A Question I Was Asked:

What is the 'Donation of Constantine'?

The Question:

What is the "Donation of Constantine"? Don't Roman Catholics Still Insist on it's Authenticity?

UK Apologetics Reply:

The answer is no. Roman Catholicism now willingly admits that the document was a forgery. The basic idea is that after being healed of an illness by Roman bishop Sylvester, Emperor Constantine bestowed enormous power and privilege, including much political authority, on to the succeeding Roman bishops. Virtually nobody has ever believed the document to be genune. Here, for example, is what the Roman Catholic New Advent website frankly states about this document (please especially note the final, strongly emphasised part of our quote):

"The Donation of Constantine (Latin, Donatio Constantini).
By this name is understood, since the end of the Middle Ages, a forged document of Emperor Constantine the Great, by which large privileges and rich possessions were conferred on the pope and the Roman Church. In the oldest known (ninth century) manuscript (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, manuscript Latin 2777) and in many other manuscripts the document bears the title: "Constitutum domini Constantini imperatoris". It is addressed by Constantine to Pope Sylvester I (314-35) and consists of two parts. In the first (entitled "Confessio") the emperor relates how he was instructed in the Christian Faith by Sylvester, makes a full profession of faith, and tells of his baptism in Rome by that pope, and how he was thereby cured of leprosy. In the second part (the "Donatio") Constantine is made to confer on Sylvester and his successors the following privileges and possessions: the pope, as successor of St. Peter, has the primacy over the four Patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, also over all the bishops in the world. The Lateran basilica at Rome, built by Constantine, shall surpass all churches as their head, similarly the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul shall be endowed with rich possessions. The chief Roman ecclesiastics (clerici cardinales), among whom senators may also be received, shall obtain the same honours and distinctions as the senators. Like the emperor the Roman Church shall have as functionaries cubicularii, ostiarii, and excubitores. The pope shall enjoy the same honorary rights as the emperor, among them the right to wear an imperial crown, a purple cloak and tunic, and in general all imperial insignia or signs of distinction; but as Sylvester refused to put on his head a golden crown, the emperor invested him with the high white cap (phrygium). Constantine, the document continues, rendered to the pope the service of a strator, i.e. he led the horse upon which the pope rode. Moreover, the emperor makes a present to the pope and his successors of the Lateran palace, of Rome and the provinces, districts, and towns of Italy and all the Western regions (tam palatium nostrum, ut prelatum est, quamque Romæ urbis et omnes Italiæ seu occidentalium regionum provincias loca et civitates). The document goes on to say that for himself the emperor has established in the East a new capital which bears his name, and thither he removes his government, since it is inconvenient that a secular emperor have power where God has established the residence of the head of the Christian religion. The document concludes with maledictions against all who dare to violate these donations and with the assurance that the emperor has signed them with his own hand and placed them on the tomb of St. Peter.

This document is without doubt a forgery, fabricated somewhere between the years 750 and 850. As early as the fifteenth century its falsity was known and demonstrated. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (De Concordantiâ Catholicâ, III, ii, in the Basle ed. of his Opera, 1565, I) spoke of it as a dictamen apocryphum. Some years later (1440) Lorenzo Valla (De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio, Mainz, 1518) proved the forgery with certainty. Independently of both his predecessors, Reginald Pecocke, Bishop of Chichester (1450-57), reached a similar conclusion in his work, "The Repressor of over much Blaming of the Clergy", Rolls Series, II, 351-366. Its genuinity was yet occasionally defended, and the document still further used as authentic, until Baronius in his "Annales Ecclesiastici" (ad an. 324) admitted that the "Donatio" was a forgery, whereafter it was soon universally admitted to be such. It is so clearly a fabrication that there is no reason to wonder that, with the revival of historical criticism in the fifteenth century, the true character of the document was at once recognized. The forger made use of various authorities, which Grauert and others have thoroughly investigated....."

Robin A. Brace, September 2nd, 2009.