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Boniface VIII

Pope from 1294. During his pontificate relations between the papacy and the Western monarchs reached a crisis. Philip IV* and Edward I claimed the right to tax without papal consent. Unfortunately Boniface had come to the papal throne under circumstances that cast doubt on the legality of his title. His predecessor, Celestine V, was a holy hermit who could not adjust to his papal role and resigned after five months; many argued that abdication from the papacy was impossible and that therefore Boniface’s election was invalid. Also, Celestine’s experience seemed to prove that no holy man could be pope. Boniface seemed to confirm that view. Against the claim of Philip and Edward he issued the bull Clericis Laicos (1296), stating that the clergy were prohibited from paying taxes without papal approval. Any ruler, moreover, who levied such taxes would be automatically excommunicated. In retaliation, Philip forbade the export of money from his realm, thus halting papal revenue from France, and Edward withdrew royal protection from the clergy, in effect outlawing them. These actions forced Boniface to declare that the bull did not apply to emergencies and that the king could decide when an emergency existed.

Later, Philip and Boniface argued over the trial of a bishop accused of treason. In 1301 the pope issued the bull Ausculta fili which, in addition to asserting the power of the pope over all kings, contained a list of specific charges against Philip’s government. By changing some of the bull’s statements, Philip made it appear that it was an affront to all Frenchmen. Then he called the Estates of France and secured the support of that assembly in his protest against Boniface’s claim. The pope replied with the bull Unam sanctam, which closes with the statement: “Furthermore, we declare, state, define, and proclaim that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.” Philip’s advisers answered this by drawing up an indictment of Boniface, accusing him of murder, heresy, simony, adultery, schism, and keeping a demon as a pet. A Frenchman, William Nogaret, led an armed band into Italy to arrest Boniface and return him to France for trial. The expedition proved to be a failure, but Boniface died soon after and Philip used the charges against Boniface to pressure the papacy into doing his will. Thus the medieval popes were defeated by the national monarchs.

See T.S.R. Boase, Boniface VIII (1933).

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