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2331 St. Claude Ave & Spain
New Orleans, LA 70117  504-710-4506 
Tues-Sat 11am-5pm



The DaVinci Code, Constantine the Great, and
The Council of Nicea

by Andy P. Antippas                                                                          

Around 300 AD, Constantine was one of several Roman generals raised to the rank of
Caesar by their Legions. The ensuing rivalries precipitated many bloody conflicts for
control of the Empire. The telling battle for Constantine came at a small bridge over the
Tiber River, not far from Verona, in an encounter with his chief adversary, Marcentius,
whose forces outnumbered Constantine’s five to one.

Legend has it, the night before the battle Constantine saw a celestial monogram composed
of the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek, a P overlapping an X, crowned by the
Latin phrase In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign you will conquer.” He urged all his
legionaries, most of whom were pagans, to paint the monogram on their shields. That
afternoon, Constantine’s army prevailed overwhelmingly and he was acknowledged as
supreme ruler, worthy of the title Emperor.

If the political situation within the Roman Empire was unstable, so also was the religious
situation. Over the last couple of centuries, legionaries returning from the corners of the
far-flung Empire—Britain, Germany, Asia Minor, North Africa—brought back with them
many exotic religious beliefs which contended with the old Roman pagan Gods for the
hearts and minds of the Empire’s citizens. Among those religions was Christianity, whose
persistently growing strength subjected its followers to cruel governmental persecutions.
 In gratitude for his victory and ascension to power, Constantine not only declared an end
to the persecutions, but he also granted certain privileges to the Bishops and tax
concessions to the Churches, essentially raising Christianity to the rank of state religion. As
Constantine read more deeply in the sacred books of Christianity, he generously
commissioned the building of Churches throughout the Empire, and his new sensibilities
encouraged him to make efforts to end slavery, to establish institutions to care for orphans,
and to improve the civil status of women.

Now as The Da Vinci Code’s pontificating villain Sir Leigh Teabing is very eager to point
out, there was a dark side to Constantine—darker even than Sir Leigh seems to know.
Certainly Constantine’s concessions to the Church, at least in part, were politically
motivated in that they consolidated in his behalf the growing influence of the Bishops. Sir
Leigh’s contention that Constantine remained a devotee of Sol Invictus, the Sun Deity, is
also correct: old Gods die hard and Constantine probably felt some allegiances to the pagan
rituals of his youth. Certainly, in the time honored Imperial custom, Constantine
encouraged veneration of himself as a Divine Caesar and “an angel of God.”
Sir Leigh might have also gleefully noted that when it came to Real Politick, Constantine
behaved in an especially unchristian way toward perceived transgressions: he was
personally responsible for the deaths of his brother-in-law and his son, his own son,
Crispus, and his mother, Faustus, who was Constantine’s second wife. Being the CEO of
the Roman Empire seemingly called for extreme measures from time to time which may
explain, hopefully to Sir Leigh’s satisfaction, why Constantine waited for his death-bed
before accepting baptism and becoming officially a Christian.

Despite his short-comings, Constantine’s reign provided a major impetus for Christianity’s
development. It was, after all, in everyone’s best interest to provide civil tranquility and
religious harmony throughout the Empire. By force of arms he ended political disorder, and
by convening the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, he sought to do the same thing for the
Christian factions.
The Council of Nicaea

As every religion evolves over the centuries—Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam—
theological controversy naturally and inevitably arises over interpretation of sacred texts.
As many religious historians point out, early Christianity had a particular problem: it had
inherited a nuanced Greek philosophical vocabulary which had to be bent to express the
theology of the new faith. The problem was compounded when the Greek of the Gospels
was translated into Latin.

The principle theological dispute in Constantine’s day concerned the relationship between
God and Christ: was there a “likeness” or a “sameness” between them? Was Christ
“consubstantial” with God? Did Christ share identically in God’s eternal substance? Did
Christ exist always? What might appear an issue no more significant than the number of
angels which can dance on a pin point tore at the fabric of Christianity. To this day, along
with other few matters, this issue separates the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches
from the Catholic Church.

This is a weighty matter because it challenges Christ Divine and Resurrected with a Christ
who is a merely a teacher, a prophet, a mortal human being—this latter view is shared by
Thomas Jefferson, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Islam. But when this view prevails at its
extreme we can imagine a Christ having a romance with Mary Magdalene, we can have an
imaginary daughter who is the root of all the Royal bloodlines of Europe: in short, we can
have The Da Vinci Code. Sir Leigh Teabing, in fact, could make an invincible argument
that the Council of Nicea was convened to prevent the publication of The Da Vinci Code.
Sir Leigh instead chooses to argue that Christ-as-a-mortal-man was the conventional belief
of Christians from the very beginning, and that Constantine called the Council to “collate”
and manipulate the Christian texts, especially the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John, excising anything that might suggest Christ was anything less then Divine. If that
were true, Constantine was supremely inept in his “collating.” Sir Leigh is apparently
oblivious to the New Testament papyri in the Beatty and Bodmer collections or the other
manuscripts dating to well before the Council from which a New Testament can be
reconstructed that is virtually identical to the one in use today.

The issue among the early Christian communities was never Christ’s Divinity, but rather
how Divine he was. That was, in fact, the agenda of the Council: to deal with the views of
Arius, a Christian priest from Alexandria, Egypt, who had gained wide support for his
arguments that Christ was less Divine than His Father. The few records that remain from
the Council indicate Arius was disputed and declared a “heretic”: that is, someone who
holds views at variance with accepted ideas. Arius was sent into exile and his theological
writings were destroyed. The Council completed its work with the establishment of the
feast day for Easter and the Nicene Creed, a profession of Christian faith in the identity of
Christ and his Father—“Light from Light...the true God of the true God...of the same
substance with the Father.”

The Council’s work was not definitive. Arianism remained problematical and in 381 AD, at
a second Council elsewhere, the Nicene Creed was revised again. The Da Vinci Code,
with great virtuosity, has inventively supplied its readers with imaginary, encrypted, but
decipherable mysteries—it is likely, however, that the endless mysteries of religion shall
remain undecoded.      

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