Real Orthodox Patriarchs and bishops claim only spiritual authority. However, there are a few Orthodox Patriarchs and bishops who appear to claim temporal power also, just like Roman Catholic ‘Popes’, whose power they seem to admire. Those Popes have consistently claimed both spiritual and secular power. But what is the origin of the claim of the Roman Catholic Popes to this?
The earliest and most famous forgery which justified this blasphemous claim is known as the ‘Donation of Constantine’. It was fabricated in a Papal scriptorium, probably as early as the 750s, in order to get military support from the Germanic King, Pepin the Short, against barbarians attacking Rome. In any case, the earliest known allusion to it is in a letter of 778, in which Pope Adrian I asks Charlemagne to endow his Church with land and income.
According to this document, several centuries earlier Emperor Constantine the Great had, out of gratitude for a cure from leprosy, ceded ‘to Pope Sylvester (285-335) and all his successors until the end of the world all the imperial insignia’, that is, the totality of ‘the imperial greatness and the glory of our power’. Constantine also allegedly ceded to Pope Sylvester ‘both our (the Lateran) Palace and the City of Rome and all the provinces, localities and cities of Italy or Western regions’. However, from a simple attempt to get protection and sponsorship from a local Germanic king, the Donation of Constantine was to be turned into the centrepiece of a massive enterprise of falsification.
The first Pope to abuse the Donation came three centuries later. This was Leo IX, in a letter sent to Patriarch Michael of New Rome (Constantinople). The Pope cited a large portion of the document and this led automatically to the Western Schism of 1054. Having supposedly received full temporal power over the West, the Popes strove to transform all its kingdoms into Papal fiefs and their kings into vassals. Thus, in 1059 Pope Nicholas II gave Orthodox southern Italy and Sicily (if he could conquer it) to the Norman bandit Robert the Cunning (in Old French ‘Guiscard’), on condition that he pay him homage.
Next, in 1066, Pope Alexander II gave England to another Norman gangster, William the Bastard, on the same condition, this betraying the people of England too. Then, in January 1077, Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) forced the German Emperor Henry IV to humble himself before him and recognise his suzerainty at Canossa. The (English) Pope Adrian IV (1154-1159) next betrayed Ireland, granting it as a ‘hereditary possession’ to the King of England, Henry II, because ‘all the islands are supposed to belong to the Roman Church under ancient law, according to the Donation of Constantine, who richly endowed them’.
To justify their power-grab project of universal monarchy, from the twelfth century onwards the Popes employed an army of legal scholars who developed a new canon law, using forgeries to make their new system appear to be the oldest. The purpose was to invent precedents for the sovereign authority of the Bishop of Rome over the Universal Church on the one hand, and over all Western secular sovereigns on the other hand. Slowly but surely, from one coup d’état to the next, thanks to its magic weapon of excommunication, the Pope became the overlord of Europe, receiving allegiance and tribute from countless kings.
However, the forger of the Donation of Constantine gave the Popes spiritual supremacy not just over Western Europe, but over the whole world. Thus, Constantine the Great is made to decree that the Bishop of Rome ‘shall govern the four Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople (which did not exist at the time of Constantine as Patriarchates!), as well as all the Churches of God throughout the world. The Popes who will now preside over the destiny of the most holy Roman Church will be the highest, the head of all priests all over the world and all things will be regulated according to his decisions’.
This Papal claim of supremacy over other Patriarchs was yet another betrayal of the original ‘Catholic’ (= Conciliar, in the Orthodox sense of this Greek word) constitution of the Church. This was an attempted coup against the principle of brotherly entente that was the condition for the Holy Spirit to guide the whole Church. Already, in the year 1001, in response to a request from Pope Sylvester II to ‘restore’ to the Holy See eight counties of Italy, the highly-educated, half-Greek Western Emperor Otto III had denounced the ‘negligence and incompetence’ of the Popes, as well as ‘the lies forged by themselves’ written ‘in letters of gold’ and placed ‘under the name of the great Constantine’. He for one clearly had no illusions about the forged Donation.
While the Donation was used as a legal document by the Papacy from the eleventh century, its authenticity or validity were challenged. At the beginning of the 13th century, Walther von der Vogelweide, a poet close to the ‘Holy Roman’ Emperor Frederick II, though not disputing the origin of the Donation, saw it as a great misfortune, which reversed the natural order of the world and caused infinite suffering to Europe. Frederick II had his lawyers declare it unlawful: Constantine simply had no right to make it. As for the Italian poet Dante (1265-1321), he wrote:
Ah, Constantine, how much evil was born,
not from your conversion, but from that donation
that the first wealthy Pope received from you!
Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto 19, lines 115–117
However, by the 15th century the fraudulent origin of the Donation began to be recognised widely through a fairly simple critical analysis (for example, how could Constantine evoke the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which did not even exist then?). Yet no official apology was ever presented by the Vatican for its fraud. In fact, nothing changed fundamentally in the attitude of the Papacy and, although already unmasked as liars, in 1870 they resorted to the absurd claim of ‘Papal Infallibility’.
Today US Presidents, who from their Roman temple in Washington act as successors to the Popes as the ideological leaders of the Western world, do exactly the same thing. They operate by coup d’etats, overthrowing other governments by ‘regime-change’, thus exacting allegiance and tribute from today’s puppet ‘kings’, and issuing illegal ‘excommunications’ (now called sanctions), proclaiming that US Presidents too are infallible and ‘exceptional’.
We reject the Sanhedrin of the scribes and pharisees, for we belong to the Church of Christ. However, this essay is not an anti-Roman Catholic polemic. Ordinary Roman Catholics are the first victims of this fraud of Papal power. They have our sympathy. And as we mentioned at the very beginning of this article, a few individual Orthodox Patriarchs and bishops also try and claim more than spiritual authority. In reality, our Church is the one of married priests, church communities and families, all together, for we all have a family life. As for more spiritual things, we go to monasteries and hermits, who are celibate by Divine calling, not by the ordinances of mere men.
Orthodox Patriarchs and bishops are administrators and spiritual guides like the apostles, and they should most certainly have nothing to do with money, property and power, which all inevitably lead to corruption and moral decay. And if they are involved with this corruption, then they are not with us, but are against us, the ordinary people, parish clergy, monks and nuns, as they make themselves into mere ‘princes of the Church’, exactly like the Popes. For their spirit too is precisely that of Papism, even though they may dare to call themselves ‘Orthodox’, which they are not.