DONATION of CONSTANTINE

The Liber pontificalis contains, in the section dedicated to Pope Sylvester, the so-called Donation of Constantine. The Constitutum Constantini is actually an apocryphal letter, addressed by Constantine to Pope Sylvester, his successors to the see of Rome and all Catholic bishops of the world, who with this imperial constitution were subordinated to the authority of the bishop of Rome. The letter has two parts: a profession of faith and the donation itself. The emperor concedes power, dignity and imperial insignia to the pope and to his successors, along with perpetual sovereignty over Rome, the provinces and the cities of all of Italy or of the Western provinces. A later version of the text replaced or with and, with obvious expansionist motives.

The text attributes primacy over the other patriarchates Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem to Rome. The success of the spurious Donation of Constantine, the intent of which was to legitimize the freedom and ecclesiastical independence of the Roman see with respect to the civil power, was immense; it was not only inserted in various legal texts, but was also appealed to in the controversy of the two powers Arnold of Brescia, William of Ockham, Marsilius of Padua as an argument in support of papist theses. There are still serious doubts regarding the date of composition of this document ca. 850 it was already known and considered trustworthy in Gaul; thus, either shortly before or contemporaneous with the Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae, which include it and on the place of composition perhaps Rome, perhaps the abbey of Saint-Denis near Paris.

The question of the letter’s authenticity was already raised in the 15th c. by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini the future Pius II, followed by various humanists Reginald Pecock, Nicholas of Cusa and Lorenzo Valla, who demonstrated the Donation of Constantine’s falsity through textual and literary criticism and numerous historical testimonies. Il Constitutum Constantini, P. Ciprotti ed., Milan 1966; L. Duchesne, Le Liber pontificalis, I, Paris 1886, CIX-CXX; E. Griffe, various articles on the Donation of Constantine in BLE 52 1952 224-226, 58 1957 238-241, 59 1958 193-221; I.P. Kirsch, La Donatio Constantini: La Scuola Cattolica 41 1913 198-213; P. De Leo, Il Constitutum Constantini, Reggio Calabria 1974; M. Edwards ed., Constantine and Christendom: The Orations to the Saints; The Greek and Latin Accounts of the Discovery of the Cross; The Edict of Constantine to Pope Silvester, Liverpool 2003 bibl..

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