Saturday, August 8, 2009

Clue #98: Pope Boniface VIII

Posted at 1:18 p.m. (PDT) on Wed., August 5th:

MCCCIII The death of this foe of Dante.

This is clearly a reference to Pope Boniface VIII born about 1235, died in 1303 ("MCCCIII," in Roman numerals). Why would he be of interest to The Lost Symbol? As it happens, there is a reason, and mentioning Dante's name in the clue pins that reason down.

Pope Boniface VIII had very strong opinions concerning the separation of church and state -- a concept to which he was utterly opposed. In his papal bull, Unam Sanctam (1302), he declared that "it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff." In another papal bull, Ausculta Fili (1301), he declared that "God has set popes over kings and kingdoms."

Today, Dante Alighieri is best remembered for writing his magnificent fictional trilogy, "The Divine Comedy" (the Inferno, the Purgatoria, and the Paradiso). However, Dante wrote other works, including a political treatise, De Monarchia ("On Monarchy"), composed at some time between 1308 and 1318. In this book, he argued against theocracy (that is, government by religious authorities), and essentially made a case for the separation of church and state. This position led to conflict between him and Pope Boniface VIII.

What might any of this have to do with The Lost Symbol? There are a couple of ways in which all of this might be relevant.

In his Langdon novels, Dan Brown likes to consider issues dealing with the Catholic Church, issues both centuries-old and contemporary (in Angels & Demons, the relationship of science and religion; in The Da Vinci Code, the nature of Jesus, and the divine Feminine). The issue of separation of church and state has always been a touchy one; indeed, it has been a hot-button issue in American politics for almost 30 years, although not by any means exclusively involving the Catholic Church. I expect that one of the plot devices to appear in The Lost Symbol will be a conspiracy to exert religious influence over the political process -- maybe even a full-blown theocratic conspiracy.

There is an interesting aspect on this theme that involves another facet of The Lost Symbol. We do know that the novel is set within the world of Freemasonry. The separation of church and state has long been embraced by Freemasonry, which has long had a policy of not discussing sectarian religion or politics in their lodge rooms, and who are generally forbidden to consider a candidate's religion or politics when considering someone for membership.

It is not generally known these days that Freemasonry has been condemned for taking these positions -- by a Roman Catholic pope in the 19th century. Pope Leo XIII promulgated the papal encyclical Humanum Genus, which specifically criticized the Masons' support for the separation of church and state. The encyclical also criticizes Masonry for its support of public education and the right to civil (as opposed to solely religious) marriages.

(Humanum Genus also condemns Freemasonry for a variety of other reasons that betray a profound misunderstanding of Freemasonry, but that is a story for another time and place; my book on the subject is in process. I am in the midst of a series on my Masonic blog regarding Catholicism and Freemasonry; the most recent post, which links to earlier posts, is available here.)

At the time Humanum Genus was published in 1884, a response was issued on behalf of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry by its famous leader, Albert Pike. The Scottish Rite has long emphasized several principles in its dramatic degree rituals that are relevant to resistance to theocratic rule. Prominent among these are such principles as:
  • a resistance to tyranny of all types, including religious tyranny;
  • support for religious and political freedom;
  • support for public education and free inquiry.

(One can find this described in detail in some books written for Scottish Rite Freemasons, including Rex R. Hutchens' A Bridge to Light and Arturo de Hoyos' Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide. No, I don't make a dime off sales of either book. Yes, I am a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Freemason.)

Thus, it is possible that, in The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown will feature a face-off between a theocratic conspiracy, on the one hand, and some component of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, on the other.

Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

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