I apologize for being behind in returning to our Da Vinci Code series. I spoke on the subject at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church this weekend, and will be speaking at various churches in the Phoenix area on it between now and next May. Sadly, in most churches, almost no one is aware of what is coming our way with this film as far as its “anti-evangelistic” impact.
In our previous segment we began looking at the claims Brown makes concerning the alleged plot by Constantine to create an entirely new religion by fusing Christianity with paganism. To use a direct quote, “Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties.” (232) He then adds this outrageous statement, “Nothing in Christianity is original.”
Especially around the holidays we hear pretty much the same drumbeat. I had to chuckle as I checked my RSS feed just this evening and found Jason Engwer posting the beginning of what looks like a fascinating series on the issue of Christmas (link here). One of the points noted by Engwer is that while the Roman holiday was established in AD 274 (at the height of empire-wide persecution of Christianity) there are references to the date in Christian writings relevant to the birth of Christ that pre-date both the establishment of the celebration as well as Constantine himself. “Julius Africanus, however, argues in his Chronicle (A.D. 221) for a date in the winter, December 25.” (in Everett Ferguson, editor, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], p. 251) Engwer notes. No matter what else we might say, laying this one on Constantine once again flies in the face of all historical inquiry.
But beyond this, the fact of the matter is that Constantine simply never had this kind of power, and history does not give us any reason to believe Browns’ fanciful claims. The idea that Christians would simply roll over and allow the Roman Emperor to completely re-vamp their entire faith, from their faith in the nature of Christ to their worship, etc., is beyond ridiculous. The fact of the matter is that while the Constantinian era had great and far-reaching ramifications down the line in church history (especially relating to the development of sacralism, the “state church” concept), those ramifications could not have been foreseen by anyone at the time of Nicea, let alone were they part of some massive conspiracy. Further, they took a great deal of time to develop. It wasn’t as nice and simple as Brown would like to say: you don’t make the kinds of changes Brown lays at Constantine’s feet in the time frame Constantine had to make them. Things moved just a little bit slower back then.
But there is something else to remember here. If it was, in fact, Constantine’s desire to create a new religion with a newly divine Savior (as we will see), he failed miserably. He died in AD 337, and during the twelve years after Nicea he surely not carry out all the fanciful things Brown suggests. What is more, the “Arian Resurgence” that took place after the Council of Nicea gives the lie to the entirety of Brown’s thesis. As I noted a number of years ago in an article for the CRI Journal:
For nearly six decades after the Council of Nicæa, Arianism reigned supreme in the Empire. Primarily through the force of political power, Arian sympathizers soon took to undoing the condemnation of Arius and his theology. Eusebius of Nicomedia and others poured themselves into the task of overturning Nicæa, and for a number of decades, it looked as if they would succeed. Constantine adopted a compromising position under the influence of various sources, including Eusebius of Caesarea and a politically-worded “confession” from Arius. In point of fact, Constantine had little stock in the definition of Nicæa itself: he was a politician to the last. Upon his death, Constantius, his second son, ruled in the East, and he gave great aid and comfort to Arianism. United by their rejection of the homoousion, semi-Arians and Arians worked hand in hand to unseat a common enemy, almost always proceeding with political power on their side.
Under Constantius council after council met in this location or that. So drastic was the activity that one commentator wrote of that time that “The highways were covered with galloping bishops.” Most importantly, councils meeting at Ariminum, Seleucia, and Sirmium, presented Arian and semi-Arian creeds, and very few are the names that can be listed who were not coerced to subscribe to them. Even Liberius, bishop of Rome, having been banished from his place, and longing to return, was persuaded to give in and compromise on the matter.
During the course of the decades following Nicæa, Athanasius, having become bishop of Alexandria shortly after the council, was removed from his place five times, once by force of 5000 soldiers coming in the front door while he made haste out the back! Hosius, now nearly 100 years old, was likewise forced by Imperial threats to compromise and give place to Arian ideas. At the end of the sixth decade of the century, to any eye that could not see the future, it looked as if Nicæa had been defeated. Jerome would later describe this moment in history as the time when “The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian.”
How could all of this be, if, in fact, the assertions of Brown are correct? But, of course, this is hardly a fair fight: we are using the facts of history, Brown has nothing but his wild-eyed “fiction based upon fact.” But we have only just begun….