Boniface VIII, Pope
BONIFACE VIII, POPE
Pontificate: Dec. 24, 1294, to Oct. 11, 1303; b. Benedict Gaetani, Anagni, c. 1235; d. Rome. His reign is remembered especially for the fierce conflict of Church and State between the papacy and the French monarchy that broke out in 1296. Boniface has been accused of committing the papacy to novel and extravagant claims in the temporal sphere in the course of that struggle. It is true that he was a pope of grand ambitions, determined to uphold all the prerogatives of his office. He was also a man
of autocratic temper, impatient of opposition, given to hot outbursts of rage (which were perhaps caused in part by the painful disease of "the stone" from which he suffered). But it is not true that his own dominating personality led him to propound new doctrines of papal might. The claim that the pope's "plentitude of power" included a right to depose secular rulers and to act in the last resort as a supreme judge set over all men and all their affairs had already been formulated by Boniface's predecessors, especially by innocent iv. The defeats that marked Boniface's reign did not, then, result from any aggressive new demands on his part, but rather from his stubborn defense of long-established claims of the papa cy in the political order at a time when they had become totally unacceptable to the new monarchies.
Election. A member of the noble gaetani family, Benedict studied Roman and Canon Law at bologna and subsequently entered the service of the Roman Curia, serving in a minor capacity with embassies to France in 1264 and to England in 1265. He became cardinal deacon in 1281 and cardinal priest in 1291. At the Council of Paris in 1290 Benedict played a leading role as papal legate. He vehemently defended the rights of the mendicant orders against attacks from the secular masters of the University of Paris and, in the diplomatic sphere, succeeded in negotiating a peace between France and Aragon. In 1294 he was active in persuading the holy but incompetent celestine v to relinquish the papal office and was himself elected pope at the conclave that followed. From the beginning Boniface had bitter enemies. His part in encouraging Celestine's abdication earned him the hatred of the Franciscan spirituals and their patron, Cardinal James colonna, who soon found another motive for opposition in the frank nepotism that the new Pope displayed in enriching his own Gaetani kin with offices and lands in the Papal States.
Sicily and Northern Europe. Celestine V had been a mere tool of King Charles II of Naples in whose territory he resided. Boniface promptly moved the Curia back to Rome and resumed the conduct of an independent papal diplomacy. There were many problems to claim his attention. The most pressing one was the struggle between james ii of Aragon and Charles II of Anjou for the throne of Sicily. In 1295 Boniface achieved a settlement, which seemed at first a brilliant stroke of diplomacy, by persuading James to relinquish his claim; but the people of Sicily subsequently offered the kingship to James's brother Frederick, and in 1302 Boniface reluctantly had to acknowledge Frederick as independent King of the island of Sicily. Boniface was much concerned with the diplomatic affairs of northern Europe. In 1299 he tried unsuccessfully to mediate between Scotland and England. In 1298 he excommunicated King Eric of Denmark for imprisoning the archbishop of Lund and, in 1303, obtained the King's submission. Boniface at first opposed the election of Albert of Austria as emperor, but in April 1303, at the climax of his conflict with France, he recognized Albert's claim. The Pope took advantage of the occasion to restate the old theory that all national kings were subordinate to the emperor and that the emperor's power in turn came from the pope. (In 1955pius xii referred to this assertion of Boniface as "a medieval conception, conditioned by the period.")
Struggle with Philip the Fair. The great struggle with France began in 1296. Edward I of England and phil ip iv of France were engaged in a war arising out of feudal disputes and commercial rivalries, and both of them had imposed heavy new taxes on their clergy to help finance the campaigns. A canon of the Fourth lateran council (1215) laid down that clerics were not to be taxed without consent of the pope, but the papacy had acquiesced in such levies in the past, especially when they were intended to support a "just war." In 1296, however, two Christian Kings each claimed to be waging a "just war" against the other, and both were determined to tax the clergy with unusual severity. The situation seemed to Boniface intolerable, and he determined to end it. His bullclericis laicos (1296) opened with the assertion that "the laity have always been hostile to the clergy" and went on to describe the recent exactions as an example of this hostility. In the future, Boniface decreed, any lay ruler who demanded taxes from his clergy without prior papal permission would incur automatic excommunication, and so would any cleric who yielded to such demands. The promulgation of the bull was bitterly resented by the Kings whose policies had provoked it. In England the steadfast robert of winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury, bore the brunt of Edward's anger. Philip of France found a way of striking directly at the Pope himself. He issued an order forbidding all export of treasure and negotiable currency from France, a move that created serious financial embarrassment for Boniface, who relied heavily on revenues from the French Church. In September 1296 Boniface sent an indignant protest to Philip (Ineffabilis amor ), declaring that he would rather suffer death than surrender any of the liberties of the Church; but he explained in conciliatory fashion that his recent bull had not been intended to apply to customary dues from the feudal lands of the Church. He added that Philip was being deluded by evil counselors and that he was rash to pick a quarrel with the papacy, especially when the pope was the rightful judge of the political disputes in which Philip was involved—for the King's enemies alleged that Philip had sinned against them, and judgment on matters of sin belonged to the Roman see.
Struggle with Colonna. Unfortunately Boniface threw away any chance there might have been of carrying the whole issue to a successful conclusion by choosing this time to force a final breach with the Colonna family. In May 1297 a relative of the Colonnas plundered a convoy of papal treasure. Boniface summoned the two cardinals of the family to his presence and commanded that they hand over to him three strategic Colonna castles. The cardinals refused and withdrew to their fortress at Longhezza, where they were joined by jacopone da todi, a leader of the Franciscan Spirituals. From there they issued a manifesto declaring that Boniface was no true pope since the abdication of Celestine V had been illegal. Subsequently they accused Boniface of heresy and simony and also of murdering the aged Celestine, who had indeed died in a papal prison. It was the first public statement of charges—always unproved—that was to harass Boniface to the end of his reign. When Philip IV's minister, Pierre Flotte, traveled south to negotiate with Boniface, he met with representatives of the Colonnas, and his hand was greatly strengthened by the possibility that Philip might support their charges. In July 1297 Boniface capitulated completely. His bull Etsi de statu conceded that in time of necessity the King could tax the French clergy without consulting the Pope and that it was for the King himself to determine when a state of necessity existed.
Resumption of Struggle with Philip. By 1300 Boniface's fortunes seemed to be reviving. To mark the centennial he proclaimed a year of jubilee, the first such occasion in the history of the Church, and tens of thousands of pilgrims from many lands poured into Rome to worship at the shrines of the Apostles. When the Pope, encouraged by the enthusiastic devotion of the pilgrims, heard of new encroachments on the liberties of the Church in France, he was prepared to challenge Philip again. The occasion of this second dispute was the King's treatment of a French bishop, Bernard of Saisset. In 1301 Philip accused Saisset of treason and had him arrested, tried before a royal court, and thrown into prison. In defiance of the universal jurisdiction of the pope over all bishops, Philip was asserting total sovereignty over the persons as well as the property of the French episcopate. Boniface protested in the bullausculta fili (December 1301), which was considered and approved in a consistory of cardinals. The bull accused Philip of subverting the whole state of the Church in France by abuse of royal rights of patronage and illicit extensions of royal jurisdiction. It declared, "Let no one persuade you that you have no superior or that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for he is a fool who so thinks." When the bull arrived in Paris, its contents were not publicized, but a crude forgery was put into circulation by the King's agents in which Boniface was alleged to have written, "Know that you are subject to us in spiritualities and in temporalities."
At the end of 1301 Boniface also commanded the French bishops to attend a council to be held at Rome in November 1302 to consider the reform of the French Church. Philip forbade them to attend and in April 1302 summoned an assembly of his own at Paris—a meeting of nobles, burgesses, and clergy. Pierre Flotte harangued this first French Estates-General and apparently accused Boniface of claiming to be feudal overlord of France. The nobles and burgesses then wrote to the cardinals denouncing Boniface and refusing to recognize him as pope. The clergy wrote to Boniface himself addressing him as Pope but protesting against his "unheard-of assertions." When Boniface received the envoys of the French Estates he denied angrily that he had ever claimed to be feudal overlord of France, but he declared that his predecessors had deposed three French kings and that he was quite prepared to depose Philip if necessary.
There was a lull during the summer of 1302. Philip was distracted from his feud against Boniface by a major defeat inflicted on his forces by the Flemings at the battle of Courtrai, in which the King's chief minister Flotte was killed. But Philip still refused to permit his bishops to attend the Pope's council in Rome. When the council met, fewer than half the French bishops were present, and no measures for the reform of the French Church were agreed upon. Immediately after this abortive council (November 1302) Boniface issued the bullunam sanctam, the most famous medieval document on spiritual and temporal power. The bull was essentially a theological treatise on the unity of the Church, a unity threatened, as Boniface well saw, when national hierarchies of bishops hesitated between allegiance to their king and obedience to their pope. But it also emphasized, perhaps more explicitly than any earlier papal pronouncement, the power of the pope to "institute" and to judge temporal kings.
Attack on Pope's Person; His Death. Philip's reply to this claim was an extraordinarily brutal and unscrupulous attack on the Pope's reputation and even on his person. At an Estates-General held in March 1303 the King's new minister, Guillaume de Nogaret, presented a series of accusations against Boniface and demanded that a general council be assembled to sit in judgment on him. The charges were presented in more detail at another meeting held in June. Boniface was accused of usurping the papal office, of heresy, blasphemy, murder, simony, and sodomy. (After all this it is something of an anticlimax to read that "he does not fast on fast days.") Meanwhile Nogaret had left Paris for Italy in an attempt to settle the whole issue by brute force.
In the summer of 1303 Boniface drew up a solemn bull of excommunication directed against Philip (Super Petri solio ) and moved from Rome to Anagni, from where he intended to promulgate it. Before he could do so (September 7), the little city was seized by a band of mercenaries led by Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna. After a day of fighting they broke into the papal palace and confronted Boniface, who was waiting for them arrayed in his pontifical robes. Nogaret demanded that Boniface renounce the papacy. When he refused, Sciarra Colonna wanted to kill him on the spot, but Nogaret hoped to carry him off to be condemned by some sort of council. They left Boniface under guard for the night. As he saw the soldiers looting the palace, he murmured only "The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away." On the second day Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna still disagreed about their next move. By the third day the whole town and countryside was roused against them, and they had to flee from Anagni leaving Boniface at liberty. But the Pope had collapsed after facing Nogaret, and he never recovered in mind or body. He was carried back to Rome and died a few weeks later. Philip continued to hound his memory after his death and succeeded in extracting from a later Pope,clement v, an acknowledgment that, in their proceedings against Boniface, Philip and his councilors had "acted out of an estimable, just and sincere zeal and from the fervor of their Catholic faith."
Evaluation of Boniface's Reign. The tragedy of Boniface's reign lies in the disproportion between the ends he set himself and the resources of his own personality. All his diplomacy aimed at establishing peace and concord in a Christendom guided and led by the pope. But his inability to comprehend the new forces of nationalism that were stirring into life, his excessive preoccupation with the advancement of the Gaetani family, his impatient and irascible disposition, all made the attainment of such an end impossible. He was a great lawyer; and theliber sextus, the third volume of thecorpusiuris canonici, which was promulgated in 1298 at Boniface's command, stands as a monument to his juristic acumen.
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