germanic and Slavic countries and much less so in the Mediterranean ambit.
Recent research has made it possible to revise the figures relative to the persons executed as witches. According to Danish scholar Gustav Henningsen, in the course of four centuries, when active persecution of witchcraft was practiced, some 50,000 people were killed — and not 5 million as Brown maintains — of whom close to 20% were men.
The figure in general was lower in Catholic countries, which were not undermined by the Protestant Reformation.
In Spain, Italy and Portugal of the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century, there were 12,000 prosecutions against alleged female and male witches; only 36 people in these thousands of trials, were subjected to capital punishment.
In Rome, fewer than 100 people died for the offense of witchcraft. The first case of which we have knowledge was in 1426 and the last in 1572. The vast majority of the trials of the Roman Inquisition concluded for lack of evidence.
During the prosecutions against female witches, tremendous errors were committed, but this does not justify, on the historical plane, the spread of a black legend, as Brown has done, which sees “the Church” as the only one responsible.
Q: In what sense does Dan Brown follow the feminist currents?
Father Hauke: In radical feminism, we find different currents, often opposed. There is a view that minimizes the difference between man and woman, propounding an androgynous ideal: It is equalitarian feminism.
The other tendency exasperates the distinction between the sexes, declaring the woman superior. In the religious ambit, this gynocentric feminism is manifested in the veneration of a “goddess.”
Also in this case, Brown presents a strange and untenable mixture between two currents. On one hand, he praises the androgynous model and, on the other, defends a preponderance of the “goddess,” placing a matriarchy at the origin of human history.
Both feminisms are not in accord with a healthy anthropology: Equalitarian feminism does not respect the difference between man and woman, even though claiming their equal dignity, while gynocentric feminism denies precisely the equal value of the sexes, while still exalting their difference. The aspect that is deficient in both views is the concomitance between equal dignity and complementarity, typical of Christian anthropology.
Q: But don’t you think that in the Church there have also been unjust discriminations of women?
Father Hauke: The relationship between man and woman is based on creation, which is a good thing, but it is continually threatened by the consequences of sin. For this reason, also in the Church there has been, and at times still are, unjust discrimination in respect to women.
John Paul II spoke of this in his “Letter to Women”: “Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. …”
Q: Do you not have the impression that the biblical image of God continues to be represented preferably with “masculine” symbols?
Father Hauke: I would say yes, though one also finds “feminine” features when, for example, God’s action is compared to the tenderness of a mother. See Isaiah 49:15 — “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
The “masculine” accent given to the image of God is based, for Christianity, on the revelation of Jesus who speaks of our “Father in heaven” — and not of “our Mother on earth.”
The Son of God was incarnated in the masculine sex, a fact destined to endure also in the transfigured corporeal nature. The Holy Spirit instead bears in himself some features that, from the symbolic point of view, could be approximated to feminine aspects, though these aspects cannot be exaggerated in a “feminine” representation, remote from the Holy Spirit.