Teabing mentions this council when speaking to Sophie Neveu in his drawing room. He explains to her that Constantine's Council of Nicea was convened in order to vote on the divinity of Jesus, as a way to consolidate the emperor's own power base.
"During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea.At this gathering," Teabing said, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon-the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus."
"I don't follow. His divinity?"
"My dear," Teabing declared, "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."
"Not the Son of God?"
"Right," Teabing said. "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."
"Hold on. You're saying Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?"
"A relatively close vote at that," Teabing added.."By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable."
Once again, there are elements of both fact and fiction in Teabing's view. Constantine did call the Council of Nicea, and one of the issues involved Jesus' divinity. But this was not a council that met to decide whether or not Jesus was divine, as Teabing indicates. Quote the contrary: everyone at the Council-and in fact, just about every Christian everywhere-already agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. The question being debated was how to understand Jesus' divinity in light of the circumstance that he was also human. Moreover, how could both Jesus and God be God if there is only one God? Those were the issues that were addressed at Nicea, not whether or not Jesus was divine. And there certainly was no vote to determine Jesus' divinity: this was already a matter of common knowledge among Christians, and had been from the early years of the religion.
Teabing in fact presents a rather confused picture to Sophie in his discussion of Jesus' identity as divine. On one hand, he indicates that Jesus' divinity was not accepted until Nicea in the year 325; on the other hand, he indicates that Constantine accepted into his canon of scripture only those Gospels that portrayed Jesus as divine, eliminating all the other Gospels that portrayed Jesus as human. But if Jesus' divinity was not acknowledged by Christians until the council of Nicea (Teabing's view), how could the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John portray him as divine already in the first century (which is also his view)?
Even beyond this inconsistency, the view that Teabing lays out is wrong on all key points: Christians before Nicea already did accept Jesus as divine; the Gospels of the New Testament portray him as human as much as they portray him as divine; the Gospels that did not get included in the New Testament portray him as divine as much, or more so, than they portray him as human. I will deal with the first two points in this chapter, and the third in chapters to come.
Scholars who study the history of Christian theology will find it bizarre, at best, to hear Teabing claim that Christians before the Council of Nicea did not consider Jesus to be divine. Our earliest surviving Christian author is the apostle Paul, several of whose writings can be found in the New Testament. Paul was producing his letters about 20 or 30 years after Jesus' death (250 years before the Council of Nicea), and in them it becomes abundantly clear that Paul understands that Jesus Christ was in some sense divine. As he says in one of his earlier letters, the epistle to the Philippians:
Have this same mind in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, having come in the likeness of a human. (Phil. 2:5-7).
For Paul-and presumably for the Philippians to whom he wrote-Christ was "in the form" of God and was, in some sense, equal with God, even though he became human.
So states the poem that begins this Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being because of him, and apart from him nothing came into being that came into being. (John 1:1-3)
And who, for John, is this "Word" that was in the beginning with God and was himself God? There can be little question about who it is, for as he says at the end of this poem:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the unique one before the Father, full of grace and truth..For grace and truth have come to us through Jesus Christ. (1:14, 17)
For this author, already in the first century, Jesus Christ is identified as a divine being (the "Word") through whom God created the world, one who has completely revealed God to his people, since he himself was a divine being come down from heaven and made flesh.
That is why Jesus can claim equality with God in this Gospel. As he puts it in one place: "I and the Father are one" (10:30). And that is why his followers in this Gospel recognize his divine identity, including doubting Thomas at the end of the story, who sees Jesus raised from the dead and proclaims, "My Lord and my God!" (20:28).
This view of Jesus as divine is not restricted to Paul and the Gospels, however. It is the common view held among Christian writers of the early centuries. As one of our earliest writers outside of the New Testament, the Christian martyr Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110 CE), put it in his own poetic way:
There is one physician, both fleshly and spiritual, born and unborn, God come in the flesh, true life in death, from both Mary and God, first subject to suffering and then beyond suffering, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 7.2)
From the very beginning-as far back as we have Christian writings (long before Constantine)-it became commonplace to understand that Jesus was in some sense divine. But there was always a stumbling block, because most Christians understood as well that Jesus was also human. How could he be human if he was divine? That is a question that Christians struggled with for centuries, and in a sense it was the question that the Council of Nicea was called to resolve.