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§ 3. Pope Boniface VIII. 1294–1303.

The pious but weak and incapable hermit of Murrhone, Coelestine V., who abdicated the papal office, was followed by Benedict Gaetani,—or Cajetan, the name of an ancient family of Latin counts,—known in history as Boniface VIII. At the time of his election he was on the verge of fourscore,22    Drumann, p. 4, Gregorovius, etc. Setting aside the testimony of the contemporary Ferretus of Vicenza, and on the ground that it would be well-nigh impossible for a man of Boniface’s talent to remain in an inferior position till he was sixty, when he was made cardinal, Finke, p. 3 sq., makes Boniface fifteen years younger when he assumed the papacy. but like Gregory IX. he was still in the full vigor of a strong intellect and will. If Coelestine had the reputation of a saint, Boniface was a politician, overbearing, implacable, destitute of spiritual ideals, and controlled by blind and insatiable lust of power.

Born at Anagni, Boniface probably studied canon law, in which he was an expert, in Rome.33    Not at Paris, as Bulaeus, without sufficient authority, states. See Finke, p. 6. He was made cardinal in 1281, and represented the papal see in France and England as legate. In an address at a council in Paris, assembled to arrange for a new crusade, he reminded the mendicant monks that he and they were called not to court glory or learning, but to secure the salvation of their souls.44    Finke discovered this document and gives it pp. iii-vii.

Boniface’s election as pope occurred at Castel Nuovo, near Naples, Dec. 24, 1294, the conclave having convened the day before. The election was not popular, and a few days later, when a report reached Naples that Boniface was dead, the people celebrated the event with great jubilation. The pontiff was accompanied on his way to Rome by Charles II. of Naples.55    There is no doubt about the manifestation of popular joy over the rumor of the pope’s death. Finke, p. 46. At the announcement of the election, the people are said to have cried out, "Boniface is a heretic, bad all through, and has in him nothing that is Christian."

The coronation was celebrated amid festivities of unusual splendor. On his way to the Lateran, Boniface rode on a white palfrey, a crown on his head, and robed in full pontificals. Two sovereigns walked by his side, the kings of Naples and Hungary. The Orsini, the Colonna, the Savelli, the Conti and representatives of other noble Roman families followed in a body . The procession had difficulty in forcing its way through the kneeling crowds of spectators. But, as if an omen of the coming misfortunes of the new pope, a furious storm burst over the city while the solemnities were in progress and extinguished every lamp and torch in the church. The following day the pope dined in the Lateran, the two kings waiting behind his chair.

While these brilliant ceremonies were going on, Peter of Murrhone was a fugitive. Not willing to risk the possible rivalry of an anti-pope, Boniface confined his unfortunate predecessor in prison, where he soon died. The cause of his death was a matter of uncertainty. The Coelestine party ascribed it to Boniface, and exhibited a nail which they declared the unscrupulous pope had ordered driven into Coelestine’s head.

With Boniface VIII. began the decline of the papacy. He found it at the height of its power. He died leaving it humbled and in subjection to France. He sought to rule in the proud, dominating spirit of Gregory VII. and Innocent III.; but he was arrogant without being strong, bold without being sagacious, high-spirited without possessing the wisdom to discern the signs of the times.66    Gregorovius, V. 597, calls Boniface "an unfortunate reminiscence" of the great popes. The times had changed. Boniface made no allowance for the new spirit of nationality which had been developed during the crusading campaigns in the East, and which entered into conflict with the old theocratic ideal of Rome. France, now in possession of the remaining lands of the counts of Toulouse, was in no mood to listen to the dictation of the power across the Alps. Striving to maintain the fictitious theory of papal rights, and fighting against the spirit of the new age, Boniface lost the prestige the Apostolic See had enjoyed for two centuries, and died of mortification over the indignities heaped upon him by France.

French enemies went so far as to charge Boniface with downright infidelity and the denial of the soul’s immortality. The charges were a slander, but they show the reduced confidence which the papal office inspired. Dante, who visited Rome during Boniface’s pontificate, bitterly pursues him in all parts of the Divina Commedia. He pronounced him "the prince of modern Pharisees," a usurper "who turned the Vatican hill into a common sewer of corruption." The poet assigned the pope a place with Nicholas III. and Clement V. among the simoniacs in "that most afflicted shade," one of the lowest circles of hell.77    "Where Simon Magus hath his curst abode
   To depths profounder thrusting Boniface." —Paradiso, xxx. 147 sq.
Its floor was perforated with holes into which the heads of these popes were thrust.

"The soles of every one in flames were wrapt —88    Inferno, xix. 45 sq. 118.

... whose upper parts are thrust below

Fixt like a stake, most wretched soul

* * * * * * * * *

Quivering in air his tortured feet were seen."

Contemporaries comprehended Boniface’s reign in the description, "He came in like a fox, he reigned like a lion, and he died like a dog, intravit ut vulpes, regnavit ut leo, mortuus est sicut canis.

In his attempt to control the affairs of European states, he met with less success than failure, and in Philip the Fair of France he found his match.

In Sicily, he failed to carry out his plans to secure the transfer of the realm from the house of Aragon to the king of Naples.

In Rome, he incurred the bitter enmity of the proud and powerful family of the Colonna, by attempting to dictate the disposition of the family estates. Two of the Colonna, James and Peter, who were cardinals, had been friends of Coelestine, and supporters of that pope gathered around them. Of their number was Jacopone da Todi, the author of the Stabat Mater, who wrote a number of satirical pieces against Boniface. Resenting the pope’s interference in their private matters, the Colonna issued a memorial, pronouncing Coelestine’s abdication and the election of Boniface illegal.99    Dupuy, pp. 225-227. It exposed the haughtiness of Boniface, and represented him as boasting that he was supreme over kings and kingdoms, even in temporal affairs, and that he was governed by no law other than his own will.1010    Super reges et regna in temporalibus etiam presidere se glorians, etc., Scholz, p. 338. The document was placarded on the churches and a copy left in St. Peter’s. In 1297 Boniface deprived the Colonna of their dignity, excommunicated them, and proclaimed a crusade against them. The two cardinals appealed to a general council, the resort in the next centuries of so many who found themselves out of accord with the papal plans. Their strongholds fell one after another. The last of them, Palestrina, had a melancholy fate. The two cardinals with ropes around their necks threw themselves at the pope’s feet and secured his pardon, but their estates were confiscated and bestowed upon the pope’s nephews and the Orsini. The Colonna family recovered in time to reap a bitter vengeance upon their insatiable enemy.

The German emperor, Albrecht, Boniface succeeded in bringing to an abject submission. The German envoys were received by the haughty pontiff seated on a throne with a crown upon his head and sword in his hand, and exclaiming, "I, I am the emperor." Albrecht accepted his crown as a gift, and acknowledged that the empire had been transferred from the Greeks to the Germans by the pope, and that the electors owed the right of election to the Apostolic See.

In England, Boniface met with sharp resistance. Edward I., 1272–1307, was on the throne. The pope attempted to prevent him from holding the crown of Scotland, claiming it as a papal fief from remote antiquity.1111    Tytler, Hist. of Scotland, I. 70 sqq. The English parliament, 1301, gave a prompt and spirited reply. The English king was under no obligation to the papal see for his temporal acts.1212    Edward removed from Scone to Westminster the sacred stone on which Scotch kings had been consecrated, and which, according to the legend, was the pillow on which Jacob rested at Bethel. The dispute went no further. The conflict between Boniface and France is reserved for more prolonged treatment.

An important and picturesque event of Boniface’s pontificate was the Jubilee Year, celebrated in 1300. It was a fortunate conception, adapted to attract throngs of pilgrims to Rome and fill the papal treasury. An old man of 107 years of age, so the story ran, travelled from Savoy to Rome, and told how his father had taken him to attend a Jubilee in the year 1200 and exhorted him to visit it on its recurrence a century after. Interesting as the story is, the Jubilee celebration of 1300 seems to have been the first of its kind.1313    So Hefele VI. 315, and other Roman Catholic historians. Boniface’s bull, appointing it, promised full remission to all, being penitent and confessing their sins, who should visit St. Peter’s during the year 1300.1414    Potthast, 24917. The bull is reprinted by Mirbt, Quellen, p. 147 sq. The indulgence clause runs: non solum plenam sed largiorem immo plenissimam omnium suorum veniam peccatorum concedimus. Villani, VIII. 36, speaks of it as "a full and entire remission of all sins, both the guilt and the punishment thereof." Italians were to prolong their sojourn 30 days, while for foreigners 15 days were announced to be sufficient. A subsequent papal deliverance extended the benefits of the indulgence to all setting out for the Holy City who died on the way. The only exceptions made to these gracious provisions were the Colonna, Frederick of Sicily, and the Christians holding traffic with Saracens. The city wore a festal appearance. The handkerchief of St. Veronica, bearing the imprint of the Saviour’s face, was exhibited. The throngs fairly trampled upon one another. The contemporary historian of Florence, Giovanni Villani, testifies from personal observation that there was a constant population in the pontifical city of 200,000 pilgrims, and that 30,000 people reached and left it daily. The offerings were so copious that two clerics stood day and night by the altar of St. Peter’s gathering up the coins with rakes.

So spectacular and profitable a celebration could not be allowed to remain a memory. The Jubilee was made a permanent institution. A second celebration was appointed by Clement VI. in 1350. With reference to the brevity of human life and also to the period of our Lord’s earthly career, Urban VI. fixed its recurrence every 33 years. Paul II., in 1470, reduced the intervals to 25 years. The twentieth Jubilee was celebrated in 1900, under Leo XIII.1515    Leo’s bull, dated May 11, 1899, offered indulgence to pilgrims visiting the basilicas of St. Peter, the Lateran, and St. Maria Maggiore. A portion of the document runs as follows: "Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, has chosen the city of Rome alone and singly above all others for a dignified and more than human purpose and consecrated it to himself." The Jubilee was inaugurated by the august ceremony of opening the porta santa, the sacred door, into St. Peter’s, which it is the custom to wall up after the celebration. The special ceremony dates from Alexander VI. and the Jubilee of 1600. Leo performed this ceremony in person by giving three strokes upon the door with a hammer, and using the words aperite mihi, open to me. The door symbolizes Christ, opening the way to spiritual benefits. Leo extended the offered benefits to those who had the will and not the ability to make the journey to Rome.

For the offerings accruing from the Jubilee and for other papal moneys, Boniface found easy use. They enabled him to prosecute his wars against Sicily and the Colonna and to enrich his relatives. The chief object of his favor was his nephew, Peter, the second son of his brother Loffred, the Count of Caserta. One estate after another was added to this favorite’s possessions, and the vast sum of more than 915,000,000 was spent upon him in four years.1616    See Gregorovius, V. 299, 584, who gives an elaborate list of the estates which passed by Boniface’s grace into the hands of the Gaetani. Adam of Usk, Chronicon, 1377-1421, ad ed., London, 1904, p. 259, "the fox, though ever greedy, ever remaineth thin, so Boniface, though gorged with simony, yet to his dying day was never filled." Nepotism was one of the offences for which Boniface was arraigned by his contemporaries.


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