Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008

"Constantine's" Gifts to the Pope

Written sometime between the years 750 and 850, the "Donation of Constantine" was purportedly authored by either a schismatic Greek or a Roman ecclesiastic pretending to be Emperor Constantine the Great. In the document, which is widely believed to be forged, Constantine tells of being cured of leprosy after receiving religious teachings and being baptized in Rome by Pope Sylvester I. The second part cedes reign over Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem to Sylvester. The pope was also given the same honorary rights as the emperor: to wear a crown and a purple cloak.

While most contemporary theologians believe the letter to be fake — as argued by Lorenzo Valla in 1440 during the Renaissance, who said that the crude Latin in the piece could not have been written during the time of Constantine — there is still debate over who forged it, when each part was originally authored and where the document was created. Not many dispute the claim of fakeness — and who would? Few emperors in history have ever given up their power willingly.