Pope Boniface VII, real name Benedetto Caetani, was born in Anagni at around 1235 and died in 1309. Pope Boniface made his name with his famous quarrels about the authority and the power of the Pope. Christianity played a major role in life during the middle ages. It can be argued that the church, during this period was full of corruption and greed, however, the presence of Christianity bought hope and stability to the empire politically and socially. Boniface’s quarrel was a final climax to a long argument that carried on throughout the medieval era. The argument, which occurred through most of the Middle Ages, was: who had more power, the Pope or the King? Boniface was just repeating claims that had been put forward by previous popes during a time that the medieval church was in crisis. Previously, however there would have been no argument as to who held full power. The pope would have had the privilege and the power to threaten excommunication as a fear but due to the papacy relations with other aspects of the church and the fact that the pope had other enemies his battle failed.
The term the pope heard regularly, ‘the vicar of Christ’ had departed and the pope was no longer seen to have full power on earth. Pope Boniface VIII made an amazing impact on medieval Europe, however never quite won in fighting his cause. Historian Flick regarded Pope Boniface’s reign as “the beginning of the decline of the power and the glory of the medieval papacy”(A.C Flick, the decline of the medieval church. [Wood, 1971, 6]) In this essay, I hope to cover how much authority the pope had, and had hoped to have had, and also the historic events that led to a society no longer directly ruled by the Catholic faith. I shall do this by explaining historic events and looking at situations through how the pope may have looked at them. The troubles began when the monarchy were dealing with aspects such as money and arms in France and England, as the church found itself concentrating on issues that arose in Italy and around the Mediterranean. The kings of France and England were not going to let their services occur without a price. In 1294 war broke out between France and England. The background behind the war did not involve the papacy, however, the two kings needed to fund their battle and had became familiarised with funding everybody alike, whole communities, even the clergy.
Therefore whole communities were to be taxed. This led to a lot of bitterness and hostility and expectantly many complaints arose.(Keen, 1968, 210). Clearly showing an absence in dogmatic principles from the secular part. Cistercians were mortified, and in France when refused to pay anything were ordered by the king to have their goods taken from them. Cistercians were a contemplative monastic order descended from France in 1098. Taxing the clergy was a good idea to the secular because as well as extra money it saw the clergy work closer with the secular thus more authoritarian power. To prevent any further embarrassment to the church Pope Boniface intervened and issued Clericis laicos, on February 25 1296, which forbade the clergy to pay taxes without papal consent, (Lerner, 1968, 4) provoking reactions from both the King of England and France. The bull was an angry message towards the kings in which it attacks them for being so unfaithful to the church, how could they claim gods items on clerical wealth?
Items that were there due to spiritual reasons. Boniface described it as: “a horrid abuse of secular power” .(Keen, 1968, 211) To prove his annoyance, King Philip even went as far as cutting of all coin exports from France. This proved a direct problem as the supreme authority of the Church relied on the money. Even more cunningly, Philip used to his advantage a dispute the pope had been having with a great family of Rome called the Colonna family. Disputing due to reasons concerning Rome led to Boniface excommunicating all their offices. To battle the Colonna in any shape would now prove almost impossible as France were no longer aiding and no aids could occur as they could not be transported through France. The king of France had seen a clear dispute and used it to his advantage, as the pope did back down and go ahead and manipulate the Clericis Laicos. The pope stated that he would rather die than surrender the churches rightful rules, however, his latest bill had not intended to withdraw taxing the clergy for important reasons, if the king really did need extra money. (Keen, 1968, 213).
It has been said that the real reason why the pope gave way to the king was due to the fear of his enemy family the Colonna’s. Historian Charles-Victor Langlois, however argues that it was due to Philip changing Italian affairs that Boniface saw no other way to the situation other than to back down.(Wood, 1974, 4) Although, it would not be difficult to understand why one may draw the conclusion of Boniface being fearful of his enemy family the Colona’s. The family had been making accusations of Boniface’s legitimacy for a long while. Adrien Baillet wrote in his book The Decline of the Medieval Church that Boniface forced Celestine(the previous pope) to resign and then created the threat of schism on his head and had him arrested. Boniface then became pope and then took the chance to carry out what he had been planning all along to gain for himself a spiritual sovereignty over every power in Christendom.( Wood, 1974, 6)
However, the family often went to the University of Paris with these accusations but were always rejected backing up Langlois’s view that the pope had no need to be that fearful of the family as they were often being ignored. (Wood, 1974, 4) In the year 1300, Pope Boniface announced there to be a Jubilee where pilgrims had the opportunity to come from far and wide to repent their sins by visiting the tombs of the apostles during that year. It had been reported, that about 200,000 pilgrims were constantly in the city of Florence. Demonstrating that people still felt strong for their religion, as people travelled form as far as England -which was quite a distance in them days. There are many reasons historians have thought of to why exactly did the pope call this pilgrimage? The one in which seems more correct is that he was trying to regain faith in Christianity, as he saw it was being lost.
By doing this he may have thought it would entitle him to more authority when it came to Europe’s affairs. There were other suggestions that he was hoping to raise money for Rome, again giving him a head start with the king of France if he had more funds behind him. (Wood, 1974, 40) In the mean time the king of France was abusing the royal privileges that Boniface allowed him, therefore six years after the Clericis laicos Pope Boniface bravely sought another form of direct attack with his new bull Unam Sanctam (1302), in which it states: “My dove, my undefiled is but one, she is the choice one of her that bore her; which represents one mystical body, of which body the head is Christ, but of Christ, God.” (1) Explaining that there is only one God and the pope’s mission on earth is to play his part on earth therefore there is no higher authority within the spiritual earth and no earthly body that lays above the pope. The reason this occurred was due to the question, who did hold complete sovereignty?
It came down to a Bishop -Bernard Saisset of Pamiers who, made no concealation of his views on the king of France. Due to recent quarrels it was plain to see there was a lot of bitterness and hostility going around. Bishop Saisset was arrested in 1301 with charges of high treason, sedition and heridacy. It was pressumed that Boniface would not intefere however, before the courts could try him, the royal ministry needed the Pope to strip him of his clerical protections. Pope Boniface, after receiving an appeal from the bishop did intevene by writing a letter to the king of france in 1301. the letter stated that the king had been disregarding papal order and now was his time to reppent. Unsuprisingly the letter was disregarded(5) and from this came about the Unam Sanctum. (7) Boniface announced that in the bull: “It is entirely necessary for salvation that all human creation be subject to the pope of Rome”. (Lerner, 1968, 4) From Boniface’s view, you can see that he thought the only one to judge treason of any sort should be the pope, he could see his/ the papacy’s claims to authority were clearly in jeopardy. The bull, however clearly clarified that King Philip did not have full authoritarianism power.
“If the secular power strays from the way, it shall be judged by the spiritual”. (Keen, 1968, 214) Pope Boniface was justifying his right to authority by using words of God, the almighty, creator of the world. One could say he was ignoring the fact that society was beginning to move on or being too stubborn to accept it however, the statement was dramatically revolutionary in its principles. Philip Hughes, historian, disagrees, his views are that Boniface was Pope and whatever he had done for the church may not have just been done on personal stubbornness but due to the reason his office imposed solemn obligations of defending the church and its tradition. (Wood, 1974, 5) Tension was running high between Pope Boniface and the Kings, especially Philip whom, had been drawn to measure of confiscating the property of French bishops arriving in Paris and even captured the next position from pope, the cardinal -legate whom was sent by Boniface to pronounce the bill to the King. (5).
Unaware Boniface continuing his conquest excommunicated King Philip from the church. The retaliation from Philip proved to be a fatal blow for the pope. One of the king’s ministers and some troops joined forces with Boniface’s roman enemies and captured the now, in medieval terms, old man. Not without hiring the best man to make up ‘legitimate’ reasons to take his hold. Amongst these reasons included: heretic, a sorcerer, an assassin of ecclesiastics, and guilty of keeping mistresses so he did not have to broadcast, in reality being , a sodomist.( 6). The old Pope was released but died shortly afterwards, said due to humiliation. None of his successors continued with the quarrel. From 1309-1337 the king had the new pope moved to Avignog on the French border to repair any damage with the French sovereignty and were said to become puppets of the French crown. When questioning how much authority the pope had, and had hoped to have had there are many events that help lead you to a conclusion.
It seems that times, society had changed, and no longer could the papacy lord it over the kings such as previously. Pope Boniface stood up to what he believed, in and what was strong tradition refused let his cause be lost. Who could blame him? Religion was such as massive part of medieval life, all that many had ever known, the thought of Kings having more authority than on of Gods princes must have been extremely terrifying. The pope was acting on what he believed he was sent on earth to do, being the vicar off Christ, despite fighting a losing battle.However, it did not help that the pope had other issues to use against him such as enemies in Rome and the other events occurring, that led to the pope leaving France and England to their own affairs at the beginning of the dispute. Boniface was up against what it seems as a hard faced king, when it comes to Richard.
There is not much detail on him but on the trial of Bishop Bernard Saisset an eyewitness described him; “Our king resembles an owl, the fairest of birds, but worthless . He is the handsomest man in the world, but he only knows how to look at people unblinkingly without speaking”. (Wood, 1974, 82) proving how difficult it must have been for the pope to be up against somebody who had no emotion who went for what he wanted, using all sorts of tactics. The battle of the holy and the monarchy had been arousing all throughout the medieval period, in my opinion change was bound to occur one day and it took an enterprising person such as King Philip to achieve this. I have no doubt the pope tried his hardest to stop the occurrence-whether it being because he was extremely strong willed or because of his councils but died due to this without victory.