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Book VIII
Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Book VIII
Chapter 8

Book VIII (continued)

Vol. VII
p135
Chapter VII

The Donation of Constantine

Sources: —

Edictum Domini Constantini Imperatoris, with French translation by A. Bonneau, and Laurentius Valla's refutation (published in Paris, 1879, under the title 'La Donation de Constantin').

Guides: —

'Die Papst-Fabeln des Mittelalters,' von J. J. I. v. Döllinger, edited by J. Friedrich (Stuttgart, 1890).

The False as a motive power in Politics. It is one of the commonplaces of history, that in considering the causes which have produced any given event, we have often to deal not only with that which is True and can be proved, but also with that which though False is yet believed. The undoubted fable of the descent of the founders of Rome from the founders of Troy distinctly influenced the policy of the Republic both in Greece and Asia. Some effect on Jewish history was produced by the story of Judas Maccabeus' treaty with Rome engraved on a tablet of brass. The shadowy and almost fabulous claim of the Saxon kings to lordship over Scotland suggested the wars of Edward the First with the northern kingdom. The so‑called 'Will of Peter the Great' — almost certainly spurious — has been a mighty rallying‑cry both to  p136 friends and foes of the extension of the dominion of the Tsars in Europe and Asia. But there is no need to multiply instances, when the one eminent instance of the fable of the greased cartridges as a plot against the religion of the Sepoy, a fable which so nearly lost us India, is present to the memory of us all.

Just such a fable was working powerfully on the minds of men, at any rate of Roman citizens and ecclesiastics, in the middle of the eighth century; a fable which dealt with the acts and deeds of the great Emperor Constantine and of his contemporary Pope Silvester. Though the body of the Caesar had been for more than four centuries mouldering in its vault in the great church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, and though sixty pontiffs had sat in the patriarchal chair of the Lateran since Silvester was carried to his grave, it may be safely said that these two men, or rather not these two men but a mythical Constantine and a mythical Silvester, were then exerting as great an influence as any living Emperor or Pope on the politics of Europe.

The historic Constantine. In fewest possible words let us recall the events in the life of the historic Emperor Constantine the Great. Born about the year 274, the son of an emperor who though a heathen was conspicuously favourable to the Christians, he was acclaimed as Caesar by the soldiers of his deceased father at Eburacum in the year 306. For eighteen years he was engaged more or less continuously in struggles with other wearers of the Imperial diadem. Maximian, Maxentius, Licinius fell before him, until at least, in 324, he emerged from a series of deadly civil wars, sole ruler of the Roman  p137 world. At each step of his upward progress some burden was taken off the Christian Church, which from the beginning of his career recognised in him its patron and protector. In the year 313, in concert with his partner in the empire, Licinius, he issued the celebrated Edict of Milan which secured full toleration to the Christians. His own personal relation to the new faith, at least during the middle years of his life, is somewhat obscure. In spite of the story of the miraculous Labarum1 affixed to his standards in his campaign against Maxentius (312) he appears for some years to have professed, or at all events practised, a kind of eclectic theism, seeking to combine a reverence for Christ with some remains of the paganism which had been hitherto the official religion of the Roman state. But always even during this transition period he took a kindly and intelligent interest in the affairs of the Christian Church, labouring especially for the preservation of its internal harmony. Thus his famous presidency at the council of Nicaea (325) was entirely in keeping with his previous attitude towards the Church ever since he had assumed the diadem. Within three or four years after that celebrated event he wrought his other even more world-famous work, the foundation of the city of Constantinople. Still, though more and more showing himself as the patron of Christianity and making it now not only a permitted but a dominant, almost a persecuting form of faith, he himself postponed for a long while his formal reception into the Christian church. This took place at last at his villa of Ancyrona in Bithynia, where in the spring of 337 Eusebius  p138 the Arian bishop of Nicaea administered to him the rite of Christian baptism, which in a few days was followed by his death.

The historic Silvester. Contemporary with Constantine during the greater part of his reign was Silvester, who held the office of bishop of Rome from 314 to 335. He was a man apparently of no great force of character, who probably ruled his diocese well (since we hear of no complaints or disputes during his long episcopate), and who was excused on the score of age from attending at the council of Nicaea, at which he was represented by two presbyters. It seems probable that Silvester was the Pope who received from Constantine the gift of the Lateran Palace in the south-east of Rome, with a large and doubtless valuable plot of ground adjoining it, on which the Emperor may have built the great basilica which bears the proud title, 'Omnium ecclesiarum in orbe sedes et caput.' It is quite possible that other estates in the city and in the Italian provinces may have been bestowed upon the Roman see during the papacy of Silvester by the first Christian emperor, who was undoubtedly a generous giver to the Churches throughout his empire.

Such in outline are the figures of the historic Constantine and the historic Silvester. Now let us see how they are drawn and coloured by the legends of later and barbarous centuries.

Travesty of their lives in the Vita Silvestri. The Vita Silvestri, a book written probably about the year 500, that is to say nearly two centuries after Silvester's pontificate, describes in the usual style of religious biography the youthful virtues of its hero, his hospitality, his courageously manifested sympathy with Timotheus, a martyr during the persecution of  p139 Diocletian, his ordination as deacon and priest, and his involuntary elevation to the papacy on the death of Miltiades (314). It then goes on to relate some of the marvellous works performed by the new Pope, chief among them the chaining up of a certain noisome dragon which by its baleful breath poisoned the whole city, dwelling as it did in a subterranean cave under the Tarpeian rock, reached by a staircase of three hundred and sixty-five steps. After this event a cruel persecution of the Christians is said to have been set on foot by the Emperor Constantine. Silvester, bowing his head to the storm, departed from Rome and took refuge in a cave on Mount 'Syraption,' which later transmitters of the story have identified with Soracte. While he was still in hiding, the Emperor Constantine, as a punishment for his cruelties towards the Christians, was afflicted with a grievous leprosy. The physicians were unable to cure him, and he sought the aid of the priest of the Capitol, who assured him that he could only be healed by bathing in a laver filled with the blood of newly-born infants. A multitude of sucklings from all parts of the empire were collected for the ghastly purification, but with the babes came of course their mothers, who rent the air with such piteous cries that Constantine, moved with pity, countermanded the massacre, declaring that he would rather continue to suffer from his disease than purchase health at the cost of so great sorrow. That night in a dream two venerable figures appeared to him, and as a reward for his forbearance told him that if he would send for Silvester he should by his means be healed of his malady.  p140 Messengers were accordingly sent to Soracte, who brought Silvester into the presence of the Emperor. Two pictures were exhibited by the Pope, and Constantine at once recognised in them the likenesses of the personages who appeared to him in his dream. 'What are the names of these gods,' says the Emperor, ' that I may worship them?' 'They are no gods,' replies the Pope, 'but the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, servants of the living God and of His Son Jesus Christ': and thereupon he expounds to him the rudiments of Christianity. Constantine expresses his willingness to receive baptism; they journey to Rome, and the rite is administered in a porphyry vase in the Lateran Palace. At the moment of immersion a bright light dazzles his eyes and the eyes of the beholders. He rises from the lustral waters cured of the plague of leprosy. Constantine then proceeds to issue various edicts on behalf of his new faith. Christ is to be adored throughout his Empire; the blasphemers of His name are to be severely punished; the churches are to be inviolable places of refuge; new churches are to be built out of the proceeds of tithes levied on the imperial domains; the bishops of the whole Empire are to be subject to the Pope, even as the civil magistrates are subject to the Emperor. Constantine himself repairs to the Vatican hill and begins to dig the foundations of the new church of St. Peter. Next day he commences a similar work at the Lateran. He convenes a great assembly of the senate and people of Rome in the Basilica Ulpiana, announces his own conversion in the presence of the senators (who for the most part adhere absolutely to their old idolatry), but declares that faith shall be free and that  p141 no one shall be forced to become Christian against his will. At this point, however, he receives a letter from his mother, the widowed Empress Helena residing in Bithynia, who while congratulating him on having renounced the worship of idols, implores him to adopt, not Christianity, but the only true religion, Judaism. Hereupon a disputation is held as to the merits of the two religions, between the Pope one on one side and twelve Rabbis on the other. After argument is exhausted, recourse is had to the test of miracles. A bull is brought in, and the Rabbi who champions the faith of Moses whispers in its ear the mysterious Name revealed on Sinai. The bull falls dead, and all the bystanders feel that the Jew has triumphed; but then Silvester draws near and whispers in the creature's ear the name of Christ, whereupon the bull comes to life again and stands upright on its feet. Then the Christian cause is admitted to have triumphed. Constantine sets off for the East to found Constantinople, and Helena repairs to Jerusalem where she discovers the Holy Cross.

Such is the farrago of nonsensical romance which, at the period that we have now reached, passed generally current as the true history of the baptism of the first Christian emperor. There is no need to point out how utterly at every turn the story contradicts the undoubted facts of history. The marvellous thing is that these facts had been fully and correctly stated by authors of high repute in the church, such as Eusebius and Jerome, and the slightest acquaintance with their works must have shown any Roman ecclesiastic that it was impossible that the story told in  p142 the Gesta Silvestri could be true. When and where it originated can only be a matter of conjecture. Abbé Duchesne, the learned and impartial editor of the Liber Pontificalis (into which, strange as it may appear, this extravagant fiction has made its way), thinks that it probably had its origin in the Church of Armenia. Döllinger, without expressing a decided opinion on this point, agrees with Duchesne in the conclusion which has been already stated that the fable obtained credence in Rome about the end of the fifth century, at which time it is alluded to in some of the treatises called forth by the trial of Pope Symmachus.2 From the decision of such experts as these there can be no appeal; but it is certainly difficult to understand how such a wild travesty of the facts could have been believed little more than a century after the death of the son of Constantine:3 and it is also hard to reconcile the existence of the story in the year 500 with the entire silence respecting it which we find in all the writings of Gregory the Great, yet a hundred years later. Remembering how large a part of his papal life was occupied in controversy with the Patriarch of Constantinople or respectful opposition to his master the Emperor, we find it difficult to understand why there should never be an allusion to a story which, if it had been true, would have so greatly enhanced the see of Constantinople. Possibly the difficulty may be explained by Abbé Duchesne's suggestion that the currency of  p143 the story and even the authority of the Liber Pontificalis were at this time confined to the less educated portion of the Roman clergy and laity, and that scholar and statesmen, such as Gregory I, did not confute, because they too utterly despised them.4

The fable of Constantine's leprosy depicted on the walls of the Quattro Incoronati. However, preposterous as this story of the conversion of Constantine might be, by frequent repetition through barbarous and ignorant ages it succeeded in getting itself accepted as truth. Even at this day not only the unlettered peasant from the Campagna, but many of the better educated foreign visitors to Rome, who enter the interesting fortress-church of the Quattro Incoronati,5 between the Colosseum and the Lateran, little know what an audacious travesty of history is represented in the quaint frescoes on its walls They see the unhappy Emperor covered with the spots of leprosy, the glad mothers with their babes restored, the two Apostles appearing to the dreaming sovereign, the gay horsemen seeking Pope Silvester in his cave, the recognition of St. Peter and St. Paul, Constantine standing in the regenerating waters, Constantine kneeling before the Pope and offering him a diadem, Constantine  p144 leading Silvester's horse into Rome and walking groom-like by his stirrup: they see all this, and imagine that they are looking on a representation, quaint indeed but not impossible, of events that actually occurred, nor do they grasp the fact that they are looking on a great pictured falsehood, the memory of which and the consequences of which, perturbing all the relations of the Christian Church and the civil ruler, dividing Guelf from Ghibelin and Swabian from Angevin, prolonged for centuries the agony of Italy.6

The pretended Donation of Constantine. A fiction like that of the Roman baptism of Constantine once taken home into the minds of the people soon gathers round it other fictions. Thus it came to pass that at some uncertain time in the eighth century there was brought to birth the yet more monstrous fiction of The Donation of Constantine. The document which purports to contain this donation is of portentous length, containing about five thousand words, and there are in it many repetitions which suggest the idea that its fabricator has added one or two codicils to his original draft, as points occurred to him on which a fuller explanation might be expedient. I extract a few of the more important sentences.

'In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Emperor Caesar  p145 Flavius Constantinus, . . . faithful, gentle, mightiest, beneficent, conqueror of the Goths, of the Sarmatians, of the Germans, of the Britons and of the Huns7 (!), pious, fortunate, conqueror and triumpher, ever Augustus, to the most holy and blessed Father of Fathers, Silvester, bishop of Rome and Pope, and to all his successors in the seat of St. Peter to the end of the world . . . and to all the most reverend . . . Catholic bishops in the whole world who are by this our imperial decree made subject to the same Holy Roman church, . . . Grace, peace, charity, joy, long-suffering, and compassion from God the Father Almighty, and from Jesus Christ His Son, and the Holy Ghost, be with all of you.'

After a long exposition of his new creed and a repetition of the story of the leprosy, the vision, the baptism and miraculous cure,8 the Emperor continues: —

'Therefore we, along with all our Satraps (!) and the whole Senate, Nobles and People subject to the Roman church, have thought it desirable that even as St. Peter is on earth the appointed Vicar of God, so also the Pontiffs his vicegerents should receive from us and from our empire power and principality greater than belongs to our earthly empire. For we choose the same Prince of the Apostles and his vicars to be our patrons before God, and we decree that even like unto our own earthly imperial power so shall the sacro-sanct Church of Rome be honoured and venerated, and that higher than our terrestrial throne shall the most sacred seat of St. Peter be gloriously exalted.

'Let him who for the time presides over the holy  p146 Church of Rome have supremacy over the four sees of Alexandria, of Antioch, of Jerusalem, and of Constantinople, and let him be sovereign of all the priests in the whole world, and by his judgment let all things which pertain to the worship of God or the faith of Christians be regulated.

'We wish all nations in the whole world to be informed that we have within our Lateran palace reared from its foundations a church to our Saviour and Lord God, Jesus Christ; and know ye that we have from the foundations thereof borne on our own shoulders twelve baskets-full of earth according to the number of the twelve Apostles. Which most holy church we decree shall be called the head and summit of all churches in the whole world,9 and shall be venerated and proclaimed as such, even as we have ordained in other our imperial decrees. We have also built churches for the blessed Peter and Paul, chiefs of the Apostles, enriching them with gold and silver, and have laid their most sacred bodies therein with great reverence, making for them coffins of amber (which is surpassed in strength by none of the elements), and on each of these coffins we have placed a cross of purest gold and most precious gems, fastening them thereto with golden nails.

'On these churches, for the maintenance of the lights burned in them, we have bestowed sundry farm-properties, and have enriched them with divers estates both in the East and the West, in the North and the South, namely in Judaea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa and Italy, as well as in divers islands. All these are  p147 to be administered by the hands of our most blessed father Silvester, Summus Pontifex,10 and his successors.

'We grant to the said Silvester and his successors the imperial palace of the Lateran, and also the diadem or crown, and the Phrygium:11 moreover the superhumerale or necklace which is wont to surround our imperial neck: the purple mantle also and scarlet tunic and all the imperial trappings, as well as the dignity of the imperial mounted guards. We bestow upon him also the imperial sceptre, with all standards and banners and similar imperial ornaments, and in short the whole array of our imperial dignity and the glory of our power.12

'To the men of a different rank, namely the most reverend clergy of the Roman Church, we grant the same height of dignity wherewith our most illustrious Senate is adorned, namely that they be made patricians and consuls, and we announce that they shall be adorned with other imperial dignities.

'And as our own civil service hath its special decorations, so we decree that the clergy of the holy Roman Church shall be adorned: and that the said Church be ministered unto by janitors and chamberlains,13 such as those who wait upon us, the Emperor. And that the pontifical splendour may shine forth as brilliantly  p148 as possible, we decree that the clergy of the Roman Church ride on horses adorned with saddle-cloths and trappings of the purest white:14 and like our senators, let them wear udones15 or white shoes: and thus let the heavenly ranks, like the earthly ranks, be adorned for the greater glory of God.

'The blessed Silvester and his successors shall have the power of enrolling whom they will in the number of the clergy, none presuming to say that they have acted arrogantly herein.

'We have already decreed that he and his successors should wear a diadem such as ours of purest gold and precious stones. But the most blessed Pope would not consent to use a golden crown besides the crown of clerisy which he wears to the glory of the most blessed Peter.16 We have however with our own hands placed on his most holy head a tiara17 of dazzling whiteness, symbolising the resurrection of our Lord; and holding the bridle of his horse we have performed for  p149 him the duties of a groom out of our reverence for the blessed Peter;18 ordaining that his successors shall use the same tiara in processions, in imitation of our imperial style.'

The reader who has had the patience to proceed thus far may very likely think that though the document is tedious, sometimes inconsistent with itself, and instinct with all an ecclesiastic's love for goodly raiment, there is nothing which need have made the Donation of Constantine, whether true or false, a landmark in the history of Italy. The important paragraphº is that which follows, and which, as every word is here of weight, shall be translated literally: —

'Wherefore, that the pontifical crown may not grow too cheap, but may be adorned with glory and influence even beyond the dignity of the earthly empire, lo! we hand over and relinquish our palace, the city of Rome, and all the provinces, places and cities of Italy and [or] the western regions, to the most blessed Pontiff and universal Pope, Silvester; and we ordain by our pragmatic constitution that they shall be governed by him and his successors, and we grant that they shall remain under the authority of the holy Roman Church.19

 p150  'Where we have thought it fitting that our empire and our royal power be transferred to the Eastern regions, and that a city bearing our name be built in an excellent place in the province of Byzantia, and that there our empire be founded, since where the sovereign of priests and the head of the Christian religion has been placed by the Heavenly Emperor, it is not fitting that there the earthly emperor should also bear sway.'

The document ends with solemn injunctions to all future Emperors, to all nobles, 'satraps,' and senators, to keep this grant for ever inviolate. Anathemas are uttered on any one who shall dare to infringe it; and hell-fire is invoked for his destruction. As the fabricator of the document must have known that he was, on the most favourable construction of his conduct, writing a mere ecclesiastical romance, these references to eternal punishment should not have been included. The document is laid on the body of the blessed Peter as a pledge to the Apostle that Constantine on his part will keep it ever inviolable.

It bears date on the third day before the Kalends of April (30th of March), Constantine being for the fourth time consul, with Gallicanus for his colleague. No such consulship exists in the Fasti. The Emperor was for the fourth time consul in 315, with his brother-in‑law and co‑Emperor Licinius for his colleague. The consulship of Gallicanus was in 330, five years after the council of Nicaea, and the Emperor Constantine was not his colleague.

 p151  Birthplace of this fiction. A few words must be said as to the place and time wherein this extraordinary fiction had its birth. An attempt has been made20 to cast off upon some Greek ecclesiastic the responsibility for its authorship, but this attempt is now generally admitted to have failed. It undoubtedly springs from Rome, probably from the papal chancery in Rome. The earnestness with which the writer exerts himself to secure for the Roman clergy the use of mappulae and linteamina makes it probable that he was one of the favoured persons who had the right to perambulate the streets of ruined Rome on a steed covered with a horse-cloth of dazzling whiteness. The general similarities of style to some of the eighth-century lives in the Liber Pontificalis suggests the thought that the author of the Donation may have been one of the scribes who in the pages of that compilation denounced the 'most unutterable' Aistulf or celebrated the mildness of the 'quasi-angelic' Stephen.

Its date. For, to come to the question of date, there is not much doubt that this document belongs to the middle or possibly the later half of the eighth century. It is already included in the so‑called Decretals of Isidore, published about 840, and in the collection of Formulae of S. Denis of about the same period. But we may probably trace it to an earlier date than this; for it is almost certain that Pope Hadrian alludes to this document in a letter which he wrote to Charles the Great in 777,21 and there is some force in  p152 Döllinger's argument that a document of this kind would not have been fabricated after 774, when the Frankish king showed his determination to found a kingdom for himself on the ruins of the Lombard monarchy. There is therefore much to be said for the view that the Donation was fabricated shortly before the year 754. But on this side there may probably for some time be considerable variation of opinion, as one theory after another is advanced by scholars to account for the original concoction of a document so wildly at variance with historical fact.

Responsibility for the deception. With any more detailed discussion on this point I do not think necessary to trouble my readers. Nor do I feel myself bound even to speak of it as a forgery, much less to impute complicity with the forgery to any one of the Popes who cross the stage of my history. In an absolutely ignorant and uncritical age many a fiction passes for fact without deliberate and conscientious imposture on the part of any single individual. There were doubtless romancers and story-tellers after their dull fashion in that eighth century as in our own, for the human imagination has never been lulled into absolute torpor. What if some clerk in the papal chancery amused his leisure by composing, in a style not always unskilfully imitated from that of Justinian or Theodosius, an edict which the first Christian Emperor might have published on the morrow of that Roman baptism which, though itself imaginary, was then firmly believed to be real? What if this paper, recognised at the time by all who knew its author as a mere romance,  p153 was left in the papal archives and (it may be years after the death of its author) was found by some zealous exceptor eager for material wherewith to confute the Lombard or convince the Frank? In some such way as this it is surely possible that, without any deliberate act of fraud on any one's part, the lie may have got itself recognised as truth.22

Later history of the imposture. Into the after-history of this fabrication I must not now enter minutely, though there is something almost fascinating in the subject, and indeed the story of the Donation of Constantine fully told would almost be the history of the Middle Ages. It was hidden, as it were, for a time under a bushel, and was not made so much use of by the Popes of the ninth and tenth centuries as we should have expected. But towards the end of the eleventh century we find it put in the forefront of the battle by the advocates of Hildebrand's world-ruling papal theocracy. Under Innocent III, Gregory IX, Boniface VIII, it is constantly appealed to in support of their pretensions to rule as feudal suzerains over Italy, over the Holy Roman Empire, over the world. For three centuries after this, the canonists take the Donation as the basis of their airy edifices, some expanding, some restricting its purport, but none of them apparently entertaining any suspicion of the genuineness of the document itself.23

 p154  So long-lived and so mighty is Falsehood. Like the Genie in the Arabian Nights, this story of an imperial abdication in favour of the Pope, which had crept out of that dark scriptorium in the Lateran palace grew and swelled and overshadowed all Europe. Then came a scholar of the Renaissance and uttered a few words of caustic doubt, and the Genie shrank back into the battle and was hurled into the depths of the sea, whence it can no more emerge to trouble the nations.

The fiction exploded by Laurentius Valla. The 'Declamatio' of Laurentius Valla, too declamatory as it is and not always attacking from the right quarter (for he seems to accept the Roman baptism of the Emperor as an undoubted fact), still had the effect of piercing the bubble which had so long befooled the world. Some feeble attempts were made to restore the credit of the Constantinian Donation, but they were judged hopeless by the rapidly growing scholarship of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; and when at last even Cardinal Baronius, that staunch supporter of papal claims, who fought even for the baptism of the Emperor by Silvester, abandoned the edict which was said to have followed it, all Europe knew that this question at least was laid to rest, and that it would hear no more of any claims seriously urged in right of the Donation of Constantine.

The Donation as illustrating the mental history of the eighth century. We have glanced at the circumstances attending the death of the fable, but our business is with its birth. As I have said, I do not propose to discuss  p155 the question whether it first took shape on parchment in 750 or 770; whether the first scribe who wrote the Donation intended a harmless romance or planned a wicked forgery. All these discussions are beyond my present purpose, which is to deal with what the Donation tells us as to the state of men's minds in Rome about the middle of the eighth century. We are conscious at once of a great gulf separating the ideas of that age from those which were prevalent at the beginning of the seventh century. We then saw a Pope, perhaps the greatest of all Popes, Gregory the Great, struggling for liberty, almost for life, 'between the swords of the Lombards.' The necessities of his position forced him sometimes to over-step the strict limits of his spiritual realm, to appoint a tribune of soldiers, to rebuke a careless general, to conclude a provisional treaty; and his contest with the Patriarch of Constantinople extorted from him sometimes bitter cries and complaints against the Emperor into whose ear the Patriarch was whispering. But through all I think we may say that Gregory the First bore himself as the loyal, though often the deeply-dissatisfied subject of the Emperor, and there is never a hint of a disposition on his part to claim temporal dominion as against his Sovereign or to pose as the rightful civil ruler of Italy. Now we see that there is a change. In the middle of the eighth century it is evidently the feeling of the clerics of the Lateran, not only that they should ride on horses covered with white saddle-cloths — that they probably did in the days of Gregory; — not only that the Pope, since he waived the right of wearing the imperial diadem, ought to wear a tiara with a circlet  p156 of gold, the mark of his clerisy, and should be waited upon by janitors, chamberlains, guards, in imitation of imperial magnificence; but also that he ought to govern, as a king or an emperor, 'the city of Rome, and all the provinces and cities of Italy and of the West,' whatever extension of his rule might be intended by these last words of awful and ambiguous import.

Henceforth when we hear, as we often shall do, of the rights and claims and privileges of Peter, we must remember that, at least in the thoughts or the aspirations of some Roman ecclesiastics, these words include a large measure of temporal sovereignty for their head, the Bishop of Rome. The claim to undisturbed possession of the property with which the Papal See has been endowed, the so‑called 'Patrimonies of St. Peter,' is included in these words as it was included in them during the pontificate of the first Gregory, but there is also something more, further reaching, more world-historical in their purport. We are dealing now not merely with estates, but with kingdoms. And in this connection we have to remember the nature of the process by which the Pope became Pope. Zacharias or Stephen, Paul or Hadrian, is not a hereditary ruler, he is the elected head of a mighty corporation, wielding the strongest moral and intellectual forces at that time existing in the world.24 When he seeks to establish and to extend his temporal dominion he is not merely 'fighting for his own hand,' he is not merely seeking to gratify his own arrogance and ambition — though these very  p157 human qualities undoubtedly played their part — but he is also striving for the honour and glory of the great college of ecclesiastics which has chosen him for its head, and by means of which he has risen from obscurity to greatness. If we may borrow an illustration from modern politics, the jealousy of a British First Lord of the Treasury for the dignity and honour of Parliament represents the jealousy of an eighth-century Pope for the glory and aggrandisement of the chair of St. Peter.

Causes of the heightened tone of papal pretensions in the eighth century. As I have said, however, we shall find that the claims of Peter as urged by Stephen II are an entirely different quantity from those same claims as urged by Gregory I. Whence comes the change which has been wrought in those hundred and fifty years? Partly no doubt from the dense ignorance which has overspread Rome and the west of Europe and which has made such a fable as that of Constantine's Donation possible. We are moving now through a region of mist and twilight, and the few forms that we can discern loom larger through the darkness. The collapse of the Teutonic royalties in Gaul and Spain may have helped somewhat, leaving the Pope of Rome greater by comparison. The estrangement between Italy and Constantinople on the question of the worship of images undoubtedly was a factor in the problem, though its influence has been sometimes exaggerated. It seems possible that the uprise of the religion of Mohammed strengthened the position of the Papacy, exchange as it did great religious leaders such as the early Caliphs in command of mighty armies and lords of a world-wide empire. Moreover, the very danger at which Christian Europe shuddered when it saw Islam overspreading  p158 the world, may have suggested the necessity of discipline and the union of Christendom under one spiritual head.

Zeal of the Saxon converts on behalf of the Papacy. But after all it was probably our own countrymen who bore the chief part in the exaltation of St. Peter's chair. The Gallican Church had been lukewarm, the Celtic missionaries had been all but hostile, but the new Anglo-Saxon converts, the spiritual children of Augustine and Theodore, could scarcely find words to express their passionate loyalty and devotion to the Bishop of Rome. We have seen a little of what Boniface and his companions were doing in Germany and Gaul. To these men whom I have already called, from this aspect of their work, the Jesuits of the eighth century, must in great measure be attributed the lordlier tone in which the Popes with whom we are now dealing utter their mandates to the nations.

One word in conclusion, not by way of polemic, but to make it possible to avoid polemic in the pages that are to follow. It will be seen that I treat the claims to temporal dominion urged in the name of St. Peter as absolutely fantastic and visionary. The Apostle himself, the rock-like stay and support of his brethren in the first age of Christianity, is of course no myth, but a historical personage as real as Xavier or Livingstone. The theory that he was bishop of Rome, and that, in fulfilment of words spoken to him by Jesus Christ, supernatural gifts for the teaching and guidance of the church have been bestowed on all his successors, is a theory which, though it finds no foothold in the mind of the present writer, has been held by too many generations of devout and earnest Christians to be mentioned here with anything  p159 but respect and sympathy. But the notion common in the Middle Ages, that the holy man, from his resting-place in the Paradise of God, is acutely interested in the precise delimitation of the boundaries of his successors' kingdom, and by supernatural means seeks to retain for them Perugia or Comacchio — this notion, which is I believe no part of the essential teaching of the Roman church and which has faded or is fading out of the minds of men, seems to me mere mythology, as much so as the story of the intervention of Juno and Venus in the wars of Troy. But even mythology has often influenced history. It was in the name of the Delphic Apollo and to avenge the encroachments of the Phocians on the territory of the god that those Sacred Wars were waged which brought Philip of Macedon into the heart of Greece and indirectly gave Alexander the supremacy of the world.


The Author's Notes:

1 The monogram of Christ which he is said to have seen in the sky, with the inscription, 'Hoc [signo] vinces.'

2 See vol. III p495 (p446, second edition).

3 Constantius II died in 361. The election of Pope Symmachus was in 498.

4 He says, 'Le Liber Pontificalis ne fut pas tout d'abord en vogue dans les hautes régions littéraires, pas plus que les apocryphes Symmachiens : le suffrage qu'ils avaient donné au "livre de Silvestre" ne paraît l'avoir recommandé que dans le cercle des personnes qui s'intéressaient aux histoires des saints sans vérifier si elles étaient authentiques ou non' (I.cxv.)

5 So named from four soldiers (Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus, and Victorinus) who were put to death under Diocletian for refusing to worship the image of Aesculapius. The story of their martyrdom has become entangled with that of the martyrdom of five stone-masons of Sirmium who refused to carve a statue of Aesculapius, but the two seem to be essentially distinct.

6 Neither Döllinger nor Duchesne alludes to these quaint frescoes in the Quattro Incoronati, which, it seems to me, may throw some light on the origin of the Silvester-Constantine fable. The church as it now stands was rebuilt, we are told, by Paschal II in 1111. The frescoes (which, strictly speaking, are not in the Quattro Incoronati, but in the chapel of St. Silvester adjoining it) are said to be of the twelfth century. But the original church of the Quattuor Coronati was built by Honorius I about 622. Is it not probable that there were mosaics in it, of which the present frescoes are more or less accurate copies?

Thayer's Note: There is general agreement that the church was built well before Pope Honorius, who merely "restored" it. See Hülsen, Le Chiese di Roma nel Medio Evo, p427 f., and Armellini, Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX, pp497‑500, who dates the frescoes to the 13c on the basis of a dated inscription no longer visible, while also stating that the name could once be seen of a painter contemporary with Paschal II. As for the frescoes somehow copying much older mosaics — as Hodgkin himself admits, not even known to exist — that's a stretch, it seems to me.

7 The date of the alleged Donation was at least half a century before the first appearance of the Huns in Europe.

8 This part is omitted from many copies of the Donation.

9 'Caput et verticem omnium ecclesiarum in universo orbe terrarum.'

10 This title was still borne by the chief of the pagan college of priests.

11 'Tiara.'

12 In the original the adjective imperialis occurs here six times in one sentence.

13 On this clause, conceding to the Pope the right to be waited on by ostiarii and cubicularii, Döllinger remarks (p87) that till the middle of the eighth century, we only hear of imperial cubicularii. The first papal cubicularius that we hear of is Paulus Afiarta, under Stephen III (768‑772) and Hadrian I (772‑795).

14 'Mappulis et linteaminibus candidissimo colore decoratos.' The use of the white saddle-cloths, mappulae, was a privilege of which the Roman clergy were very tenacious. Gregory the Great (Ep. III.54) tells the Archbishop of Ravenna that the Roman clergy will on no account concede to the clergy of Ravenna the right to saddle their horses with mappulae; also in the Liber Pontificalis the biographer laments the weakness of Pope Conon (about 687) in allowing the deacon Constantine of Syracuse, rector of the Sicilian patrimony, to use such a saddle-cloth (I.369).

15 The udo seems to have been a sandal or slipper made of wool; a 'cloth-shoe' suitable for elderly and sometimes gouty ecclesiastics.

16 From this passage it is thought that the Pope was already in the eighth century wearing a gold circlet round his tiara. The double crown appears to date from the thirteenth and the triple crown from the fourteenth century.

17 Phrygium.

18 'Et tenentes fraenum equi ipsius pro reverentiâ beati Petri stratoris officium illi exhibuimus.'

19 'Unde ut pontificalis apex non vilescat, sed magis quam terreni Imperii dignitas, gloriâ et potentiâ decoretur, ecce tam palatium nostrum quam Romanam urbem et omnes Italiae sive occidentalium regionum provincias, loca, civitates, beatissimo Pontifici et universali Papae Silvestro tradimus atque relinquimus, et ab eo et a succes­soribus ejus per pragmaticum constitutum decrevimus disponenda atque juri sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae concedimus permanenda.' The reader will observe that sive is taken as equivalent to and, according to the usual incorrect use of the word at this time, though it cannot be said that the translation or is quite impossible.

20 By Baronius and others.

21 'Et sicut temporibus beati Silvestri Romani pontificis a sanctae recordationis piissimo Constantino magno imperatore per ejus largitatem sancta Dei catholica et apostolica Romana ecclesia elevata atque exaltata est et potestatem in his Hesperiae partibus largiri dignatus' (Codex Carolinus, 61).

22 I do not offer the above suggestion as the most probable account of the Entstehung of the fictitious Donation. I merely state it as a possible solution of the riddle, in order to show that the easiest, and certainly the most probable solution, that of conscious fraud and deliberate forgery, is not the only one, and that we are not necessarily constrained to its acceptance.

23 Döllinger remarks (p108, n. 4) that there was a nearer approach to sound criticism on the subject in the twelfth century than in the fifteenth. 'As far as historical intelligence went, the human mind seems to have retrograded rather than progressed in the three centuries' before the Renaissance.

24 Possibly one ought to except from this statement the Saracen Caliph.


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