ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome
LUGANO, Switzerland, JUNE 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Dan Brown's best seller
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
Q: Is it true that the Church has demonized the pentacle, a five-pointed
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,
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
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
"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
Moreover, the pentacle appears no less than as a magic and apotropaic
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
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
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
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
This practice, sadly, again rather widespread at present, is the object
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
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
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%
The figure in general was lower in Catholic countries, which were not
the Protestant Reformation.
In Spain, Italy and Portugal of the mid-16th century to the end of the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
represented preferably with "masculine" symbols?
Father Hauke: I would say yes, though one also finds "feminine" features
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,
revelation of Jesus who speaks of our "Father in heaven" -- and not of "our Mother
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.