The Donation of Constantine
The short of it:
The Ancient Roman emperor Constantine could be considered, by some scholars, as more influential on the fate of the Catholic Church than Jesus Christ.
Because it was his impromptu meeting of various religious heads in the year 325 AD — known as the Council of Nicaea — which codified a central belief document for the Christian system of belief. Now, instead of the several centuries of infighting after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, there was a core text.
I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God, the first-born of all the creatures. Who was born before all the worlds, and not made. True God of true God. Consubstantial with the Father. By Whom the worlds were made and all things were created. Who for us children of men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate and became a man. And was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate. And was buried and rose the third day according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God. And He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit. The Bible as we know it was not canonized till a few centuries after the Council of Nicea.
Constantine also famously converted to Christianity at the end of his life, legalized Christianity, and fought important battles under the supposed influence of Christian visions.
This dude was, like, a BIG deal to early Christians.
A few centuries after this, around 750 AD, another pope & king see an opportunity.
First, all the Catholic Church's territories are seized by a marauding Germanic people known as the Lombards. All they have is Rome, and that looks threatened too. The pope tries to negotiate with the head of the Lombards, to no avail.
Then, the pope appeals to a friendly rival of the Germanic Lombards, the head of the Carolingian dynasty, Pepin the Short.
Pepin had been King of the Franks (ye olden France, basically) for only a few years, when this new pope dropped by to see what he could do for the church.
The pope wanted protection from this invading Germanic tribe.
The French king was curious to hear more... Especially since he had a few ambitions of his own. The pope was a good friend to have for an upstart king.
He proposed the pope officially re-anoint his kingdom over the Franks, and anoint the legitimacy of his children's continuity of power as divinely chosen royal heirs.
Why would King Pepin want this?
Because there was another Frankish dynasty, the Merovingian dynasty, which had more experience ruling over the lands. In theory, they had a legitimate claim to the throne.
So King Pepin tried whatever he could to maintain his family's rule over the Kingdom of France. This included official approval from the Catholic Church. It's all a bluff game, really.
Pope Stephen II was willing to do this... but he wanted something equal in return: The legal recognition & protection of the Papal States.
What are the Papal States?
Think of Israel. It's kind of like that — land actually ruled by a religious government. It was the mini-empire overseen by the Catholic Church for over 1,000 years. They were assets. They were valuable commodities for a diversified portfolio. That's the Papal States.
The Papal States dissolved because of Mussolini, but that's a different subject altogether.
Back to this weird negotiation between King Pepin & Pope Stephen II.
What the pope was asking for was a giant undertaking, since it would require King Pepin going to war with a relatively friendly equal... just to give up the conquests to the church.
Ah! But in exchange King Pepin will get an official anointing ceremony by the pope himself; the same for both his children; and a new title — Patricius Romanorum [Patrician of the Romans].
"Patricius" was an honorary title formerly held for the Emperor of Byzantium. But since Byzantium was unable to continue defending the Roman Church from extinction, the Pope appealed elsewhere & took the title of Patricius with him lol.
So, how did Pope Stephen II pitch this idea to King Pepin?
He said: "YO! How about you be like your boy CONSTANTINE and give us that donation $$$, son (of man)?!?!?!" I mean, probably not in this word, but, y'know...
Meaning: Pope Stephen II proposed this idea within the framework of a previous deal — when Emperor Constantine donated a bunch of land & power to the Catholic Church. He was like... "Hey man, if Constantine did it, why don't you? Don't you want to be like Constantine the Great? You do want your children to become emperors of Europe, don't ya? This is how you do it. Align with us. We be holy boiis." etc
The 3rd Century document known as The Donation of Constantine was used as evidence.
After much deliberation, it was agreed upon. King Pepin seized the lands from the Lombard tribe, donated the lands to the Catholic Church, thus giving them an earthly empire.
In exchange, the Catholic Church anointed King Pepin once again (a few years after he was already anointed by a previous pope) ... But he did it with a huge spectacle, which was repeated until the destruction of the monarchy during the French revolution. He also confirmed the church's backing of Pepin's children as true heirs to the throne of France.
One of those children was to become Charlemagne, the aesthetic godfather of Europe.
From 756 AD to 1929 AD, the Catholic Church had an empire.
That's an empire of over 1,000 years... Who's foundation was started as a lie.
Whenever this empire was challenged, the church reminded people of two separate historical donations: The 4th Century Donation of Constantine & the 8th Century Donation of Pepin — which was modeled on The Donation of Constantine. Few questioned the authority of such documents, of these historic claims...
However, The Donation of Constantine is a fraud. It's a fraudulent document.
Who discovered it was a forgery?
Interestingly, the Catholic Church. A researcher within the Catholic Church, during the Renaissance, discovered The Donation of Constantine was a forgery.
Nobody knows why it was made, or who made it.
All we know is that it first showed up around the negotiations of The Donation of Pepin, and was admitted into historical record as a legal defense against claims of the legitimacy of the Papal States, or to re-affirm the strength of the Papal States.
What's the moral of the story here?
Well, I don't know. The only thing that comes to mind is — An empire can be built upon a lie, a dream, a myth: So long as you boldly move forward on that lie with great belief & confidence; so long as you question the motives of those who would doubt your honesty; and leverage the myth into a real-world win — and that with time, and genuine wins, the supremacy of your authority will be well established in the physical & immaterial world by the time people discover the original dream was only just a dream...