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Three Takes

On the novelist:

I have not read the novel by Dan Brown on which this film (directed, like its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code, by Ron Howard) is based. I have come to believe that to do so would be a sin against my faith, not in the Church of Rome but in the English language, a noble and beleaguered institution against which Mr. Brown practices vile and unspeakable blasphemy.

On the actor:

Played by Tom Hanks in his high minimalist mode, his face stroboscopically snapping from wry smirk to worried squint and back again, Langdon is something of a cipher in his own right, a walking embodiment of skeptical intellect who seems, most of the time, not to have a thought in his head

On the film:

The utter silliness of Angels & Demons is either its fatal flaw or its saving grace, and in the spirit of compassion I suppose Id be inclined to go with the second option. The movie all but begs for such treatment.When you write about us, an erstwhile nemesis says to Langdon near the end, and you will write about us, do so gently. It was as if he were looking right into my soul. And how could I refuse such a humble, earnest petition? Go in peace.

The Times more critical than Osservatore Romano? O tempora, o mores!

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Okay, Bob: As we lawyers like to say, "you opened the door" (to a line of questioning)! Are you going to see it?

It is time to settle this "Galileo" nonsense once and for all. The Earth, simply because it can sustain Life, has the OBVIOUS preferred position in the Universe and can not be moved from this position. This is exactly what God intended from the beginning. With all due respect for Galileo, I say, Galileo, Smalileo, enough is enough!

Cathy,I'm waiting for the prequel.Nancy, On Galileo et alii: David Bentley Hart's "Atheist Delusions," well-reviewed by William Portier in the last Commonweal, is a good treatment of some of modernity's most fashionable and self-serving myths.

P.S., Regarding" Angels and demons", if you begin with nonsense, you end with nonsense. Thumbs up for all the Angels, down for all those demons.

Thank you, Father. I will pick up a copy of "Atheist Delusions".

I just find the finger-wagging CCD teacher-mentality quite counterproductive on all of this. Maybe they'll finally learn from the approach of the Vatican. I do wonder if the Vatican called in some PR people--the response was so different.

Cathy,who is doing the "finger-wagging" and who is the "they?" The Times as CCD teacher? Now that is fantastical beyond angels or demons.

I wasn't interested in "Angels and Demons" after reading/seeing "The DaVinci Code." Don't plan to see "A&D." But what's all this nastiness about Galileo? The man did real science at a time when the alchemists were still trying to turn lead into gold, and when some researchers believed that if you could produce a mouse by putting a dirty shirt in a container of water (I am not making this up; I seen it on "Nova").Some hierarchs in the Church made a mistake with Galileo by trying to control how and when he made his astronomical observations public. I don't see the need to obsess over it, either.But I also believe that the Church's early loggerheads with scientists helped free the faith from the errors of literal, fundie-gelical interpretations of the Bible. My Baptist in-laws believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old (like Bishop Usher said), and that carbon dating that proves anything here is older than 6,000 years is a big lie. And my Amish relatives insist the world is flat. At a gathering one time, they were saying that the politicians in Washington faked all that space travel in order to turn everybody against the Bible and make us all atheists.Cathleen, best of luck with your hat and medal. If you see the Wizard, maybe you could get me some extra brains so I can understand what Nancy and Fr. Imbelli are talking about.

Your criticism of Dan Brown as a blasphemer of the English language is a bit hysterical., unless it is just purple prose, excessive criticism by a pundit, whose prejudices rule his mind. I may disagree with Mr. Brown's far out plots, his dislike of the Church and its wayward sinners in high places, but I could not adjudge him as a blasphemer of language without reading his written blasphemies. For what it is worth, I was a Jesuit scholastic in my youth, taught philosophy at a Jesuit University in Asia, earned a doctorate in a Jesuit graduate school. I never heard one professor during all those years go to the excesses you have shown towards Mr. Brown. And I am surprised enough to offer this comment. In case it was all in fun, tongue in cheek, plain jest, you are aware that "The Da Vinci Code" is the biggest selling novel of all time. 81,000,000 copies in print in early 2009. Translated into 51 languages. A tall tale, maybe, but hardly blasphemy of language, even for English, Professor. Certainly not in the words you wrote: "vile and unspeakable blasphemy."

E. Paul Kelly -- Those are A.O. Scott's words, and I think he's just looking for a cute way to say Dan Brown is a lousy writer.Personally, I'm offended by the Tea and Sympathy paraphrase. That's a bridge too far!

Mollie, thank you. I don't want to diss a theology prof at BC. Never heard of A.O. Scott before. Now I know he's a professional critic; they can be forgiven for writing for "show" as well as for "dough." I can say this, without rancor. My brother was the Drama Critic on The Boston Globe for 40 years. A lot of producers and directors didn't like him too much. Grateful to you for the lesson.

I thought the the A.O Scott review bang-on, and the tongue-in-cheek skewering perfect. I earn much enmity for this, but Dan Brown's writing is most charitably viewed as parody. It almost makes it worth reading, for the laughs. But I'm a snob that way, and I enjoy plenty of trash in other realms. So judge not...I feel sorriest for Bill Donohue--he was reduced to calling the movie "spectacularly stupid," a verdict that could leveled on 80 percent of films, I suspect. He went and saw it, and may have realized he was still thinking of The Da Vinci Code when he took on Ron Howard over A&D. Anyway, this is the sound of Bill being sheepish:http://www.catholicleague.org/release.php?id=1613

The Washington Post reviewer ("Style" section) is not to be outdone by his NYT colleague. The opening paragraphs:"Novelist Dan Brown, whose "Angels&Demons" is such a slab of cheese it ought to come with a box of crackers, has fueled his most successful potboiler with the mysteries of the Catholic Church. The church, it turns out, has nothing on the workings of Ron Howard.In bringing Brown's pre-"Da Vinci Code" novel to the screen -- and praying for another $750 million payday -- the director has decided that plot, character and motivations should be treated like the Third Secret of Fatima. If you've read the book, you'll merely be confused. If you haven't, you'll think Tom Hanks is speaking Latin." (John Anderson, "Heaven & Dearth")" And in the "Weekend" section of the Post the same reviewer, in a briefer review, says the film manages "to be more obscure than a Latin Mass." That, I won't touch. Probably already went too far!Will I see it? It has been a very reluctant spring in this southern city. One more cool, grey day could drive me to it. I have walked out of many films, and it will be a good walk in any case.

Speaking of obscurity --the walk to the theater and back will be good exercise. The walk out of the theater would probably have few cardio-pulmonary benefits.

Mr. Kelly,for old times sake, here is the opening of the review in today's Boston Globe: "Not all trash is art, but there's an art to making trash. So, father, forgive the makers of "Angels & Demons," for they know not what they do." This from a reviewer whose CCD sensibilities have never been manifest.When you write: "I dont want to diss a theology prof at BC." Can that be decoded as an apology for your previous accusation: "excessive criticism by a pundit, whose prejudices rule his mind"?

I am looking forward t seeing the movie, because the book only gave us word pictures of Rome's architecture, statues, fountains and more. Based on the wonderful rapture in front of Newton's tomb in Dav Vinci Code (the movie) I am expecting some excellent presentations of Bernini.As to the conflict of science and religion, I am not really sure which side Brown is on. Doesn't he have someone carrying anti-matter around Rome in their pocket? I would not have been surprised if someone had fallen off the edge of our flat planet.

Nancy, Nancy, the verdict is in. Two popes and a number of cardinals, including Robert Bellarmine were wrong and Gallileo was right about the earth moving and not being in the center and about how to read Scripture when its seems to contradict well established fact. You need to get over it and move on.

Last evening Larry King interviewed Howard and Tom Hanks. In the bit I saw, Hanks gave a pious little homily about the separattion of church and state. He ACtuALLY SAID that the founders of our nation had the good sense to write down clearly on a piece of paper (the Constitution) that there must be a separation of church and state. So much for historical accuracy :-)

(OK,so I made such a howler myself not too long ago. Sigh. My criticism still holds.)

Having read the Portier review I am in the dark as to what Hart actually says about Galileo. Any light out there?

There may be "self-serving myths" but the Church's problems with science are not mythical. Of more recent vintage is the doctrinal indigestibility of Darwin's theory of evolution, which led to the following pronouncement of Vatican I:9 [A]ll faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth."In "Roman Catholicism and Modern Science", by Don O'Leary, the author recounts the story of St. George Mivart, a prominent and respected critic of Darwin, who starts out as a loyal Catholic and ends up being excommunicated when he questions the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy in the light of modern science. As O'Leary says, "The church authorities chose to respond by censure and excommunication rather than seriously attempting to engage in meaningful dialogue, as Mivart so naively hoped they would." Of course, Teilhard De Chardin would have met the same fate had he chose to publish while he was alive.

I know we're speaking of myths fostered by atheists here but there is also the myth that the academy suppresses the Church's role in fostering the search for scientific knowledge,In fact, authoritative accounts of the history of science give full weight to the Church's contributions throughout history. The idea that the academy seeks to suppress the truth in this regard does not hold water. As the previous post indicates, though, there's no doubt that the Church worked to suppress the results of scientific discoveries deemed to be at odds with Church doctrine. In my opinion, the urge to suppress inconvenient scientific conclusions applies whenever the results conflict with any received wisdom, whether sectarian or not.

In my opinion, what Catholics ought to be concerned about is an image of Catholicism presented to the non-Catholic public as the cultish repository of superstition, secret rites, magic and the occult -- a Catholic version of "Raiders of the Lost Arc". Why is it that all these films seeking to evoke daemonic terror are accompanied by a sound track with some choir chanting latin that sounds like a bad imitation of "Carmina Burana"?

Robert Imbelli, yes, an apology. I am sorry I did not see that the words were not yours. I misread the title "Three Takes" as three separate takes of your own and was surprised enough to sound off, without stopping to do one "take" -- a breath. Some reasons, but not excuses for an impulsive reaction. I'm 80, not as clear headed as long ago, and am doing my best not to act like those I criticize. Obviously my best is not too good. Second. don't read newspapers any more, just scan headlines in a new browser, Safari. I get gists not stuff. Never heard the NYT's critic's name before. Last. my class at BC was 1949, last century, millennium, too. Remember me to elderly Jesuits on campus. I was one for a few years after college. Sorry for thinking you were a prejudiced pundit. Never thought Dan Brown was much of a writer and had trouble finishing "The Da Vinci Code." Not interested in "Angels and Demons, " Although I am the Paul Kelly, Robert Blair Kaiser killed off as the Cardinal's lawyer in "Cardinal Mahony: a Novel."

Dear Mr. Kelly,Thank you for your words; I'm happy to meet you. Congratulations on your 60th anniversary! Will you be coming to B.C.?Joseph Gannon, I would say that Hart seeks to contextualize the affair. Here are two quotes, both from page 66 of the book:"Galileo elected to propound a theory whose truth he had not demonstrated, while needlessly mocking a powerful man [Urban VIII] who had treated him with honor and indulgence." "Measured against centuries of ecclesial patronage of the sciences, and considering that in Galileo's day (and long after) many of the world's greatest and most original scientists ... were to be found among the Jesuits, one episode of asinine conflict among proud and intemperate men does not exactly constitute a pattern of Christian intellectual malfeasance."Antonio Manetti,A bad imitation of "Carmina Burana" must be the quintessence of badness! As for Catholics being concerned about the image presented -- what forms should that concern take?

"a Catholic version of Raiders of the Lost Arc"HehRoger Evert gave the movie three stars out of four, so I guess he didn't hate it. It does seem like Catholic scary movies are the scariest ... can't really imagine a Protestant version of The Exocist or The Prophecy or The Seventh Seal :)

I saw it last night in a half-full (at 7:00) theater of about 500 seats. It was a fun thriller. I found it to be mildly troublesome in a few spots but, all in all, a ripping good yarn that is easily recognizable as a bit of fiction. Even Tom Hanks defended the church (sort of) in a couple of spots.

Robert Imbelli, We'll try to get to BC for the 60th. With sickness in our family here, we don't leave for any length of time. But that is a recent excuse, because I haven't made one class reunion yet. Thanks for your understanding.Paul

As for Catholics being concerned about the image presented what forms should that concern take?I'd say a film adaptation of any of J. F. Powers' stories or novels would at least be an antodote. My choice would be "Keystone".

Fr. Imbelli: Thanks for taking the trouble to supply the quotes.Galileo elected to propound a theory whose truth he had not demonstrated, while needlessly mocking a powerful man [Urban VIII] who had treated him with honor and indulgence.I would respond along these lines. Galileo decided to use the form of a dialogue to make a case for which he had good, even if not conclusive, experimental evidence. He did make a tactical mistake in putting Urbans words in the mouth of one of the less bright speakers. Urban chose to focus on this slight. But again one must look at the context Using the telescope Galileo had introduced new and important evidence about the motion of the earth and its position relative to the sun, and he rightly cited Augustine about the way to read Scripture when it seems to be inconsistent with demonstrable fact. The church authorities should have acknowledged that he might well be right or at least on the right track and encouraged further investigation in pursuit of conclusive proof. If Galileo was overconfident in his position, so were they in theirs. Time, as we all know, was on Galileos side. Measured against centuries of ecclesial patronage of the sciences, and considering that in Galileos day (and long after) many of the worlds greatest and most original scientists were to be found among the Jesuits, one episode of asinine conflict among proud and intemperate men does not exactly constitute a pattern of Christian intellectual malfeasance.It can be fairly said that one bad decision hardly adds up to a pattern of obscurantism. Point taken. What must also be said, though, is this. Having made a serious mistake, ecclesial authorities were very--one had almost said unconscionably--slow to acknowledge that mistake. I will not attempt to rehearse this dreary tale here. The best one volume treatment of the whole affair is The Church and Galileo, a collection of papers by experts edited by Ernan McMullin. John Paul did attempt to set the record straight, but he did not quite succeed. Recently, however, there was a conference at the Vatican celebrating Galileo and the 400th anniversary of his first publication of his earth shaking discoveries. Benedict is rightly concerned to insist that natural science and theology are not enemies. I hear, though, that the offer of a statue was declined for lack of appropriate space. To be fair, it must also be said that the recent conference on Darwin seems, from what one hears, to have been well thought out and devoid of gaffes.

It can be fairly said that one bad decision hardly adds up to a pattern of obscurantism... What must also be said, though, is this. Having made a serious mistake, ecclesial authorities were veryone had almost said unconscionablyslow to acknowledge that mistake.Not so. In the context of the Church's history of repeated clashes with science, the charge of obscurantism is a valid one. The Church reacts defensively to any scientific finding that threatens its doctrinal primacy, its claim to infallibility and hence its authority. The tactic is to wait until the affair fades from public consciousnes, make the doctrinal changes when no one is looking then gloss over the fact that there was a conflict to begin with.

Antonio Manetti"Not so. In the context of the Churchs history of repeated clashes with science, the charge of obscurantism is a valid one"You speak of repeated clashes. Could you mention a few of them.

"The tactic is to wait until the affair fades from public consciousnes, make the doctrinal changes when no one is looking then gloss over the fact that there was a conflict to begin with."Yep .... "as the Church has always taught ...."

Mr. Gannon, you implied that the Galileo affair was a mere aberration and therefore the accusation of obscurantism was unfounded. The historical record does not support that view. I've already mentioned Mivart and De Chardin. However, rather than give a blow-by-blow recounting (other than the examples I've already posted), here's the view of Fr. Jerome J. Langford, from his book "Galileo Science and the Church", as quoted in "Roman Catholicism and Modern Science":The Church's reaction to scientific advance has seemed to follow the same pattern for centuries. The scientiific discovery of theory is announced and the theologians react defensively. The scientific evidence gains acceptance and theologians begin to investigate ways of incorporating the new insights either by changing their interpretation of Scripture or by doing a bit of reorganizing of their pet world views. Usually by the time theologians get around to accepting a scientific discovery, they are years behind the time.As to Galileo, the affair continues to rankle critics because the Church has consistently refused to accept that it cannot get by through merely throwing a few bishops and theologians under the bus. The buck has to stop at the Papacy itself.In my opinion, evolution is a bigger deal nowadays because the science strikes at the heart of the Church's theology regarding Adam and Eve, Original Sin and Salvation. Maybe, one of these days, the Church will figure out how to reconcile all that. In which case, we'll once again hear the refrain "as the Church has always held...".

Mr. Manetti; You cite my words but you misunderstand what I said. I was deliberately narrowing my attention to the Galileo affair and trying to respond to what Hart had said as cited by Fr. Imbelli. I still think it is fair to say that the Galileo affair does not of itself prove a trend to obscurantist opposition to discovery in the natural sciences. On the broader question you raise I would agree that theologians have had great difficulties with evolution but as the scientific case has become stronger and stronger the Popes have finally reacted sensibly and even boldly. In the early twentieth century resistance to the historico-critical method applied to Scripture led to much folly. It is not for nothing that the "traditionalist" schismatics proclaim the glories of Pius X and the oath against modernism. But all the more should we credit Pius XII and Divino afflante Spiritu.

I still think it is fair to say that the Galileo affair does not of itself prove a trend to obscurantist opposition to discovery in the natural sciences. If that's all that was being asserted, then I agree. However, the quote you cited seemed to go beyond that and elide certain unpleasant historical facts. In any event, the history of the Church's engagement with science is a complex one that's best left for another thread.

Crystal says: cant really imagine a Protestant version of The Exocist or The Prophecy or The Seventh Seal :)Jean suggests: Try "The Rapture." The auteur is a Jew fascinated by the whole fundie-gelical apocalyptic vision. Very thought-provoking and mighty scary on several levels.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.