As a cardinal he was independent of the factions in the papal court, and he opposed the election of Celestine. Boniface was elected on Celestine's abdication, and during his first years he was opposed by those who had suffered from Celestine's retirement—the Neapolitans, the Colonna family, and the extreme Franciscans, among them Jacopone da Todi. To preclude schism, Boniface kept Celestine imprisoned for the rest of his life. Boniface reigned in a time of crisis in Europe. He wished to emulate St. Gregory VII and Innocent III, but he was no such statesman, and the times had changed. He interfered in Sicily, but he was openly flouted when Frederick II and the Sicilians forced Boniface to recognize Frederick as king. He brought Charles of Valois into Italy to pacify Florence and succeeded only in stirring up more trouble. Dante was exiled in this struggle of Guelphs and Ghibellines.
Boniface's contest with Philip IV of France was the principal feature of his career. The pope tried to stop Philip from his illegal levies on the clergy by the bull Clericis laicos (1296), enunciating the principle that laymen could not tax clerics without the consent of the Holy See. Philip retaliated by cutting off the contributions of the French church to Rome. In England the Pope faced an equally resistant Edward I, and in a subsequent bull (1297) Boniface relaxed the ruling. The dispute began again in earnest in 1301 with the trial of Bernard Saisset, and Boniface never again yielded.
Two of his statements in the controversy are famous—the bull Ausculta fili (1301), which summoned a French synod to meet at Rome to discuss the reformation of French affairs, and the bull Unam sanctam (1302), an extreme statement (not naming Philip) of the principle that Catholic princes as well as others are subject to the pope in temporal (moral) and religious matters. Philip paid no attention, and in 1303 he sent Nogaret to Italy, soon proclaiming his intention of deposing the pope. Nogaret found the pope at Anagni and harassed him; the pope stood firm and according to tradition was slapped by Nogaret's companion, Sciarra Colonna. The outraged people of Anagni thereupon drove out the soldiery; Boniface was rescued and escorted to Rome. He died in a month.
Philip pursued Boniface dead as he had alive. In 1310 he forced Clement V to begin a process to determine that Boniface was heretical; that accusation was abandoned, but Clement consented to repudiate such of Boniface's acts as had hurt Philip. Boniface, an excellent canon lawyer, planned and promulgated a substantial addition to the existing law, called the Sext (1298) since it was the sixth book added to the five-volume compilation of Gregory IX. He was the first to establish (1300) a holy year. He was succeeded by Benedict XI.
See C. T. Wood, Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII: State vs. Papacy (1967).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Roman Catholic Popes and Antipopes