Avro Manhattan was the world’s foremost authority on Roman Catholicism in politics. A resident of
London, during WW II he operated a radio station called “Radio Freedom” broadcasting to occupied
Europe. He was the author of over 20 books including the best-seller The Vatican in World Politics,
twice Book-of-the-Month and going through 57 editions.
” It is wrong to show ignorance of the origin of things and to imagine that the Apostolic See’s rule over secular matters dates only from Constantine. Before him this power was already in the Holy See.
Constantine merely resigned into the hands of the Church a power which he used without right when he was outside her pale. Once admitted into the Church, he obtained, by the concession of the vicar of Christ, authority which only then became legitimate. ”
~Pope Innocent IV
The Church Claims Ownership of the Western World
Chapter 3 – The Church as the Inheritor of the Former Roman Empire
The establishment of the Papal States provided the Roman Catholic Church with a territorial and juridical base of paramount importance. From then on it enables her to launch upon the promotion of an ever bolder policy directed at the accelerated acquisition of additional lands, additional gold, and the additional status, prestige and power that went with them.
The Emperor Charlemagne had not, in fact, turned his back on Rome after recognizing Pepin’s Donation, but Pope Hadrian I in A.D. 774 presented him with a copy of the Donation of Constantine.
This was reputed to be the grant by Constantine of immense possessions and vast territories to the Church. It was another papal forgery. Whereas the letter from Peter had been a forgery by Pope Stephen, the Donation of Constantine was one by Pope Hadrian I.
The Donation of Constantine had tremendous influence upon the territorial acquisition and claims of the papacy, and a cursory glance at its origins, contents, and meaning will help to elucidate its importance.
The Donation was preceded and followed by various papally forged documents on the level of the Blessed Peter’s missive. Like the latter, their specific objective was to give power, territory and wealth to the popes. Thus, soon after Pepin’s death, for instance, a document appeared on the scene which was a detailed narrative put into the mouth of the dead Pepin himself. In it Pepin related, in somewhat extravagant Latin, what had passed between himself and the pope, “the successor of the Turnkey of Heaven, the Blessed Peter”. His disclosure was meant as proof that he had donated to the pope, not only Rome and the Papal States already mentioned, but also Istria, Venetia and indeed the whole of Italy.
Not content with the Papal States and the new regions acquired, the popes now wanted even more, thus proving the accuracy of the old saying that the appetite increases with the eating. They set themselves to expand even further their ownership of additional territories. They concluded that the newly born Papal States, although of such considerable size, were too small for the pope, the representatives of the Blessed Peter.
These territories had to be extended to match Peter’s spiritual imperium. Something incontrovertible by which the popes would be unequivocally granted the ownership of whole kingdoms and empires had, therefore, become a necessity.
At this point this most spectacular of all forgeries makes its official appearance: the Donation of Constantine.
Purporting to have been written by the Emperor Constantine himself, it emerged from nowhere. The document with one master stroke put the popes above kings, emperors and nations, made them the legal heirs to the territory of the Roman Empire, which it granted to them, lock stock, and barrel, and gave to St. Peter – or rather to St. Silvester and his successors – all lands to the West and beyond, indeed, all lands of the planet.
The document was a sum of the previous forgeries, but unlike past fabrications it was definite, precise and spoke in no uncertain terms of the spiritual and political supremacy which the popes had been granted as their inalienable right. The significance and consequences of its appearance were portentous for the whole western world.
The social structure and political framework of the Middle Ages were molded and shaped by its contents.
With it the papacy, having made its boldest attempt at world dominion, succeeded in placing itself above the civil authorities of Europe, claiming to be the real possessor of lands ruled by Western potentates, and the supreme arbiter of the political life of all Christendom.
In view of the profound repercussions of this famous forgery, the most spectacular in the annals of Christianity, it might be useful to glance at its main clauses:
1. Constantine desires to promote the Chair of Peter over the Empire and its seat on earth by bestowing
on it imperial power and honor.
2. The Chair of Peter shall have supreme authority over all churches in the world.
3. It shall be judge in all that concerns the service of God and the Christian faith.
4. Instead of the diadem which the Emperor wished to place on the pope’s head, but which the pope refused, Constantine had given to him and to this successors the phrygium – that is, the tirara and the lorum which adorned the emperor’s neck, as well as the other gorgeous robes and insignia of the imperial dignity.
5. The Roman clergy shall enjoy the high privileges of the Imperial Senate, being eligible to the dignity of patrician and having the right to wear decorations worn by the nobles under the Empire.
6. The offices of cubicularii, ostiarii, and excubitae shall belong to the Roman Church.
7. The Roman clergy shall ride on horses decked with white coverlets, and, like the Senate, wear white sandals.
8. If a member of the Senate shall wish to take orders, and the pope consents, no one shall hinder him.
9. Constantine gives up the remaining sovereignty over Rome, the provinces, cities and towns of the whole of Italy or of the Western Regions, to Pope Silvester and his successors.
With the first clause the pope became legally the successor of Constantine: that is, the heir to the Roman Empire. With the second he was made the absolute head of al Christendom, East and West, and indeed of all the churches of the world. With the third he was made the only judge with regard to Christian beliefs. Thus anyone or any church disagreeing with him became heretic, with all the dire spiritual and temporal results of this. With the fourth the pope surrounded himself with the splendor and the insignia of the imperial office, as the external representation of his imperial status.
With the fifth the whole Roman clergy was placed on the same level as the senators, patricians and nobles of the Empire. By virture of this clause, the Roman clergy became entitled to the highest title of honor which the emperors granted to certain preeminent members of the civil and military aristocracy, the ranks of patrician and consul being at that time the highest at which human ambition could aim.
The sixth and seventh clauses, seemingly irrelevant, were very important. For the popes, by claiming to be attended by gentlemen of the bedchamber, doorkeepers and bodyguards (cubiculari, ostiarli, etc.) emphasized their parity with the Emperors, as preciously only the latter had this right. The same applies to the claim that Roman clergy should have the privilege of decking their horses with white coverings, which in the eighth century was a privilege of extraordinary importance.
The eighth clause simply put the Senate at the mercy of the pope. Finally the ninth, the most important and the one with the greatest consequences in Western history, made the pope the territorial sovereign of Rome, Italy and the Western Regions; that is to say, of Constantine’s Empire, which comprised France, Spain, Britain and indeed the whole territory of Europe and beyond.
By virtue of the Donation of Constantine, therefore, the Roman Empire became a fief of the papacy, while the Emperors turned into vassals and the popes into suzerains.
Their age old dream, the Roman dominion, became a reality, but a reality in which it was no longer the Vicars of Christ what were subject to the Emperors, but the Emperors who were subject to the Vicars of Christ. The early concrete result of the Donation thus was to give a legal basis to the territorial acquisitions of the popes, granted them by Pepin and Charlemagne.
Whereas Pepin and Charlemagne had established them sovereigns de facto, the Donation of Constantine made them sovereigns de jure – a very important distinction and of paramount importance in the claim for future possessions.
It is very significant that it was after the appearance of the Donation under Pope Hadrian (c774) that the papal chancery ceased to date documents and letters by the regnal years of the Emperors of Constantinople, substituting those of Hadrian’s pontificate.
Although there are no proofs that the document was fabricated by the pope himself, yet it is beyond dispute that the style of the Donation is that of the papal chancery in the middle of the eight century. The fact, moreover, that the document first appeared at the Abbey of St. Denis, where Pope Stephen spent the winter of 754, is additional proof that the pope was personally implicated in its fabrication.
Indeed, although here again there is no direct evidence, it is supposed that the Donation was forged as early as 753 and was brought by Pope Stephen II to the Court of Pepin in 754, in order to persuade that monarch to endow the popes with their first territorial possessions.
Once the Papal States came into being, the document was concealed until it was thought that it could be used with his son, Charlemange, who had succeeded his father.
The first spectacular materialization of the Donation was seen not many years after its first appearance, when Charlemagne, the most potent monarch of the Middle Ages, granted additional territories to the Papal States and went to Rome to be solemnly crowned in St. Peter’s by Pope Leo, as the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in the year 800. The great papal dreams of (a) the recognition of the spiritual supremacy of the popes over emperors and (b) the resurrection of the Roman Empire, at long last had come true.
The subjugation of the Imperial Crown was not, however enough. If it was true that this put the source of all civil authority – that is to say, the emperor – under the pope, it was also true that the distant provinces could not or would not follow the imperial example. The best way to make them obey was by controlling the civil administration in the provinces, as had been done at its center with the emperor.
As the pope had made a vassals of the civil authorities in the dioceses. By so doing the pope, with a blindly obedient, hierarchical machinery, would control at will the civil administration of the whole empire.
It was to put such a scheme into effect that yet another forgery, complementary to the Donation, appeared little more than half a century later, again from nowhere. In 850 the pseudo-Isidorean Decretals, better known as the as the “False Decretals,” made their first official appearance. They are a heterogeneous collection of the early decrees of the councils and popes. Their seeming purpose was to give a legal basis to the complaints of the clergy in the empire, appealing to Rome against the misdeeds of high prelates or of the civil authorities.
Although some of the contents of the Decretals are genuine, a colossal proportion was garbled, forged, distorted or entirely fabricated. This was in order to achieve their real aim: to obtain additional power for the popes by giving to the abbots, bishops, and clergy in general authority over civil jurisdiction in all the provinces, thus establishing a legal basis for evading the orders of the provincial secular rulers.
The result was that the Roman Church obtained important privileges, among them immunity from the operation of the secular law, which put her out of reach of the jurisdiction of all secular tribunals. In this fashion the clergy acquired not only a peculiar sanctity which put them above the ordinary people, but a personal inviolability which gave them an enormous advantage in all their dealings or disputes with the civil power.
Thus, thanks to a series of fabrications, forgeries, and distortions, carried out through several centuries and of which the Donation of Constantine was the most spectacular, the popes not only obtained a vantage ground of incalculable value from which to extend their spiritual and temporal power, but rendered themselves practically independent of all secular authority. Even more, they saw to it that the statutes of emperors and kings, no less than the civil law of nations, be undermined, greatly weakened and indeed obliterated by their newly acquired omnipotence.
Once rooted in tradition and strengthened by the credulity of the times, the dubious seedling of the Donation grew into a mighty oak tree under the shadow of which papal authoritarianism thrived.
From the birth of the Carolingian Empire in the year 800 onwards, the gifts of Pepin, the Donation of Constantine, and the False Decretals were assiduously used by the pontiffs to consolidate their power. This they did, until , with additional forgeries and the arbitrary exercise of spiritual and temporal might, these documents became the formidable foundation stone upon which they were eventually to erect their political and territorial claims, the rock upon which stood the whole papal structures of the Middle Ages.
The Donation was given increasingly varied meanings by the succeeding generations of theologians.
Notwithstanding the disparity in their views, however, they all agreed upon one fundamental interpretation: the Donation gave the widest possible power and authority to the papacy. Thus, for instance, whereas Pope Hadrian I stated that Constantine had “given the dominion in these regions of the West” to the Church of Rome, Aeneas, Bishop of Paris, asserted about the year 868 that as Constantine had declared that two emperors, the one of the realm, the other of the Church, could not rule in one city, he had removed his residence to Constantinople, placing the Roman territory “and a vast number of various provinces” under the rule of the Apostolic See, after conferring regal power on the successors of St. Peter.
The Popes acted upon this, using the argument as a basis to increase their territorial sway, with the inevitable new accumulation of wealth which went with it. Gregory VII (1073) directed all his energies to that effect. He concentrated spiritual and political jurisdiction in himself, the better to administer the Western Empire as a fief of the papacy.
That implied the extension of his temporal dominion over the kings and kingdoms of the earth and therefore over their temporal riches.
The capture of Jerusalem and the success of the First Crusade gave incalculable prestige to the pontiffs. While the nations of Europe attributed this vicotry to manifest supernatural power, the Roman Pontiffs were quick to transform the great martial movements of the Crusades into powerful instruments to be used to expand their spiritual and temporal dominion. This was done by employing them as military and political levers which never ceased to yield territorial and financial advantages throughout the Middle Ages.
Such policies went a step further when, basing papal claims on an even more daring interpretation of the Donation, it was stated that the secular rulers should be made to pay tribute to the papacy. A vehement advocate of this was Otto of Freisingen, who in his Chronicles composed in 1143-6, did not hesitate to declare that as Constantine, after conferring the imperial insignia on the pontiff, went to
Byzantium to leave the empire to St. Peter, so other kings and emperors should pay tribute to the popes.
For this reason the Roman Church maintains that the Western kingdom have been given over to her possession by Constantine, and demands tribute from them to this day, with the exception of the two kingdoms of the Franks (i.e. the French and German).
Such advocacy was made possible because only a century earlier, in 1054, Pope Leo IX had declared to the Patriarch Michael Cerularius that the Donation of Constantine really meant the donation “of earthly and heavenly imperium to the royal priesthood of the Roman chair.”
With passing of the centuries, the popes, instead of abating their claims, continued to increase them by declaring that, by virtue of the Donation, emperors were emperors simply because they permitted them to be so the sole ruler in spiritual and temporal matters being, in reality, the pontiff himself.
Such pretensions were not left to wither in the theoretical field. They were directed to concrete territorial, political, and financial goals which the pontiffs pursued with indefatigable pertinacity. Pope Innocent II (1198-1216), the most energetic champion of papal supremacy, thundered incessantly to all Europe that he claimed temporal supremacy over all the crowns of Christendom: for, as the successor of St. Peter, he was simultaneously the supreme head of the true religion and the temporal sovereign of the universe. His tireless exertions saw to it that papal rulership was extended over sundry lands and kingdoms.
The power given by the Donation to the Roman Church was further enhanced by that inherent in the papacy itself. As the direct successors of Peter, the popes were the only true inheritors of the might of the Church, and hence of whatever and whoever were under her authority.
The theory ran as follows:
‘Christ is the Lord of the whole world. At his departure he left his dominion to his representatives, Peter and his successors.
Therefore the fullness of all spiritual and temporal power and dominion, the union of all rights and privileges, lies in the hands of the pope.
Every monarch, even the most powerful, possesses only so much power and territory as the pope has transferred to him or finds good to allow him.’
This theory was supported by most medieval theologians. (3) It became the firm belief of the popes themselves. In 1245, for instance, Pope Innocent IV expounded this doctrine to none other than the Emperor Frederick, saying that, as it was Christ who had entrusted to Peter and his successors both kingdoms, the heavenly and the earthly, belonged to him, the pope: by which he meant that the spiritual dominion of the papacy had to have its counterpart also in papal dominion over all the lands, territories and riches of the entire world.
Not even the most ambitious emperors of the Ancient Roman Empire had ever dared to claim as much.
As soon as the race for the conquest of he western hemisphere began, the pope came to the forefront, as a master and arbiter of the continents to be conquered . For, if all islands belonged by right to St.Peter, than all the newly-discovered and yet-to-be-discovered lands with all riches, treasures and wealth in any form belonged to the popes, his successors. The New World thus had become the
possession of the papacy.
It was as simple as that.
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