Lorenzo Valla was born into an affluent Roman family in 1407, and died there in 1457. Valla was a humanist as well as a philosopher, philologist, priest and author. Valla single-handedly disproved the dubious, yet sacred document enabling the Papacy to own territory in Constantinople in his book, Falsely-Believed and Forged Donation of Constantine, or under its abridged original title, Declamation. His discovery of the forgery led to a questioning of the Church and its integrity. But his motive for the book was not to hurt the Church in any way, but rather to sanction the truth. Valla published several books disproving other questioned Church documents, including Christ to Abgarus.
Valla was an archetypal Italian humanist. During his time, Valla wrote and published approximately ten books (not including his contentious Declamatio). Valla was a fervent spokesperson for reform in language and in education (as many humanists were at the time).
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Valla was very interested in the Church from a young age. His father worked as a lawyer for the Papal court. Valla longed for a job in the Pope dominion, and so applied for a job as papal secretary in 1430. After being denied the position, Valla travelled about northern Italy. He trekked throughout Milan and Genoa for 5 years, until setting down in the kingdom of Naples in 1435. There he was able to work for the Royal court under King Alfonso of Aragon. Valla continued his work there until 1448. During this time, an astringent discrepancy between Pope Eugenius IV or Rome and Alfonso of Aragon over the Kingdom of Naples ensued. Valla, though a religious man, was still employed by, and in favor of the king, and so published his discovery of the False Donation of Constantine to discredit the Pope eligibility to take over the kingdom.
The manuscript donating the land was allegedly signed by both Constantine and Pope Sylvester I. But this forged document was about to be disproved¦.
Valla Falsely-Believed and Forged Donation of Constantine, was written in 1439 and published one year after. Valla yearned to assist his employer in his battle against the Church. As a philologist, Valla was very intrigued by the unconvincing document reifying the donation. He began his research by attempting to excavate the oldest document stating the contribution. Valla searched through an arduous quantity of documents until discovering the latest one, dating back to the 8th C. The only problem with this: Constantine died for four centuries before the supposed bequest. Another hint that alluded Valla to thinking that the document was a fraud was that it had the word œfief in it. This word was not in existence during the alleged time of the signing.
The Latin author of the actual document still remains a mystery. The forged agreement was broken up into two parts¦.
The following is an excerpt from the religion encyclopedia, explaining the two parts of the letter. Part one, entitled, œConfessio, goes as follows, œthe emperor relates how he was instructed in the Christian Faith by [Pope] Sylvester, makes a full profession of faith, and tells of how his baptism in Rome by that pope, and how he was thereby cured of leprosy.
The second part, entitled, œDonatio, says that œConstantine is made to confer on Sylvester and his successors the Patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, also overall bishops in the world. The Lateran basilica at Rome, built by Constantinople, shall surpass all churches as their head, similarly the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul shall be endowed with rich possessions.
Valla’s unveiling of the Church secrets caused a wide questioning of the monastic lifestyle. He also severely upset the faithful members of the Church as well. Numerous authentic affiliates of the church plot out an attempt to kill Valla. But, luckily, Valla thankful king and employer-assisted Valla in an escape back to Rome. But, he still could not escape his powerful enemies there. Citizens were infuriated at Valla’s discovery. Their pope was now unable to rule over Constantine anymore, and he created a new reason for them to doubt the church. And so, Valla travelled about, until returning to Naples, where the king protected him.
In 1447, Eugene IV passed away, welcoming a new Pope, Nicholas V, to take his place. Nicholas greeted the weary traveller back into Rome with open arms. Valla was also offered the job that he once dreamed of receiving, as the apostolic secretary to the pope.
Valla’s ascertainment of the church secret has been called “the triumph of humanism over orthodoxy and tradition.” Valla’s impressive discovery exemplifies the classical Renaissanian humanist. He was able to publish his findings with few repercussions from the church. Valla was even asked to return back to Rome by the pope. During the Renaissance, scholars and intellects were able to create new theories, speak out without the pressure of the church to stop them from doing so. Valla encapsulates the standard humanist of the Renaissance period.
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