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Biography - Pope Boniface VIII - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Boniface VIII1294-1303 Benedict Gaetani born 1235 Boniface VIII was born at Anagni. He was successively canon of Todi, of Paris, of Lyons, and the Vatican Basilica, consistorial advocate, and apostolical prothonotary. On the 12th of April, 1281, he was created cardinal by Martin IV; then Nicholas IV named him cardinal-priest of Saints Sylvester and Martin. Martin IV, who knew him to be a man of talent, dexterity, and fidelity, sent him as legate Charles of Sicily, to prevent him from warring against the King of Aragon, and to keep the subjects of both kings in their devotion to the Roman court. He was afterwards sent with another cardinal to restore peace between King Philip of France and Edward of England, and to defend the rights of the Church in both countries. Nicholas IV deputed him, with other cardinals, to inquire into and arrange the differences between Denis, King of Portugal, and the clergy of that kingdom. After these many signal services Cardinal Gaetani was unanimously elected pope on the 24th of December, 1294, at Castel Nuovo, near the city of Naples, where the cardinals were assembled in conclave. After accepting the pontificate on the 2nd of January, 1295, he, in company with Charles II, King of Sicily, and Charle Martel, his son, King of Hungary, set out for Rome, where he was consecrated and crowned by Cardinal Matthew Roar Orsini, the first deacon, on the 16th of the month of January. When he went to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran he rode a magnificent palfrey, of which the two kings held bridle-reins. They also, wearing their crowns, presented him at table with the first two dishes, and then seated selves at the cardinals' table. The first cares of Boniface were directed to the pacification of Italy. He reduced Sicily to obedience to the Holy See, and he succeeded in restoring a sufficient concord between the kings of France and England. He dissuaded the king of the Romans from his intention of attacking France, and sought means to destroy all the factions that divided the Christian princes. New efforts were made to reunite the Greeks to the faith; and, finally, every effort was made to aid in the recovery of the Holy Land, from which the Catholics had been driven by the Mussulmans. At the conclusion of a peace between Charles II of Naples and the King of Aragon, Charles swore fidelity to Pope Boniface in the Church of Saint Sabina. In the year 1295 Boniface ordered the feasts of the Holy Evangelists and of the four Doctors of the Church—Gregory, Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome-to be celebrated as doubles. He ordered that at Rome there should be for the future a general academy of all the faculties. Boniface, perceiving that some princes oppressed the clergy with imposts, published, on the 21st of September, 1296, a bull, which he caused to be inserted in the sixth book the Decretals, to remedy that evil. The clauses of the bull were singularly softened for France, at the request of some of the prelates of the kingdom. The sixth book, entitled the Sexte, was printed at Mainz in 1465, folio. The bull in question is called Clericis laicos. In it the pope says: Antiquity shows us the enmity of laymen against the clergy, and our experience in the present time manifestly supports that teaching, since, without considering that they have no power over the persons or the property of ecclesiastics, the laity lay imposts upon the prelates and the clergy, both regular and secular; and we grieve to say that some prelates and other ecclesiastics, having more fear of the temporal majesty than of the eternal, acquiesce in that abuse. That we may obviate this, we order that all the prelates and ecclesiastics, regular or secular, who pay to the laymen tithes or any other portion of their revenues, under the name of aid, subvention, or any other, without the authority of the Holy See, and the kings, princes, and magistrates, and all others who shall impose such burdens, or who shall give aid and counsel thereto, shall incur excommunication, absolution from which is reserved to the Holy See, notwithstanding any privilege. Fleury adds: The aversion of the laity to the clergy, which the pope speaks of at the outset, goes back to no ancient date, for during the first five or six centuries the clergy attracted universal respect and affection by a charitable and disinterested conduct. Boniface, being at Orvieto on the 11th of August, 1297, canonized Louis IX, King of France, who died at Tunis on the 25th of August, 1270. He says: At length Boniface determined that King Louis should be included among the saints. He delivered two sermons upon the subject at Orvieto, the first in his palace, the Tuesday before Saint Laurence, that is to say, on the 6th of August, 1297, and in them summed up the proceedings preliminary to the canonization. Among other things he said: 'Pope Nicholas III affirmed that the virtues of that saint were so well known to him he would have canonized him if he had seen two or three miracles.' And again: 'The matter has been so often inquired into that the documents about it are more than an ass could carry.' Boniface delivered the other sermon in the church of the Friars Minor, in Orvieto, on the same day that he published the bull of canonization, which was the 11th of August. The bull, which is dated on the same day and addressed to all the bishops of France, gives an abridged life of the saint, with many of his miracles, and orders his feast to be celebrated on the anniversary of his death, the morrow of Saint Bartholomew, that is to say, the 25th of August. It was in the year 1297 that quarrels between the pope and the Colonna family began to appear. He confiscated their palace, condemned them as schismatics, compelled them to leave Rome, and took the purple from James and Peter, belonging to that illustrious family. The Colonnas had done evil to the Church. They had circulated a manifesto which affirmed that Celestine had no power to renounce the pontificate, and that Boniface, consequently, could not be legitimately elected. The two cardinals having appealed to the clemency of Boniface, he granted their pardon, released them from the interdict, and restored them to their dignity. Led away by bad advice, the two cardinals again revolted. Boniface again condemned them. But there was too much severity in the order to raze the town of Palestrina. At the same time it was astonishing that at that very moment Boniface published a constitution which, like one that had been published by Honorius III, punished all who sacrilegiously wronged the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. The Holy Father perceived that at the close of the century a great number of pilgrims arrived at Rome, because their fathers had told them that every hundred years, at the close of the century, they ought to visit the tomb of the apostles to acquire the benefits of the jubilee. In the year 1300, therefore, he did not institute, but renewed that plenary indulgence. He ordered the feast to be renewed every hundred years; Clement V ordered that it should be every fifty years; Urban VI, every thirty-three years; and, finally, Paul II ordered that it should take place every fifty years, which is the present arrangement, excepting some irremediable cause of prevention arise, as was the case in the year 1800. At the jubilee of the year 1300 there was an immense concourse of pilgrims. Boniface ordained that to obtain the benefits of the jubilee the Romans should visit Saint Peter's and Saint Paul's thirty times and the pilgrims only fifteen times. In 1301 the differences between Philip the Fair and the pope were still further envenomed because the pope confirmed the bull by which he forbade ecclesiastics to pay anything to laymen without the apostolical authorization. Philip then confirmed a former decree prohibiting the sending of any money to Rome. One of the king's partisans, William of Nogaret, a fiery magistrate, accused the pope of simony, magic, and atheism; and the bishops, theologians, and doctors who would not embrace the party of the king were exiled. Philip even went so far as to forbid all the prelates of his kingdom to attend a council about to be held in Italy. The pope, being at Rome on the 6th of November, is said to have published there the celebrated constitution, Unam Sanctam, in which, in order to re-establish the papal authority, oppressed by the councillors of the king, he declared it to be heretical to say that any Christian is not subject to the pope; and he excommunicated those who had prohibited the prelates from going to Rome. Neither at Rome nor elsewhere is the bull, Unam Sanctam, or In Coena Domini, any longer officially mentioned. In 1303 Boniface founded at Rome the university commonly known as the Sapienza. The usage of cloistering nuns was very ancient, as is proved by the fourth century, nevertheless it was not generally recognized. Boniface made it a law for all nuns in Christendom. In 1303 there were disturbances in Rome, and the pope deemed it prudent to retire to Anagni. But Sciarra Colonna, his irreconcilable enemy, and William of Nogaret, Philip's councillor, after corrupting some of the servants of the court and many of the principal inhabitants of the city, entered Rome at the head of armed men, shouting: Death to Pope Boniface! Long live the King of France! They then attacked the palace of the pontiff, and found him seated on his throne, in his pontifical attire, with the crown on his head, and holding in his hand the keys of the Church. It was Boniface who added to the tiara a second circle or crown. The unfortunate pope was abandoned by all his court, except the cardinals of Sabina, Peter of Spain, of Ostia, and Bonasini, who was his successor. The invaders pillaged the treasury, and left the pope, still clad as we have described, under the guard of some soldiers, after having insulted him. Nogaret even threatened to take him to France as a prisoner and to have him deposed by a general council. At that threat the magnanimous pontiff replied: We shall be well content to be deposed by Patarini [heretic Albigenses] such as you are, and such as were your father and mother, who were punished as such. Novaes says not a word about Sciarra Colonna having struck the pope in the face with his gauntlet. Feller thinks the blow was given. The Biographie Universelle says on the subject: Some historians add that Colonna carried his brutality so far as to strike the pope on the cheek with his gauntlet. Fortunately for the memory of Colonna, there is still some doubt as to this excess, which would have been dastardly as well as inhuman against an unarmed and aged man. After so cruel and ignoble an attack, the inhabitants of Anagni, who had not interfered, repented of their ingratitude to their compatriot and their sovereign, who had heaped benefits upon them. Suddenly, stimulated by the Cardinal Luca Fieschi, they rushed to arms, attacked the pope's enemies, who were few in number, put them to flight, and took prisoner Nogaret himself, whom the pope ordered to be treated gently. Hearing of that success, Boniface, with unheard-of clemency, set Nogaret at liberty, and he retired without suffering the penalty of his crime. The pope, finding himself free, determined to return to Rome. But he was so violently shocked by these insults and sacrileges that, thirty days after, on the 11th of October, 1303, he died from the excitement he had suffered. He had governed eight years, nine months, and eighteen days. Boniface was a man of remarkable qualities. He showed himself to be a consummate jurisconsult, a man of elevated ideas, and an intrepid conservator of the rights of the Church. So Saint Antoninus describes him. It was affirmed that, frenzied with grief, he had gnawed his own flesh; but on the 11th of October, 1605, three hundred years after his death, he was found in his tomb without the least sign of decomposition, and with the flesh entirely uninjured. This biographical data is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae.

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