The Church of Rome's claim to superiority over all secular powers is based upon a fraudulent document known as The Donation of Constantine. The document relates the story of how the Emperor Constantine contracted leprosy and how he was miraculously healed by being baptised on being told to do so by Pope Sylvester. Sylvester instructed him concerning the Trinity and informed him of the primacy of Peter, repeating the words with which Christ addressed Peter on his confession that Jesus was the Christ. Believing himself to be healed by Peter, Constantine then, in the name of the Senate and Roman people, handed the western part of the empire to the Bishop of Rome.
The Donation reads as follows:
Inasmuch as our imperial power is earthly, we have decreed it shall venerate and honour his most holy Roman Church and that the sacred See of Blessed Peter shall be gloriously exalted above our empire and earthly throne.... He shall rule over the four principle Sees, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as over all the churches of God in all the world....
Finally, lo, we convey to Sylvester, Universal Pope, both our palace and likewise all our palaces and districts of the city of Rome and Italy and of the regions of the west.
In 1471, a papal aid, Lorenzo Valla, proved the document to be a fraud. The pope at the time of the alleged events was not Sylvester but Militiades. Constantinople at that time was still known by its old name of Byzantium. The Latin in which the document was written was in a style that was not in use then. Rome did not concede that the document was a forgery until many centuries later. By then her spurious claims were well established.
After Pope Stephen III went to Pepin, king of the Franks for help, Rome continued to use the secular powers to accomplish its aims. In AD 800, Leo III, crowned Charlemagne Emperor and Augustus. The area over which they ruled became known as the Holy Roman Empire. As later writers sarcastically observed, it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. The fact that Leo had crowned Charlemagne emperor was later used to demonstrate that the ecclesiastical was above the secular. But for the time being, the emperor was the supreme authority. Pope Adrian I, as a reward for enlarging the Papal States, gave Charlemagne the authority to choose the new pope.
But the popes did not want to play second fiddle to secular rulers. For centuries successive popes struggled to assert their authority over all. It has been well remarked that the Papacy thinks in terms of centuries and it was centuries later when the Papacy finally succeeded in asserting its supremacy in the reign of Pope Boniface VIII.
Prior to the issuing of Unam Sanctam, the Papacy scored a number of important victories. Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor defied the Pope but had to cross the Alps in the depth of winter in 1077 and was made to stand barefoot for three days in the snow outside the papal residence at Canossa before he was finally restored. Machiavelli, in his History of Florence, stated that 'Henry was the first prince to have the honour or feeling the sharp thrust of spiritual weapons'. Henry got his revenge later when he called a council to depose the Pope and chose Guibert of Ravenna in his place. Guibert took the title of Clement III. Henry marched on Rome and enthroned Clement, while Gregory fled to Salerno where he died on 25th May 1085.
In England, it was King John who was to experience the full force of papal pretensions when he brought upon himself and the nation the displeasure of Pope Innocent III. The Pope had nominated Stephen Langton to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. John refused to recognise him so the Pope gave him three months to reconsider or face the consequences. John responded by expelling the monks of Canterbury. The Pope then placed the realm under interdict, published on Palm Sunday 1208. This meant that all the churches were closed and the priests ceased to fulfill their priestly duties. For a people, who looked to the priest for all spiritual succour from cradle to the grave, this was disastrous. The Pope followed this up with the excommunication of John in October 1209. Three years later, the pope deposed John and called upon Philip of France to prepare to expel him and take over the throne of England. All who took part in this pious work would be granted the same indulgences as those enjoyed by the Crusaders.
Just when Philip had his forces ready to invade, John capitulated on 13th of May 1213. Cardinal Pandulf received his submission. John laid the crown of England at his feet. The Cardinal contemptuously kicked it across the floor and ordered his servant to pick it up and place it on the king's head. John, for his part, promised to restore all church funds and lands.
Two days later he signed a second document wherein he gave England 'to God and our Lord, Pope Innocent and his Catholic successors'. The interdict was not lifted until June 1214, by which time all the money had been paid back as John had promised. Philip of France, the meantime, was very put out for he had spent a huge amount of money preparing for the invasion of England. He dare not set foot in what was now papal territory.
In England, meanwhile, the barons, who hated John anyway, were furious with him for what he had done. They drew up the Magna Carta which guaranteed the rights of the Church and the people, forcing John to attach his seal to it. When Innocent heard of this he thundered 'By St Peter, we cannot pass over this insult without punishing it'. The Magna Carta, called the foundation of English liberties, was condemned by Innocent as 'contrary to moral law'. The King said he was not subject to the barons or the people, as he was the subject of the pope. Therefore, John requested, that the barons should be punished. Innocent then issued a Bull stating that 'From the plenitude of his unlimited power and authority which God had committed to him to bind and destroy kingdoms, to plant and to uproot', he annulled the charter, absolving the king from having to observe it. He excommunicated 'anyone who should continue to maintain such treasonable and iniquitous pretensions'.
Pope Boniface VII issued his Bull, Unam Sanctam, in 1302. This Bull left all rulers in no doubt as to what the Papacy intended.
He who denies the temporal power of Peter wrongly interprets the Lord's words, 'Put up thy sword into its scabbard.' Both swords, the spiritual and the material, are in the power of the Church. The spiritual is wielded by the Church; the material for the Church. The one by the hand of the priest; the other by the hand of kings and knights at the will and sufferance of the priest. One sword has to be under the other; the material under the spiritual, as the temporal authority in general is under the spiritual.
This Bull signalled the Papacy's attempt to assert its supreme authority over all other powers. King Philip of France was not amused. He eventually succeeded in making Boniface prisoner, the latter barely escaped being killed. Such was the trauma he suffered he lost his mind and died just over a month later. Benedict XI, died a year after being elected. King Philip used his influence to have Bertrand de Grot, Archbishop of Bordeaux, elected, taking the title of Clement V. Philip took him back to France and he settled in Avignon where he could keep an eye on him. Thus began what the RC Church termed The Babylonian Captivity, which was to last for seventy years. At one time there were three Popes reigning, some at Avignon and some in Rome. This situation was finally resolved by the Council of Constance in 1415 when all three popes were dismissed or resigned and Martin V was elected.
This did not stop the Papacy in trying to assert its authority, which it did do successfully on a number of occasions.
The Papacy interfered in England a second time with the accession of Elizabeth I. Pope Pius V issued his Bull 'Regnans in Excelsis', on April 25th, 1575.
He that reigneth on high, to whom is given all power in Heaven and earth, has committed one holy Catholic and apostolic Church, outside of which there is no salvation, to one alone upon earth, namely Peter, the first of the apostles, and to Peter's successor, the pope of Rome, to be by him governed in the fulness of power. Him alone He has made ruler over all peoples and kingdoms, to pull up, destroy, scatter, disperse, plant and build, so that He may preserve His faithful people in the unity of the Spirit and present them spotless to their Saviour.
The Bull then goes on to list the crimes that Elizabeth had committed against the RC Church.
Therefore, resting upon the authority of Him whose pleasure it was to place us (though unequal to such a burden) upon this supreme justice seat, we do out of the fulness of our apostolic power declare the aforesaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and the favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ.
And, moreover, we declare her to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and all lordship, dignity and privilege whatsoever. And we also declare the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who in any way have sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordship, fealty and obedience; and we do, by the authority of these presents, so absolve them and so deprive the said Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown and all other aforesaid matters. We command all and singular nobles, subjects and peoples and others aforesaid that they do not obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who will act contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.
This Bull clearly reveals the two pretended powers that Rome claims to exercise, namely, supreme power in church and state.
Some time after the Bull was published, a number of the Roman Catholic nobility required from the pope advise as to whether they would be committing a mortal sin if they assassinated her. They were informed that not only would they not be guilty of committing a mortal sin but would be doing a pious deed by sending her out of the world. There followed several Roman Catholic attempts to slay her, culminating with the launching of the Spanish Armada against England. But God blew with His wind and they were scattered.
There are those who think that all this is in the past and that Rome poses no such threat today. She undoubtedly is not in a position to do so directly but is working in other ways to influence governments. That she has ceased to make the claims she once did is untrue. Even now, when the pope is enthroned and the triple tiara is placed upon his head, the officiating cardinal intones the following,
Receive the tiara, adorned with three crowns, and know that thou art father of Princes and Kings, ruler of the world, and vicar of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in earth, to whom is honour and glory in the ages of the ages.