Benedetto Caetani (Boniface VIII) elected Pope

Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1235 – October 11, 1303), born Benedetto Caetani, was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303.

Today, Boniface VIII is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in a circle of Hell in his Commedia, and King Philip IV of France.

Caetani was born in 1235 in Anagni, c. 50 kilometers southeast of Rome. He was the younger son of a minor noble family, the Caetani Family, and became a canon of the cathedral in Anagni in his teens. In 1252, when his uncle Peter Caetani became bishop of Todi, in Umbria, Benedetto went with him and began his legal studies there. Benedetto never forgot his roots in Todi, later describing the city as "the dwelling place of his early youth," the city which "nourished him while still of tender years," and as a place where he "held lasting memories". In 1260, Benedetto acquired a canonry in Todi, as well as the small nearby castle of Sismano. Later in life he repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Anagni, Todi, and his family.
In 1264, Benedetto became part of the Roman Curia where he served as secretary to Cardinal Simon of Brie on a mission to France. Similarly, he accompanied Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi to England (1265–1268) in order to suppress a rebellion by a group of barons against Henry III, the King of England. Upon Benedetto's return from England, there is an eight year period in which nothing is known about what occurred in his life. After this eight year period of uncertainty, Benedetto was sent to France to supervise the collection of a tithe in 1276 and then became a papal notary in the late 1270s. During this time, Benedetto accumulated seventeen benefices which he was permitted to keep when he was promoted, first to cardinal deacon in 1281 and then 10 years later as cardinal priest. As cardinal, he often served as papal legate in diplomatic negotiations with France, Naples, Sicily, and Aragon.
He was elected in December 24, 1294 after Pope Celestine V abdicated in December 13. There is a legend that it was Boniface VIII's doing that Celestine V renounced the papacy—for Boniface, previously Benedetto, convinced Celestine V that no person on the earth could go through life without sin. However, in later times, it is a more common understanding that Celestine V resigned by his own designs and Benedetto merely showed that it was allowed by Church law. Either way, Celestine V vacated the throne and Boniface VIII took his place as pope. One of his first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the Castle of Fumone in Ferentino, where he died at the age of 81, attended by two monks of his order. In 1300, Boniface VIII formalized the jubilees, which afterwards became a source of both profit and scandal to the church. Boniface VIII founded the University of Rome La Sapienza in 1303.
Boniface VIII put forward some of the strongest claims to temporal, as well as spiritual, supremacy of any Pope and constantly involved himself with foreign affairs. In his Bull of 1302, Unam Sanctam, Boniface VIII proclaimed that it "is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff", pushing papal supremacy to its historical extreme. These views and his intervention in "temporal" affairs led to many bitter quarrels with the Emperor Albert I of Habsburg (1291–1298), the powerful family of the Colonnas, with Philip IV of France (1285–1314) and with Dante Alighieri (who wrote De Monarchia to argue against it).
In the field of canon law Boniface VIII continues to have great influence. He published his 88 legal dicta known as the "Regulae Iuris" in 1298. This material must be well known and understood by canon lawyers or canonists today in order to interpret and analyze the canons and other forms of ecclesiastical law properly. The "Regulae Iuris" appear at the end of the so-called Liber Sextus (in VI°), promulgated by Boniface VIII and now published as one of the five Decretals in the Corpus Iuris Canonici. Other systems of law also have their own "Regulae Iuris" even by the same name or something serving a similar function.

Conflicts with Philip IV
The conflict between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France came at a time of expanding nation states and the desire for the consolidation of power by the increasingly powerful monarchs. The increase in monarchical power in the rising nation states and its conflicts with the Church of Rome were only exacerbated by the rise to power of Philip IV. In France, the process of centralizing royal power and developing a genuine national state began with the Capetian kings. During his reign, Philip surrounded himself with the best civil lawyers, and decidedly expelled the clergy from all participation in the administration of the law. With the clergy beginning to be taxed in Theri and England in order to finance their ongoing wars against each other, Boniface took a hard stand against it. He saw the taxation as an assault on traditional clerical rights, and ordered the bull Clericis laicos in February 1296, forbidding lay taxation of the clergy without prior papal approval. In the bull, Boniface states "they exact and demand from the same the half, tithe, or twentieth, or any other portion or proportion of their revenues or goods; and in many ways they try to bring them into slavery, and subject them to their authority. And also whatsoever emperors, kings, or princes, dukes, earls or barons...presume to take possession of things anywhere deposited in holy buildings...should incur sentence of excommunication." It was during the issuing of Clericis Laicos that hostilities between Boniface and Philip began. Philip retaliated against the bull by denying the exportation of money from France to Rome, funds that the Church required to operate. Boniface had no choice but to meet Philip's demands quickly by allowing taxation only "during an emergency".
After complications involving the capture of Bernard Saisset by Philip, the conflict was re-ignited. In December of 1301, Philip was sent the Papal Bull Ausculta fili ("Listen, My Son"), informing Philip that "God has set popes over kings and kingdoms."
The feud between the two reached its peak in the early 14th century when Philip began to launch a strong anti-papal campaign against Boniface. On November 18, 1302, Boniface issued one of the most important papal bulls of Catholic history: Unam sanctam. It declared that both spiritual and temporal power were under the pope's jurisdiction, and that kings were subordinate to the power of the Church.

The slap
In response, Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip's chief minister, denounced Boniface as a heretical criminal to the French clergy. In 1303, Philip and Nogaret were excommunicated. However, on September 7, 1303 an army led by Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna of the Colonna family surprised Boniface at his retreat in Anagni. The King and the Colonnas demanded that he resign, to which Boniface VIII responded that he would "sooner die". In response, Colonna hit Boniface, a "slap" that is still remembered in the local lore of Anagni.
Boniface was beaten badly and nearly executed but was released from captivity after three days. He died of Kidney stones and humiliation on October 11, 1303.There were rumors he had died of suicide from "gnawing through his own arm" and bashing his skull into a wall.

Posthumous trial
After the papacy had been removed to Avignon during the time of Pope Clement V in 1309, he consented to a post-mortem trial by an ecclesiastical consistory at Groseau, near Avignon, which held preliminary examinations in August and September of 1310.
A process (judicial investigation) against the memory of Boniface was held and collected testimonies that alleged many heretical opinions of Boniface VIII. This included the offence of sodomy, although there is little substantive evidence for this and it is more likely that this was the standard accusation Philip made against enemies.
Before the actual trial could be held, Clement persuaded Philip to leave the question of Boniface's guilt to the Council of Vienne, which met in 1311. When the council met, 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.

Burial and Exhumation

Boniface was buried in 1303 in a special chapel that also housed the remains for Pope Boniface IV. He chose to do this because of the fact that his predecessor was still alive and he was worried his own papacy would be thrown in doubt. In doing so he was trying to illustrate he was a legitimate pope and the "backing" of the popular Boniface IV. In 1606 he was exhumed and the results were recorded by Giacomo Grimaldi. He was buried within 3 coffins. The outermost was wood, the next was lead and the innermost was pine. His remains were described as being "Unusually tall" measuring at 7 palms when examined by doctors. He was wearing vestments common for his time. Long stockings covered his legs and thighs. He was also garbed with the maniple, soutain and pontifical habit made of black silk. A stole and chasuble along with rings and bejeweled gloves were also present. It was at the time his body was exhumed for examination that he was moved to the Chapels of Pope Gregory and Andrew. It is now located in the grottoes.

Born at Anagni about 1235; died at Rome, 11 October, 1303. He was the son of Loffred, a descendant of a noble family originally Spanish, but long established in Italy--first at Gaeta and later at Anagni. Through his mother he was connected with the house of Segni, which had already given three illustrious sons to the Church, Innocent III, Gregory IX, and Alexander IV. Benedetto had studied at Todi and at Spoleto in Italy, perhaps also at Paris, had obtained the doctorate in canon and civil law, and been made a canon successively at Anagni, Todi, Paris, Lyons, and Rome. In 1265 he accompanied Cardinal Ottobuono Fieschi to England, whither that prelate had been sent to restore harmony between Henry III and the rebellious barons. It was not until about 1276 that Gaetani entered upon his career in the Curia, where he was, for some years, actively engaged as consistorial advocate and notary Apostolic, and soon acquired considerable influence. Under Martin IV, in 1281, he was created Cardinal-Deacon of the title of S. Nicolò in carcere Tulliano, and ten years later, under Nicholas IV, Cardinal-Priest of the title of SS. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti. As papal legate he served with conspicuous ability in France and in Sicily (H. Finke, Aus den Tagen Bonifaz VIII, Münster, 1902, 1 sqq., 9 sqq.).
On the 13th of December, 1294, the saintly but wholly incompetent hermit-pope Celestine V, who five months previously, as Pietro di Murrhone, had been taken from his obscure mountain cave in the wilds of the Abruzzi and raised to the highest dignity in Christendom, resigned the intolerable burden of the papacy. The act was unprecedented and has been frequently ascribed to the undue influence and pressure of the designing Cardinal Gaetani. That the elevation of the inexperienced and simple-minded recluse did not commend itself to a man of the stamp of Gaetani, reputed the greatest jurist of his age and well-skilled in all the arts of curial diplomacy, is highly probable. But Boniface himself declared through Ægidius Colonna, that he had at first dissuaded Celestine from taking the step. And it has now been almost certainly established that the idea of resigning the papacy first originated in the mind of the sorely perplexed Celestine himself, and that the part played by Gaetani was at most that of a counsellor, strongly advising the pontiff to issue a constitution, either before or simultaneously with his abdication, declaring the legality of a papal resignation and the competency of the College of Cardinals to accept it. [See especially H. Schulz, Peter von Murrhone--Papst Celestin V--in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, xvii (1897), 481 sqq.; also Finke, op. cit., 39 sqq.; and R. Scholz, Die Publizistik zur Zeit Philipps des Schönen und Bonifaz VIII, Stuttgart, 1903, 3.] Ten days after Celestine the Fifth's gran rifuto the cardinals went into conclave in the Castel Nuovo at Naples, and on the 24th of December, 1294, by a majority of votes elected Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, who took the name of Boniface VIII. (For details of the election see Finke, op. cit., 44-54.) With the approval of the cardinals, the new pope immediately revoked (27 December, 1294) all the extraordinary favours and privileges which "in the fullness of his simplicity" Celestine V had distributed with such reckless prodigality. Then, early in January of the following year, in spite of the rigour of the season, Boniface set out for Rome, determined to remove the papacy as soon as possible from the influence of the Neapolitan court. The ceremony of his consecration and coronation was performed at Rome, 23 January, 1295, amid scenes of unparalleled splendour and magnificence. King Charles II of Naples and his son Charles Martel, titular king and claimant of Hungary, held the reins of his gorgeously accoutred snow-white palfrey as he proceeded on his way to St. John Lateran, and later, with their crowns upon their heads, served the pope with the first few dishes at table before taking their places amongst the cardinals. On the following day the pontiff issued his first encyclical letter, in which, after announcing Celestine's abdication and his own accession, he depicted in the most glowing terms the sublime and indefectible nature of the Church.
The unusual step taken by Celestine V had aroused much opposition, especially among the religious parties in Italy. In the hands of the Spirituals, or Fraticelli, and the Celestines--many of whom were not as guileless as their saintly founder--the former pontiff, if allowed to go free, might prove to be a dangerous instrument for the promotion of a schism in the Church. Boniface VIII, therefore, before leaving Naples, ordered Celestine V to be taken to Rome in the custody of the Abbot of Monte Cassino. On the way thither the saint escaped and returned to his hermitage near Sulmona. Apprehended again, he fled a second time, and after weary weeks of roaming through the woods of Apulia reached the sea and embarked on board a vessel about to sail for Dalmatia. But a storm cast the luckless fugitive ashore at Vieste in the Capitanata, where the authorities recognized and detained him. He was brought before Boniface in his palace at Anagni, kept in custody there for some time, and finally transferred to the strong Castle of Fumone at Ferentino. Here he remained until his death ten months later, 19 May, 1296. The detention of Celestine was a simple measure of prudence for which Boniface VIII deserves no censure; but the rigorous treatment to which the old man of over eighty years was subjected--whoever may have been responsible for it--will not be easily condoned. Of this treatment there can now no longer be any question. The place wherein Celestine was confined was so narrow "that the spot whereon the saint stood when saying Mass was the same as that whereon his head lay when he reclined" (quod, ubi tenebat pedes ille sanctus, dum missam diceret, ibi tenebat caput, quando quiescebat), and his two companions were frequently obliged to change places because the constraint and narrowness made them ill. (In this connexion see the very important and valuable paper "S. Pierre Célestin et ses premiers Biographes" in "Analecta Bolland.", XVI, 365-487; cf. Finke, op. cit., 267.)

Thoroughly imbued with the principles of his great and heroic predecessors, Gregory VII and Innocent III, the successor of Celestine V entertained most exalted notions on the subject of papal supremacy in ecclesiastical as well as in civil matters, and was ever most pronounced in the assertion of his claims. By his profound knowledge of the canons of the Church, his keen political instincts, great practical experience of life, and high talent for the conduct of affairs, Boniface VIII seemed exceptionally well qualified to maintain inviolate the rights and privileges of the papacy as they had been handed down to him. But he failed either to recognize the altered temper of the times, or to gauge accurately the strength of the forces arrayed against him; and when he attempted to exercise his supreme authority in temporal affairs as in spiritual, over princes and people, he met almost everywhere with a determined resistance. His aims of universal peace and Christian coalition against the Turks were not realized; and during the nine years of his troubled reign he scarcely ever achieved a decisive triumph. Though certainly one of the most remarkable pontiffs that have ever occupied the papal throne, Boniface VIII was also one of the most unfortunate. His pontificate marks in history the decline of the medieval power and glory of the papacy.
Boniface first endeavoured to settle the affiars of Sicily, which had been in a very distracted condition since the time of the Sicilian Vespers (1282). Two rivals claimed the island, Charles II, King of Naples, in right of his father Charles of Anjou, who had received it from Clement IV, and James II, King of Aragon, who derived his claims from the Hohenstaufen, through his mother Constance, the daughter of Manfred. James II had been crowned King of Sicily at Palermo in 1286, and had thereby incurred the sentence of excommunication for daring to usurp a fief of the Holy See. On his succession to the throne of Aragon, after the death of his brother Alfonso III, in 1291, James agreed to surrender Sicily to Charles II on condition that he should receive the latter's daughter, Blanche of Naples, in marriage, together with a dowry of 70,000 pounds of silver. Boniface VIII, as liege lord of the island, ratified this agreement 21 June, 1295, and further sought to reconcile the conflicting elements by restoring James II to peace with the Church, confirming him in his possession of Aragon, and granting him the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, which were fiefs of the Holy See, in compensation for the loss of Sicily. By these measures Boniface VIII merely adhered to the traditional policy of the papacy in dealing with Sicilian affairs; there is no evidence to show that, either before or shortly after his election, he had pledged himself in any way to recover Sicily for the House of Anjou. Sicily was not, however, pacified by this agreement between the pope and the kings of Aragon and Naples. Threatened with a renewal of the detested rule of the French, the inhabitants of that island asserted their independence, and offered the crown to Frederick, the younger brother of James II. In an interview with Frederick at Velletri, the pope sought to dissuade him from accepting the offer by holding out prospects of a succession to the throne of Constantinople and a marriage with Princess Catherine of Courtenay, granddaughter and heir of Baldwin II, the last Latin Emperor of the East. But the young prince would not be dissuaded. The papal legate was expelled from the island, and, against the protests of Boniface VIII, Frederick was crowned King of Sicily at Palermo, 25 March, 1296. He was at once excommunicated and the island placed under interdict. Neither the king nor his people paid any heed to the censures. At the instigation of the pope a war ensued, in which James of Aragon, as Captain-General of the Church, was compelled to take part against his own brother. The contest was brought to a close (1302) through the efforts of Prince Charles of Valois, whom the pope had called to his assistance in 1301. Frederick was to be absolved from the censures he had incurred, to marry Eleanora, younger daughter of Charles II, and to retain Sicily during his lifetime. After his death the island should revert to the King of Naples. Though frustrated in his hopes, Boniface VIII ratified the treaty 12 June, 1303, and agreed to recognize Frederick as vassal of the Holy See.

In the meantime Boniface VIII had directed his attention also to the north of Italy, where, during a period of forty years, the two rival republics of Venice and Genoa had been carrying on a bitter contest for commercial supremacy in the Levant. A crusade was wellnigh impossible without the active co-operation of these two powers. The pope, therefore, commanded a truce until 24 June, 1296, and ordered both the contestants to send ambassadors to Rome with a view to arranging terms of peace. The Venetians were inclined to accept his mediation; not so the Genoese, who were elated by their success. The war continued till 1299, when the two republics were obliged finally to conclude peace from sheer exhaustion, but even then the intervention of the pope was rejected.
The efforts made by Boniface VIII to restore order in Florence and Tuscany proved equally futile. During the closing years of the thirteenth century the great Guelph city was torn asunder by the violent dissensions of the Bianchi and the Neri. The Bianchi or Whites, of Ghibelline tendencies, represented the popular party and contained some of the most distinguished men in Florence--Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti, and Dino Compagni. The Neri or Blacks, professing the old Guelph principles, represented the nobles or aristocracy of the city. Each party as it gained the ascendancy sent its opponents into exile. After a vain attempt to reconcile the leaders of the two parties, Vieri dei Cerchi and Corso Donati, the pope sent Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta as papal legate to mediate and establish peace at Florence. The legate met with no success and soon returned to Rome leaving the city under an interdict. Towards the end of 1300, Boniface VIII summoned to his aid Charles of Valois, brother of Philip the Fair. Appointed Captain-General of Church and invested with the governorship of Tuscany (in consequence of the vacancy of the empire), the French prince was given full powers to effect the pacification of the city. Valois arrived at Florence on 1 November, 1301. But instead of acting as the official peacemaker of the pope, he conducted himself as a ruthless destroyer. After five months of his partisan administration, the Neri were supreme and many of the Bianchi exiled and ruined--among them Dante Alighieri. Beyond drawing on himself and the pope the bitter hatred of the Florentine people, Charles had accomplished nothing. (Levi, Bonifazio VIII e le sue relazioni col commune di Firenze, in Archiv. Soc. Rom. di Storia Patria, 1882, V, 365-474. Cf. Franchetti, Nuova Antologia, 1883, 23-38.) It may be noted here that many scholars of repute seriously question Dante's famous embassy to Boniface VIII in the latter part of 1301. The only contemporary evidence to support the poet's mission is a passage in Dino Compagni, and even that is looked upon by some as a later interpolation.
While thus endeavouring to promote peaceful relations between various states in Northern and Southern Italy, Boniface had himself become engaged in a desperate struggle at Rome with two rebellious members of the Sacred College, Jacopo Colonna and his nephew Pietro Colonna. The Colonna cardinals were Roman princes of the highest nobility and belonged to a powerful Italian family that had numerous palaces and strongholds in Rome and in the Campagna. The estrangement which took place between them and Boniface, early in 1297, was owing chiefly to two causes. Jacopo Colonna, upon whom the administration of the vast Colonna family possessions had been conferred, violated the rights of his brothers, Matteo, Ottone, and Landolfo, by appropriating the property rightfully belonging to them, and bestowing it on his nephews. To obtain redress they appealed to the pope, who decided in their favour, and repeatedly admonished the cardinal to deal justly with his brothers. But the cardinal and his nephews bitterly resented the pope's intervention and obstinately refused to abide by his decision. Moreover, the Colonna cardinals had seriously compromised themselves by maintaining highly treasonable relations with the political enemies of the pope--first with James II of Aragon, and later with Frederick III of Sicily. Repeated warnings against this alliance having availed nothing, Boniface, in the interests of his own security, ordered the Colonna to receive papal garrisons in Palestrina--the ancestral home of the family--and in their fortresses Zagarolo and Colona. This they declined to do and forthwith broke off all relations with the pope. On the 4th of May, 1297, Boniface summoned the cardinals to his presence, and when, two days later (6 May), they appeared, he commanded them to do three things: to restore the consignment of gold and silver which their relative Stefano Colonna had seized and robbed from the pope's nephew, Pietro Gaetani, as he was bringing it from Anagni to Rome; to deliver up Stefano as a prisoner to the pope; and to surrender Palestrina together with the fortresses Zagarolo and Colonna. They complied with the first of these demands, but rejected the other two. Thereupon Boniface on the 10th of May, 1297, issued a Bull "In excelso throno", depriving the rebellious cardinals of their dignities, pronouncing sentence of excommunication against them, and ordering them, within a space of ten days, to make their submission under penalty of forfeiting their property. On the morning of the same day (10 May) the Colonna had attached to the doors of several Roman churches, and even laid upon the high altar of St. Peter's, a manifesto, in which they declared the election of Boniface VIII invalid on the ground that the abdication of Celestine V was uncanonical, accused Boniface of circumventing his saintly predecessor, and appealed to a general council from whatever steps might be taken against them by the pope. This protest compiled at Longhezza, with the assistance of Fra Jacopone da Todi and of two other Spirituals, had somewhat anticipated the papal Bull, in answer to which, however, the Colonna issued the second manifesto (16 May) containing numerous charges against Boniface and appealing anew to a general council. The pope met this bold proceeding with increased severity. On the 23rd of May, 1297, a second Bull, "Lapis abscissus", confirmed the previous excommunication, and extended it to the five nephews of Jacopo with their heirs, declared them schismatics, disgraced, their property forfeited, and threatened with the interdict all such places as received them. Boniface at the same time pointed out how the Colonna cardinals had themselves favoured his election (in the conclave they had voted for Gaetani from the first, as they had been among those who counselled Celestine's abdication), had publicly acknowledged him as pope, attended his coronation, entertained him as their guest at Zagarolo, taken part in his consistories, signed all state documents with him, and had for nearly three years been his faithful ministers at the altar. The rebels replied with a third manifesto (15 June), and immediately set about preparing their fortresses for defense.