LUGANO, Switzerland, 7 JUNE 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
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
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
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
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
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
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. ZE06060724