The Donation of Constantine and the Pseudo Isidorian Decretals

Two other literary creations of this era need to he noted, for, while largely forgeries, they were made to strengthen the authority of the Papacy in an age when the Church in Western Europe was in danger of falling apart into a welter of tribal, royal, and feudal churches, dominated by secular princes, and when the unity provided by the See of Peter afforded cohesion. One of these was the Donation of Constantine. Probably written about the middle of the eighth century, it purported to be from early in the fourth century and by the Emperor Constantine. It described the latter's conversion, baptism, and miraculous healing from leprosy through Pope Sylvester I, and said that out of gratitude he was making over to the Pope and his successors his palace in Rome and "the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts, and cities of Italy or of the Western regions."

About the middle of the ninth century there arose, from the region around Rheims, the Decretals of Isidore, professing to have been compiled by one Isidore Mercator and to be a collection of decisions of councils and Popes from Clement of Rome late in the first or early in the second century to the eighth century. They included the Donation of Con-stantine. Some of the material was genuine, but much was spurious. The Decretals depicted the Popes as claiming supreme authority from the beginning, permitted all bishops to appeal directly to the Pope, thus limiting the authority of archbishops, and regarded bishops and Popes as free from secular control. In an uncritical age it was accepted as genuine and, although not the work of the Popes, was used to reinforce their claims.

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