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The humiliation of Boniface (a certain writer relates that Boniface fell into a rage and, after gnawing his staff and striking his head against the wall, hanged himself) was the long-delayed penalty of the sacerdotal pride of his predecessors and himself. He suffered in part for the hierarchical arrogance of which he was the heir and in part for his own. presumption. Villani and other contemporaries represent the pope’s latter end as a deserved punishment for his unblushing nepotism, his pompous pride, and his implacable severity toward those who dared to resist his plans, and for his treatment of the feeble hermit who preceded him. One of the chroniclers reports that seamen plying near the Liparian islands, the reputed entrance to hell, heard evil spirits rejoicing and exclaiming, “Open, open; receive pope Boniface into the infernal regions.” 

Catholic historians like Hergenrother and Kirsch, bound to the ideals of the past, make a brave attempt to defend Boniface, though they do not overlook his want of tact and his coarse violence of speech. It is certain, says Cardinal Hergenrother, that Boniface was not ruled by unworthy motives and that he did not deviate from the paths of his predecessors or overstep the legal conceptions of the Middle Ages. Finke, also a Catholic historian, the latest learned investigator of the character and career of Boniface, acknowledges the pope’s intellectual ability, but also emphasizes his pride and arrogance, his depreciation of other men, his disagreeable spirit and manner, which left him without a personal friend, his nepotism and his avarice. He hoped, said a contemporary, to live till “all his enemies were suppressed.” 

In strong contrast to the common judgment of Catholic historians is the sentence passed by Gregorovius. “Boniface was devoid of every apostolic virtue, a man of passionate temper, violent, faithless, unscrupulous, unforgiving, filled with ambitions and lust of worldly power.” And this will be the judgment of those who feel no obligation to defend the papal institution. 

In the humiliation of Boniface VIII, the state gained a signal victory over the papacy. The proposition, that the papal pretension to supremacy over the temporal power is inconsistent with the rights of man and untaught by the law of God, was about to be defended in bold writings coming from the pens of lawyers and poets in France and Italy and, a half century later, by Wycliffe. These advocates of the sovereign independence of the state in its own domain were the real descendants of those jurisconsults who, on the plain of Roncaglia, advocated the same theory in the hearing of Frederick of Barbarossa. Two hundred years after the conflict between Boniface and Philip the Fair, Luther was to fight the battle for the spiritual sovereignty of the individual man. These two principles, set aside by the priestly pride and theological misunderstanding of the Middle Ages, belong to the foundation of modern civilization (of course, we take issue with the remark that Luther was to fight the battle for the spiritual sovereignty of the individual man. Luther did not fight for the individual man, but for the True Church of God in Christ. The statement which we criticize can stand if the emphasis be laid upon the word “spiritual,” and also if we bear in mind that the “individual man” is the man in Christ Jesus.—H.V.).

BONIFACE’S BULL, UNAM SANCTAM 

The great importance of Boniface’s bull, Unam Sanctam, issued against Philip the Fair, Nov. 18, 1302, justifies its reproduction both in translation and the original Latin. It has rank among the most notorious deliverances of the popes and is as full of errors as was Innocent VIII’s bull issued in 1484 against witchcraft. It presents the theory of the supremacy of the spiritual power over the temporal, the authority of the papacy over princes, in its extreme form. The following, in quotation marks, is a literal copy of this famous document by Boniface VIII. 

“Boniface, Bishop, Servant of the servants of God. For perpetual remembrance:— 

“Urged on by our faith, we are obliged to believe and hold that there is one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. And we firmly believe and profess that outside of her there is no salvation nor remission of sins, as the bridegroom’ declares in the Canticles, ‘My dove, my undefiled, is but one; she is the only one of her mother; she is the choice one of her that bare her.’ And this represents the one mystical body of Christ, and of this body Christ is the head, and God is the head of Christ. In it there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. For in the time of the Flood there was the single ark of Noah, which prefigures the one Church, and it was finished according to the measure of one cubit and had one Noah for pilot and captain, and outside of it every living creature on earth, as we read, was destroyed. And this Church we revere as the only one, even as the Lord saith by the prophet, ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.’ He prayed for his soul, that is, for himself, head and body. And this body he called one body, that is, the Church, because of the single bridegroom, the unity of the faith, the sacraments, and the love of the Church. She is that seamless skirt of the Lord which was not rent but was allotted by the casting of lots. Therefore, this one and single Church has one head and not two heads,—for had she two heads, she would be a monster,—that is Christ and Christ’s vicar, Peter and Peter’s successor. For the Lord said unto Peter, ‘Feed my sheep.’ ‘My,’ he said, speaking in generally and not particularly, ‘these and those,’ by which it is to be understood that all the sheep are committed to him. So, when the Greeks or others say that they were not committed to the care of Peter and his successors, they must confess that they are not of Christ’s sheep, even as the Lord says in John, ‘There is one fold and one shepherd.’ 

“That in her and within her power are two swords, we are taught in the Gospels, namely, the spiritual sword and the temporal sword. For when the Apostles said, ‘Lo, here,’—that is, in the Church,—are two swords, the Lord did not reply to the Apostles ‘it is too much,’ but ‘it is enough.’ It is certain that whoever denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter, hearkens ill to the words of the Lord which he spake, ‘Put up thy sword into its sheath.’ Therefore, both are in the power of the Church, namely, the spiritual sword and the temporal sword; the latter is to be used for the Church, the former by the Church; the former by the hand of the priest, the latter by the hand of princes and kings, but at the nod and sufferance of the priest. The one sword must of necessity be subject to the other, and the temporal authority to the spiritual. For the Apostle said, ‘There is no power but of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God’; and they would not have been ordained unless one sword had been made subject to the other, and even as the lower is subjected by the other for higher things. For, according to Dionysius, it is a divine law that the lowest things are made by mediocre things to attain to the highest. For it is not according to the law of the universe that all things in an equal way and immediately should reach their end, but the lowest through the mediocre, the lower through the higher. But that the spiritual power excels the earthly power in dignity and worth, we will the more clearly acknowledge just in proportion as the spiritual is higher than the temporal. And this we perceive quite distinctly from the donation of the tithe and functions of benediction and sanctification, from the mode in which the power was received, and the government of the subjected realms. For truth being the witness, the spiritual power has the functions of establishing the temporal power and sitting in judgment on it if it should prove to be not good. And to the Church and the Church’s power the prophecy of Jeremiah attests: ‘See, I have set thee this day over the nations and kingdoms to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’ 

“And if the earthly power deviate from the right path, it is judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power deviate from the right path, the lower in rank is judged by its superior; but if the supreme power (the papacy) deviate, it can be judged not by man but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, ‘He which is spiritual judges all things, but he himself, is judged by no man.’ But this authority, although it be given to a man, and though it be exercised by a man, is not a human but a divine power given by divine word of mouth to Peter and confirmed to Peter and to his successors by Christ himself, whom Peter confessed, even him whom Christ called the Rock. For the Lord said to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, etc.’ Whoever, therefore, resists this power so ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God, unless perchance he imagines two principles to exist, as did Manichaeus, which we pronounce false and heretical. For Moses testified that God created heaven and earth not in the beginnings but ‘in the beginning.’ 

“Furthermore, that every human creature is subject to the Roman pontiff,—this we declare, say, define, and pronounce to be altogether necessary to salvation.”—end of quote of this bull. 

The most astounding clause of this deliverance makes subjection to the pope an essential of salvation for every creature. Some writers have made the bold attempt to relieve the language of this construction, and refer it to princes and kings. So fair and sound a Roman Catholic writer as Funk has advocated this interpretation, alleging in its favor the close connection of the clause with the previous statements through the particle porro, furthermore, and the consideration that the French people would not have resented the assertion that obedience to the papacy is a condition of salvation. But the overwhelming majority of Catholic historians take the words in their natural meaning. The expression “every human creature” would be a most unlikely one to be used as synonymous with temporal rulers; Boniface made the same assertion in a letter to the duke of Savoy, 1300, when he demanded submission for every mortal,—omnia anima. Egidius Colonna paraphrased the bull in these words, “the supreme pontiff is that authority to which every soul must yield subjection.” That the mediaeval Church accepted this construction is vouched for by the Fifth Lateran Council, 1516, which, in reaffirming the bull, declared “it necessary to salvation that all the faithful of Christ be subject to the Roman pontif” (and this surely lies in the nature of the case. Is not Peter the representative of Christ upon earth? Did not the Lord bestow the keys of the Kingdom upon Peter? Are not the popes the successors of the apostle Peter? And does it not lie in the very nature of the case that the same obedience and submission which we owe the Lord Jesus Christ must also be bestowed upon His representatives in His Church upon earth? The Roman Catholic doctrine surely demands that submission to the pope is an indispensable condition to salvation. This can hardly be denied.—H.V.). 

H.V.