Summary: Saunière’s killer, a red-eyed albino monk named Silas, returns to his lodgings where he phones his “Teacher” to report success: “All four are gone. The three sénéchaux… and the Grand Master himself.” He further reports that all four of his victims told him of “the legendary keystone”—“an engraved tablet that revealed the final resting place of the brotherhood’s greatest secret”—and that it is located in Paris, at the Eglise de Saint-Sulpice. As he waits one hour, per his Teacher’s instructions, to enter that fortress-like church, Silas flagellates himself in religious devotion using a cilice (a spike-studded leather belt).
Analysis: No small part of the controversy created by The Da Vinci Code upon its publication lay in its depiction of the murderous Silas as one of the “true followers of The Way” (p. 14). Although “The Way” is one (rarely used) name for the Christian church in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 18:26), in the context of the novel it is a name for Opus Dei, a Catholic institution founded in 1928 by Saint Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975). “Its status since 1982 has been that of a personal prelature, its superior exercising over members a similar authority to that of a bishop… Its founder was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1992” (The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997; p. 716). According to Opus Dei’s website, “Its mission is to spread the message that work and the circumstances of everyday life are occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society” (www.opusdei.org). Members of Opus Dei objected to its depiction in Brown’s novel as a clandestine, sinister cabal; they also accused Brown of overemphasizing and sensationalizing the practice of “corporal mortification” in which Silas engages (p. 15). Opus Dei has, however, been criticized for its authoritative nature. Although self-flagellation (sometimes referred to as “mortification of the flesh”) is one ancient Christian monastic practice, an Opus Dei response to the film adaptation of the novel states, “The Da Vinci Code’s bloody depictions of mortification are grotesque exaggerations that have nothing to do with reality. Obviously the movie makers were looking for shock value, and the real use of the cilice and discipline would have been too tame. In reality, they cause a fairly low level of discomfort comparable to fasting. There is no blood, no injury, nothing to harm a persons health, nothing traumatic. If it caused any harm, the Church would not allow it… Despite The Da Vinci Code’s morbid attention to mortification, for real members of Opus Dei it plays a secondary role. The primary thing for any Catholic is love of God and neighbor” (Rev. Michael Barrett, “Opus Dei and Corporal Mortification,” http:www.opusdei.us/art.php?p=16367; accessed 12 May 2009).
One suspects, however, that Brown is more interested in creating a compelling villain for his novel than in presenting a fair and fully trustworthy portrait of Opus Dei. His choice to portray Silas as an albino reinforces this conclusion; the “evil albino” is a common stereotype, particularly in film. According to an issue of ResearchPennState, an online journal of Penn State University, scholars have suggested “that albinos are common in villainous roles because of a perceived likeness to other scary creatures… ‘Since albinos are deprived of normal skin and hair pigmentation and their eyes feature blue or pink irises,’ [Professor Robert] Lima says, ‘it’s easy to understand how supernatural connotations have attached to them.’ For instance, he says, an albino resembles a vampire ‘in that both have the paleness of death,’ and a werewolf, which shares ‘the fiery-red pupils that menace potential victims in the dark of the night.’ In The Da Vinci Code, Lima sees references to yet another familiar horror type, the zombie, ‘since its features and single-mindedness are close to those of Silas’” (http:www.rps.psu.edu/probing/albino.html; accessed 12 May 2009).