Doctrine of Papal Primacy

Doctrine of Papal Primacy

For contextual information, see the entry on Later Medieval Canon Law in this encyclopedia.

Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, 1302

The Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’, in which Pope Boniface VIII asserted his rights against King Phillip the Fair of France, is a landmark in the history of the doctrine of Papal Primacy.


Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles [Sgs 6:8] proclaims: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,’ and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor 11:3]. In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Eph 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.

We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: ‘Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.’ [Ps 21:20] He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church, He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot [Jn 19:23-24]. Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.’ We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords’ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard’ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered _for_ the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God’ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms’ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Source: translation taken from a doctoral dissertation written in the Dept. of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, and published by CUA Press in 1927.

Pope Boniface VIII conflict with France

The memorable conflict with Philip the Fair of France began early in the pope’s reign and did not end even with the tragic close of his pontificate. The pope’s chief aim was a general European peace, in the interest of a crusade that would break forever, at what seemed a favourable moment, the power of Islam. The main immediate obstacle to such a peace lay in the war between France and England, caused by Philip’s unjust seizure of Gascony (1294). The chief combatants carried on the war at the expense of the Church, whose representatives they sorely taxed. Such taxation had often been permitted in the past by the popes, but only for the purpose (real or alleged) of a crusade; now it was applied in ordre to raise revenue from ecclesiastics for purely secular warfare. The legates sent by Boniface to both kings a few weeks after his elevation accomplished little; later efforts were rendered useless by the stubborn attitude of Philip. In the meantime numerous protests from the French clergy moved the pope to action, and with the approval of his cardinals he published (24 Feb., 1296) the Bull “Clericis laicos”, in which he forbade the laity to exact or receive, and the clergy to give up, ecclesiastical revenues or property, without permission of the Apostolic See; princes imposing such exactions and ecclesiastics submitting to them were declared excommunicated. Other popes of the thirteenth century, and the Third and Fourth Lateran Councils (1179, 1215), had legislated similarly against the oppressors of the clergy; apart, therefore, from the opening line of the Bull, that seemed offensive as reflecting on the laity in general (Clericis laicos infensos esse oppido tradit antiquitas, i.e., “All history shows clearly the enmity of the laity towards the clergy,”–in reality a byword in the schools and taken from earlier sources), there was nothing in its very general terms to rouse particularly the royal anger. Philip, however, was indignant, and soon retaliated by a royal ordinance (17 Aug.) forbidding the export of gold or silver, precious stones, weapons, and food from his kingdom. He also forbade foreign merchants to remain longer within its bounds. These measures affected immediately the Roman Church, for it drew much of its revenue from France, inclusive of crusade moneys, whence the numerous papal collectors were henceforth banished. The king also caused to be prepared a proclamation (never promulgated) concerning the obligation of ecclesiastics to bear the public burden and the revocable character of ecclesiastical immunities. (For the generous contributions of the French clergy to the national burdens, see the exhaustive statistics of Bourgain in “Rev. des quest. hist.”, 1890, XLVIII, 62.) In the Bull “Ineffabilis Amor” (20 Sept.) Boniface protested vigorously against these royal acts, and explained that he had never meant to forbid voluntary gifts from the clergy or contributions necessary for the defence of the kingdom, of which necessity the king and his council were the judges. During 1297 the pope sought in various ways to appease the royal embitterment, notably by the Bull “Etsi de Statu” (31 July), above all by the canonization (11 Aug., 1297) of the king’s grandfather, Louis IX. The royal ordinance was withdrawn, and the painful incident seemed closed. In the meantime the truce which in 1296 Boniface had tried to impose on Philip and Edward was finally accepted by both kings early in 1298, for a space of two years. The disputed matters were referred to Boniface as arbiter, though Philip accepted him not as pope, but as a private person, as Benedetto Gaetano. The award, favourable to Philip, was issued (27 June) by Boniface in a public consistory.

In the Jubilee of 1300 the high spirit of Boniface might well recognize a compensation and a consolation for previous humiliations. This unique celebration, the apogee of the temporal splendour of the papacy (Zaccaria, De anno Jubilæi, Rome, 1775), was formally inaugurated by the pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (29 June). Giovanni Villani, an eyewitness, relates in his Florentine chronicle that about 200,000 pilgrims were constantly in the City. It was necessary to make an opening in the wall of the Leonine City, near the Tiber, so that the multitude might have a larger freedom of movement. Pilgrims came from every country in Europe and even from distant Asia. Ominously enough, if we except the elder son of the King of Naples, none of the kings or princes of Europe came to pay their respects to the Vicar of Christ. The second crown in the papal tiara, indicative of the temporal power, is said to date from the reign of Boniface, and may have been added at this time.

In the meantime Philip continued in a merciless way his fiscal oppression of the Church, and abused more than ever the so-called regalia, or royal privilege of collecting the revenues of a diocese during its vacancy. Since the middle of 1297 the exiled Colonna had found refuge and sympathy at the court of Philip, whence they spread calumnious charges against Boniface, and urged the calling of a general council for his deposition. The royal absolutism was now further incited by suggestions of a universal Christian dominion under the hegemony of France. The new state was to secure, besides the Holy Land, a universal peace. Both empires, the Byzantine and the German, were to be incorporated in it, and the papacy was to become a purely spiritual patriarchate, its temporalities administered by the French king, who would pay the pope an annual salary corresponding to his office. Such was the new Byzantinism outlined in a work on the recovery of the Holy Land (“De recuperatione terræ sanctæ”, in Bongars, “Gesta Dei per Francos”, II, 316-61, ed. Langlois, Paris, 1891), and though only the private work of Pierre Dubois, a civil servant of Philip, it probably reflected some fantastic plan of the king (Finke, Zur Charakteristik, 217-18).

In the first half of 1301 Boniface commissioned Bernard de Saisset, Bishop of Pamiers (Languedoc), as legate to Philip. He was to protest against the continued oppression of the clergy, and to urge the king to apply conscientiously to a crusade the ecclesiastical tithes collected by papal indults. For various reasons De Saisset was not a welcome envoy (Langlois, Hist. de France, ed. Lavisse, III, 2, 143). On his return to Pamiers he was accused of treasonable speech and incitement to insurrection, was brought to Paris (12 July, 1301), thence to Senlis, where he was found guilty in a trial directed by Pierre Flote, and known to modern historians (Von Reumont) as “a model of injustice and violence”. De Saisset in vain protested his innocence and denied the competency of the civil court; he was committed temporarily to the care of the Archbishop of Narbonne, while Pierre Flote and Guillaume de Nogaret went to Rome to secure from Boniface the degradation of his legate and his delivery to the secular authority. Boniface acted with decision. He demanded form the king the immediate liberation of De Saisset and wrote to the Archbishop of Narbonne to detain the latter no longer. By the Bull “Salvator Mundi” he withdrew the indults by which the French king collected canonically ecclesiastical revenue for the defence of the kingdom, i.e., he re-established in vigour the “Clericis laicos” and in the famous Bull “Ausculta Fili” (Listen, O Son) of 5 Dec., 1301, he stood forth as the mouthpiece of the medieval papacy, and as the genuine successor of the Gregories and the Innocents. In it he appeals to the king to listen to the Vicar of Christ, who is placed over kings and kingdoms (cf. Jeremiah 1:10). He is the keeper of the keys, the judge of the living and the dead, and sits on the throne of justice, with power to extirpate all iniquity. He is the head of the Church, which is one and stainless, and not a many-headed monster, and has full Divine authority to pluck out and tear down, to build up and plant. Let not the king imagine that he has no superior, is not subject to the highest authority in the Church. The pope is concerned for the welfare of all kings and princes, but particularly for the house of France. He then goes on to relate his many grievances against the king, the application of ecclesiastical goods to secular uses, despotic procedure in dragging ecclesiastics before civil courts, hindrance of episcopal authority, disrespect for papal provisions and benefices, and oppression of the clergy. He will no longer be responsible for the protection (custodia) of the monarch’s soul, but has decided, after consulting his cardinals, to call to Rome for 4 Nov., 1302, the French bishops and doctors of theology, principal abbots, etc., to “dispose what is suitable for the correction of abuses, and for the reformation of the king and the kingdom”. He invites the king to be present personally or through representatives, warns him against his evil counsellors, and finally reminds him eloquently of the royal neglect of a crusade. An impartial reader, says Von Reumont, will see that the document is only a repetition of previous papal utterances and resumes the teaching of the most esteemed medieval theologians on the nature and extension of papal authority. It was presented to the king (10 Feb., 1302) by Jacques de Normans, Archdeacon of Narbonne. The Comte d’Artois tore it from the Archdeacon’s hands and cast it into the fire; another copy destined for the French clergy was suppressed (Hefele, 2d ed., VI, 329). In the place of the “Ausculta Fili”, there was at once circulated a forged Bull, “Deum time” (Fear God), very probably the work of Pierre Flote, and with equal probability approved by the king. Its five or six brief haughty lines were really drawn up to include the fateful phrase, Scire te volumnus quod in spiritualibus et temporalibus nobis subes (i.e., We wish thee to know that thou art our subject both in spiritual and in temporal matters). It was also added (an odious thing for the grandson of St. Louis) that whoever denied this was a heretic.

In vain did the pope and the cardinals protest against the forgery; in vain did the pope explain, a little later, that the subjection spoken of in the Bull was only ratione peccati, i.e., that the morality of every royal act, private or public, fell within the papal prerogative. The general tone of the “Ausculta Fili”, its personal admonitions couched in severe Scriptural language, its proposal to provide from Rome a good and prosperous administration of the French Kingdom, were not calculated to soothe at this juncture the minds of Frenchmen already agitated by the events of the preceeding years. It is also improbable that Boniface was personally very popular with the French secular clergy, whose petition (1290) against the encroachments of the regular orders he had rejected in his rough sarcastic manner, when legate at Paris (Finke in “Römische Quartalschrift”, 1895, IX, 171; “Journal des Savants”, 1895, 240). The national concern for the independence and honour of the French king was further heightened by a forged reply of the king to Boniface, known as “Sciat maxima tua fatuitas”. It begins: “Philip, by the grace of God King of the Franks, to Boniface who acts as Supreme Pontiff. Let thy very great fatuity know that in temporal things we are subject to no one.…” Such a document, though probably never officially presented at Rome (Hefele), certainly made its way thither. After forbidding the French clergy to go to Rome or to send thither any moneys, and setting a watch on all roads, ports, and passes leading to Italy, Philip forestalled the pope’s November council by a national assembly at Paris (10 April, 1301) in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The forged Bull was read before the representatives of the three estates; the pope was violently denounced by Pierre Flote as aiming at temporal sovereignty in France; the king besought as their friend, and as their ruler commanded all present to aid him with their counsel. Nobles and burghers offered to shed their blood for the king; the clergy, confused and hesitating, sought delay, but finally yielded so far as to write to the pope quite in the sense of the king. The lay estate directed to the cardinals a defiant protest, in which they withheld the papal title from Boniface, recounted the services of France to the Roman Church, and re- echoed the usual royal complaints, above all the calling to Rome of the principal ecclesiastics of the nation. The letter of the bishops was directed to Boniface and begged him to maintain the former concord, to withdraw the call for the council, and suggested prudence and moderation, since the laity was prepared to defy all papal censures. In the reply of the cardinals to the lay estates, they assert their complete harmony with the pope, denounce the aforesaid forgeries, and maintain that the pope never asserted a right of temporal sovereignty in France.

In his reply Boniface roundly scourged the bishops for their cowardice, human respect, and selfishness; at the same time he made use, after his fashion, of not a few expressions offensive to the pride of French ecclesiastics and poured sarcasm over the person of the powerful Pierre Flote (Hefele). Finally, in a public consistory (August, 1302) at which the envoys of the king were present, the Cardinal-Bishop of Porto formally denied that the pope had ever claimed any temporal sovereignty over France and asserted that the genuine Bull (Ausculta Fili) had been well weighed and was an act of love, despite the fatherly severity of certain expressions. He insisted that the king was no more free than any other Christian from the supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the pope, and maintained the unity of ecclesiastical authority. The Apostolic See, he said, was not foreign territory, nor could its nominees be rightly called foreigners. For the rest, the pope had full authority in temporal matters ratione peccati, i.e., in as far as the morality of human acts was concerned. He went on, however, to say that in temporal jurisdiction one must distinguish the right (de jure) and its use and execution (usus et executio). The former belonged to the pope as Vicar of Christ and of Peter; to deny it was to deny an article of faith, i.e., that Christ judges the living and the dead. This claim, says Hefele (2d ed., VI, 346), “must have appeared to the French as quite destructive of the aforesaid limitation ratione peccati. Gregory IX had maintained (1232, 1236), in his conflict with the Greeks and with Frederick II, that Constantine the Great had given temporal power to the popes, and that emperors and kings were only his auxiliaries, bound to use the material sword at his direction (Conciliengesch., 2d ed., V, 102, 1044). This theory, however, had never yet been officially put forth against France, and was all the more likely to rouse opposition in that nation, since it was now a question not of a theory, but of a practical situation, i.e., of the investigation of Philip’s government and the menace of his deposition.” He refers to the closing words of the discourse with which Boniface supplemented that of the Cardinal-Bishop of Porto, viz., that his predecessors had deposed three French kings, and, though unequal to such popes, he would, however sorrowfully, depose King Philip, sicut unum garcionem (like a servant); he thinks it not impossible (Hergenröther, Kirche und Staat, 229; Hefele, IV, 344) that the present harsh conclusion of the discourse of Boniface is one of the numerous forgeries of Pierre Flote and Nogaret. In the first half of this discourse the pope insists on the great development of France under papal protection, the shameless forgeries of Pierre Flote, the exclusive ecclesiastical nature of the grant (collatio) of benefices, and the papal preference for doctors of theology as aginst lay nepotism in matters of benefices. He is wroth over the assertion that he claimed France as a papal fief. “We have been a doctor of both laws (civil and canon) these forty years, and who can believe that such folly [fatuitas] ever entered Our head?” Boniface also expressed his willingness to accept the mediation of the Duke of Burgundy or the Duke of Brittany; the efforts of the former, however, availed not, as the cardinals insisted on satisfaction for the burning of the papal Bull and the calumnious attacks on Boniface. The king replied by confiscating the goods of the ecclesiastics who had set out for the Roman Council, which met 30 Oct., 1302.

There were present four archbishops, thirty-five bishops, six abbots, and several doctors. Its acts have disappeared, probably during the process against the memory of Boniface (1309-11). Two Bulls, however, were issued as a result of its deliberations. One excommunicated whoever hindered, imprisoned, or otherwise ill-treated persons journeying to, or returning from, Rome. The other (18 Nov., 1302) is the famous “Unam Sanctam”, probably the composition of Ægidius Colonna, Archbishop of Bourges and a member of the council, and largely made up of passages from such famous theologians as St. Bernard, Hugo of St. Victor, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others. Its chief concepts are as follows (Hergenröther-Kirsch, 4th ed., II, 593): (1) There is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; but one body of Christ with one head and not two. (2) That head is Christ and His representative, the Roman pope; whoever refuses the pastoral care of Peter belongs not to the flock of Christ. (3) There are two swords (i.e., powers), the spiritual and the temporal; the first borne by the Church, the second for the Church; the first by the hand of the priest, the second by that of the king, but under the direction of the priest (ad nutum et patientiam sacerdotis). (4) Since there must be a co- ordination of members from the lowest to the highest, it follows that the spiritual power is above the temporal and has the right to instruct (or establish–instituere) the latter regarding its highest end and to judge it when it does evil; whoever resists the highest power ordained of God resists God Himself. (5) It is necessary for salvation that all men should be subject to the Roman Pontiff–“Porro subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanæ creaturæ declaramus, dicimus, definimus et pronunciamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis”. (For a more detailed account of the Bull and several controversies concerning it see UNAM SANCTAM.)

Philip had a refutation of the Bull prepared by the Dominican Jean Quidort (Joannes Parisiensis) in his “Tractatus de potestate regiâ et papali” (Goldast, Monarchia, ii, 108 sq.), and the conflict passed at once from the domain of principle to the person of Boniface. The king now rejected the pope as arbiter in his disputes with England and Flanders, and gave a courteous but evasive answer to the Legate, Jean Lemoine, whom the pope sent (February, 1303) on a mission of peace, but with insistence, among other conditions, on recognition of the aforesaid rights of the papacy. Lemoine was further commissioned to declare to Philip that, in default of a more satisfactory reply to the twelve points of the papal letter, the pope would proceed spiritualiter et temporaliter against him, i.e., would excommunicate and depose him. Boniface also sent to Lemoine (13 Apr., 1303) two Briefs, in one of which he declared the king already excommunicated, and in the other ordered all French prelates to come to Rome within three months.

In the meantime there was brewing at Paris the storm in which the pontificate of Boniface was so disastrously to close. Philip concluded peace with England, temporized with the Flemings, and made concessions to his subjects. Boniface on his side acknowledged, as aforesaid, the election of Albert of Austria, and brought to an end his hopeless conflict with the Aragonese King of Sicily. Otherwise he seemed politically helpless, and could only trust, as he publicly stated, in his sense of right and duty. Later events showed that in his own household he could not count on loyalty. In an extraordinary session of the French Council of State (12 March, 1303) Guillaume de Nogaret appealed to Philip to protect the Holy Church against the intruder and false pope, Boniface, a simonist, robber, and heretic, maintaining that the king, moreover, ought to call an assembly of the prelates and peers of France, through whose efforts a general council might be convoked, before which he would prove his charges. Such an assembly was called for 13 June, and met at the Louvre in Paris. The papal messenger with the aforesaid Briefs for the legate was seized at Troyes and imprisoned; Lemoine himself, after protesting against such violence, fled. At this assembly, packed with friends or creatures of Philip, the knight Guillaume de Plaisians (Du Plessis) submitted a solemn accusation against the pope in twenty-nine points, offered to prove the same, and begged the king to provide for a general council. The Colonna furnished the material for these infamous charges, long since adjudged calumnious by grave historians (Hefele, Conciliengesch., 2nd ed., VI, 460-63; Giovanni Villani, a contemporary, says that the Council of Vienne, in 1312, formally absolved him from the charge of heresy. Cf. Muratori, “SS. Rer. Ital.”, XIV, 454; Raynaldus, ad an. 1312, 15-16). Scarcely any possible crime was omitted–infidelity, heresy, simony, gross and unnatural immorality, idolatry, magic, loss of the Holy Land, death of Celestine V, etc. The king asserted that it was only to satisfy his conscience and to protect the honour of the Holy See that he would co-operate in the calling of a general council, asked the help of the prelates, and appealed (against any possible action of Boniface) to the future council, the future pope, and to all to whom appeal could be made. Five archbishops, twenty-one bishops, and some abbots sided with the king. The resolutions of the assembly were read to the people, and several hundred adhesions were secured from chapters, monasteries, and provincial cities, mostly through violence and intimidation. The Abbot of Cîteaux, Jean de Pontoise, protested, but was imprisoned. Royal letters were sent to the princes of Europe, also to the cardinals and bishops, setting forth the king’s new-found zeal for the welfare of Holy Church.

In a public consistory at Anagni (August, 1303) Boniface cleared himself on his solemn oath of the charges brought against him at Paris and proceeded at once to protect the Apostolic authority. Citations before the Holy See were declared valid by the mere fact of being affixed to the church doors at the seat of the Roman Curia, and he excommunicated all who hindered such citations. He suspended Archbishop Gerhard of Nicosia (Cyprus), the first signatory of the schismatical resolutions. Pending satisfaction to the pope, the University of Paris lost the right to confer degrees in theology and in canon and civil law. He suspended temporarily for France the right of election in all ecclesiastical bodies, reserved to the Holy See all vacant French benefices, repelled as blasphemies the calumnious charges of de Plaisians, saying “Who ever heard that We were a heretic?” (Raynaldus, ad an. 1311, 40), and denounced the appeal to a future general council which could be convoked by none other than himself, the legitimate pope. He declared that unless the king repented he would inflict on him the severest punishments of the Church. The Bull “Super Petri solio” was ready for promulgation on 8 September. It contained in traditional form the solemn excommunication of the king and the liberation of his subjects from their oath of fidelity. Philip, however, and his counsellors had taken measures to rob this step of all force, or rather to prevent it at a decisive moment. It had long been their plan to seize the person of Boniface and compel him to abdicate, or, in case of his refusal, to bring him before a general council in France for condemnation and deposition. Since April, Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna had been active in Tuscany for the formation, at Philip’s expense, of a band of mercenaries, some 2,000 strong, horse and foot. Very early on the morning of 7 September the band appeared suddenly before Anagni, under the lilies of France, shouting, “Long live the King of France and Colonna!” Fellow-conspirators in the town admitted them, and they at once attacked the palaces of the pope and his nephew. The ungrateful citizens fraternized with the besiegers of the pope, who in the meanwhile obtained a truce until three in the afternoon, when he rejected the conditions of Sciarra, viz., restoration of the Colonna, abdication, and delivery to Sciarra of the pope’s person. About six o’clock, however, the papal stronghold was penetrated through the adjoining cathedral. The soldiers, Sciarra at their head, sword in hand (for he had sworn to slay Boniface), at once filled the hall in which the pope awaited them with five of his cardinals, among them his beloved nephew Francesco, all of whom soon fled; only a Spaniards, the Cardinal of Santa Sabina, remained at his side to the end.

In the meantime the papal palace was thoroughly plundered; even the archives were destroyed. Dino Compagni, the Florentine chronicler, relates that when Boniface saw that further resistance was useless he exclaimed, “Since I am betrayed like the Saviour, and my end is nigh, at least I shall die as Pope.” Thereupon he ascended his throne, clad in the pontifical ornaments, the tiara on his head, the keys in one hand, a cross in the other, held close to his breast. Thus he confronted the angry men-at-arms. It is said that Nogaret prevented Sciarra Colonna from killing the pope. Nogaret himself made known to Boniface the Paris resolutions and threatened to take him in chains to Lyons, where he should be deposed. Boniface looked down at him, some say without a word, others that he replied: “Here is my head, here is my neck; I will patiently bear that I, a Catholic and lawful pontiff and vicar of Christ, be condemned and deposed by the Paterini [heretics, in reference to the parents of the Tolosan Nogaret]; I desire to die for Christ’s faith and His Church.” Von Reumont asserts that there is no evidence for the physical maltreatment of the pope by Sciarra or Nogaret. Dante (Purgatorio, XX, 86) lays more stress on the moral violence, though his words easily convey the notion of physical wrong: “I see the flower-de-luce Anagni enter, and Christ in his own Vicar captive made; I see him yet another time derided; I see renewed the vinegar and gall, and between living thieves I see him slain.” Boniface was held three days a close prisoner in the plundered papal palace. No one cared to bring him food or drink, while the banditti quarrelled over his person, as over a valuable asset. By early morning of 9 September the burghers of Anagni had changed their minds, wearied perhaps of the presence of the soldiers, and ashamed that a pope, their townsman, should perish within their walls at the hands of the hated Francesi. They expelled Nogaret and his band, and confided Boniface to the care of the two Orsini cardinals, who had come from Rome with four hundred horsemen; with them he returned to Rome. Before leaving Anagni he pardoned several of the marauders captured by the townsmen, excepting the plunderers of Church property, unless they returned it within three days. He reached Rome, 13 Sept., but only to fall under the close surveillance of the Orsini. No one will wonder that his bold spirit now gave way beneath the weight of grief and melancholy. He died of a violent fever, 11 October, in full possession of his senses and in the presence of eight cardinals and the chief members of the papal household, after receiving the sacraments and making the usual profession of faith. His life seemed destined to close in gloom, for, on account of an unusually violent storm, he was buried, says an old chronicler, with less decency than became a pope. His body lies in the crypt of St. Peter’s in a large marble sarcophagus, laconically inscribed BONIFACIUS PAPA VIII. When his tomb was opened (9 Oct., 1605) the body was found quite intact, especially the shapely hands, thus disproving another calumny, viz., that he had died in a frenzy, gnawing his hands, beating his brains out against the wall, and the like (Wiseman).

Source: Catholic Encyclopedia

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