Thursday 31 December 2015

hagiography or quid pro quo

Despite having presided over the Church at a very foundational time, which saw the endorsement—not just tolerance—of Christianity by Constantine the Great after the purges and persecution of the emperor’s predecessor, Diocletian, the rather strenuous and politically-taxing Council of Nicaea that sought to define the nature of God and what constituted heresy, and the great building campaign that produced the Lateran palace, Santa Croce and the original Saint Peter’s Basilica, very little can be said about Pope Silvester (whose Saint Day is New Year’s Eve) with much confidence. Silvester apparently does not even enjoy a special patronage, while I expected him minimum to share some degree of conflation with Janus, the two-faced Roman god that looks ahead to the future and behind to the past (hence, January) or Father Time.  Patron of pyrotechnic artists? Champagne-bottlers?  We get nothing.
Though Emperor Constantine’s conversion to the Christian faith is usually attributed to his victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on the outskirts of Rome while marching under a “heavenly divine symbol,” another story is told that as pontiff, Silvester healed a impenitent emperor of his leprosy, not wanting to listen to any spiritual counsel on why he ought not to take a second wife. Supposedly, out of gratitude, Constantine accorded the papacy with ecclesiastic power over all of Christendom and secular authority in the Western Empire. The so called Donation of Constantine, however, that records this agreement is universally acknowledged as a medieval forgery, crafted some five centuries later when the Church was the only vestige of Roman institutions in order to bolster legitimacy for Church’s supremacy and independence (and wealth) from the crown of state. No one is certain, but the document seems to have been produced and cited for the first time in the eight century, when Pope Stephen II crossed the Alps to crown Charlemagne’s father as Franconian king—to say thanks for the granting of lands that became known as the Papal States and for his help in stopping the Muslim invasion of France via Catalonia—and thus extinguishing the dynasty of those pesky Merovingians. The thirty-first of December preceded the beginning of the New Year in the Roman calendar since a thousand years before Silvester’s time, but curiously the celebration for New Year’s only was shifted around during those high middle ages until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar around the time that officials admitted that the Donation of Constantine was a hoax, with some locations observing the change-over in late March, when Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel and told she was with child. Those malingerers who did not readily accept the new date-structure, which cost the world two weeks, were referred to as April Fools.