Virtual Reality Christianity: The Da Vinci Code and the Brown-Out of Historical Christianity - Part FourThursday, May 18, 2006
In the book, Brown’s character makes the claim, “"almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” On what basis is this claim made? On the basis of Brown’s fantastic and definitely fictional recounting of the famous Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. The only piece of fact in his recounting is that Nicea was definitely the most important council in church history for it dropped the gavel, so to speak, historically on the watershed issue of the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Located in what is now Turkey, church leaders who represented churches from various cultural expressions all around the known world traveled to Nicea to attend the Council there. By our best count 302 were in attendance, and the subject of the council was Arius and his teaching about the divinity of Jesus. Arius had swept much of the world with his teaching that Jesus was not both man and God. He was not human and divine. He was only human, merely a great teacher and prophet, but most definitely not God in human form. Based on an incredible gifting in eisogesis (as opposed to exegesis), he was able to extrapolate a doctrine of Jesus which argued that it was impossible for Jesus to have shared the divine nature of the Father. Jesus could not have been God, according to Arius.
The error in Brown’s book seems to be multifaceted.
First, he seemingly altogether ignores the debate regarding Arius. This is frustrating especially since the entire council centered on this man and his teaching. So he gets the very point of the council wrong from the start.
Second, he presumes that most if not all Christians before Nicea believed in some sort of Jesus-as-Man-only doctrine. According to Brown’s character, “"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." (p. 253) But what is interesting and revealing about Brown’s scholarship is that any biblical scholar of repute (liberal or conservative) would recognize that the historical records of church history reflect the complete opposite. Arius’ teachings, again, as the center for this council and its decision, were diametrically opposed to what the church had already come to believe about Jesus for three hundred years before the council ever met! And Brown either misses it or ignores it!
Third, a glaring error of Brown’s “research” is his conclusion that the emperor Constantine bankrolled the council and manipulated the gathering of world pastors in order to protect and guard his sacred ownership and leadership over the church. Brown wrote,
“Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (p. 254).
In Brown’s understanding, Gnosticism represented all of Pre-Nicene Christianity, and their teachings presented a threat to his Holy Roman Empire. If Jesus were not God, and if He were in fact married, and worst of all if He did have children and His descendants were still living in Constantine’s day and time, then the masses would come to the truth, recognize the church's deception, rebel in outrage, and the church could no longer have sway over people’s lives, destinies, and ultimately their pocketbooks. Per Brown,
“…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. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel – the Roman Catholic Church…”
“It was all about Power…Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of the Church and state. Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power” (p. 253).
That just would not do, according to Brown’s presentation of Constantine. So the emperor manufactured a council that would put the supposedly earlier gospels and their teachings of a human-mortal-only Jesus out of business, out of commission, and out of town. And in place of these teachings would come a collusive doctrinal statement deifying Christ so that the church's control over the world would be forever guaranteed. And to this day, according to Brown’s conclusions, the Roman Catholic Church exists to fleece people’s pocketbooks and souls while protecting the real secret about Jesus which, if publicly revealed, would overturn the world as we know it. Crazy, huh?
The Canon or Rule of Faith
The fact of the matter is really this. Based upon many ancient manuscripts, writings of church fathers, and even history itself reflect that Christians all over the world had already adopted what was called the Canon or Rule of faith. Long before the church adopted the creeds it has and recites today, this Canon or Rule of Faith was the set of doctrinal summaries and instructional beliefs for the early church. What is more, this Canon or Rule was merely an affirmation of what had already been circulating as teaching that was faithful to that of the apostles and the churches they planted. The Canon or Rule can be found in many expressions and in many writings of early church fathers. In summary, it was merely oral teachings which were amazingly and consistently communicated generation after generation all around the known world. This included the belief and teaching that Jesus Christ was not just a man, but was also God.
Consider one example from Irenaeus and his writings in the second century. Taking his cue from 1 Corinthians 8:6, he writes, "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ." He wrote this a good hundred years before the council of Nicea, and all of his writings reflect this same notion where Jesus Christ and His nature are discussed. Where’s the overwhelming evidence then that the conclusion of the whole religious world of that time was that Jesus Christ was not divine or that the church thought anything to the contrary? Even previous to this, in the earliest extra-canonical Christian work, the Didache, written around 100 A.D., Aramaic-speaking Christians referred to Jesus as Lord, a Greek term utilized by Christians to refer to His divinity.
“In addition, pre-Nicene Christians acknowledged Jesus's divinity by petitioning God the Father in Christ's name. Church leaders, including Justin Martyr, a second-century luminary and the first great church apologist, baptized in the name of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—thereby acknowledging the equality of the one Lord's three distinct persons.”
What we find then at the Council of Nicea are 300 out of 302 voting pastors and bishops and church leaders who confirmed what had already been affirmed throughout church history up to that point, including what is reflected in the Didache and the Canon or Rule of Faith: Jesus Christ was God and man. The statement the Nicean Council labored hard to formulate and perpetuate was an attempt to put their affirmation and confirmation into writing as a defense against any and all future efforts to pollute Christ and His gift of salvation. The world's foremost authority on ancient Christian creeds, Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University, states that the unity of these earliest pre-Nicaean creeds could be summed up this way:
"The one true God, Creator of heaven and earth; His only Son, born of the Virgin Mary, divinely powerful in word and deed, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised from the dead, and returning to judge the world."
The Implications of Brown's View of Christian History
Now Brown’s fanciful dealing with historical facts is evident in the way he portrays the vote at the Nicean Council. The emperor Constantine supposedly led the bishops there to declare that Jesus was the Son of God by vote, and “a relatively close vote at that” (p. 253). Recall the final score again. 300 affirming the statement, and 2 against (Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Mirmirica, Lybian bishops and followers of Arius). These are the facts. So does that sound like “a relatively close vote” to you?
Allow me to revise a little football history using Brown’s interpretation and analyses.
Brown’s retelling might go something like this.
Cumberland was facing the drafting and deployment of its men to World War I, causing the football program to be dropped. There were so few men that a team could not be formed. After thirteen successful passes, the second half of the game was cut short essentially cutting short any opportunity that Cumberland University had to win the game. What happened is that the score, a relatively close score at that, shows that Cumberland coach Heisman, who just so happened to become the Georgia Tech coach the very next year, had worked out a deal behind the scenes secure a lucrative coaching post at Georgia Tech for him the next season. Cumberland University’s team lost the game by a touchdown or two establishing Georgia Tech and Heisman as the dominating figure in southern football history. Sound crazy. That’s exactly the kind of historical revisionist activity going on in Brown’s work The Da Vinci Code.
Now, here are the facts. In reality, the US did not enter the war until 1916. In reality, records indicate there were enough men on campus to form a scrub team which played in three games, and in a subsequent year played four or five games, according to several documents which recorded the team playing Sewanee, Bowling Green, Hartsville, and possibly two more games. And in reality, only two out of thirteen passes were successful, and the total yardage gained was minus 28 yards. Obviously the second half was cut short by a quarter hour to end the exceeding pain!
Do you see how a purposeful or unwitting ignorance of the facts can be utilized to create something very