Constantine, Donation of

Constantine, Donation of, Lat. Constitutum Constantini, forged document, probably drafted in the 8th cent. It purported to be a grant by Roman Emperor Constantine I of great temporal power in Italy and the West to the papacy. Its purpose was apparently to enhance papal territorial claims in Italy by giving them greater antiquity. The document also recognized the spiritual authority of the popes, but this statement had no weight, since at no time was it argued in the Roman Catholic Church that spiritual authority could emanate from the emperor. It was not, as a matter of fact, ever of great practical value, nor was it, as is sometimes asserted, universally accepted in the Middle Ages. It owes its great fame to the fact that the scholar Lorenzo Valla demonstrated the falsity of the document by critical methods that became the model for later textual criticism and are said by some to be the beginning of modern textual criticism.

See L. Valla, Treatise on the Donation of Constantine (tr. by C. B. Coleman, 1922; repr. 1971).

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