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'Da Vinci Code's' Devilish Gaffes

6/8/2006 - 5:45 AM PST

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Interview With Father Manfred Hauke

LUGANO, Switzerland, JUNE 8, 2006 (Zenit) - 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 ...

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