[St. Pachomius Library]

The Donation of Constantine

One of the most famous forged documents of the mediæval era, the Donation of Constantine was one of the pillars on which the Roman papacy rested its claim to supreme secular authority. The Donation pretends to be a decree by St. Emperor Constantine I rewarding Pope St. Sylvester I for curing the emperor's leprosy; in effect, it makes the pontiff emperor of the West. Already viewed with suspicion by some scholars in the early Middle Ages, it was conclusively shown to be fraudulent by Lorenzo Valla in the XV century. The specific anachronisms in the text (e.g. the un-classical use of the terms "satrap" and "consul" for certain Roman aristocrats, the use of the word seu to mean "and" instead of "or", and a reference to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem) combine to suggest a date of composition in the VIII Century. The true author's intention, however, is not entirely clear; the Donation may have been an attack on either Frankish or Byzantine imperial authority or a ploy in some internal ecclesiastical power struggle rather than a simple attempt to aggrandise papal power. Easterners as well as Westerners cited the Donation when doing so was to their advantage, since while it exalted the papacy, the document also cast doubt upon the right of the Frankish kings to the imperial title.

--- Norman Hugh Redington


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