When Gregory X came to the papacy in 1271 the Church was again at the summit of her power. He was a Christian as well as a pope: a man of peace and amity, seeking justice rather than victory. Hoping to regain Palestine by one united effort, he persuaded Venice, Genoa, and Bologna to end their wars; he secured the election of Rudolf of Hapsburg as Emperor, but soothed with courtesy and kindness the defeated candidates; and he reconciled Guelf and Ghibelline in factious Florence and Siena, saying to his Guelf supporters: “Your enemies are Ghibellines, but they are also men, citizens, and Christians.”93 He summoned the prelates of the Church to the Council of Lyons (1274); 1570 leading churchmen came; every great state sent a representative; the Greek emperor sent the heads of the Greek Church to reaffirm its submission to the Roman See; Latin and Greek churchmen sang together a Te Deum of joy. Bishops were invited to list the abuses that needed reform in the Church; they responded with startling candor;94 and legislation was passed to mitigate these evils. All Europe was magnificently united for a mighty effort against the Saracens. But on the way back to Rome Gregory died (1276). His successors were too busy with Italian politics to carry out his plans.

Nevertheless when Boniface VIII was chosen pope in 1294 the papacy was still the strongest government in Europe, the best organized, the best administered, the richest in revenue. It was the misfortune of the Church that at this juncture, nearing the end of a virile and progressive century, the mightiest throne in Christendom should have fallen to a man whose love of the Church, and sincerity of purpose, were equaled by his imperfect morals, his personal pride, and his tactless will to power. He was not without charm: he loved learning, and rivaled Innocent III in legal training and wide culture; he founded the University of Rome, and restored and extended the Vatican Library; he gave commissions to Giotto and Arnolfo di Cambio, and helped finance the amazing façade of Orvieto Cathedral.

He had prepared his own elevation by persuading the saintly but incompetent Celestine V to resign after a pontificate of five months—an unprecedented act that surrounded Boniface with ill will from the start. To scotch all plans for a restoration, he ordered the eighty-year-old Celestine to be kept in detention in Rome; Celestine escaped, was captured, escaped again, wandered for weeks through Apulia, reached the Adriatic, attempted a crossing to Dalmatia, was wrecked, was cast ashore in Italy, and was brought before Boniface. He was condemned by the Pope to imprisonment in a narrow cell at Ferentino; and there, ten months later, he died (1296).95

The temper of the new Pope was sharpened by a succession of diplomatic defeats and costly victories. He tried to dissuade Frederick of Aragon from accepting the throne of Sicily; when Frederick persisted Boniface excommunicated him, and laid an interdict upon the island (1296). Neither King nor people paid any heed to these censures;96 and in the end Boniface recognized Frederick. To prepare for a crusade he ordered Venice and Genoa to sign a truce; they continued their war for three years more, and rejected his intervention in making peace. Failing to secure a favorable order in Florence, he placed the city under interdict, and invited Charles of Valois to enter and pacify Italy (1300). Charles accomplished nothing, but won the hatred of the Florentines for himself and the Pope. Seeking peace in his own Papal States, Boniface had attempted to settle a quarrel among the members of the powerful Colonna family; Pietro and Jacopo Colonna, both cardinals, repudiated his suggestions; he deposed and excommunicated them (1297); whereupon the rebellious nobles affixed to the doors of Roman churches, and laid upon the altar of St. Peter’s, a manifesto appealing from the Pope to a general council. Boniface repeated the excommunication, extended it to five other rebels, ordered their property confiscated, invaded the Colonna domain with papal troops, captured its fortresses, razed Palestrina to the ground, and had salt strewn over its ruins. The rebels surrendered, were forgiven, revolted again, were again beaten by the warrior Pope, fled from the Papal States, and planned revenge.

Amid these Italian tribulations Boniface was suddenly confronted by a major crisis in France. Philip IV, resolved to unify his realm, had seized the English province of Gascony; Edward I had declared war (1294); now, to finance their struggle, both kings decided to tax the property and personnel of the Church. The popes had permitted such taxation for crusades, but never for a purely secular war. The French clergy had recognized their duty of contributing to the defense of the state that protected their possessions, but they feared that if the power of the state to tax were unchecked, it would be a power to destroy. Philip had already reduced the role of the clergy in France; he had removed them from the manorial and royal courts, and from their old posts in the administration of the government and in the council of the king. Disturbed by this trend, the Cistercian Order refused to send Philip the fifth of their revenues which he had asked for the war with England, and its head addressed an appeal to the Pope. Boniface had to move carefully, for France had long been the chief support of the papacy in the struggle with Germany and the Empire; but he felt that the economic basis of the power and freedom of the Church would soon be lost if she could be shorn of her revenues by state taxation of Church property without papal consent. In February, 1296, he issued one of the most famous bulls in ecclesiastical history. Its first words, Clericis laicos, gave it a name, its first sentence made an unwise admission, and its tone recalled the papal bolts of Gregory VII:

Antiquity reports that laymen are exceedingly hostile to the clergy; and our experience certainly shows this to be true at present…. With the counsel of our brethren, and by our apostolic authority, we decree that if any clergy … shall pay to laymen… any part of their income or possessions … without the permission of the pope, they shall incur excommunication… And we also decree that all persons of whatever power or rank, who shall demand or receive such taxes, or shall seize or cause to be seized, the property of churches or of the clergy … shall incur excommunication.97

Philip for his part was convinced that the great wealth of the Church in France should share in the costs of the state. He countered the papal bull by prohibiting the export of gold, silver, precious stones, or food, and by forbidding foreign merchants or emissaries to remain in France. These measures blocked a main source of papal revenue, and banished from France the papal agents who were raising funds for a crusade in the East. In the bull Ineffabilis amor (September, 1296) Boniface retreated; he sanctioned voluntary contributions from the clergy for the necessary defense of the state, and conceded the right of the King to be the judge of such a necessity. Philip rescinded his retaliatory ordinances; he and Edward accepted Boniface—not as pope but as a private person—as arbitrator of their dispute; Boniface decided most of the issues in Philip’s favor; England yielded for the moment; and the three warriors enjoyed a passing peace.

Perhaps to replenish the papal treasury after the decline of receipts from England and France, perhaps to finance a war for the recovery of Sicily as a papal fief, and another war to extend the Papal States into Tuscany,98 Boniface proclaimed 1300 as a jubilee year. The plan was a complete success. Rome had never in its history seen such crowds before; now, apparently for the first time, traffic rules were enforced to govern the movement of the people.99 Boniface and his aides managed the affair well; food was brought in abundantly and was sold at moderate prices papally controlled. It was an advantage for the Pope that the great sums so collected were not earmarked for any special purpose, but could be used according to his judgment. Despite half victories and severe defeats, Boniface was now at the crest of his curve.

In the meantime, however, the Colonna exiles were entertaining Philip with tales of the Pope’s greed, injustice, and private heresies. A quarrel arose between Philip’s aides and a papal legate, Bernard Saisset; the legate was arrested on a charge of inciting to insurrection; he was tried by the royal court, convicted, and committed to the custody of the archbishop of Narbonne (1301). Boniface, shocked by this summary treatment of his legate, demanded Saisset’s immediate release, and instructed the French clergy to suspend payment of ecclesiastical revenues to the state. In the bull Ausculta fili (“Listen, son”; December, 1301) he appealed to Philip to listen modestly to the Vicar of Christ as the spiritual monarch over all the kings of the earth; he protested against the trial of a churchman before a civil court, and the continued use of ecclesiastical funds for secular purposes; and he announced that he would summon the bishops and abbots of France to take measures “for the preservation of the liberties of the Church, the reformation of the kingdom, and the amendment of the King.”100 When this bull was presented to Philip, the count of Artois snatched it from the hands of the Pope’s emissary and flung it into the fire; and a copy destined for publication by the French clergy was suppressed. Passion was inflamed on both sides by the circulation of two spurious documents, one allegedly from Boniface to Philip demanding obedience even in temporal affairs, the other from Philip to Boniface informing “thy very great fatuity that in temporal things we are subject to no one”; and these forgeries were widely accepted as genuine.101

On February 11, 1302, the bull Ausculta fili was officially burned at Paris before the King and a great multitude. To forestall the ecclesiastical council proposed by Boniface, Philip summoned the three estates of his realm to meet at Paris in April. At this first States-General in French history all three classes —nobles, clergy, and commons—wrote separately to Rome in defense of the King and his temporal power. Some forty-five French prelates, despite Philip’s prohibition, and the confiscation of their property, attended the council at Rome in October, 1302. From that council issued the bull Unam sanctam, which made arrestingly specific the claims of the papacy. There is, said the bull, but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; there is but one body of Christ, with one head, not two; that head is Christ and His representative, the Roman pope. There are two swords or powers—the spiritual and the temporal; the first is borne by the Church; the second is borne for the Church by the king, but under the will and sufferance of the priest. The spiritual power is above the temporal, and has the right to instruct it regarding its highest end, and to judge it when it does evil. “We declare and define and pronounce,” concluded the bull, “that it is necessary for salvation that all men should be subject to the Roman pontiff.”102

Philip replied by calling two assemblies (March and June, 1303), which drew up a formal indictment of Boniface as a tyrant, sorcerer, murderer, embezzler, adulterer, sodomite, simoniac, idolator, and infidel,103 and demanded his deposition by a general council of the Church. The King commissioned William of Nogaret, his chief legist, to go to Rome and notify the Pope of the King’s appeal to a general council. Boniface, then in the papal palace at Anagni, declared that only the pope could call a general council, and prepared a decree excommunicating Philip and laying an interdict upon France. Before he could issue it William of Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna, heading a band of 2000 mercenaries, burst into the palace, presented Philip’s message of notification, and demanded the Pope’s resignation (September 7, 1303). Boniface refused. A tradition “of considerable trustworthiness”104 says that Sciarra struck the Pontiff in the face, and would have killed him had not Nogaret intervened. Boniface was seventy-five years old, physically weak, but still defiant. For three days he was kept a prisoner in his palace, while the mercenaries plundered it. Then the people of Anagni, reinforced by 400 horsemen from the Orsini clan, scattered the mercenaries and freed the Pope. Apparently his jailers had given him no food in the three days; for standing in the market place he begged: “If there be any good woman who would give me an alms of wine and bread, I would bestow upon her God’s blessing and mine.” The Orsini led him to Rome and the Vatican. There he fell into a violent fever; and in a few days he died (October 11, 1303).

His successor, Benedict XI (1303–4), excommunicated Nogaret, Sciarra Colonna, and thirteen others whom he had seen breaking into the palace at Anagni. A month later Benedict died at Perugia, apparently poisoned by Italian Ghibellines.105 Philip agreed to support Bertrand de Got, Archbishop of Bordeaux, for the papacy if he would adopt a conciliatory policy, absolve those who had been excommunicated for the attack upon Boniface, allow an annual income tax of ten per cent to be levied upon the French clergy for five years, restore the Colonnas to their offices and property, and condemn the memory of Boniface.106 We do not know how far Bertrand consented. He was chosen Pope, and took the name of Clement V (1305). The cardinals warned him that his life would be unsafe in Rome; and after some hesitation, and perhaps a pointed suggestion from Philip, Clement removed the papal seat to Avignon, on the east bank of the Rhone just outside the southeastern boundary of France (1309). So began the sixty-eight years of the “Babylonian Captivity” of the popes. The papacy had freed itself from Germany, and surrendered to France.

Clement, against his weak will, became the humiliated tool of the insatiable Philip. He absolved the King, restored the Colonna family, withdrew the bull Clericis laicos, allowed the spoliation of the Templars, and finally (1310) consented to a post-mortem trial of Boniface by an ecclesiastical consistory at Groseau, near Avignon. In the preliminary examinations held before the Pope and his commissioners, six ecclesiastics testified to having heard Boniface, a year before his pontificate, remark that all supposedly divine laws were inventions of men to keep the common people in good behavior through fear of hell; that it was “fatuous” to believe that God was at once one and three, or that a virgin had borne a child, or that God had become a man, or that bread could be changed into the body of Christ, or that there was a future life. “So I believe and so I hold, as doth every educated man. The vulgar hold otherwise. We must speak as the vulgar do, and think and believe with the few.” So these six quoted Boniface, and three of them, later re-examined, repeated their testimony. The Prior of St. Giles at San Gemino reported that Boniface, as Cardinal Gaetani, had denied the resurrection of either body or soul; and several other ecclesiastics confirmed this testimony. One ecclesiastic quoted Boniface as saying, of the consecrated Host, “It is mere paste.” Men formerly belonging to the household of Boniface accused him of repeated sexual sins, natural and unnatural; others accused the supposed skeptic of attempting magical communication with the “powers of darkness.”107

Before the actual trial could be held, Clement persuaded Philip to leave the question of Boniface’s guilt to the coming ecumenical Council of Vienne. When that Council met (1311), three cardinals appeared before it and testified to the orthodoxy and morality of the dead Pope; two knights, as challengers, threw down their gauntlets to maintain his innocence by wager of battle; no one accepted the challenge; and the Council declared the matter closed.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!