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Milton V. Anastos

Constantinople and Rome

A Survey of the Relations between the Byzantine and the Roman Churches.

M. Anastos, Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium (Political Theory, Theology, and Ecclesiastical Relations with the See of Rome), Ashgate Publications, Variorum Collected Studies Series, 2001. ISBN: 0 86078 840 7.

13. The "Donation of Constantine"

Ιn the latter half of the eighth century, in the midst of the conflict between Byzantium and Rome over the images and imperial exactions, an official connected with the papal chancery turned out the most famous forgery in history the so-called Donation of Constantine.(129) This document, which was written in Latin, and is completely spurious, as was proved by Lorenzo Valla in 1440 and by Nicholas of Cusa a few years previously, was intended to advance papal territorial claims and counterbalance the loss of Illyricum, Calabria, and Sicily. Above all, it was designed to strengthen the political position of the papacy at the time that the popes were breaking away from Byzantium and negotiating with the Frankish kings for a political realm of their own. What the pseudonymous author, who passed himself off as the Emperor Constantine Ι, was attempting to prove was that the imperial functions the popes were exercising, and seeking to exercise in the temporal sphere, were not to be regarded as usurpations on their part but had been entrusted to them by the Emperor Constantine Ι.

The deed of gift purports to have been drawn up by Constantine Ι as an expression of gratitude to Bishop Silvester of Rome (314-35), who had allegedly cured him miraculously of leprosy and converted him to Christianity. The section on Silvester's conversion of Constantine was probably composed at the end of the fifth century or early in the sixth. But the portion of the text which lists Constantine's benefactions is about two hundred years later in date. Constantine's intention as there expressed was to invest the see of Peter ("the vicar of the Son of God"), governed by the popes, the vicars of Peter, with a power and jurisdiction, which surpassed that of the emperor himself.

Τo accomplish this purpose, he is said to have conferred upon the bishop of Rome not merely primacy over the sees of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem (in that order), and over all the churches of the entire world, but the imperial prerogatives, authority, dignity, and honours as well. Ιn addition, he is represented as handing over to the pope the Lateran palace and the Church of St. Peter of the Vatican, along with the right to wear the imperial crown, and other marks of imperial rank like the purple chlamys (a cloak) and the scarlet tunic. The pope was also specifically empowered to carry the sceptre and the baton of command.

Most interestingly of all, besides authorizing the pope to appoint patricii (high imperial officers) and consuls, the Dοnatiοn granted him complete sovereignty over Rome, Italy, and the entire West, with full property rights thereto in perpetuity. It then has Constantine announce his decision to transfer the seat of his Empire from Rome to the East, since, he says, it would not be proper for the earthly ruler to perform his duties in the capital of the Christian religion.

Ιn short, the Donation set up the pope as emperor in the West, supreme over both the secular and ecclesiastical realms, and bestowed upon him rank, authority, and prestige that no secular potentate could challenge. Though it is wholly fantastical, it serves as a valuable summary of medieval papal ambitions,- the magnitude of which may in part be gauged from the fact that the forgery was not detected until the fifteenth century, and that portions of it made their way into the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals (ca. 847-53), and into the great collections of canon law, including Gratian's Decretum (or Concordia discordantium canοnum), which was published in the middle of the twelfth century and exerted incalculable influence throughout the Middle Ages.(130)

It is somewhat anomalous, however, that Roman theologians laid so much stress upon the role of the Byzantine emperor as the source of the papal prerogatives,
which, according to Roman doctrine, had been of divine origin. By doing so, they were playing into the hands of Byzantine polemicists, who argued (§ 21 (b) and (c) below) that when the capital was transferred from Rome to Constantinople, the patriarchs of the latter inherited the unique position and the primacy which had once belonged to the popes of Rome.(131)


129. - The large and complicated bibliography of the question is carefully analysed by Wolfgang Gericke, "Wann entstand die Konstantinische Schenkung?" ZSavKan, 43 (1957), 1-88, who gives the Latin text, and distinguishes four layers of composition, which he dates in 754, 766-71, ca. 790, and ca. 796; idem, "Das Constitutum Constantini und die Silvester-Legende," ΖSavΚan, 44 (1958), 343-50; Horst Fuhrmann, "Κonstantinische Schenkung and Silvesterlegende in neuer Sicht," DA, 15 (1959), 523-40 (against Gericke). On the canonists, see D. Maffei, La donazione di Costantino nei giuristi medievali, da Graziano a Bartolo (Milan, 1958). Cf. G. Martini, "Tralazione dell'Impero e Donazione di Costantino nel pensiero e nella politica d'Innocenzo IΙΙ," Archivio delta R. Società Romana di storia patria, 56-57 (1933-34), 219-36; Louis Halphen, Charlemagne et l'empire carolingien (Paris, 1949), 30 ff.; Franz Dölger, "Rom in der Gedankenwelt der Byzantiner," in Byzanz und die europäische Staatenwelt (cited in note 6 above), 107-11, makes a valuable contribution on the Byzantine and Roman use of the Donation; Wilhelm Levison, "Konstandnische Schenkung und Silvester-Legende," in Miscellanea Francesco Ehrle, 2 (ST, 38 [Rome, 1924]), 159-247; Christopher Β. Coleman, The treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine (New Haven, 1922); J. Friedrich, Die Constantinische Schenkung (Nördlingen, 1889), with the text.

130. - Decretales Pseudo-Isidoriannae, ed. Ρ Hinschius (Leipzig, 1863), 249-54; on which see (with bibliography) Rudoph Buchner, Die Rechtsquellen (Wilhelm Wattenbach et aΙ., Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter: Vorzeit und Κarolinger, Beiheft [Weimar, 1953]); Gratian, Decretum, ed. cit. (in note 62 above), 342-45, Distinctio 96, cc. 13 f (Palea); on whom, see Ρ Torquebiau, "Corpus juris canonici, Ι, Le décret de Gratien," Dictionnaire du droit canonique, 4 (Paris, 1949), 611-27; Α. Μ. Stickler, LThK, 4 (1960), 1168 f.

131. - Balsamon, PG, 137, 1312C; Heisenberg, Neue Quellen, 1, Epitaphios des Ν. Mesarites (cited in note 49 above); 56; Pseudo-Photius, "Against those who say that Rome has the primacy," ed. Mauricius Gordillo, OrChrP, 6 (1940), 12 f., 24 f., where the pseudonymous author erroneously gave the name of the emperor as Gallienus (instead of Aurelian: Eusebius, ΗΕ, 7, 30, 19), on whom see Gustave Bardy, Paul de Samosate, 2d ed. (Spicilegium sacrum Lovaniense, Etudes et documents, 4 [Louvain, 1929]), 358-63. For other Byzantine texts of interest, see Franz Dölger, "Rom in der Gedankenwelt der Byzantiner," in Byzanz und die europäische Staatenwelt (cited in note 6 above), 107-11.

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