Constantine the Great in Da Vinci Code

Teabing tells Sophie Neveu that the Bible as we know it today was collated by pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.

“He was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest. In Constantine’s day, Rome’s official religion was sun worship – the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun – and Constantine was its head priest. Unfortunately for him, a growing religious turmoil was gripping Rome. Three centuries after the crucifixion of Christ, Christ’s followers had multiplied exponentially. Christians and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two. Constantine decided something needed to be done. In 325 CE (Common Era), he decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity.”

Sophie asks why a pagan emperor would choose Christianity as the official religion. Teabing responds by saying that Constantine could see that Christianity was on the rise, and managed to convert 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.

Constantine the Great

So who was this Constantine the Great? Constantine was the son of Helena and Constantius Chlorus, Caesar of Britain, Gaul and Spain. His formative years were spent in the court of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor who had developed an absolute monarchy, centering all power in the Roman empire in himself as the semi-Divine ruler. In 306 CE, on the death of his father, Constantine was proclaimed Emperor at York. In 312 he defeated Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge to become the senior ruler of the Roman Empire. At that battle Constantine adopted the Labarum standard, using the symbolic Chi and Ro of Christ.

Constantine’s coming to power was good news for Christians who had suffered nine years of intense persecution throughout the Roman Empire. As Emperor in 313 he and Licinius met at Milan to recognise the legal entity of the Christian Churches and to tolerate all religions equally. Constantine did go on to intervene in the affairs of the Church, giving a ruling in internal debates such as the North African dispute between Donatists and the mainstream bishops between 313 and 316. Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325 to settle the Arian dispute over the person of Christ.

Constantine was careful not to officially endorse Christianity as the official religion of the empire. After all he had legislated for the tolerance of all religions. As was common for many Christians in his time, he was baptised on his deathbed in 337 CE. It was believed by many that sins after baptism would be a problem. However it is just as likely that Constantine was playing his political cards wisely.

Teabing’s assertion that the New Testament as we have it now was collated by Constantine bears little resemblance to historical record. The Four Gospels and thirteen epistles of Paul were being recognised as authoritative in most parts of the Christian community by around 130 CE. They came to be regarded as Scripture alongside the Hebrew Scripture between 170 and 220. The first exact record listing the present New Testament was provided by Athanasius in 369 CE, 32 years after the death of Constantine.

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