The Donation of Constantine
In this brief clip from his teaching series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey examines a historical document supposedly prepared by Constantine that helped legitimate the Pope’s authority in the West. Watch this entire message for free.
Who’s in charge in Western Christendom? We can see this tension in a number of different ways. We’ve already talked about coronation of Charlemagne in the year 800 on Christmas Day. I always say to students, you should be very thankful to Charlemagne that he got crowned in the year relatively easy to remember, the year 800. And he was crowned by the Pope. He wasn’t very happy about being crowned by the Pope because he didn’t want to leave the impression that he had received the empire from the hands of the Pope. But that was exactly the impression that the Pope wanted to give. The pope was already operating on the basis of the document, known to history as “The Donation of Constantine.”
The Donation of Constantine, a document supposedly prepared by the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century in which Constantine said “I have this vast empire that the Lord has given to me and it’s difficult to rule this whole empire and therefore I give the western half of my empire to the Pope.” What a guy that Constantine was. What a generous fellow. Now it’s still a little bit awkward from the Pope’s point of view because even with that document, the pope had to grant that he had received this authority in the West from the Emperor. But it was all right because it seemed to legitimate the Pope’s claimed that he could rule over Western Europe. And the truth is of course that that was not a document written by Constantine himself but a document that was forged in Constantine’s name around 750. So just at the time that the Pope comes to crown Charlemagne, his action is supported by this apparent document giving him control of the west and from that time on, there would be recurring tensions over this.