The DaVinci Inquest part 5
Did the Church Destroy the Sacred Feminine?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 11, 2006

 

Main Passage: John 8:1-11 (NLT)

 

This morning, we’re continuing our series on The DaVinci Code, and I’m actually going to change things up a bit. When we started this whole thing, I gave you a list of what topics we’d be addressing each week. And today we were going to be addressing Sex, Women and the Church. Well, we’re still going to be doing that… but we’re going to spread it over two weeks. As I was working on this message, even after cutting out a lot of material, I still had almost twice as many pages as I normally like to have for a message, and so the logical thing to do was split it up.

So this morning, we’re going to talk about what The DaVinci Code calls the Sacred Feminine – referring to women. We will talk about women… how they’ve been treated throughout history, what the Bible says, and what their role is in the Church today. And then next week, we’ll talk about Sacred Sex… what the book calls Hieros Gamos, which means “Sacred Union”. According to The DaVinci Code, that’s a sex ritual through which you can experience God. Is there any truth to that? What about the claim that sex was used as a form of worship by early Jews and Christians? And how about the focus of that worship… was there really a female counterpart to God, a goddess named Shekinah? And what about the claim that the early Church saw this as a threat to their power base and so painted sexuality to be evil and vile and shameful? That’s all next week. Nothing better than talking about sex on Father’s Day.

But this morning, our focus is on what Dan Brown calls the Sacred Feminine…

• Is it true that there was a matriarchal society which the early church successfully crushed?
• Is it true that, from the formation of the church all through church history and right down to the church today, women have been repressed and oppressed?
• Is it true that pre-Christian pagan religion elevated women whereas Christianity demonized them?

Let me to read you something from James Garlow and Peter Jones’ book, Cracking DaVinci’s Code…

“All the subtlety of The DaVinci Code disappears each time the topic of women is mentioned. Brown’s thesis is succinct: Christianity destroyed and killed women. Paganism affirmed them. But he is wrong. Very wrong. If ever a book should be written off as ‘mere fiction,’ The DaVinci Code is one.”
~ James Garlow and Peter Jones, Cracking DaVinci’s Code, p. 58

“Christianity destroyed and killed women. Paganism affirmed them.” That really is the overarching premise of The DaVinci Code. Over the past month, we’ve addressed several of the different claims made in the book, but they are all traced back to this one main premise. It infiltrates everything else in the book.

• It shapes what The DaVinci Code claims about Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail.
• It affects how the book describes the identity and nature of God.
• It influences what the book teaches about Jesus.
• It impacts what it tells us about the development of the early church and what it says about church history.
• It dictates what The DaVinci Code says about the formation of the Bible.
• It colours what the book says about artistic expressions through artwork and architecture and music.

It is the foundational belief of The DaVinci Code that Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 along with the early church conspired to suppress and even destroy what the book calls the Sacred Feminine. But was this just a literary tool, or does Dan Brown actually believe it? Was he intentionally trying to push a message? Well, I have an audio clip for you to listen to. It starts with him mentioning that many writers and speakers like me have made inflammatory claims about him, which I find interesting since we’re simply responding to the inflammatory claims which he has made. But whatever… listen to what he says…

[AUDIO – Clip from Dan Brown speaking at New Hampshire Writers’ Project, www.DanBrown.com]

Well, that’s interesting. Dan Brown seems to yearn for a return to the worship of gods and goddesses. And just so you know, earlier in that speech he reaffirmed that he really believes in what he wrote in The DaVinci Code and that it describes history as he has come to understand it. And he really does believe that the Church has conspired to destroy the worth of women… what he calls the Sacred Feminine. So right now, let’s look at what he actually claims in The DaVinci Code:

 

“The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever.”
~ The DaVinci Code, p. 124

Okay, so Dan Brown talks about how there used to be a matriarchal society. This would be a society where the women ruled and the men were subservient. But there’s a problem with this: There has never been a matriarchal society. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be; I’m just saying that’s the way it is. Particularly in Greek and Roman societies, women were always viewed as inferior… before the advent of Christianity.

“…Authority and leadership are, and always have been, associated with the male in every society, and I refer to this when I say that patriarchy is universal and that there has never been a matriarchy . . . the findings of the past 50 years failed to include a single shred of evidence that such matriarchies had ever existed…”
~ Steven Goldberg, chairman of the Department of Sociology at City College
City University of New York

“It is true . . . that all the claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that they ever existed.”
~ Anthropologist Margaret Mead

So how could Constantine have possibly converted the society from a matriarchy which never existed in the first place? So that part of Dan Brown’s claim has no credibility.

Dan Brown also claims that it’s within Paganism along with Gnosticism that women are truly valued. Well, we’ve already talked about Gnostic beliefs and saw how they degrade women… as you may recall, they even taught that the only hope for a woman to be saved was for her to somehow become a man. We’ve dealt with that, so we’re not going to rehash it this morning. So let’s move on to talk about Pagan religion. Now, I am not an expert on Paganism. But I do know that there was no one Pagan belief system… there were many. Some of them included several gods and goddesses; others had only gods. And none of them actually affirmed women.

In Greece, India and China, women had no rights and were considered only to be the property of men. Aristotle taught that women were inferior by nature and ranked them someplace between and slave and a man. Plato taught that if a man lived a cowardly life, he would be reincarnated as a woman. In Greece, a wife could not leave her house unescorted. And when the husband had company to the home, she had to remain in her quarters. Women were not educated and were not allowed to speak in public. For a woman, silence was considered to be her greatest grace, even in her own home. And what’s more, women weren’t just seen to be inferior… they were evil. They were the source of evil and were not to be trusted.

And ancient Roman paganism was not much better. There, women had a lot more freedom to be out in public, but were still viewed as the property of their husbands. And in many Pagan belief systems, women were treated as nothing more than objects for sexual fulfillment. Which, by the way, is the same way that the secret rituals promoted in The DaVinci Code portrays them.

Now contrast that with what happened when Christianity was introduced into society. Here’s what Garlow has to say about that…

“The Advent of Christianity radically transformed the fate of women. Even ancient Roman pagan scholars agree that it was a turning point for the freedom and dignity of women.”
~ James Garlow & Peter Jones, Cracking DaVinci’s Code, p. 63

So the best thing that ever happened for women was the emergence of Christianity. Right from the very beginning it attributed worth and dignity to women. And the Church has been the primary advocate for women throughout the centuries.

• In pagan China, it was common for female babies to be killed because they were not valued as much as boys. But with the influence of Christian missionaries, that began to change.
• Also in China, it used to be standard practice for women to bind their feet. They’d wrap them up tight in order to keep their feet small because that was seen as attractive. Problem was, it could lead to gangrene, amputation, and even death. And with Christian influence, that practice was abolished. A great movie, but the way, which shows this is The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman.
• In India, if a husband died, the wife was expected to take her life and follow her husband in death, even if she was still young with a full life in front of her. This practice was called suttee, and it was ended by the influence of Christians.
• Amy Carmichael was a Christian who rescued young girls from the Hindu practice of temple prostitution and fought to put an end to it.

Whenever Christianity has been introduced to a society, women have been elevated. And in the last two centuries in particular, the treatment of women worldwide has improved immensely because of Christian influences. I went on the Concerned Women for America website, and this is what I found there…

“Far from oppressing women, the church has proved to be a liberating force. Women have achieved unprecedented status in nations where Christianity has had an impact.”
~ Concerned Women for America website
http://www.cwfa.org/articledisplay.asp?id=10702&department=CWA&categoryid=misc

So Paganism was not as pro-women and Christianity is not as anti-women as Dan Brown would have you believe. On the whole, Christianity has been very positive and liberating for women.

But that’s not to say that the Church has never strayed from that. There are some rather embarrassing eras and episodes in Church history as it relates to the treatment of women. To deny that would be less than truthful. Even looking at the quotations from early Christian leaders, you’ll find widely divergent views.

“Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.”
~ Clement of Alexandria, Second Century

There, isn’t that inspiring? One of the greatest minds in Church History belonged to Augustine. In fact, a whole lot of our doctrine was formulated by him. He was one of the most influential people in the development of Christianity and in all of Western thought. But even he said some things which we see as being chauvinistic and even ridiculous today. For example, he looked at Genesis where it says Eve was created to be a helper for Adam, and this is what he reasoned…

“I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?”
~ Augustine of Hippo, Fourth Century

Because obviously men make much better friends. That’s what he’s saying. And so Augustine says the only worth of a woman is to have children. And this is a giant in church history! But what he said is blatantly wrong… we’ll come back to that.

So Dan Brown is partially right, when he accuses the Church of saying negative things about women. Some things can’t be excused, and we just need to admit them. But just to show the opposite, here are some other quotes from early Church leaders…

“Many women, also, being strengthened by the grace of God, have performed numerous exploits.”
~ Clement of Rome, First Century

“The virtue of man and woman is the same…. Woman does not possess one nature and man another. Rather, they have the same.”
~ Clement of Alexandria, Second Century

“…The mercy of Christ, and the heavenly grace that would subsequently follow, was equally divided among all; without difference of sex, without distinction of years, without accepting of persons, upon all people of God the gift of spiritual grace was shed.”
~ Cyprian of Carthage, Third Century

And so you have two contradictory viewpoints of women emerging in the Church very early. How can this be explained? Let me offer you a three-part explanation…

 

Why are there anti-female statements and actions in Church history?

1. Even as believers, we are not immune to the influence of society.

Christianity has had a tremendously positive influence on society. But at the same time, society can influence believers. To an extent, we are products of our environment. We all learn certain things as we’re growing. We inherit a worldview. We’re all impacted by what we read and what we see on TV. And all of those can have an impact on our beliefs. We’re not slaves to them, but we do tend to favour them. And that’s why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, to watch our lives and doctrine closely, to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

[Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 4:7; 1 Timothy 4:16]

 

2. The Church is comprised of fallible individuals.

Christians are still prone to making mistakes and having poor judgment. That was certainly true for both Peter and Paul. Even the most reliable, well-intentioned leader will let you down at some point, and so your faith should not be placed in them. It should be placed only in Christ. Look to Him, not the poor examples or even the good examples in Church history.

 

3. Our understanding of God, His Word, and His Church is progressive.

God never changes, but our understanding of Him does. With each new generation, a fresh light is cast upon His Word and new insights are made. The Church is an ever-changing, ever-growing Body. The Church was birthed in Acts 2, but at that point of time it was just a collection of people with no structure. Later on in Acts, it begins to take form with specific ministries and accountable leadership. And it continues to grow and develop today. So we’re growing, we’re changing, and we’re learning.

Let me give you an example of this. The Bible never specifically condemns slavery. You cannot find one passage where it says, “Slavery is wrong.” It’s just not there. And for centuries, Christians reasoned that since the Bible didn’t condemn slavery, it must be okay. No, the Bible did not condemn slavery, and it didn’t condone slavery, either. Instead, it did something much more revolutionary and powerful. It began to instill principles and change our mindset.

Galatians 3:28 (NLT)
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free… For you are all Christians—you are one in Christ Jesus.

Instead of using the “Because I said so” approach (“Slavery’s wrong because I said so”), God uses His Word to build a foundation of equality. Because of Christian influence, slaves began to be treated better and attributed with some value. And eventually, the Church was pivotal in abolishing slavery… not just because God said it was wrong, but because we knew in out gut that it was wrong. He had instilled that value in us.

In fact, you can be proud of your heritage with the Wesleyan Church, because we were at the forefront of that movement in the States. And to show you this from an unbiased viewpoint, I went online to Wikipedia.com, the Online Encyclopedia. I did a search for “Wesleyan Church” and this is what I found…

"The Wesleyan Church … was officially formed in 1843 at an organizing conference in Utica, New York, as a group of ministers and laymen splitting from the Methodist Episcopal Church, primarily over the issue of slavery, though they had secondary issues as well. Rev. Orange Scott presided, as the meeting formed a federation of churches at first calling themselves the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, was formed. … Other leaders at the founding of the church were LaRoy Sunderland, who had been tried and defrocked for his antislavery writings, Lucious C. Matlack, and Luther Lee, a minister who later operated an Underground Railroad station in Syracuse, New York."

You know, the Church is often criticized for tolerating slavery for so long… I wish the critics would also recognize that without the Church, slavery would probably still be an accepted norm here in the Western World. You might also be interested in hearing the next paragraph from Wikipedia…

"In addition to anti-slavery, the early Wesleyan Methodists championed the rights of women. The Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York hosted the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, also known as the Seneca Falls Convention."
~ www.Wikipedia.com, search “Wesleyan Church”

Oh, and that verse I read earlier? I left one phrase out. Let’s take another look at it…

Galatians 3:28 (NLT)
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians—you are one in Christ Jesus.

So this one verse began to lay the foundation for equality between Jews and those outside of the Jewish tradition, between those who were treated as slaves and those who were free, and between men and women. It took a while for all of that to be realized, and in some ways it’s an ongoing process, but it has been part of our Manual… part of our Bible… since the very beginning.

 

Let’s take a look at a related claim from The DaVinci Code:

“The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most bloodsoaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum— or The Witches’ Hammer—indoctrinated the world to “the dangers of freethinking women” and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture, and destroy them… During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.”
~ The DaVinci Code, p. 125

We’ve all heard of the Witch Hunts, and so what Dan Brown says here must be true, right? Well, not really.

That book really did exist, and it was a horrible, vulgar book which gave ways to test whether or not someone was a witch. It was written by Heinrich Kramer, who was a German monk. While he was writing it, he directed the trial of 57 suspected witches until the Bishop of Brixen put a stop to it. The Bishop stated that the devil was in Kramer, not in the witches.

By 1487, Kramer had completed his book and tried to get it published by the Catholic Church, but it was condemned as unethical and illegal. But not to be denied, Kramer forged a glowing letter of reference from them, included it in the book as an endorsement, and was able to get it published elsewhere. The Church officially censured the book in 1490.

Nevertheless, it became the most popular book apart from the Bible and went through about 30 reprints during the next 200 years. It was The DaVinci Code of its day, and it remained so until John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, which in contrast is a wonderful classic about Christian growth, and I’d recommend it to all of you.

As for Malleus Maleficarum… it was not used in the Inquisition as Dan Brown claims. It was, however, used in many secular courts… by the civil government. They were the ones that handed down the majority of death sentence verdicts. Those found guilty of witchcraft by the Church were typically given a non-lethal punishment… such as excommunication or fasting on bread and water for a year.

And as for the claim of 5 million women being killed as witches, that’s an absurd exaggeration. There were actually about 110,000 trials, and about 48% of them resulting in executions. So about 50,000. And between 20-25% of them were men! Now, one person killed is one too many. It’s indefensible. But to claim that the Church killed 5,000,000 women… that’s just a wild exaggeration. And in fact, the movie does recognize this and changes it to 50,000. Still 50,000 too many, but not even close to 5 million.

 

So how does the Church view women? To find the answer to that, you’ve got to look at the Bible. There have been times that the Church has deviated from Biblical teaching… but the great thing about the Bible is that it’s Truth… and Truth has a way of rising to the top. Whenever the Church has strayed, the Word of God has pulled us back. And the Bible has always been acknowledged as our source of authority. So how does it present women?

[Genesis 1:27 (NLT)
So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them.]

Let’s start with what we’re told about Eve. Eve was created as an equal to Adam. Just like Adam, she was created in the image of God and her identity and value was found in that.

[Genesis 2:18 (NIV)
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”]

Now, the Bible does say that Eve was created to be a helper to Adam. Isn’t that a subservient term? Not at all! The word “helper” is used 10 times in the Old Testament. Twice it refers to Eve, and six times it refers to God Himself. Does that mean that God as our Helper is inferior? No. A helper comes from a position of strength, not weakness.

Oh, and by the way, Eve wasn’t even around when God gave Adam the command not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the Bible makes this clear. Even Paul in the New Testament writes…

Romans 5:17 (NLT)
The sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over us…

Eve was an accomplice, yes, but the sin was primarily Adam’s. Eve is not the one blamed, contrary to what The DaVinci Code claims. Adam was. Plus, other women in the Bible are presented with great courage and dignity.

• Esther risked her life, and as a result of her courage was able to save an entire race. (Book of Esther)
• Ruth faithfully cared for her mother-in-law after both of them had been widowed, and she acted very responsibly, and she even stood up for her rights when it came to having a kinsman-redeemer. (Book of Ruth)
• Deborah was a highly-esteemed prophet and judge in Israel. One day she ordered a man named Barak to assemble an army to go against the Canaanites who were oppressing them. Barak said he would do it on one condition… that Deborah lead the army. She agreed but added that she would take the credit for the victory. And she did. And she deserved it. (Judges 4)
• Proverbs devotes chapter 31 to affirming the greatness of women… esteeming them for their remarkable ability to juggle pressures as community leaders, businesswomen, wives, and mothers. It describes anything but a repressed woman. (Proverbs 31)
• In the genealogy of Jesus, there are five women listed. This would have been unheard of at the time. If The DaVinci Code was right and the early church edited the Scriptures, then this certainly would have been changed. (Matthew 1)
• Mary, the mother of Jesus is included in that genealogy. How does the Bible portray her? As a young woman of great character and courage, with a willingness to be used of God. (Luke 1)
• The first person that Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah was a Samaritan woman beside a well. This woman had been divorced several times and was now living with a guy she wasn’t married to, yet Jesus chose her to be the first to learn His true identity. (John 4)
• In Luke 8, it clearly credits a group of women for financing the ministry of Jesus and the disciples. And several women traveled along with them. (Luke 8)
• And who was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection? Mary Magdalene. We talked about her last week. In that society, women were not even allowed to testify in court. But yet a woman was chosen to be the first to testify about the resurrected Jesus. (John 20)
• And then on the Day of Pentecost, Peter gets up to preach and he quotes from the Old Testament book of Joel which says, “In the last days, God said, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17) Which by the way, is the reason that all denominations in the Holiness movement… we’re one of them… and all churches in the Pentecostal movement ordain women and tell them, “Scripturally, you have every right to be able to preach the Gospel.” We’ve done it since our denomination was founded.

So the Bible clearly portrays women as being equal to men. Men and women together were to carry on the Church. In fact, it’s highly probable that women outnumbered the men in the early church and were pivotal to the rapid spread and growth of the Church. And there have been tremendous women who have played pivotal roles in the church throughout the centuries… Perpetua, Felicitas, Monica, Clare, Catherine of Sienna, Katherina von Bora, Susanna Wesley, Phoebe Palmer, Catherine Booth, Elizabeth Elliot, Joni Erickson, Ann Graham Lotz, Mother Teresa…

Again, I’m not trying to excuse people or churches that have acted in very unchristian ways. But the Christian Church has led to important advancements in the area of equal rights and does have a history of strong female leadership. Is there more to do? Sure there is. But please don’t blame the Church for all the woes of womanhood when the Church has done so much to advance equality.

 

“Jesus was the original feminist.”
~ The DaVinci Code, p. 248

Is this true? Yes and no. It depends on what you mean by feminist. So let’s talk about…

 

Two Branches of Feminism:

Biblical Feminism

First is Biblical Feminism. We’ve already seen how Jesus and the entire Bible actually affirm women. He validated the role and value of women. His positive acceptance and treatment of women express that women are equal to men… that they have an intrinsic value… that they have something to contribute to society and to the Church… Yes, males and females are different, but they are unquestionably equal. That is the message of Jesus. And it was Jesus, not any pagan religion, which began to turn the tide in the way that women were treated. Remember the passage Chris read for us earlier? About how Jesus defended and offered restoration and a fresh start to the woman caught in adultery? He uplifted the outcast and the forsaken.

That is Biblical feminism, and in that sense, Jesus was a feminist. That’s the kind of feminism that was behind that meeting in the Wesleyan Church in Seneca Falls, NY. But there’s another kind of feminism…

 

Radical Feminism

This is the a chauvinistic feminism that goes beyond equality… it teaches that women are superior to men. Robin Morgan is a high-profile radical feminist, and when she gives lectures, she refuses to take questions from men. They raise their hands, she ignores them. And she has been quoted as saying…

“I feel that man-hating is honorable.”
~ Robin Morgan, Radical Feminist

But she’s wrong. Man-hating is no more honorable than woman-hating. Both are unbiblical… both are unchristian.

Biblical Feminism removes the wedge that had existed between the genders… Radical Feminism drives it deeper, and runs contrary to everything Jesus taught us about women.

 

Just before we finish up, I have a short video for you to watch…

[VIDEO – Strobel 1035 – How Should Christianity Treat Women?] (2:00)


So there you have it. Women were created to be different from but equal to men, and together in partnership women and men are to participate in, support, and lead the Church. Women are created every bit in the image of God as men are.

Come back next week for the big sex talk.

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2006 SunriseOnline.ca