In my main lecture during the debate this past weekend, I decided to develop in short order the case that I make in my book How Jesus Became God for how, well, Jesus became God. (!) But I chose to do it differently from how I do it in the book, at least in terms of rhetorical strategy. I chose to start at the *end* of the development (it’s actually nowhere near the end – since Christological arguments continued on for centuries – but it was one sensible ending points), with the controversies over Christ’s divinity in the early fourth century, controversies between Arius and his detractors.
I’m afraid many people today (most?) get their knowledge of Arius, the Arian Controversy, and the Council of Nicea from that inestimable authority, Dan Brown, who wrote about it at length in that great work of historical realism, The Da Vinci Code. I tell my students at Chapel Hill that if they want to learn about the history of the Middle Ages, the way to do that is not by watching “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” And if they want to learn about the history of early Christianity, the way to do that is not by reading The Da Vinci Code.
The Da Vinci Code is wrong about just about everything it says about the Arian Controversy, the emperor Constantine, and the Council of Nicea. That’s why I wrote my earlier book Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code. There were tons of books written in response to Dan Brown’s novel, but virtually all of them were by highly religious (and angry) people – either Roman Catholic or conservative evangelicals – who had deep-seated theological reasons for really disliking the book. I myself did not dislike it so much: I thought for a page-turner at the beach, it was rather fun. My sense is that people who don’t like it (i.e., most of my friends) are simply expecting way too much of it as a work of fiction. It’s *not* a great work of fiction. But it’s a good blow-off novel if you don’t want a lot of substance. Still, the problem I had with it was that so much information was wrong, even when getting it *right* would not have had any effect on the plot or the characters. It was just gratuitously wrong. This included most everything it says about the historical Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the New Testament, and yes, the Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea.
Among other things – just to dispel one myth that so many people buy into – the Council of Nicea (which was called by the emperor Constantine in the year 325 CE) did not, decidedly did NOT, decide…
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