We have come to the examination of one of the key assertions made by Dan Brown in his attack upon the central elements of the Christian faith (so as to make room for his Magdalene-based conspiracy theory). We read:
“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 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. (233)
We have seen that the assertion that no one believed in the deity of Christ prior to the days of Constantine is utter rubbish, historically speaking. We have provided just two of many sources that could be cited that prove, beyond any and all refutation, that in point of fact the deity of Christ was known and believed by Christians long before Constantine was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. Indeed, the earliest heresies were not denials of the deity of Christ, but imbalances based upon it! The gnostic Docetics denied not the divine nature of Christ, but His humanity! And the Sabellian heresy in the decades prior to the Council of Nicea once again was based upon an acceptance of the fact that Jesus was the Son of God and deity: it simply sought to work this out within a unitarian framework (which can never work). So history—when it is known—makes a mockery of Brown’s claims at this point.
We likewise have seen that the description of Jesus Christ as “the Son of God” is found in Scripture, and that long before Constantine ruled as well. If the assertion is made that Constantine altered the biblical texts to insert the phrase, this founders upon the consideration that we possess biblical manuscripts that predate Constantine and that would have been far outside his grasp no matter how powerful one presumes him to have been, and these plainly identify Jesus Christ as “Son of God.” It would be humorous if it were not so sad to note that one of the most popular terms for Jesus is “Son” in…the gnostic gospels that Brown, through his characters, will identify as the “earliest Christian records.” In fact, Christ is identified as “Son of God” in the Nag Hammadi finds, the very ones Brown directs us to as the unadulterated, unchanged, pre-Constantinian “gospels,” such as the Gospel of Philip, the Sophia of Jesus, and the Gospel of the Egyptians!
We should hardly be surprised, then, Brown’s comments on the Council of Nicea will border on the utterly absurd…and, of course, they do. One can only wonder if Brown is seeking to make fun of his readers by offering such silly statements as the one above, describing the Nicene “vote” as “a relatively close vote at that.” Was Constantine reduced to examining hanging chads, perhaps. Hardly. Church historian Philip Schaff writes,
Almost all the bishops subscribed the creed, Hosius at the head, and next him the two Roman presbyters in the name of their bishop. This is the first instance of such signing of a document in the Christian church. Eusebius of Caesarea also signed his name after a day’s deliberation, and vindicated this act in a letter to his diocese. Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea subscribed the creed without the condemnatory formula, and for this they were deposed and for a time banished, but finally consented to all the decrees of the council….Only two Egyptian bishops, Theonas and Secundus, persistently refused to sign, and were banished with Arius to Illyria. The books of Arius were burned and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity.
Now, we do not know exactly how many bishops were at Nicea, but the numbers range from about 250 to 320. So, let’s take the smallest number, 250. 247 to 3…isn’t that about 98.8% for, 1.2% against? This is “relatively close”? Did Dan Brown have someone help him with his negotiations on his book contracts, we can only hope?
Brown continues in the stuffy, silly tones of Teabing,
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. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel—the Roman Catholic Church. (233)
And here we see Brown’s implicit anti-Catholicism: in case his long research missed this point, there was no Vatican in the fourth century. The anachronism of even referring to the “Roman Catholic Church” at the time of Nicea, as popular as it might be, is just another example of the a-historical nature of so much modern discussion of church history.