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which this pretended donation has had in the aggrandizement of the papacy, and from the apt illustration it presents of the dishonesty and fraud which so habitually characterize its proceedings, it will be desirable to give some account of this famous forgery.
About the year 634, a collection of papal and imperial decrees on ecclesiastical matters was compiled by Isidore of Seville. From the influential position and venerable character of the author, this collection, known as the Decretals of St. Isidore, * was held in high esteem. During the reign of Charlemagne, and just as the dispute respecting the surrender of the conquered territory began, another set of decretals appeared, bearing the same name, and professing to be the true, authentic, and complete Isidorean Decretals. Most of the things contained in the previous compilation were incorporated in the new one, but they were so garbled and interpolated that their meaning was entirely perverted, whilst very much of their contents was now foisted in and added for the first time. Amongst the new matter were the pretended donations of Constantine, in which it was asserted that the imperial city, the birthplace, the nursery, and the metropolis of the Roman power, was abandoned by the
* It was usual to add the word peccator, that is, sinner, after the name as a mark of humility. In the later and interpolated editions, peccator became corrupted into mercator, that is, merchant. An apt alteration, as Gibbon sarcastically remarks, since the few sheets of parchment sold for much yealth and power.
en perors, and by them given to St. Peter and the bishops of Rome his successors.
Now the mere novelty of this claim is sufficient of itself, even were there no other confirmatory evidence, to stamp it as a falsehood and a forgery. Is it possible, is it conceivable, that Rome, the ancient mistress of the world, should have been given away four hundred and fifty years previously, and yet the gift have been heard of in Charlemagne's reign for the first time? Would there have been no protest nor opposition on the part of a people, recently and partially converted from paganism, at the surrender of a city from which their glory and their very name sprang ? Would there have been no exultation or rejoicing on the part of the Christians when they became possessed of the capital of the whole earth ? Would the innumerable ecclesiastical writers have made no mention of the fact, that the metropolis of the world had become the domain of the church? Would Eusebius have passed it over in silence? If Constantine had given, would not Julian have reclaimed it? Would the popes have made no use of the fact in their constant controversies with the emperors during the whole intervening period ? Must there not have been some exercise of sovereignty over the city, or at least some claim set up to it during the four hundred and fifty years in which the right is asserted to have been possessed ? Yet there is not a vestige, not a shadow of a shade of any of these things, during
the whole period. The claim was absolutely and entirely new, and was utterly unheard of before. This one fact would suffice of itself to brand the donation as an impudent forgery.
But we are not left to this negative proof : there is abundant, direct, and positive evidence, that these decretals were not composed till some years, or even some centuries, after the date claimed for them, and that they were forged about the time when we first hear of them. The fraud was so clumsily contrived, and so ignorantly executed; that every page abounds with anachronisms and absurdities, which in a more critical and less credulous age must have caused its instant detection. The compiler made
up his book by extracts from ecclesiastical documents, written very long after the date which he ascribed to his Decretals, mutilating them to suit his purpose, without taking the trouble, however, to remove the things in them which were inconsistent with the age in which they were said to have been written, without caring that there should be consistency, or congruity, or even an intelligible connexion, between the various parts of the same decree. Ancient bishops quote from a version of the Scriptures made long after their decease. Pagan emperors are described as defending the church, and Christian emperors as persecuting it. The pretended writers speak of events which happened, and persons who lived centuries after their own time.
The Scriptures are mutilated and
misapplied in a manner which must excite either indignation at the effrontery or pity for the ignorance manifested. Thus, the language of the inhabitants of Sodom to Lot, in the ninth verse of the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, is quoted as the language of God, forbidding the interference of laymen in ecclesiastical affairs. The animus of the compilation may be conjectured from the fact, that the priests are represented as the apple of God's eye; whoever sinned against them sinned against God, as they were the representatives of God and Christ, and men were to see Christ in them ; they were subject to no secular tribunal, but God had appointed them judges over all.*
Such were these famous pseudo-Isidorean Decretals -a forgery to which the popes gave their countenance, by which they profited, to which they affixed the seal of their infallibility, even if they were not themselves guiltily implicated in the fraud.f Through centuries of credulity, ignorance, and superstition, the dishonest and blasphemous fiction remained unchallenged, and it still stands incorporated with the authoritative traditions of that church, which amidst all its “ lying wonders” and “ deceivableness of
* Vide Neander's “ Church History," vol. vi. pp. 102—105.
# Dr. Doyle, one of the ablest modern advocates of the papacy, pities the simple-hearted and unsuspecting pontiffs, thus made the dupes of some wicked forger, who shamefully imposed upon their guileless simplicity. He does not, however, explain how infallibility could be deceived, nor how it comes to pass that the popes have not surrendered their illgotten gains, after their detection of the forged and fraudulent character of their title-deeds.
unrighteousness," can scarcely show anything more false and flagitious.
Whilst the pope was thus claiming authority over Italy, and urging Charlemagne to concede it to him, the bishops of Lombardy and the exarchate of Ravenna were protesting as loudly against such a course, representing that if he acceded to the pope's wishes it would only be robbing one church to give to another, and that their possessions and independence would all be swallowed up by the avarice and ambition of Rome. The dukes and counts who held office in Lombardy joined their bishops in this protest, and at the same time further complicated the quarrel by charging the pope with selling as slaves to the Saracens the peasantry on the estates which had been given up to him. Charlemagne wrote very indignantly to Adrian respecting this complaint brought against him, and, in the spring of the year 781, visited Rome to adjust matters. It seems probable, though by no means certain, that he now put the pope in possession of extensive estates round the city. In all the subsequent controversies between the papal and the imperial power, the pontiffs and their advocates appealed to a deed of gift which was alleged to be laid up in the archives of the Vatican. As the deed was never produced, however, we can know nothing of its nature or extent, and with the history of the forged donation of Constantine before us, we cannot feel entire confidence as to its existence at all. Of this we may be quite sure, that it