Those were days of peril for the church of Christ. The faithful standard-bearers were few indeed. Though the truth was not left without witnesses, yet at times it seemed that error and superstition would wholly prevail, and true religion would be banished from the earth. The gospel was lost sight of, but the forms of religion were multiplied, and the people were burdened with rigorous exactions.
They were taught not only to look to the pope as their mediator, but to trust to works of their own to atone for sin. Long pilgrimages, acts of penance, the worship of relics, the erection of churches, shrines, and altars, the payment of large sums to the church--these and many similar acts were enjoined to appease the wrath of God or to secure His favor; as if God were like men, to be angered at trifles, or pacified by gifts or acts of penance!
Notwithstanding that vice prevailed, even among the leaders of the Roman Church, her influence seemed steadily to increase. About the close of the eighth century, papists put forth the claim that in the first ages of the church the bishops of Rome had possessed the same spiritual power which they now assumed.
To establish this claim, some means must be employed to give it a show of authority; and this was readily suggested by the father of lies. Ancient writings were forged by monks. Decrees of councils before unheard of were discovered, establishing the universal supremacy of the pope from the earliest times.
And a church that had rejected the truth greedily accepted these deceptions.¹
¹ FORGED WRITINGS
¹ FORGED WRITINGS
Among the documents that at the present time are generally admitted to be forgeries, the Donation of Constantine and the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals are of primary importance. "The 'Donation of Constantine' is the name traditionally applied, since the later Middle Ages, to a document purporting to have been addressed by Constantine the Great to Pope Sylvester I, which is found first in a Parisian manuscript (Codex lat. 2777) of probably the beginning of the ninth century. Since the eleventh century it has been used as a powerful argument in favor of the papal claims, and consequently since the twelfth it has been the subject of a vigorous controversy. At the same time, by rendering it possible to regard the papacy as a middle term between the original and the medieval Roman Empire, and thus to form a theoretical basis of continuity for the reception of the Roman law in the Middle Ages, it has had no small influence upon secular history."--The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 3, art. "Donation of constantine," pp. 484, 485.
The historical theory developed in the "Donation" is fully discussed in Henry E. Cardinal Manning's The Temporal Power of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, London, 1862. The arguments of the "Donation" were of a scholastic type, and the possibility of a forgery was not mentioned until the rise of historical criticism in the fifteenth century. Nicholas of Cusa was among the first to conclude that Constantine never made any such donation. Lorenza Valla in Italy gave a brilliant demonstration of its spuriousness in 1450. See Christopher B. Coleman's Treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine (New York, 1927). For a century longer, however, the belief in the authenticity of the "Donation" and of the False Decretals was kept alive. For example, Martin Luther at first accepted the decretals, but he soon said to Eck: "I impugn these decretals;" and to Spalatin: "He [the pope] does in his decretals corrupt and crucify Christ, that is, the truth."
It is deemed established that the "donation" is (1) a forgery, (2) the work of one man or period, (3) the forger has made use of older documents, (4) the forgery originated around 752 and 778. As for the Catholics, they abandoned the defense of the authenticity of the document with Baronius, Ecclesiastical Annals, in 1592. Consult for the best text, K. Zeumer, in the Festgabe fur Rudolf von Gneist (Berlin, 1888). Translat- ed in Coleman's Treatise, referred to above, and in Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (New York, 1892), p. 319; Briefwechsel (Weimar ed.), pp. 141, 161. See also The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1950), vol. 3, p. 484; F. Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, vol. 2, p. 329; and Johann Joseph Ignaz von Doellinger, Fables Respecting the Popes of the Middle Ages (London, 1871).
The "false writings" referred to in the text include also the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, together with other forgeries. The Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals are certain fictitious letters ascribed to early popes from Clement (A.D. 100) to Gregory the Great (A.D. 600), incorporated in a ninth century collection purporting to have been made by "Isidore Mercator." The name "Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals" has been in use since the advent of criticism in the fifteenth century.
Pseudo-Isidore took as the basis of his forgeries a collection of valid canons called the Hispana Gallica Augustodunensis, thus lessening the danger of detection, since collections of canons were commonly made by adding new matter to old. Thus his forgeries were less apparent when incorporated with genuine material. The falsity of the Pseudo-Isidorian fabrications is now incontestably admitted, being proved by internal evidence, investigation of the sources, the methods used, and the fact that this material was unknown before 852. Historians agree that 850 or 851 is the most probable date for the completion of the collection, since the document is first cited in the Admonitio of the capitulary of Quiercy, in 857.
The author of these forgeries is not known. It is probable that they emanated from the aggressive new church party which formed in the ninth century at Rheims, France. It is agreed that Bishop Hincmar of Rheims used these decretals in his deposition of Rothad of Soissons, who brought the decretals to Rome in 864 and laid them before Pope Nicholas I.
Among those who challenged their authenticity were Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Charles Dumoulin (1500-1566), and George Cassender (1513- 1564). The irrefutable proof of their falsity was conveyed by David Blondel, 1628.
An early edition is given in Migne Patrolgia Latina, CXXX. For the oldest and best manuscript, see P. Hinschius, Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianiae at capitula Angilramni (Leipzig, 1863). Consult The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1950), vol. 9, pp. 343-345. See also H. H. Milman, Latin Christianity (9 vols.), vol. 3; Johann Joseph Ignaz von Doellinger, The Pope and the Council (1869); and Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (1939), vol. 3; The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 5, art. "False Decretals," and Fournier, "Etudes sure les Fausses Decretals," in Revue d'Historique Ecclesiastique (Louvain) vol. 7 (1906), and vol. 8 (1907).