Last night, Trillium and I watched Ron Howard’s latest Robert Langdon movie “Angels and Demons”. It wasn’t bad; typical Hollywood fare, though, I am afraid. There were lots of chase scenes and a rather stellar explosion at the end; dozens of people died, generally at point blank range. As a result, the visual impact of A&D was far greater than the “Da Vinci Code”, and considerably less cerebral. We watched the special features section on the DVD where Ron and the boys tried to explain why that was the case. Ron Howard wanted to do a movie that stretched his directorial skills; something that was different from the “Da Vinci Code”. He asserted that he had never been interested in doing a sequel of any kind because that implied doing the same thing over again. But He and Dan Brown agreed that something different could be done with “Angels and Demons”; they never said what the different thing was and why it could be done. I am prepared to tell you, however.
The fact of the matter is that A&D was the first of the three Langdon novels that have been written; the “Da Vinci Code” being the second, and the “Lost Key”, published earlier this year, was the third. The “Lost Key” concerns itself with the esoteric aspects of Freemasonry as expressed in the architecture of Washington DC. While the Masons in the story are almost entirely sympathetic characters, the rituals of the fraternity are graphically represented. Were I a Mason, I might have been a little disturbed at the manner in which the Masonic symbols were rather starkly presented, most of which without explanation, without laying out the underlying history from whence the symbols developed. One comes away from the book asking one’s self, “How could these intelligent, well-educated men engage in what appear to be medieval barbarisms”. Frankly, I believe that Dan Brown’s intent was that we would walk away with that question ringing in our ears. Does Dan Brown have any personal antipathy toward Freemasonry? I doubt it. He is a story teller who found the Masons far too tempting to pass up.
The “Da Vinci Code” explored the legend of the Holy Grail in Gnostic terms. The Gnostics were primarily 2nd Century advocates of the “secret” knowledge that explained the origins of Christianity. The notion that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene has been around for hundreds of years. Some ancient texts suggest that he was also married to Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, the friend whom Jesus raised from the dead. That these women bore him children as been part of Gnostic literature for nearly 2000 years, almost since the foundation of the Christian Church in the meridian of time. Dan Brown was not introducing anything new, but he was revealing ideas that had been suppressed for generations for being heretical to Traditional Christianity. The Catholic Church took umbrage at Brown’s presentation of the Gnostic literature as fact, and was not any less distressed at the rather malignant portrayal of certain segments of Catholic culture. Does Dan Brown have any personal antipathy toward the Catholic Church? I doubt it. He is a story teller who found the Gnostic legends far too tempting to pass up.
“Angels and Demons” treats another secret organization, the Illuminati, and the involvement of such men as Galileo, Bernini, and Raphael. The underlying tension in the story is that which seems to exist between science and religion, some of which played out four hundred years ago in the life of Galileo. The irony of Brown’s theme, however, is that of all of the denominations of traditional Christianity, Catholicism is far more at ease with scientific research and discovery.
Much of this attitude derives from the writings of one of the finest, if not the finest, theological minds that has ever graced the Catholic Church: Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican priest who lived during the 13th Century. His “Summa Theologica” came to inform almost all Catholic philosophy, a work that is based on the Aristotelian approach to truth, the same philosophical approach that informs modern science. Prior to the 13th Century, the greatest Catholic thinker was probably Saint Augustine, a neo-Platonist who lived during the second half of the 4th Century and the first half of the 5th Century. For eight centuries, from Augustine to Aquinas, the Catholic approach to doctrinal philosophy followed in the same path established by Augustine in his “The City of God” and “On Christian Doctrine”.
When the Protestant Reformers sought for recognition, they essentially rejected Thomas Aquinas and Aristotelianism, and turned to the kind of Neo-Platonist approach that Augustine had advocated. For five centuries, from the 15th Century to modern times, the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism has been fundamentally the same as that which naturally existed between the Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. Therefore, Protestants tend to be far more offended by scientific thought than are Catholics. Hence, to find in Brown’s Camerlengo, the advisor to the Pope, a rabid Platonist, a reactionary to Aquinan thought, is almost too much to swallow. Brown overstepped himself a little there.
The “Da Vinci Code” is a far more cerebral volume than is “Angels and Demons” and while it does have some action, the real power of the writing is in the pursuit of the Grail legend. “Angels and Demons” is more of a thriller, a story that takes place during a twelve-hour period, an hour by hour race to save the lives of the four Cardinals and to find the anti-matter bomb. The Illuminati legend is not as richly important as was the Grail legend and as a result, there is not as much philosophy to discuss. The books, therefore, differ radically in their pacing and focus. Ron Howard perceived that difference between the two novels and saw how “Angels and Demons” could be a “different” movie. The irony here is that although the movie is different from the “Da Vinci Code”, it is very much like every other action/adventure movie that Hollywood has cranked out in the last thirty years or so. It will be interesting to see whether Ron Howard can perceive another “difference” in the “Lost Key” that would compel him to direct the third movie.