If Constantine didn't fuse two religions into one what happened at the Council of Nicea?
The Da Vinci Code claims that at this council Jesus got upgraded from mortal prophet to Son of God. The first thing we need to determine is whether Christians thought of Jesus in mortal terms before Constantine.
Teabing says to Sophie that, 'until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet' (55.315). Is this true? No. Absolutely not.
The New Testament testifies that Christians thought of Jesus as divine long before Constantine. However, since The Da Vinci Code claims that Constantine rewrote the Bible we might be better served by the writings of the early church fathers.
The early church fathers are those leaders of the Church whose writings have come down to us. On my shelf is the thirty-eight volume set of their writings. The first ten volumes contain the writings of the church father before the Council of Nicea.
It is clear from their writings that they believed Jesus was divine. For example, Ignatius of Antioch (98-117 AD), Justin Martyr (d. 165 AD), Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-c. 200 AD), and Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215 AD), all believed that Jesus was divine. Ignatius and Justin were martyred for that belief.
The Council of Nicea was therefore not convened to determine the divinity of Jesus but to determine how his divinity was understood especially in relation to the Father. This had been a serious theological question for a century and a half and though some answers had been rejected no final definition had been agreed upon. The Nicene Creed would provide the definitive answer to this issue though it would not be fully resolved until another council at Constantinople in 381.
The issue was actually about salvation. If Jesus wasn't fully human he could not represent sinful humanity.
If, however, Jesus wasn't fully God he could not represent God.
It was necessary to affirm both aspects of Jesus' nature (human and divine) while also affirming the unity of God. In other words, Christians worship one God not two (or three if you include the Holy Spirit).
How can we understand Jesus' divinity without compromising the unity of God? You can perhaps begin to understand why it took such a long time to work it out!
It all came to a head in Alexandria, which in those days, was one of the most important Christian centres.
A dispute arose between the bishop of Alexandria and one of his church leaders, named Arius, in 318 AD about the relation of the Son to the Father. Arius taught that only God the Father was eternal. Jesus was the Father's first creation. As such he was worthy of worship but could not be considered equal to the Father. The divine substance of Jesus was similar but different than the Father's.
The bishop argued that the divine substance of Jesus was the same as the Father's thus maintaining the unity of God. Notice two things about this. First, the issue was generated from within the church not from the imperial palace. Second, both of them agreed that Jesus was divine in some way, shape or form.
Constantine, after unifying the empire politically speaking, called for a council at Nicea to bring unity to the Church. Two hundred and twenty bishops attended this Council. The first item on the agenda was the Arian question which was hotly debated. Eventually a creed was put forward which became the basis for what is now known as the Nicene Creed. The vote, which Teabing declares, was a close one was anything but. All but two bishops subscribed to the creed.
If you have ever read the creed you might have been struck by all the language describing Jesus that it contains. This is because the person of Jesus was the reason the creed was written.
And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.
There were other issues that the council dealt with including the date of Easter (which Teabing gets right!) and other issues of church discipline.
For example, that new converts should not be placed in positions of authority, clergy were forbidden to have women living with them (excepting their mothers, sisters, aunts or other persons above suspicion), how bishops should be consecrated, and how to deal with heretics, schismatics and the lapsed (those who, in the persecution, had recanted or handed over sacred writings) who wished to be readmitted to the Church.
The claim that Constantine used the Council of Nicea to 'upgrade' the status of Jesus is nearly as ludicrous as the claim that he fused paganism and Christianity into a happy hybrid!