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The Donation of Constantine

The Donation of Constantine

a ninth century forgery

from Documents of the Christian Church, H. Bettenson & Chr. Maunder (eds.), Oxford University Press 1999, pp. 107 - 110.

[This document, which purports to be a deed of gift from Constantine to Pope Sylvester, was included in the 'False Decretals' (9th century), and it played a great part in subsequent controversies. Its authority was unquestioned till the fifteenth century, when its authenticity was impugned by many eminent churchmen and its falsity finally proved by Lorenzo Valla. Even then church authorities defended it for a long time. It is now completely discredited. More information here.]

Haller, Quellen zur Geschichte der Enstehung des Kirchenstaates, 1907, p. 241. (Translation based on Laffan, Select Documents, I.) Mirbt, Quellen, 228.

This is only a translation of the most telling passages. Read here the complete Latin original.

§ 1. In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus in Christ Jesus (one of the same Holy Trinity our Saviour, Lord and God) faithful, merciful, mighty, beneficent, Alamannicus, Gothicus, Sarmaticus, Germanicus, Brittanicus, Hunicus, pious, fortunate, victorious, triumphant, ever August; to the most holy and blessed father of fathers, Silvester, Bishop of the Roman city and Pope; and to all his successors, the pontiffs, who shall sit in the chair of blessed Peter to the end of time; as also to all the most reverend and God-beloved Catholic bishops, by this our imperial constitution subjected throughout the world to this same Roman church, whether they be appointed now or at any future time — Grace, peace, love, joy, long-suffering, mercy from God the Father almighty and Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit be with you all. ...

§ 3. For we wish you to know ... that we have forsaken the worship of idols ... and have come to the pure Christian faith, the true light and everlasting life. ...

§ 6. . . . . For when a horrible and filthy leprosy invaded all the flesh of my body and I was treated by many assembled doctors but could not thereby attain to health, there came to me the priests of the Capitol, who said I ought to erect a font on the Capitol and fill it with the blood of innocent children and that by bathing in it while it was warm I could be healed. According to their advice many innocent children were assembled; but, when the sacrilegious priests of the pagans wished them to be slaughtered and the font filled with their blood, our serenity perceived the tears of their mothers and I thereupon abhorred the project; and, pitying them, we ordered their sons to be restored to them, gave them vehicles and gifts and sent them back rejoicing to their homes.

§ 7. And when the day had passed, and the silence of night had descended upon us and the time of sleep had come, the apostles SS. Peter and Paul appeared to me saying, 'Since thou hast put an end to thy sins and hast shrunk from shedding the blood of the innocent, we are sent by Christ, our Lord God, to impart to thee a plan for the recovery of thy health. Hear therefore our advice and do whatever we bid thee. Silvester, bishop of the city of Rome, flying from thy persecutions, is in hiding with his clergy in the caverns of the rocks on Mount Serapte. When thou hast called him to thee, he will show thee the pool of piety; and, when he has thrice immersed thee therein, all the strength of this leprosy will leave thee. When that is done, make this return to thy Saviour, that by thy command all the churches throughout the world be restored; and purify thyself in this way, by abandoning all the superstition of idols and adoring and worshipping the living and true God, who alone is true, and devote thyself to His will. ...'

§ 8. Therefore I rose from sleep and followed the advice of the holy apostle. ...

§ 9. The Blessed Silvester ... imposed on me a period of penance ... then the font was blessed and I was purified by a triple immersion. And when I was at the bottom of the font I saw a hand from heaven touching me. And I rose from the water cleansed ... from the filthiness of leprosy. ...

§ 10. And so the first day after my reception of the mystery of Holy Baptism and the cure of my body from the filthiness of leprosy I understood that there is no other God than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, whom most blessed Silvester, the Pope, preaches, a Trinity in unity and Unity in trinity. For all the gods of the nations, whom I have hitherto worshiped, are shown to be demons, the works of men's hands. And the same venerable father told us clearly how great power in heaven and earth our Saviour gave to His Apostle, blessed Peter, when in answer to questioning He found him faithful and said: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' Attend, ye mighty, and incline the ear of your heart to what the good Lord and Master gave in addition to His disciple when He said: 'I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'

§ 11. And when I learned these things at the mouth of the blessed Silvester, and found that I was wholly restored to health by the beneficence of blessed Peter himself, we — together with all our satraps and the whole senate, and the magnates and all the Roman people, which is subject to the glory of our rule — considered that, since he is seen to have been set up as the vicar of God's Son on earth, the pontiffs who act on behalf of that prince of the apostles should receive from us and our empire a greater power of government than the earthly clemency of our imperial serenity is seen to have conceded to them; for we choose the same prince of the apostles and his vicars to be our constant witnesses before God. And inasmuch as our imperial power is earthly, we have decreed that it shall venerate and honour his most holy Roman Church and that the sacred see of blessed Peter shall be gloriously exalted above our empire and earthly throne.

§ 12. We attribute to him [the see of blessed Peter] the power and glorious dignity and strength and honour of the Empire, and we ordain and decree that he shall have rule as well over the four principal sees, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in all the world. And the pontiff who for the time being presides over that most holy Roman Church shall be the highest and chief of all priests in the whole world, and according to his decision shall all matters be settled which shall be taken in hand for the service of God or the confirmation of the faith of Christians. For it is right that the sacred law should have the centre of its power there where the Founder of the sacred laws, our Saviour, commanded blessed Peter to have the chair of his apostolate, and where, bearing the suffering of the cross, he accepted the cup of a blessed death and showed himself an imitator of his Lord and Master; and that there the nations should bow their necks in confession of Christ's name, where their teacher, blessed Paul, the apostle, offered his neck for Christ and was crowned with martyrdom. There for ever let them seek a teacher, where lies the holy body of that teacher; and there, prone in humility, let them perform the service of the heavenly King, God, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, where proudly they used to serve the empire of an earthly king....

§ 14. . . . To the holy apostles, my lords the most blessed Peter and Paul, and through them also to blessed Silvester, our father, supreme pontiff and universal pope of the city of Rome, and to the pontiffs, his successors, who to the end of the world shall sit in the seat of blessed Peter, we grant and by this present we convey our imperial Lateran palace, which is superior to and excels all palaces in the whole world; and further the diadem, which is the crown of our head; and the mitre; as also the super-humeral, that is, the stole which usually surrounds our imperial neck; and the purple cloak and the scarlet tunic and all the imperial robes; also the rank of commanders of the imperial cavalry . . . .

§ 15. And we decree that those most reverend men, the clergy of various orders serving the same most holy Roman Church, shall have that eminence, distinction, power and precedence, with which our illustrious senate is gloriously adorned; that is, they shall be made patricians and consuls. And we ordain that they shall also be adorned with other imperial dignities. Also we decree that the clergy of the sacred Roman Church shall be adorned as are the imperial officers . . . .

§ 17. Wherefore that the pontifical crown should not be made of less repute, but rather that the dignity of a more than earthly office and the might of its glory should be yet further adorned — lo, we convey to the oft-mentioned and most blessed Silvester, universal pope, both our palace, as preferment, and likewise all provinces, palaces and districts of the city of Rome and Italy and of the regions of the West; and, bequeathing them to the power and sway of him and the pontiffs, his successors, we do (by means of fixed imperial decision through this our divine, sacred and authoritative sanction) determine and decree that the same be placed at his disposal, and do lawfully grant it as a permanent possession to the holy Roman Church.

§ 18. Wherefore we have perceived that our empire and the power of our government should be transferred and removed to the regions of the East and that a city should be built in our name in the best place in the province of Byzantium and our empire there established; for it is not right that an earthly emperor should have authority there, where the rule of priests and the head of the Christian religion have been established by the Emperor of heaven . . .

Given at Rome, March 30th, when our lord Flavius Constantinus Augustus, for the fourth time, and Galliganus, most illustrious, were consuls.



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


Visitors to our website since January 2014.
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The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.


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