Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Constantine/Prolegomena/The Mythical Constantine/Donation of Constantine

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4. Donation of Constantine.

This most remarkable of forgeries for its practical effect on world-history has been the subject of endless discussion. It is, in brief, a supposed grant to the Pope of Rome, Silvester, of certain sweeping privileges in recognition of the miracle he has wrought. The edict gives a long confession of faith followed by an account of the miracle and mention of the churches he has built. Then follow the grants to Silvester, sovereign Pontiff and Pope of Rome, and all his successors until the end of the world,—the Lateran palace, the diadem, phryginus, the purple mantle and scarlet robe, imperial scepters, insignia, banners and the whole imperial paraphernalia, as well as various clerical privileges and pretty much the whole world to govern. It is impossible here even to represent in outline the history of this extraordinary fiction. Composed not earlier than the latter part of the eighth century (Martens et alt. 9 cent.; Grauert, 840–850; Hauck, Bonneau, 752–757; Langen, 778, &c.; Friedrich acc. to Seeberg, divides into an earlier [653] and a later [753] portion), it early came to be general, though not unquestioned, authority. In 1229–1230 a couple of unfortunates who ventured to doubt its authenticity were burned alive at Strasburg (Documents communicated by Ristelhuber to Bonneau p. 57–58). Not many years after, Dante seems (Inf. 19. 115) to have taken its authenticity for granted; and although there is a possible doubting (De Monarch. 4. 10), he does not venture to dispute this. He denies, however, Constantine’s power or right to give, if he did give. In modern times the fictitious character of the document is recognized by Protestants and Catholics alike, and the discussion, so vigorous formerly, over this authenticity has narrowed itself chiefly to a discussion of the place (France or Rome) and date (653–753, ninth century) and possible author. The discussion over these points has been lately renewed and is being carried on with animation. Among the later monographs are those of Martens (1889) and Friedrich (1889, not at hand). The latest treatise at hand is that of Seeberg in the Theol. Literaturbl. of Jan. 17. 24. 31 of the current year. For farther select literature, compare Verzeichniss in Martens; for sources, the chapters of Martens and Preface of Bonneau; for older literature, Muensch. p. 96–97, and in general the Literature of Constantine, in this volume, although no attempt has been made to exhaust the literature of this sub-topic there. Treatises on the Donation will be found under the names of Albani, Altus, Arrhenius, Bachmann, Bayet, Bonneau, Brunner, Chaulnes, Colombier, Cusa, Friedrich, Genelin, Grauert, Hauck, Hildebrand, Jacobatius, Kaufman, Krüger, Martens, Muench, Rallaye, Scheffer-Boichorst, Seeberg, Steuchus, Tacut, Valla, Walther, Wieland, Zeumer.