Also known as
- Benedetto Caetani
- Benedetto Gaetano
As cardinal, he stayed out of the Vatican court politics. Elected Pope when the pious but incompetent Celestine V abdicated. Had to struggle against the opposition of Celestine’s supporters and beneficiaries. To prevent a schism, Boniface kept Celestine imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Boniface’s nine years were a time of crisis in Europe, and he was no statesman. He interfered in Sicily, but the Sicilians forced Boniface to recognize Frederick as king. He brought Charles of Valois into Italy to pacify Florence, but this only stirred up more trouble. He tried to stop Philip IV of France from taking his illegal levies on the clergy, enunciating the principle that laymen could not tax clerics without the consent of the Holy See. In return, Philip cut off the contributions of the French church to Rome. In England he faced an equally resistant Edward I, and in 1297 Boniface relaxed his ruling. The dispute began again with the trial of Bernard Saisset in 1301, and this time Boniface would not yield. An excellent canon lawyer, planned a substantial addition to the existing law, and he was the first to establish a holy year.
He summoned a French synod to meet at Rome in 1301 to discuss the reformation of French affairs. In the bull Unam sanctam in 1302 he expounded the principle that Catholic princes are subject to the pope in temporal (moral) and religious matters. Philip paid no attention, and in 1303 he sent Nogaret to Italy to depose Boniface. The pope stood firm and, according to tradition, was slapped by Nogaret’s companion, Sciarra Colonna. The outraged people of Anagni attacked the soldiers, rescued Boniface, and escorted him to Rome where he died a month later.
Philip pursued Boniface even in death. In 1310 he forced Clement V to start an investigation to determine if Boniface was a heretic. This was was abandoned, but Clement repudiated those of Boniface’s acts as had hurt Philip.
O Lord God, who for our Redemption, wast pleased to be reproved by the Jews, to be betrayed by the kiss of Judas, to be bound with cords, to be led as to a sacrifice, innocent and faultless conducted into the presence of Annas, Caiphas, Pilate and Herod, to be accused by false witnesses, to be pierced by sharp nails, to be scourged, to be loaded with opprobrium, crowned with thorns, to be struck with the hands, to be raised on the Cross between two thieves, to be given gall and vinegar to drink, to be pierced by a lance; O Lord God, by these most holy sufferings, to which I have recourse, Thy unworthy servant, and by the holy Cross, deliver me from all danger, assist me in my necessities whilst I live in this world; and at my death deliver me from the pains of Hell, and deign to lead me a poor sinner to that place where Thou didst lead the crucified thief, and where Thou livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, true God forever and ever. Amen. – prayer by Pope Boniface VIII