The Da Vinci Code: Chapter 55

Summary: Teabing proceeds to regale Sophie with the intricate, “true history” of the Holy Grail. He begins by pointing out that the Bible, as we know it today, was assembled over the centuries by human beings—specifically, men—who decided which ancient documents deserved a place among its contents and which did not. Emperor Constantine the Great, he claims, exercised the most influence over the final shape of the Bible. He converted to Christianity—likely out of political expediency—in the fourth century and proceeded to cement his control over the religion and the state by transferring pagan mythology and its accompanying symbols to the worship of Jesus. Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to proclaim officially the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity: “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”—like that of the Emperor himself. To enforce this view of a divine Jesus, Constantine ordered the suppression of all older manuscripts that spoke of Jesus as a mortal man. Teabing claims that the Vatican continues to suppress such documents when found in modern times because of their supposedly “heretical” nature, when, in actuality, these documents would threaten the Church’s prestige and power. Teabing claims that Leonardo Da Vinci was an artist interested in preserving and proclaiming the truth about Jesus and the Grail that had been suppressed by the Church. To make his point, he shows Sophie Da Vinci’s famous fresco of The Last Supper. Not only did Da Vinci not paint the single “cup of Christ” with which the Grail is usually identified, but also he painted the Grail’s true identity: “The Holy Grail is not a thing. It is, in fact… a person.”
Analysis: Sir Teabing’s whirlwind tour of Christian history in this chapter is a compelling, although not always scholarly accurate, blend of fact and fiction—as is, of course, so much in The Da Vinci Code. Several Christian groups took exception to this chapter’s portrayal of how the Bible came to be when the novel was published. For example, Jesus’ divinity did not emerge as a concept de novo at the Council of Nicaea, as the novel strongly suggests that it did; while the doctrine as formulated at Nicaea is not, it is true, explicitly stated in the New Testament, the Scripture contains many seeds which led generations of devout believers to that conclusion. Nor did the canonization of the Bible happen exactly as the book portrays it; in fact, most of the Gnostic documents referenced in the text (p. 254) failed to become authoritative Scripture simply because they were not used by most faith communities over the initial centuries of Christianity’s life. As before, however, we would do best to remember that the book is a novel, not a history or theology text, and simply note the ways in which this chapter moves the narrative forward. It reaffirms the status of “the Church” in the novel as the enemy of truth: “What I mean… is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false. As are the stories about the Holy Grail” (p. 255). It is presented as interested solely in maintaing the status conferred on it by Constantine: “Now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel… It was all about power…” (p. 253). The chapter also, therefore, revives the novel’s thematic exploration of power: who has it, and the lengths to which they will go to keep it. In this case, the Church is said to have gone to the length of “voting” on the divinity of Jesus himself (p. 253). Readers now know that the solution to Saunière’s mystery will hinge on new information about Jesus as well as the Holy Grail—information that, according to Teabing and Langdon, is visually encoded in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.