Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural painting, “The Last Supper”, first makes its appearance in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in Sir Leigh Teabing’s home. Teabing takes “La Storia di Leonardo”, a fictional art book, and opens up at a representation of the famous mural. He later takes Neveu through to his study to examine an eight-foot long print of the painting.
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.
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.
Sir Leigh Teabing quotes Martyn Percy, the great canon doctor, as saying that “the Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven”. Teabing goes on to say that the Bible is a product of man, not of God. “The Bible did not magically fall from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”
Dan Brown is quoting a real person, Canon Martyn Percy, who since 2004 has been principal at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. Martyn Percy teaches and researches in three areas: practical theology, modern ecclesiology, and Christianity and contemporary culture. He is involved in most aspects of ministerial formation, and in shaping the life and future of the College. A
Martyn is a regular contributor to Radio 4, The BBC World Service, The Independent, The Guardian and other media. His recent books include Salt of the Earth: Religious Resilience in a Secular Age (T&T Clark) and Engagements: Essays on Christianity and Contemporary Culture (Ashgate). He has studied at the Universities of Bristol, Durham and London. He currently holds an honorary Chair in Theological Education at King’s College London, as well as an Adjunct Professorship of Theology and Ministry at Hartford Seminary, Connecticut, USA. Since 1999 he has served as a Council Member and Director of the Advertising Standards Authority in London. He is also Canon Theologian for Sheffield Cathedral. Martyn Percy also co-ordinates The Society for the Study of Anglicanism at the American Academy of Religion.