The Torrid Tales of Church Forgeries
If you have taken in our latest post about the lunatics whom we call the “Church Fathers”, then you have seen us paint a clear picture of a Christianity that spread by rumor and hearsay rather than by grace of “God”. The Church Father were authors keen on recording any and every story that seemed interesting and served their cause. This was only too natural. Central authority was somewhat lacking and the religion had little tolerance or support from the establishment at the time. As a result, Christianity had a bit of the anarchic nature typical of many underworld societies of the time. Christians were divided over petty differences and fought like rats in a barrel (or Muslims on a plane). Strap yourself in for the torrent of dishonesty as we discuss early Church Forgeries.
Where things got interesting was when the early Christians started getting organized. When the Catholic Church came on the scene and began imposing order on the chaos, finally turning anarchic hard to pin down nonsense, into rigid, dogmatic nonsense. In truly typical fashion, they went about it in an incredibly Machiavellian way.
Church Forgeries: Weren’t They Already Organized?
No, they weren’t. I have already made that point, they were still leagues away from getting their sh!t together. They could not agree on even the most basic facts of Jesus’ life. Their numbers were riddled with “heresies”. In order to slow the crazy train, the Roman Emperor stuck his nose in. The experienced war machine was about to show the Jesus cultists how to run an organisation.
The first order of the day was to name a boss. The Emperor of Christianity almost, to rule over the souls of man, like the Roman Empire ruled over the lives of its subjects. Enter, the Pope. Regardless of the torrents of evidence to the contrary, Catholic Christians claim that an unbroken lineage existed from St. Peter to all of the subsequent popes. Therefore, at any point in the history of the Church, they believe there was a legitimate Pope whose counsel could be sought. All disagreements, in their minds, could easily have been resolved simply by asking what that one guy thought. So, if we were to examine the Papish lineage, we would see evidence of this descent, right? Er…well.
At the start, we aren’t sure who the early Popes were and how we would even go about learning about them. The Church maintains a list of Popes from St. Peter to the present, but we don’t have much to go on in determining the validity of the early names on that list so what stopped them just making it up when they spotted a gap? For example, a cursory reading of this article will turn up “Hermannus Contractus may have been the first historian to number the popes continuously” Well, Mr. Contractus was born in 1013, so his list does not count for much. Safe to say, he wasn’t there to check the facts, with those Popes being long dead.
Another list, the Liber Pontificalis, was a bit older than Contractus’ list, but the reason the previously cited Wikipedia article does not mention it, is that it is full of nonsense. It was likely compiled in bad faith. “Bad faith”? How so? Well, it starts off with a lie. Take this explanation from the introduction to an online addition of his book.
“The two prefatory letters, ostensibly composed by St. Jerome and Pope Damasus, by means of which the authorship of the whole first part of the Liber Pontificalis is ascribed to Jerome, are manifest forgeries of the sixth or seventh century. Our unknown author invented them in the clumsy Latin of his time, hoping through them to give prestige to his own work. The practice was not uncommon in his day.”
There you are. The ‘author’, whoever the author was, decided his work would not sell well if he put his own name on the cover, so he decided to jazz it up a little. He forges a letter in which St. Jerome claims authorship. I would call Jerome a bad choice, but (centaurs notwithstanding) Jerome had some clout in those days. The author’s fraud was noticed because his Latin was terrible and unlike anything Jerome would have written. Imagine me trying to forge a personal letter by Angela Merkel using a German-English dictionary. It would have stood out.
For some fun, here is what Pope Damascus ostensibly sent St. Jerome:
“The church rejoices already, drinking with satisfaction at thy fountain, and the thirst grows ever keener among its priests to hear of the past, in order that what is right may be recognized and what is wrong rejected. So all the record which the zeal of our see has been able to discover we send with gladness to thee, beloved. Pray for us unto the holy resurrection, brother and fellow priest. Farewell in Christ, our God and Lord.”
Gag inducing! This pope appears so head over heels in awe of St. Jerome that he loses all the dignity of his position and resorts to soppy sentimentality. How generous of Jerome to write to the Pope offering to teach him the history of his own office!
We can see that Church leaders rather enjoyed making things up. Where the Papal lineage is concerned, this did well to establish their “legitimacy”. The ability to lie in writing can go a long way, and they lied a lot.
Church Forgeries: The Utility of Forgery
All of that was just a routine mission in the journey to convert the world to this stupid religion. Always with a mind to consolidate its power, the Church would either permit or actively commission the forging of documents to support its position (the cheek!). A list of popes is a simple matter. It really helps to be able to show an unbroken lineage stretching back to St. Peter and, by extension, Jesus Christ. Forgery went well beyond this, however. The Catholic Church would appeal to forged documents to support its earthly claims in a much more obvious fashion.
A powerful example of this is the Donation of Constantine. The status of this document is well known and agreed upon. In its entry on the subject, the Catholic Encyclopedia makes a full admission of the forgery and the purposes it was used for.
“By this name [‘Donation of Constantine’] is understood, since the end of the Middle Ages, a forged document of Emperor Constantine the Great, by which large privileges and rich possessions were conferred on the Pope and the Roman Church . . . This document is without doubt a forgery, fabricated somewhere between the years 750 and 850.”
Oh. I think I can see the implications of that. What do you suppose Constantine supposedly gave the Church? Well, here is what the Donation itself claims was given:
“In imitation of our own power, in order that for that cause the supreme pontificate may not deteriorate . . .behold we-giving over to the oft-mentioned most blessed pontiff . . . our palace . . . as also the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts and cities of Italy or of the western regions . . . and do concede that they (the palaces, provinces etc.) shall lawfully remain with the holy Roman church.”
Wow! That was a serious jackpot for the Pope! I can see the advantages of having such a generous share of earthly land. The Catholic Church made good use of this forged document and would pull it out from time to time to assert its temporal authority.
If I was in a conspiratorial frame of mind, I would suggest that the Catholic Church knew what it was doing. Well, I certainly wouldn’t be the first to suggest that.
Around 1440, Lorenzo Valla wrote his “De falso credita et ementita Constantini Donatione declamatio” or “Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine”. In it, he convincingly argued that that the document was a forgery. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits as much in its article on the Donation.
“Some years later Lorenzo Valla proved the forgery with certainty.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia would be less inclined to pay much mind to Valla’s analysis of the situation. In his Discourse, Valla had some rather strident words to say about the Papacy:
“. . . either they have not known that the Donation of Constantine is spurious and forged, or else they themselves forged it, and their successors walking in the same way of deceit as their elders have defended as true what they knew to be false,”
The tone of Valla’s Discourse suggests that he leaned towards the latter explanation. The Pope was being a lying greedy SOB!
Whether the Church commissioned the forgery or not, this episode makes it clear how much influence forgeries had in the Middle Ages. The Donation of Constantine was well used by the Church for many centuries up until Valla came onto the scene. When the Lutherans showed up later, they would make good use of Valla’s Discourse, prompting the Church to place it on the Index of Forbidden Books. This did not matter too much because the Church had, by that time, quietly stopped citing the Donation. They were probably just irritated at having their past conduct pointed out.
Church Forgeries: The Symmachian Forgeries
While the Donation of Constantine was almost certainly compiled in bad faith by either the Church or its supporters, it remains of uncertain origins. This is not however, the case for every forgery the Church has used. The Church acknowledges some forgeries as not only forgeries but as cynical attempts by the Church to sway public opinion. A prime example would be the Symmachian forgeries.
The story begins when St. Symmachus was elected Pope in 498. He was elected by a majority, but his legitimacy was questioned by a minority faction. This faction appealed to the Gothic King Theodoric to arbitrate.
Theodoric initially ruled in favor of Symmachus, but the matter was not dropped by Symmachus’ opponents. The dispute continued. At one point, Symmachus’ detractors went so far as to forcefully occupy the Lateran Palace, forcing Symmachus to live outside of Rome for some time.
It was in the middle of this conflict that St. Symmachus’ supporters did something that to regular people would appear as rather “unsaintly”. In its article on “Pope Saint Symmachus”, the Catholic Encyclopedia readily admits to their fraud.
“During the dispute the adherents of Symmachus drew up four apocryphal writings called the ‘Symmachian Forgeries’ . . . The object of these forgeries was to produce alleged instances from earlier times to support the whole procedure of the adherents of Symmachus, and, in particular, the position that the Roman bishop could not be judged by any court of other bishops. Still these forgeries are not the first documents to maintain this latter tenet.”
That last sentence is rather suspect. Why would these people bother to forge material supporting a position that was already established? Also, if these forgeries were not the “first documents” wouldn’t it be helpful to immediately provide examples of earlier documents? Perhaps these earlier documents exist, but the author’s case would have been better served by just not bringing up the subject.
In any event, the authors of the Symmachian forgeries obviously saw a need to lie to support their position, and they chose to act on it. This event demonstrates how the Papacy was entirely prepared to lie in order to increase its power. This calls into question any claims made by that office to this very day. Lying is a long standing policy of the Catholic Church.
Church Forgeries: A Summary
In an earlier article, it was shown how the Church would spread its influence by means of rumor and the gullibility of its converts. This process made for divisions among the faithful and generated an inconsistent theology. These divisions made the mass of Christians difficult to govern once the Church acquired an official status. Once the Church entered into the political world, drastic measures were taken to reign things in.
In order to consolidate their power, the recognized figureheads of the Church took to lying about history. They forged a lineage of Popes, claiming an unbroken line heading back to Christ. They forged the letters of Emperors to support their political claims. They forged other documents to support matters of procedure after the fact.
Christianity was from the beginning, an entirely human institution. The worst of human weakness is what shaped its character in the early days. In its evangelical, factional form, it was lax with itself and paid little attention to legitimate authority. Once a faction had grown strong enough however, that faction became power mad. It began using the lowest methods imaginable to increase its strength and influence. The end result of this process was the Catholic Church.
The Protestants would seem to have gotten off easy at this point. The implications of the above however, should be clear. The early Christians have been shown to be both undisciplined with their message while at the same time capable of lying when the occasion suited them. How might these character traits affect the contents of the New Testament, which Catholics, as well as Protestants, depend on for their guidance?
May God bless you all.
By Jason Calhoughney.