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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Donation of Constantine

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a forged imperial edict. published between A.D. 755 and 766, professing to contain a gift from Constantine, in the year 324, of Rome and Italy to Sylvester, then Pope. The document exists both in a Greek and Latin text, and was first produced in a letter of Pope Adrian I to Charlemagne. Baronius defended its genuineness; but its spuriousness is now generally admitted. Its substance is as follows: "We give as a free gift to our most blessed father, Sylvester, the Pope, the city of Rome, and the cities of all Italy, as well as the cities of the other Western countries. To make room for him, we abdicate our sovereignty over all these provinces; and we withdraw from Rome, transferring the seat of our empire to Byzantium, since it is not just that a terrestrial emperor should retain any power where God has placed the head of religion." "According to the legend," says Gibbon, "the first of the Christian emperors was healed of the leprosy, and purified in the waters of baptism, by St. Sylvester, the Roman bishop; and never was physician more gloriously recompensed. His royal proselyte withdrew from his seat and patrimony of St. Peter; declared his resolution of founding a new capital in the East; and resigned to the popes the free and perpetual sovereignty of Rome, Italy, and the provinces of the West." The fraud was exposed by Laurentius Valla. For the "Donation" and its literary history, see Fabricius, Biblioth. Graeca, ed. Harles, 6:697; see also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. xlix; Milman, Latin Christianity, book 1, chapter 2; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, book 3, chapter 14; Munch, Ueber die erdichtete Schenkung Constantin des Grossen (Freiburg 1824); Biener, De Collectionibus canonum ecclesiae Graecae (Berl. 1827).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Donation of Constantine'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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