Boniface VIII

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BONIFACE VIII (Benedetto Gaetani, c. 12351303), pope of the Roman Catholic church (12941303). Connected by family relationship not only with the earlier popes Alexander IV and Nicholas III but also with the Orsini and Colonna families, Gaetani studied law at Bologna, worked as a notary at the Curia Romana, served on embassies to France and England, discharged the office of papal legate in France, and by 1291 had become cardinal priest of San Martino. A capable, experienced, and energetic administrator, he was by temperament bold, hardheaded, formidably stubborn, and, at least in his latter years, prone to damaging outbursts of irascibility that some have attributed in part to painful bouts with "the stone." Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of his energetic pontificate with the brief (and chaotic) reign of his predecessor, the devout hermit-pope Celestine V, proved to be a case of the wrong men in a crucial role at the wrong time and in the wrong sequence. The troubles besetting the two pontificates are usually taken to mark the great turning point in the fortunes of the late medieval papacy.

Certainly, the difficulties and disputes that marked the reign of Boniface VIII have served to obscure for posterity the pope's more positive achievements. These were real enough. His reordering of the curial fiscal and administrative system, his publication in 1298 of the Liber sextus, a legal compilation supplementary to the decretals of Gregory IX, his sponsorship in 1300 of the Jubilee Year at Rome, his decisive ruling of that same year on the relationship between the diocesan clergy and the clergy of the mendicant orders, his foundation in 1303 of a studium generale at Romeall had important, and some of them enduringly positive, consequences. Nonetheless, even such unquestionably positive achievements sometimes generated problems for Boniface. Thus, the increase in financial support and papal prestige stemming from the enormous flow of pilgrims to Rome during the Jubilee may well have bolstered Boniface's self-assurance and encouraged him to be too unyielding in his subsequent dealings with the French king. Similarly, while they were impartially and carefully framed, the measures he introduced to remedy the dissension and disorder in diocesan government spawned by the extensive exemptions and privileges previously granted to the mendicant orders nevertheless succeeded in alienating many of the friars. Yet again, his tightening of the papal fiscal system after the chaos of the previous pontificate, and, within the papal territories, his success in suppressing disorder, enforcing papal control, and extending the property holdings of his Gaetani kin led him into a fatal conflict with the landed interests of the powerful Colonna family.

Problems with Philip IV, king of France, had begun already in 1296 and centered on the right of monarchs to tax the clergy of their kingdoms. Hostilities between Philip and Edward I of England had broken out in 1294, and even in the absence of papal consent the two kings had taken it upon themselves to tax their national churches. Responding to a protest launched by the French Cistercians, Boniface moved in the bull Clericis laicos (February 24, 1296) to proscribe (in the absence of explicit papal permission) all lay taxation of the clergy. In the prevailing climate of opinion, with lay sentiment in the two kingdoms favoring the monarchs and some of the clergy inclining to support them too, threats of excommunication proved to be of no avail. The prestige of the papacy had fallen too low to permit the successful deployment of such spiritual weaponryso low, indeed, that in 1297, confronted also by the combined opposition in Italy of the Colonna family and the Spiritual Franciscans, Boniface was forced to compromise on the question of taxation and in effect to concede the principle he had attempted to establish.

That concession, however, did not prevent his reacting with great firmness when in 1301 Philip IV arrested Bernard of Saisset, bishop of Pamiers, tried him, threw him into prison, and demanded that the pope endorse those actions. Boniface responded by issuing the bulls Salvator mundi and Ausculta fili, demanding the bishop's release, revoking the taxing privileges earlier granted to the French king, and commanding attendance of the French bishops at a council to be held at Rome in November 1302 in order to consider the condition of religion in France.

Defeated by a Flemish army at Courtral in the summer of 1302, Philip adroitly used the excuse of a national emergency to prohibit attendance of the French bishops at the Roman council. The abortive nature of that assembly, however, did not prevent Boniface from issuing in November 1302 the bull Unam sanctam, a rather derivative document but one culminating with the famous declaration "It is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff." Philip's response was even more forceful. Rallying national opinion during the spring of 1303 at a series of assemblies in Paris, and echoing the old Colonna call for convocation of a general council to judge the pope, Philip also authorized his adviser Guillaume de Nogaret to lead an expedition to Italy to seize the person of the pope and bring him back for judgment.

Hence evolved the extraordinary chain of events leading up to the "outrage of Anagni" on September 7, 1303: the attack on the papal palace by Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna, the humiliation of the aged pope, his subsequent rescue by the citizens of Anagni, and his demise soon after at Rome. French pressure by no means ended with his death, and Boniface VIII has since been portrayed as the pope who, while advancing some of the most ambitious claims ever made for the power of the medieval papacy, contrived also to precipitate its decline.


Boase, T. S. R. Boniface VIII. London, 1933.

Digard, G. A. L. Philippe le Bel et le Saint-siège de 1285 à 1304. 2 vols. Paris, 1936.

Digard, G. A. L., et al. Les registres de Boniface VIII. 4 vols. Paris, 19041939.

Dupuy, Pierre, ed. and trans. Histoire du différend d'entre le Pape Boniface VIII et Philippe le Bel. Paris, 1655.

Rivière, Jean. Le problème de l'église et de l'état au temps de Philippe le Bel. Paris, 1926.

Scholz, Richard. Die Publizistik zur Zeit Philipps des Schönen und Bonifaz VIII (1903). Reprint, Amsterdam, 1962.

Francis Oakley (1987)

Boniface VIII (Benedetto Gaetano) (ca. 1228-1303)

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Boniface VIII (Benedetto Gaetano) (ca. 1228-1303)

Pope who gained an unenviable notoriety in Dante's Inferno as "Prince of the new Pharisees" and was regarded by many people as an exponent of black magic. A noted jurist, Boniface was born at Anagni in a noble family and was elected pope in 1294. In 1296 he quarreled seriously with Phillippe le Bel, king of France, who wanted to tax the church, and prepared to excommunicate the king. The quarrel arose when Boniface was determined to extend the rule of the papacy throughout the kingdoms of the world and to build up great estates for his family.

In 1303, Phillippe's ministers and agents boldly accused Boniface of heresy and sorcery, and the king called a council at Paris to hear witnesses and pronounce judgment. The pope resisted and refused to acknowledge a council not called by himself. Then the king planned to abduct Boniface and bring him to France. The French attacked the pope in his residence, but could not carry off their escape, and the mistreatment to which Boniface was exposed proved too much for him. He died the same year, in the midst of these vindictive proceedings. His enemies spread abroad a report that in his last moments he had confessed his league with the demon, and that his death was attended with "so much thunder and tempest, with dragons flying in the air and vomiting flames, and such lightning and other prodigies, that the people of Rome believed that the whole city was going to be swallowed up in the abyss."

His successor, Benedict XI, undertook to defend his predecessor's memory, but he died in 1304, the first year of his pontificate (some said he was poisoned), and the holy see remained vacant for 11 months. In mid-June 1305 the archbishop of Bordeaux was elected to the papal chair under the title Clement V. This election was ascribed to the influence of the king, who was said to have stipulated as one condition that Clement should support proceedings against Boniface that would make his memory infamous. However, the prosecution was dropped, and in 1312 Boniface was declared innocent of all offenses with which he had been charged. These had included wild accusations of infidelity, skepticism, and communication with demons. One witness deposed that he had a demon enclosed in a ring which he wore on his finger; one friar (Brother Bernard de Sorano) deposed that when Boniface was a cardinal, he was seen to enter a garden adjacent to the palace of Nicholas III and perform a magical ceremony with a sacrificed cock and a book of spells, conjuring up demons. Such statements must be judged in the light of the king's opposition to Boniface and the superstitions of the time.

Boniface VIII

views updated May 29 2018

Boniface VIII (c.1235–1303). Pope from 24 Dec. 1294. He was born Benedict Gaetani, and after studying law, served in a variety of posts in the Roman curia. As a cardinal he was instrumental in 1294 in persuading Celestine V to resign the papacy, and was elected in Celestine's place. His pontificate was dominated by the struggle with Philip the Fair of France, which led to the bull Unam Sanctam proclaiming that there is no salvation or remission of sins outside communion with the bishop of Rome (see EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS). Boniface was on the point of excommunicating Philip in Sept. 1303 when his palace at Anagni was attacked by the Colonnas and French-led mercenaries. The pope was briefly held captive, and died a month later as a consequence of his treatment.

Boniface VIII

views updated May 18 2018

Boniface VIII (1235–1303) Pope (1294–1303), b. Benedetto Gaetani. To bring order to Rome and prevent schism, he imprisoned his predecessor Celestine V. He offered the first plenary indulgence (1300) for all who made a pilgrimage to Rome.

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Boniface VIII

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