Donation of Constantine
Donation of Constantine (Latin: Donatio Constantini) is a forged
Roman imperial decree by which the 4th century emperor Constantine the
Great supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part
Roman Empire to the Pope. Composed probably in the 8th century,
it was used, especially in the 13th century, in support of claims of
political authority by the papacy. Lorenzo Valla, an Italian
Catholic priest and Renaissance humanist, is credited with first
exposing the forgery with solid philological arguments in
1439–1440, although the document's authenticity had been
repeatedly contested since 1001.
In many of the existing manuscripts (handwritten copies of the
document), including the oldest one, the document bears the title
Constitutum domini Constantini imperatoris. The Donation of
Constantine was included in the 9th century Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals
2 Medieval use and reception
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
The text, purportedly a decree of
Constantine I dated 30
March, in a year mistakenly said to be both that of his fourth
consulate (315) and that of the consulate of Gallicanus (317),
contains a detailed profession of Christian faith and a recounting of
how the emperor, seeking a cure for his leprosy, was converted and
baptized by Pope Sylvester I. In gratitude, he determined to bestow on
the see of Peter "power, and dignity of glory, and vigour, and honour
imperial", and "supremacy as well over the four principal sees,
Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, as also over all
the churches of God in the whole earth". For the upkeep of the church
of Saint Peter and that of Saint Paul, he gave landed estates "in
Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa,
Italy and the various islands".
To Sylvester and his successors he also granted imperial insignia, the
tiara, and "the city of Rome, and all the provinces, places and cities
Italy and the western regions".
Medieval use and reception
What may perhaps be the earliest known allusion to the Donation is in
a letter of 778, in which
Pope Hadrian I
Pope Hadrian I exhorts Charlemagne, whose
father, Pepin the Younger, had made the
Donation of Pepin
Donation of Pepin granting the
Popes sovereignty over the Papal States, to follow Constantine's
example and endow the Roman
The first pope to directly invoke the decree was Pope Leo IX, in a
letter sent in 1054 to Michael I Cerularius, Patriarch of
Constantinople. He cited a large portion of the document, believing
it genuine, furthering the debate that would ultimately lead to
the East–West Schism. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Donation
was often cited in the investiture conflicts between the papacy and
the secular powers in the West.
In his Divine Comedy, written in the early 14th century, the poet
Dante Alighieri wrote: "Ahi, Costantin, di quanto mal fu matre, / non
la tua conversion, ma quella dote / che da te prese il primo ricco
patre!" ("Ah, Constantine, how much evil was born, / not from your
conversion, but from that donation / that the first wealthy Pope
received from you!").
Workshop of Raphael, The Donation of Constantine. Stanze di Raffaello,
During the Middle Ages, the Donation was widely accepted as authentic,
although the Emperor Otto III 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, and eventually the papal bureaucracy, 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
Lorenzo Valla argued in his philological
study of the text that the language used in manuscript could not be
dated to the 4th century. The language of the text suggests that
the manuscript can most likely be dated to the 8th century. Valla
believed the forgery to be so obvious that he leaned toward believing
that the Church had knowledge that the document was inauthentic. Valla
further argued that papal usurpation of temporal power had corrupted
the church, caused the wars of Italy, and reinforced the "overbearing,
barbarous, tyrannical priestly domination."
This was the first instance of modern, scientific diplomatics.
Independently of both Cusa and Valla, Reginald Pecocke, Bishop of
Chichester (1450–57), reached a similar conclusion. Among the
indications that the Donation must be a fake are its language 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
4th 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 wrote a tract in 1453, five years before becoming Pope,
to show that, though the Donation was a forgery, the papacy owed its
Charlemagne and its powers of the keys to Peter; he did not
publish it, however.
Contemporary opponents of papal powers in
Italy emphasized the primacy
of civil law and civil jurisdiction, now firmly embodied once again in
the Justinian Corpus Juris Civilis. The Florentine chronicler Giovanni
Cavalcanti reported that, in the very year of Valla's treatise,
Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, made diplomatic overtures
Cosimo de' Medici
Cosimo de' Medici in Florence, proposing an alliance against
the Pope. In reference to the Donation, Visconti wrote: "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."
Later, scholars further demonstrated that other elements, such as
Sylvester's curing of Constantine, are legends which originated at a
later time. Wolfram Setz, a recent editor of Valla's work, has
affirmed that at the time of Valla's refutation, Constantine's alleged
"donation" was no longer a matter of contemporary relevance in
political theory and that it simply provided an opportunity for an
exercise in legal rhetoric.
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 taken up vehemently by writers of the Protestant Reformation, such
Ulrich von Hutten
Ulrich von Hutten and Martin Luther, causing the treatise to be
placed on the index of banned books in the mid-16th century. The
Donation continued to be tacitly accepted as authentic until Caesar
Baronius in his "Annales Ecclesiastici" (published 1588–1607)
admitted that it was a forgery, after which it was almost universally
accepted as such. Some continued to argue for its authenticity;
nearly a century after "Annales Ecclesiastici", Christian Wolff still
alluded to the Donation as undisputed fact.
It has been suggested that an early draft of the Donation of
Constantine was made shortly after the middle of the 8th century, in
order to assist
Pope Stephen II
Pope Stephen II in his negotiations with Pepin the
Short, who then held the position of
Mayor of the Palace (i.e., the
manager of the household of the Frankish king). In 754, Pope
Stephen II crossed the Alps to anoint Pepin king, thereby enabling the
Carolingian family to supplant the old
Merovingian royal line. In
return for Stephen's support, Pepin gave the Pope the lands in Italy
Lombards had taken from the Byzantine (Eastern Roman)
Empire. These lands would become the
Papal States and would be the
basis of the Papacy's temporal power for the next eleven centuries.
In one study, an attempt was made at dating the forgery to the 9th
century, and placing its composition at Corbie Abbey, in northern
Johannes Fried draws a distinction between the Donation
of Constantine and an earlier, equally forged version, the Constitutum
Constantini, which was included in the collection of forged documents,
the False Decretals, compiled in the later half of the ninth century.
Fried argues the Donation is a later expansion of the much shorter
Constitutum. Christopher B. Coleman understands the mention in the
Constitutum of a donation of "the western regions" to refer to
Lombardy, Venetia, and Istria.
Vatican City portal
Donation of Sutri
Donation of Pepin
List of late imperial Roman consuls
^ a b Vauchez, Andre (2001). Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages.
Routledge. p. 445. ISBN 9781579582821.
^ Whelton, M. (1998). Two Paths: Papal Monarchy – Collegial
Tradition. Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press. p. 113.
^ a b c d "Donation of Constantine".
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York:
Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
^ "The Donation of Constantine". Decretum Gratiani. Part 1, Division
96, Chapters 13–14. Quoted in: Coleman, Christopher B. (1922).
Discourse on the
Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine. New
Haven: Yale University Press. (Translation of: Valla, Lorenzo (1440).
Declamatio de falso credita et ementita donatione Constantini.) Hosted
at the Hanover Historical Texts Project.
^ A slightly more ample summary is given in: Russell, Bertrand (2004).
A History of Western Philosophy. Routledge. p. 366.
^ Migne, Jacques-Paul (1891). Patrologia Latina. Volume 143 (cxliii).
^ Mansi, Giovanni Domenico. Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova Amplissima
Collectio. Volume 19 (xix). Col. 635–656.
^ Dante Alighieri. Inferno. Canto 19, lines 115–117.
^ Monumenta Germaniae Historica. DD II 820. pp. 13–15.
^ Toulmin, Stephen; Goodfield, June (1982). The Discovery of Time
(Phoenix ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
pp. 104–106. ISBN 0-226-80842-4.
^ Nicholas of Cusa, Paul E. Sigmund (editor and translator) (1991).
"The properly ordered power of the Western emperor does not depend on
the Pope". The
Catholic Concordance. Cambridge Texts in the History of
Political Thought. Cambridge University Press. pp. 216–222.
ISBN 0-521-40207-7. CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
^ a b Prosser, Peter E. (2001). "Church history's biggest hoax:
Renaissance scholarship proved fatal for one of the medieval papacy's
favorite claims". Christian History. 20 (Journal Article): 35–.
ISSN 0891-9666. – via General OneFile
Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II (1883). Opera inedita. pp. 571–81. Cited in: Lea,
Henry Charles (1895). "The 'Donation of Constantine'". The English
Historical Review 10(37). pp. 86–87. doi:10.1093/ehr/X.XXXVII.86
^ Setz, Wolfram (1976). Lorenzo Vallas Schrift gegen die
Konstantinische Schenkung. Weimar. (Translation of: Valla, Lorenzo
(1440). De Falso Credita et Ementita Constantini Donatione
^ Wolff, Christian. "Append. ad Concilium Chalcedonensem". Opere.
ii:261. Cited in: Lea, Henry Charles (1895). "The 'Donation of
Constantine'". The English Historical Review 10(37). pp. 86–87.
^ Duffy, Eamon (2006). Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes.
Yale University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-300-11597-0.
^ O'Malley, S. W. J. (2009). A History of the Popes: From Peter to the
Present. Government Institutes. p. 59.
^ Schnürer, Gustav (1912). States of the Church. The Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ a b Fried, Johannes (2007). "Donation of Constantine" and
"Constitutum Constantini": The Misinterpretation of a Fiction and Its
Original Meaning. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
^ Coleman, Christopher Bush.
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great and Christianity:
Three Phases : the Historical, the Legendary, and the Spurious,
Columbia University Press, 1914, p. 177
Camporeale, Salvatore I. "Lorenzo Valla's Oratio on the
Pseudo-Donation of Constantine: Dissent and Innovation in Early
Renaissance Humanism." Journal of the History of Ideas (1996) 57#1 pp:
Delph, Ronald K. "Valla Grammaticus, Agostino Steuco, and the Donation
of Constantine." Journal of the History of Ideas (1996) 57#1 pp:
Fried, Johannes, ed.
Donation of Constantine
Donation of Constantine and Constitutum
Constantini: The Misinterpretation of a Fiction and Its Original
Meaning (Walter de Gruyter, 2007)
Levine, Joseph M. "
Reginald Pecock and
Lorenzo Valla on the Donation
of Constantine." Studies in the Renaissance (1973): 118-143. in JSTOR
McCabe, Joseph (1939). A History Of The Popes. Watts & Co.
Valla, Lorenzo. On the donation of Constantine (Harvard University
Press, 2007), translation by G. W. Bowersock of 1440 version
Zinkeisen, F. "The
Donation of Constantine
Donation of Constantine as applied by the Roman
Church." English Historical Review (1894) 9#36 pp: 625-632. in JSTOR
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Donation of Constantine
Text of the Constitutum Donatio Constantini (Latin) at The Latin
Text of the Constitutum Donatio Constantini (Latin) at the Bibliotheca
Text of the Constitutum Constantini (Latin) at The Roman Law Library
Lorenzo Valla's Discourse on the
Forgery of the Alleged Donat