After creating, out of whole cloth, the idea that Constantine was busy running about the Roman Empire looking for at least 996 “original” gospels while promoting his edited versions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Brown decides there is simply too much credibility lingering in this story, so he decides to shoot the last of it dead immediately. Enter the fellow I assume Tom Hanks is going to be playing, Robert Langdon, to add yet another incredible example of a-historical silliness to the very core of the Da Vinci Code fable:
“An interesting note,” Langdon added. “Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine’s version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history. The Latin word haereticus means ‘choice.’ Those who ‘chose’ the original history of Christ were the world’s first heretics.” (234)
First, once again, there is not the slightest bit of historical foundation to this claim. None. Next, this is not a Latin term: it is Greek. The Greek terms ai`retiko,j, ai`reti,zw, and ai[resij are all found in the New Testament, long before Constantine. The verbal form does indeed mean “to choose,” but not in the context Brown suggests. The term means “to choose or select for the purpose of showing special favor to or concern for,” and is used in such passages as 2 Thessalonians 2:13 in the context of God’s choice of the elect: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” It refers not to choosing to believe mythical gospels that never existed, but choosing someone so as to give to them favor or grace. From this verbal idea, then, it comes to indicate divisions based upon choice in its substantival/adjectival forms. In fact, the very term “heretic” appears, in Greek, in the New Testament, a simple fact that anyone with the slightest concern for truth could have determined rather easily (in fact, it even appears in Plato!). It appears in Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious (ai`retiko.n) man after a first and second warning.”
But outside of these rather obvious facts, there is another little historical problem for Brown’s claim. A quick scan of the ecclesiastical Latin writings that predate Constantine likewise demonstrate Brown’s lie. Off the top of my head I recalled one rather obvious example of the use of this term before Constantine, and there are many others. Around the beginning of the third century (for those challenged historically like Mr. Brown, that would be around AD 200) Tertullian wrote a book titled “Praescriptionibus adversus Haereticos,” The Prescription Against Heretics. Once again, for fictional character Robert Langdon’s benefit, the year 200 is, oh, about 125 years prior to AD 325, the date of the Council of Nicea. So, if, as we are told, the term “heretic” came from the time frame after Nicea where people were choosing to believe in gospels that never existed, how could Tertullian be using it in the title of his book? Yes, well, I’m sure Constantine is to blame for that as well.