Contrary to Brown’s assertions, it was not Constantine who branded the Gnostic beliefs as heretical; it was the apostles themselves. A mild strain of the philosophy was already growing in the first century just decades after the death of Jesus. The apostles, in their teaching and writings, went to great lengths to condemn these beliefs as being opposed to the truth of Jesus, to whom they were eyewitnesses.
Check out, for example, what the apostle John wrote near the end of the first century:
“Who is the great liar? The one who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Such people are antichrists, for they have denied the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)
Following the apostles’ teaching, the early church leaders unanimously condemned the Gnostics as a cult. Church father Irenaeus, writing 140 years before the Council of Nicaea, confirmed that the Gnostics were condemned by the church as heretics. He also rejected their “gospels.” However, referring to the four New Testament Gospels, he said, “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are.
Christian theologian Origen wrote this in the early third century, more than a hundred years before Nicaea:
I know a certain gospel which is called “The Gospel according to Thomas” and a “Gospel according to Matthias,” and many others have we read—lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only four gospels should be accepted.
There we have it in the words of a highly regarded early church leader. The Gnostics were recognized as a non-Christian cult well before the Council of Nicaea. But there’s more evidence calling into question claims made in The Da Vinci Code.
Brown suggests that one of the motives for Constantine’s alleged banning of the Gnostic writings was a desire to suppress women in the church. Ironically, it is the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas that demeans women. It concludes (supposedly quoting Peter) with this eye-popping statement: “Let Mary go away from us, because women are not worthy of life” . Then Jesus allegedly tells Peter that he will make Mary into a male so that she may enter the kingdom of heaven. Read: women are inferior. With sentiments like that on display, it’s difficult to conceive of the Gnostic writings as being a battle cry for women’s liberation.
In stark contrast, the Jesus of the biblical Gospels always treated women with dignity and respect. Revolutionary verses like this one found within the New Testament have been foundational to attempts at raising women’s status:
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NLT).