According to The Da Vinci Code, Constantine “was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest. . . . Rome’s official religion was sun worship—the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invisible Sun—and Constantine was its head priest” (p.232).
Once again, the record of history is significantly different than what Dan Brown states. According to church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette, Constantine was a fourth-century Roman Emperor who confessed a lifechanging experience that caused him to reverse a longstanding persecution policy against Christians. By his Edict of Milan (AD 313), he extended to Christianity the toleration granted other religions of the day.
It’s true that Constantine’s alleged conversion to Christ is complicated by the fact that Roman emperors were regarded as both political and religious heads of state. In the Roman senate, Constantine was considered head priest of the cult of Sol Invictus and also “pontifex maximus” (commander and chief) of the priests of the faith.
Despite this mix of political and pagan religious power, history bears record that Constantine’s interests were not merely political. Until his Edict of Milan, Christians had been regarded as enemies of the state because of their confession that Christ, rather than Caesar, is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Constantine’s baptism just prior to his death may reflect a misguided belief in his day that water baptism washes away sin. There is reason to believe that he delayed his baptism until the last moment to try to assure that all the sins of his life would be cleansed.
Was Constantine responsible for the view that Jesus is God?
According to Brown, “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.” And “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p.233).
Without question, Constantine was a pivotal figure in church history who did more than grant followers of Christ protection under the law. He was also responsible for convening the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) to help church leaders develop consensus about the doctrine of Christ.
The council was convened because an aged presbyter named Arius denied the full deity of Christ by proclaiming, “There was [a time] when [Jesus] was not.” Arius reasoned that because Jesus came into this world in physical form, He must be changeable—unlike God, His Father.
The views of Arius stirred great controversy among other church leaders who were convinced that the writings of both Old and New Testament Scriptures showed that the Messiah who came into the world was fully divine. The idea that Jesus was a God-man did not begin with Constantine. Hundreds of years before Jesus came into the world, Old Testament prophets anticipated a coming Messiah as “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6), “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14) meaning “God with us” (Mt. 1:23), and “the Lord” (Ps. 110:1).
This view of Jesus as God in the flesh was later taught by the apostles who were eyewitnesses to all that Jesus said and did.
According to the New Testament, these witnesses did not always form their opinions easily. One of them, named Thomas, is still known as “the doubter.” Yet upon encountering the risen Christ, Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28).
In our day, Thomas’ words might sound like a profane exclamation. But his confession reflects the reasoned conclusion of other apostles who recorded what they had seen and heard. Peter addressed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Jn. 6:69). And the apostle Paul, after his conversion, ascribed to Jesus the essential attributes of God and full deity in human form (Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9).
Additional evidence shows that belief in the deity of Christ preceded the days of Constantine. In the generations that followed the Apostolic Age, the full divinity of Christ was widely accepted by the church fathers. Justin Martyr in AD 150 wrote, “[Jesus is] the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” In AD 185, Irenaeus proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth is “our Lord and God and Savior and King.” Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 200) said that Jesus was “truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe.”
When Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the Council’s conclusion that Jesus Christ was “God of very God” had deep historical and scriptural roots. It’s also important that he did not lead the Council but served as an advocate for reconciliation and agreement among the members (The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code, Abanes, p.37; Breaking The Da Vinci Code, Bock, pp.101-102; Christendom Volume 1, Bainton, pp.97-98).
Even if Constantine did not project deity upon the man Jesus but cooperated with a growing consensus about His divine nature, was he responsible for destroying legitimate documents that should have been included in our Bible?
Did Constantine tamper with the contents of the Bible?
“The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine,” says Dan Brown’s “expert” (p.231). He continues: “Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. . . . Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier [Gnostic] gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (p.234).
Once again, however, the record of history is different. There is no evidence that Constantine ordered the burning of any Gnostic gospels. What were burned were Arian papers found by the Council of Nicaea to be heretical. This destruction of documents says more about the church’s defense of the doctrine of Christ than it does about the origin of the New Testament.
The informal recognition of New Testament Scriptures was well under way long before Constantine. And the formal affirmation of the New Testament as we know it today occurred 72 years later at the Synod of Carthage (AD 397). It was then, decades after Constantine, that the official books of the Bible were ratified (A Timeline Of Church History, Conciliar Press).