Summary: Part three of a series on the Da Vinci Code that examines the errors of Dan Brown’s claims and the truth of history and the Bible.
Decoding The Da Vinci Code – part 3
“Did Constantine Have a Conspiracy”
Picture of book
The owner of a Christian bookstore sounded fairly desperate in an emailed message regarding the impact of the book The Da Vinci Code recently. "We are getting bombarded daily by people who are buying into the garbage in this book…We even had an elderly aunt talking about Opus Dei tonight and yelling at us that the book is true or it couldn’t be printed." Anyone who thinks it is overkill to see so many books written to respond to and refute Dan Brown’s claims or for a preacher to spend a few weeks in the same pursuit only needs to see the tip of the iceberg of how the masses are responding and buying into the theories presented by Dan Brown. Remember 1 Peter 3:15. Please don’t write this off just because you were wise enough not to buy into it. Instead be aware of what is going on in the world around you, and be ready to defend your hope in Christ to those who would challenge it.
This morning I want to focus on one section of The Da Vinci Code, where Brown’s character Teabing repeats a number of false statements about the influence of the emperor Constantine that have been circulating for a long time on the conspiracy fringe, and that have long since been refuted by credible scholarship. Let’s have a look at a them.
On pages 231-32 of The Da Vinci Code we read:
… Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.”
“I thought Constantine was a Christian,” Sophie said.
Hardly,” Teabing scoffed. “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….”
Then a bit later on pages 232-33 we continue to read:
“Originally,” Langdon said, “Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan’s veneration day of the sun.” He paused, grinning, “To this day, most churchgoers attend services on Sunday morning with no idea that they are there on account of the pagan sun god’s weekly tribute—Sun-day.”
For the moment we leave aside the claim that it was Constantine that “collated” the Bible. I will address that. For now I want to deal with these three other false assertions: (1) that Constantine was a lifelong worshipper of Sol Invictus, (2) that he was baptized on his death bed against his will, and (3) that he is responsible for the fact that Christians worship on Sunday.
As with much of the other misinformation appearing in his book, Brown probably got these claims about Constantine from the 1982 conspiracy book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, where we find them on pp. 367-68.
What’s wrong with these claims?
1. Credible scholars have at times questioned the sincerity of Constantine’s faith. The reason usually given for doing so is that he continued to feature Sol Invictus on his coinage for a time after 312, the traditional date of his conversion to Christ. But within a decade of his conversion, Constantine phased it out. As Ramsay MacMullen puts it: “Sol (Invictus) declining from 320, finally sank in 322.” It is always hard to tell whether a politician who claims to be a Christian actually is one. We can only judge by the support they give to Christian causes and their own personal behavior. Constantine both claimed to be a Christian, honored God with many of His policies and supported Christian causes.
2. Constantine was baptized on his deathbed, but at his own request. He had hoped to be baptized in the Jordan River, but as his final illness overtook him, he called the bishops together at Nicomedia and requested baptism. The story is told in the fourth book of Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, written soon after Constantine’s death. It was at his request, and because he took the sacrament of baptism very seriously.
Why then did Constantine wait so long to be baptized? He was adhering to a then common, though hardly biblical, practice based on the idea that since baptism washed away sins, one ought to hold off getting it as long as possible. At this time in the church, the false belief was prevalent that you had better not sin after your baptism. They misunderstood the difference between justification and sanctification.
3. In March of 321, Constantine did make Sunday an official day of rest. Christians are not mentioned in the edicts related to this, nor is anything said about when they or anyone else should worship. So then Brown is wrong in his claim that Constantine made Sunday the day of worship for the church. But there is more. Constantine did not have to tell Christians to worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, because they had done so from the beginning of the church. They worshipped on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath because that is the day that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. The mid-second century Christian writer Justin Martyr, for example, writes more than 175 years before Constantine: “Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having worked a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things.” (1 Apology 67)