Donation of Constantine

Donation of Constantine

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The Donation of Constantine (Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Donatio Constantini) is a forged Roman imperial
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 decree by which the emperor Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the pope. During the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, the document was often cited in support of the Roman Church's claims to spiritual and earthly authority. Italian humanist
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

 Lorenzo Valla
Lorenzo Valla
Lorenzo Valla was an Italian humanist, rhetorician, and educator. His family was from Piacenza; his father, Luciave della Valla, was a lawyer....

 is credited with first exposing the forgery with solid philological
Philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

 arguments, although doubts on the document's authenticity had already been cast by this time. Scholars have since dated the forgery between the eighth and ninth centuries.

The text and its content


Inserted among the twelfth-century compilation known as the Decretum Gratiani
Decretum Gratiani
The Decretum Gratiani or Concordia discordantium canonum is a collection of Canon law compiled and written in the 12th century as a legal textbook by the jurist known as Gratian. It forms the first part of the collection of six legal texts, which together became known as the Corpus Juris Canonici...

, the document is included among the texts of the False Decretals of Isidore
Pseudo-Isidore
Pseudo-Isidore is the pseudonym given to the scholar or group of scholars responsible for the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals, the most extensive and influential set of forgeries found in medieval Canon law. The authors were a group of Frankish clerics writing in the second quarter of the ninth century...

, although it is commonly held not to be one of Isidore's own forgeries.

Purportedly issued by the fourth century
Christianity in the 4th century
Christianity in the 4th century was dominated by Constantine the Great, and the First Council of Nicea of 325, which was the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils and the attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom as the State church of...

 Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

, the Donation grants Pope Sylvester I and his successors, as inheritors of St. Peter, dominion over lands in Judea
Judaea (Roman province)
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

, Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

, and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 as well as the city of Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 with Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and the entire Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

, while Constantine would retain imperial authority in the Eastern Roman Empire from his new imperial capital of Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. The text claims that the Donation was Constantine's gift to Sylvester for instructing him in the Christian faith, baptizing him, and miraculously curing him of leprosy
Leprosy
Leprosy or Hansen's disease is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Named after physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease of the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract; skin lesions...

.

Medieval use and reception


The earliest possible allusion to the Donatio is in a letter in which Pope Hadrian I exhorts Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 to follow Constantine's example and endow the Roman church. It was clearly a defense of papal interests, perhaps against the claims of either the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 or those of Charlemagne himself, who soon assumed the former imperial dignity in the West and with it the title "Emperor of the Romans".

In 1054 Pope Leo IX sent a letter to Michael Cærularius, Patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

, that cited a large portion of the Donation of Constantine, believing it genuine. The official status of this letter is acknowledged in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5, entry on Donation of Constantine, page 120:
"The first pope who used it in an official act and relied upon it was Leo IX; in a letter of 1054 to Michael Cærularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, he cites the "Donatio" to show that the Holy See possessed both an earthly and a heavenly imperium, the royal priesthood."


Leo IX assured the Patriarch that the donation was completely genuine, not a fable or old wives' tale, so only the apostolic successor to Peter possessed that primacy and was the rightful head of all the Church. The Patriarch rejected the claims of papal primacy, and subsequently the Catholic Church was split in two in the Great East-West Schism
East-West Schism
The East–West Schism of 1054, sometimes known as the Great Schism, formally divided the State church of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively...

 of 1054.

The poet Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

 held the Donation to be the root of papal worldliness in his Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature...

.

Investigation


As we have seen, during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 the Donation was widely accepted as authentic, although the Emperor Otto III
Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor
Otto III , a King of Germany, was the fourth ruler of the Saxon or Ottonian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire. He was elected King in 983 on the death of his father Otto II and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 996.-Early reign:...

 did possibly raise suspicions of the document "in letters of gold" as a forgery in making a gift to the See of Rome. It was not until the mid 15th century, with the revival of Classical scholarship and textual criticism, that humanists
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

, and eventually the bureaucracy of the Church, began to realize that the document could not possibly be genuine. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa declared it to be a forgery and spoke of it as an apocryphal work. Later the Catholic priest Lorenzo Valla
Lorenzo Valla
Lorenzo Valla was an Italian humanist, rhetorician, and educator. His family was from Piacenza; his father, Luciave della Valla, was a lawyer....

 in De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio (1440, ed. Mainz, 1518), proved the forgery with certainty. This was the first instance of modern, scientific diplomatics
Diplomatics
Diplomatics , or Diplomatic , is the study that revolves around documentation. It is a study that focuses on the analysis of document creation, its inner constitutions and form, the means of transmitting information, and the relationship documented facts have with their creator...

. Independently of both Cusa and Valla, Reginald Pecocke
Reginald Pecock
Reginald Pecock was an English prelate, Scholastic, and writer.-Life:Pecock was probably born in Wales, and was educated at Oriel College, Oxford....

, Bishop of Chichester (1450-57), reached a similar conclusion. Among the indications that the Donation must be a fake are its language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 and the fact that, while certain imperial-era formulas are used in the text, some of the Latin in the document could not have been written in the fourth century; anachronistic terms such as "fief" were used. Also, the purported date of the document is inconsistent with the content of the document itself, as it refers both to the fourth consulate of Constantine (315) as well as the consulate of Gallicanus (317).

Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II, born Enea Silvio Piccolomini was Pope from August 19, 1458 until his death in 1464. Pius II was born at Corsignano in the Sienese territory of a noble but decayed family...

 wrote a tract in 1453 to show that though the Donation was a forgery, the Church owed its lands to Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 and its powers of the keys
Keys of Heaven
In ecclesiastical heraldry, the Papal coat of arms contain the keys of the office of St. Peter. The Keys of Heaven were, according to Christian tradition, received by Saint Peter from Jesus, marking Peter's ability to take binding actions. Thus, the Keys are seen as a symbol of Papal authority...

 to Peter; he did not publish it, however. The Vatican essentially ignored Valla: however, though the bulls of Nicholas V and his successors made no further mention of the Donation even when partitioning the New World, Valla's treatise was placed on the list of banned books in the mid-sixteenth century. The Donatio continued to be tacitly accepted as authentic until Caesar Baronius
Caesar Baronius
Cesare Baronio was an Italian Cardinal and ecclesiastical historian...

 in his "Annales Ecclesiastici" (published 1588-1607) admitted that the Donatio was a forgery, and eventually the church conceded its illegitimacy, though not without some late defenders: Zinkeisen asserted that the decision of Baronius against its authenticity had "hushed its defenders", but H.C. Lea pointed out, "Error is not so easily silenced". Nearly a century after Baronius, Christian Wolff
Christian Wolff (philosopher)
Christian Wolff was a German philosopher.He was the most eminent German philosopher between Leibniz and Kant...

 still alluded to the Donatio as undisputed fact.

More recently, scholars have further demonstrated that other elements, such as Sylvester's curing of Constantine, are legends which originated at a later time. Its recent editor has affirmed that at the time of the composition of Valla's work, Constantine's alleged "donation" was no longer a matter of contemporary relevance in political theory and that, rather, it furnished the theme for a brilliant exercise in legal rhetoric.

Contemporary opponents of papal powers in the Peninsula emphasized the primacy of civil law and civil jurisdiction, now firmly embodied once again in the Justinian Corpus Juris Civilis
Corpus Juris Civilis
The Corpus Juris Civilis is the modern name for a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence, issued from 529 to 534 by order of Justinian I, Eastern Roman Emperor...

. The Florentine chronicler Giovanni Cavalcanti
Giovanni Cavalcanti (chronicler)
Among several members of the extended Florentine patrician family the Cavalcanti holding the name Giovanni, the chronicler Giovanni Cavalcanti , of a minor branch of the family but who was captain of the Guelf party in 1422, is most widely remembered for his malevolent and melancholic account of...

 reported that, in the very year of Valla's treatise, Filippo Maria Visconti
Filippo Maria Visconti
Filippo Maria Visconti was ruler of Milan from 1412 to 1447.-Biography:Filippo Maria Visconti, who had become nominal ruler of Pavia in 1402, succeeded his assassinated brother Gian Maria Visconti as Duke of Milan in 1412. They were the sons of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Gian Maria's predecessor, by...

, Duke of Milan, made diplomatic overtures toward Cosimo de' Medici
Cosimo de' Medici
Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici was the first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance; also known as "Cosimo 'the Elder'" and "Cosimo Pater Patriae" .-Biography:Born in Florence, Cosimo inherited both his wealth and his expertise in...

 in Florence proposing an alliance in common defence against the Pope, as sovereign lord of the Marche
Marche
The population density in the region is below the national average. In 2008, it was 161.5 inhabitants per km2, compared to the national figure of 198.8. It is highest in the province of Ancona , and lowest in the province of Macerata...

, where Francesco Sforza was currently protected by papal sovereignty, in which Visconti used the words "It so happens that even if Constantine consigned to Sylvester so many and such rich gifts—which is doubtful, because such a privilege can nowhere be found—he could only have granted them for his lifetime: the Empire takes precedence over any lordship."

Valla's refutation was taken up vehemently by scholars of the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, such as Ulrich von Hutten
Ulrich von Hutten
Ulrich von Hutten was a German scholar, poet and reformer. He was an outspoken critic of the Roman Catholic Church and a bridge between the humanists and the Lutheran Reformation...

 and Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

.

Origin


It has been suggested that an early draft was made shortly after the middle of the 8th century in order to assist Pope Stephen II
Pope Stephen II
Pope Stephen II was Pope from 752 to 757, succeeding Pope Zachary following the death of Pope-elect Stephen. Stephen II marks the historical delineation between the Byzantine Papacy and the Frankish Papacy.-Allegiance to Constantinople:...

 in his negotiations with Pepin the Short, the Frankish Mayor of the Palace. In 754, Pope Stephen II crossed the Alps to anoint Pepin king, thereby enabling the Carolingian
Carolingian
The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD. The name "Carolingian", Medieval Latin karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German *karling, kerling The Carolingian dynasty (known variously as the...

 family to supplant the old Merovingian royal line. In return for Stephen's support, Pepin apparently gave the Pope the lands in Italy which the Lombards
Lombards
The Lombards , also referred to as Longobards, were a Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin, who from 568 to 774 ruled a Kingdom in Italy...

 had taken from the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

. These lands would become the Papal States
Papal States
The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

 and would be the basis of the Papacy's temporal power for the next eleven centuries.

More recently, an attempt was made at dating the forgery to the 9th century and placing its composition at Corbie Abbey
Corbie Abbey
Corbie Abbey is a former Benedictine monastery in Corbie, Picardy, France, dedicated to Saint Peter.-Foundation:It was founded in about 659/661 under Merovingian royal patronage by Balthild, widow of Clovis II, and her son Clotaire III...

, in northern France.

Further reading

  • McCabe, Joseph
    Joseph McCabe
    Joseph Martin McCabe was an English writer and speaker on freethought, after having been a Roman Catholic priest earlier in his life.-Early life:...

    , A History Of The Popes, (Watts & Co, 1939). Book by an anti-Catholic ex-priest.

See also


  • Pontifex Maximus
    Pontifex Maximus
    The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post...

  • Donation of Sutri
    Donation of Sutri
    The Donation of Sutri was an agreement reached at Sutri by Liutprand, King of the Lombards and Pope Gregory II in 728. At Sutri, the two reached an agreement by which the city and some hill towns in Latium were given to the Papacy, "as a gift to the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul" according to...

  • Donation of Pepin
    Donation of Pepin
    The "Donation of Pepin", the first in 754, and second in 756, provided a legal basis for the formal organizing of the Papal States, which inaugurated papal temporal rule over civil authorities...

  • Papal States
    Papal States
    The Papal State, State of the Church, or Pontifical States were among the major historical states of Italy from roughly the 6th century until the Italian peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia .The Papal States comprised territories under...

  • Vatican City
    Vatican City
    Vatican City , or Vatican City State, in Italian officially Stato della Città del Vaticano , which translates literally as State of the City of the Vatican, is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It has an area of...

  • List of late imperial Roman consuls


External links