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For God, wise in all previous time, gave forth from himself the word through which all future ages were to be born; and when, by that sole word of His wisdom, He formed the whole creation from nothing, He was with it, arranging all things in His mysterious secret place. In this brief clip from his teaching series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey examines a historical document supposedly prepared by Constantine that helped legitimate the Pope’s authority in the West. Since it had nothing to do with the emperor, the presumption of the Church over European sovereigns had no basis.
Leo IX (1049–54) was the first pope to cite it as an authority in an official act, and subsequent popes used it in their struggles with the Holy Roman emperors and other secular leaders. Various ecclesiastics included it in their codes of canon law, including one of Gratian’s students, and even Rome’s opponents seldom questioned its authenticity. Doubts about the document, however, were voiced about the year 1000 by Otto III and his supporters.
In one study, an attempt was made at dating the forgery to the 9th century, and placing its composition at Corbie Abbey, in northern France. Per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide. This didn’t stop popes from reaffirming their supremacy, even without quoting the document.
The Donation of Constantine
- The authenticity of the document, as already stated, was doubted by no one before the fifteenth century.
- See False Decretals; Pope Saint Sylvester I; States of the Church; Temporal Power.
- According to Dollinger the “Constitutum” was destined to aid in the creation of a united Italy under papal government.
- He called the Council of Niceato ensure that his empire would not be split by the division of the Church.
It was clearly a defense of papal interests, perhaps against the claims of either the Byzantine Empire, or those of Charlemagne himself, who soon assumed the former imperial dignity in the West and with it the title "Emperor of the Romans". Catholic Answers is pleased to provide this unabridged entry from the original Catholic Encyclopedia, published between 1907 and 1912. It is a valuable resource for subjects related to theology, philosophy, history, culture, and more. Like most works that are more than a century old, though, it may occasionally use anachronistic language or present outdated scientific information. Accordingly, in offering this resource Catholic Answers does not thereby endorse every assertion or phrase in it.
In addition to its importance as an art-historical document, Penni’s depiction of the citizens of Rome, gathered in the basilica, camped in the foreground, and observing events from between the columns, is also worthy of appreciation. As far as the evidence at hand permits us to judge, the forged “Constitutum” was first made known in the Frankish Empire. The document obtained wider circulation by its incorporation with the False Decretals ( , or more specifically between 847 and 852; Hinschius, Decretales Pseudo-Isidorian, Leipzig, 1863, p. 249). The first pope who used it in an official act and relied upon it, was Leo IX; in a letter of 1054 to Michael Crularius. Patriarch of Constantinople, he cites the “Donatio to show that the Holy See possessed both an earthly and a heavenly imperium, the royal priesthood.
Coronation of Pepin the Short
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. In 1440, the humanist Lorenzo Valla contested officially the Donation of Constantine. He proved the document was originally made in VIII century by the Apostolic Chancery. In many manuscripts, including the oldest one, which dates from the 9th century, the document bears the title Constitutum domini Constantini imperatoris.(The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, s.v. "Donation of Constantine").
The Donation of Constantine starts with an elaborate introductory greeting, transitioning quickly into an explanation of the Christian faith, describing concepts such as the Trinity and the story of Scripture. It then dives into Constantine’s own “testimony,” portraying him as a pagan stricken with leprosy. Following a nighttime vision of Peter and Paul, Constantine seeks out Sylvester I, who exhorts him to repent and humble himself before God.
The Donation of Constantine Content
For we wish you to know,, as we have signified through our former imperial decree, that we have gone away, from the worship of idols, from mute and deaf images made by hand, from devilish contrivances and from all the pomps of Satan; and have arrived at the pure faith of the Christians, which is the true light and everlasting life. We confess these, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in such way that, in the perfect Trinity, there shall also be a fulness of divinity and a unity of power. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and these three are one in Jesus Christ. The Donation of Constantine was a document of great importance in the Middle Ages. It was used by the Church to support its claim of supreme rule over even earthly powers. It supposedly was given by the Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester I in the 4th century, when Constantine relocated his capital in Constantinople, granting the pope dominion over all Italy, as well as over Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Alexandria.
The medieval adversaries of the popes, on the other hand, never denied the validity of this appeal to the pretended donation of Constantine, but endeavoured to show that the legal deductions drawn from it were founded on false interpretations. The authenticity of the document, as already stated, was doubted by no one before the fifteenth century. It was known to the Greeks in the second half of the twelfth century, when it appears in the collection of Theodore Balsamon (1169 sqq.); later on another Greek canonist, Matthæus Blastares , admitted it into his collection. The Greeks claimed, it is well known, for the Bishop of New Rome the same honorary rights as those enjoyed by the Bishop of Old Rome.
Thenceforth the “Donatio” acquires more importance and is more frequently used as evidence in the ecclesiastical and political conflicts between the papacy and the secular power. Gratian, it is true, excluded it from his “Decretum”, but it was soon added to it as “Palea”. Closely connected with the date of the forgery is the other question concerning the primary purpose of the forger of the “Donatio”. According to Dollinger the “Constitutum” was destined to aid in the creation of a united Italy under papal government. Composed probably in the 8th century, it was used, especially in the 13th century, in support of claims of political authority by the papacy.