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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 

The Christology of the Da Vinci Code

Yesterday, at the behest of a friend, I went and viewed the Da Vinci Code. Overall, I felt that the movie was entertaining even though the performances of the principal protagonists were uninspiring and flat, namely the characters of Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) and the character of Sophie Neveau (I do not recall who plays her). But most everyone knows the story by now and so I am not going to give a review of the film, nor am I going to point out the erroneous historical claims the movie and book make. This has been done time and time again. (For a concise list of some of these false historical assertions see Michael Barber's post here.)

I want to deal, rather, with the reasons why the Da Vinci Code (hereafter, abbreviated DVC) perturbs some Christians. The issue has to do primarily with the Christological, both implict and explicit, claims that the movie makes. Chiefly, DVC offers a very human Jesus who married and had children with Mary Magdalene and whose divinity was imposed upon by Constantine at the Council of Nicea. Now, obviously, this latter assertion is historical nonsense. Proof that many of the followers of Jesus began to view Jesus as divine crop up abundantly even within some of the NT documents themselves, most being dated in the first century. But for the sake of argument, let's say that Jesus did in fact marry and produced offspring with Mary Magdalene. Would this destroy the very foundation of Christianity as the character, Teabing (played by the wonderful Ian Mckellan), claims, because it would emphasize Jesus' mortal nature?

Absolutely not. For one thing, on a trivial level, the gospel, that is the good news, is not that "Jesus is Divine" therefore he couldn't have married and had children, but rather, "this man, Jesus of Nazareth who died for our sins, God raised from the dead." It is by believing in this good news that we are saved (or properly speaking, being saved). But even if we grant that Jesus' divinity is the very ground of the gospel, would his marrying and having kids nullify this? I still do not think so. One of the major creeds that so many Christians claim to adopt says this about this man from Nazareth who God raised from the dead:

"Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all
men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus
Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God
and actually man, with a rational soul
{meaning human soul} and a body.

He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is
concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves
as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in
all respects, sin only excepted.
Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in
respect of his deity, and now in these "last days," for
us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was
born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect
of his humanness
." (Creed from Chalcedon)

The creed affirms that Jesus was both God and Man, fully, and that these two natures:

"are not divided or cut into two persons, but are
together the one and only and only-begotten Word
{Logos} of God, the Lord Jesus Christ
."

The creed of Chalcedon has been a staple of Christian "orthodox" belief for centuries. It asserts that Jesus was, mysteriously, both fully God and fully man without the disruption of the two natures. Most believers affirm this creed. But I would submit that deep down, many of us unconsiously say to ourselves that, yes, Jesus was human, but surely he was more divine than human. Surely, then, Jesus could not have possibly married and engaged in (gasp!) sexual intercourse.

What is striking is that though many of us today, even many modern Catholics, have left behind the predominately medieval false notion that sex is evil, we still operate with the unconcious assumption that, though maybe not evil, the act of sex is at least less pure than celibacy. And like the Rabbis who while affirming that all Israel would have a share in the world to come, subsequently lists those groups of Jews who will not have a share in that world to come, we affirm Jesus' full humanity and then proceed to give a list of human attributes that should not be associated with Jesus such as sin, marriage, sex, mistakes, etc, lest this somehow degrade what is really important, Jesus' divinity. Whether we like it or not, and no matter how much we affirm Jesus' humanity in, say his suffering, his humanity in subtle ways will always be subsumed within his divinity (though this is precisely what the Chalcedonean creed is trying not to do) in Christian practice.

And so we cringe and we complain when a story or movie like the DVC comes along and asserts the possibility that Jesus was human in so far as he married and had children. "No!", we cry, "Jesus was divine and so could not have possibly had children!" But this does not necessarily follow. If we are to remain true to our creed, then the possibility that Jesus could have had children should not destroy our assertion that he was divine. Nothing warrants this conclusion.

All of this displays, however, the tendancy of Christianity to emphasis Jesus' divinity over his humanity. Oh, again, we may well assert that both are equally important, but, as responses to the DVC code have exhibited, our own praxis points to a different conclusion.

I remember well how uneasy I felt reading Dale C. Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet and its conclusion that Jesus was simply in error thinking that the end of his age was about to occur very soon. Up to that moment I had struggled with passages like Mark 13 and ended up adopting the Caird/Wright view that passages like these were simply metaphorical devices utilized to point to the future destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But Allison's work convinced me that this was wrong exegesis. Thus I was stuck with a Jesus who made a mistake. I remember sitting there, asking myself, why did this trouble me? It was then that I realized I was doing exactly what I've just accused many Christians of doing, namely, of secretly elevating Jesus' divinity over his humanity. The idea that Jesus erred was troubling because it might entail that Jesus was not fully divine. But the more and more I reflected upon this, I began to see that it did not follow that if Jesus was mistaken he was not fully divine as well. The Chalcedonean creed itself allows for only one exception, namely, sin and not error, marriage, sex, having children, or anything else.

Now I myself do not believe that Jesus married and had children. There is no proof nor any evidence that such was the case. But even if he did, the very foundations of Christianity would not be shattered since to assert, along with Chalcedon that Jesus was fully divine and fully human would be to leave open the possibility that Jesus could have married and had children without thereby impugning on his divinity nor destroying Christianity itself.

Very nice post, Chris.

Nice post Chris. Thoughtful, balanced, and honest. When I first read DVC I wanted to send Dan Brown a copy of Bauckham's God Crucified. Perhaps then he would overcome his great misunderstanding of the development of NT christology.

Perhaps Jesus had no children with Mary Magdalene, but to be orthodox requires the belief that Jesus occasionally got erections around her.

I found a wiki-based site that would benefit from your remarks and insight Chris.

Looks like a ‘Code’ author has dumped his content into a wiki so anyone can go in and edit what’s there or add new content. Seems interesting...the URL is
http://secretsbehindthedavincicode.wetpaint.com

Thanks for the congenial comments, guys and the funny ones (David).

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