The Da Vinci Code: Chapter 34

Summary: Bishop Aringarosa is driven to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, for a top secret meeting. As he rides, he remembers his first visit to the residence, five months previously. The meeting had taken place in the Vatican’s Astronomy Library, but readers learn nothing more of it in this chapter, except for the fact that a six month deadline for a “deadly chain of events” was given that left Aringarosa shaken. He has returned now to see that chain of events through to its conclusion. He worries briefly along the way that the Teacher has not called him, for “Silas should have the keystone by now.”

Analysis: Brown makes fine use of dramatic irony in this chapter, creating suspense by simultaneously showing readers that they have knowledge Aringarosa does not (namely, Silas’ failure to obtain the Keystone) and by withholding key information from readers: we do not yet learn what Aringrarosa learned at the Astronomical Library five months previously, only that he had heard “shocking news” with “devastating implications” (p. 163). We do, however, learn a little more about Aringarosa as a character. Like Silas, Aringarosa has definite ideas about what constitutes service to God and what does not. The Bishop does not feel that the Church should be involved in science: “What was the rationale for fusing science and faith? Unbiased science could not possibly be performed by a man who possessed faith in God. Nor did faith have any need for physical confirmation of its beliefs” (p. 162). Like many people, Aringarosa feels that science and faith must necessarily be in conflict; he admits no possibility of one enhancing the other—even though the Roman Catholic Church has long since recanted of its treatment of such scientists as Galileo, and has embraced the view that science and faith need not be enemies. The inclusion of Aringarosa’s reflections on science and faith put him at odds, therefore, with the Church—even as he is at odds with the fictional Pope reigning at the time of the novel’s events, an “unprecedented liberal” interested in revitalizing the Church’s work (p. 161). That detail highlights a distinction in Aringarosa’s mind between serving the institutional Church and serving God: while Aringarosa is highly critical (at least in the privacy of his own thoughts) of the Church, feeling that “The Vatican has gone mad” and spends too much time “trying to reinvent itself to accommodate a culture gone astray” (p. 163), the Bishop’s faith in God is unshaken. That faith, however, may be masking a more abiding faith in Aringarosa’s own power and prestige. His lament over the relatively plain nature of his transportation from the Airport—“Aringarosa recalled a day when all Vatican transports were big luxury cars… Those days are gone” (p. 161) ironically echoes Langdon’s earlier reflections on the death of the feminine principle in religion (“The days of the goddess were over,” p. 135). Langdon laments the loss of an authentic, holistic spirituality that would benefit everyone; Aringarosa laments the loss of an ostentatious, hierarchical status system that benefits him. Even in that loss, however, the Bishop consoles himself by telling himself that his ring, an outward trapping of his high ecclesiastical office, “was a symbol of a power far less than that which he would soon attain” (p. 164). By the chapter’s end, we are without doubt that Bishop Aringarosa is an ambitious, avaricious individual, more concerned with his own will than with God’s. He stands as a warning of how such individuals can cloak the selfish pursuit of their own wills in pious, self-righteous talk of the will of God.