The previous two posts asserted that The Da Vinci Code is a fictional work with historical pretensions—with an emphasis on the word pretense. Just keeping up with the mistakes, fallacies, and ad hominems in the novel can be exhausting.
Perhaps no slander is greater in The Da Vinci Code than character Leigh Teabing’s assertion that orthodox Christianity, with its belief in a divine Jesus, was a scheme cooked up by Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea in the early 4th century in a crass attempt at political deal-making and power consolidation. Consider the following exchange between Teabing and the incredulous Sophie Neveu (a thinly-veiled name suggestive of the meaning “new wisdom”).
“At this gathering [Nicaea],” Teabing said, “many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon–the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of the sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus.”
“I don’t follow. His divinity?”
“My dear,” Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.”
“Not the Son of God?”
“Right,” Teabing said. “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.”
“Hold on. You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?”
“A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added.1
This claim is utterly preposterous. From the beginning of the Church’s history, the received teaching directly from the New Testament writers was that God was a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Consider the evidence from just a small selection of the Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Church Fathers from the first and second centuries, who wrote long before the council ever occurred:
Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 110 A.D.)
“For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan.” (Letter to the Ephesians, 18:2).
Clement of Rome (c. 96 A.D.)
“Brothers, we ought to think of Jesus Christ, as we do of God, as ‘Judge of the living and the dead’” (2 Clement 1:1, 2).
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.)
“The Son . . . who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God” (First Apology of Justin, 63).2
While it is true that there were dissenting voices about the person and nature of Jesus (e.g. the Gnostics), they were decidedly in the minority. Elaine Pagels, a Princeton University religion professor and oft-quoted expert on the Gnostic Gospels, has been quick to point out that these people were simply a different variety of Christian who did not consider themselves heretics.3 But then again, when do heretics admit that what they believe is, in fact, heresy? The fact is that the early Christian Church flatly rejected Gnosticism as wrongheaded.
As for the Council of Nicaea, it was called in 325 by Constantine because a certain young priest named Arius had been gaining popular support for his view that Jesus was created by God; similar to God (Gr. homoiousios), but not co-equal with God (homoousios). One thing, however, was certain even in this assertion. No one at the gathering considered Jesus Christ to be “mere mortal.”
Even with this qualification, the vote at the Council of Nicaea was a landslide in favor of Jesus’ divinity. Although twenty-eight bishops came prepared to support Arius at the beginning of the meeting, they were almost all won over by the arguments of orthodox stalwarts like Athanasius who contended that Jesus was “the Word of God, God of God, light of light, life of life, the only begotten Son, firstborn of all creation, begotten of the Father before all ages, by whom all things were made.”4 The final tally was 318 in favor of the creed, to 2 opposed.
With the historical record this clear, the explanatory power of books like The Da Vinci Code—which claim to offer an alternative version of Church history—is reduced to insignificance. Unfortunately, in the meantime, however, people are still going to see The Da Vinci Code movie or read the book. Facts aside, such persons may unwittingly fall prey to what may be a more insidious cultural agenda. That program is rooted in a pagan worldview that views sexual intercourse as the ultimate path to religious enlightenment. This issue will be taken up in next weeks’s post.
1 “Nonetheless, establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable.” Brown, 233.
2 Other sample citations from this period include:
Polycarp (c. 69-155 A.D.)
“For you have ‘believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ . . . .To Him all things in heaven and on earth are subject. . . . He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead” (The Epistle of Polycarp 2).
Melito of Sardis (d. 180)
“The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism, of his humanity, in the thirty years which came before his baptism, during which, by reason of his condition according to the flesh, he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages” (fragment in Anastasius of Sinai’s The Guide 13).
3 Elaine Pagels, “The Gospel Truth,” The New York Times, April 8, 2006,
4 For an account of the proceedings at the Council of Nicaea, see Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies (1988; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 116ff. For an extensive documentary history, including the creed itself, see William A. Rusch, trans. The Trinitarian Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980).