Pope Boniface VIII: Clericis Laicos and Unam Sanctam

(1296 and 1302)


Boniface VIII played an important role in effecting change in the balance of power between the papacy and the rulers of emerging European nation-states. When Boniface was born around 1235, nation-states were still in their infancy, and Catholic bishops held power in small feudal domains and fiefdoms across much of Europe. The spiritual authority of the papacy over secular rulers had been established when Pope Gregory VII had Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV submit to him at Canossa in 1077 after protracted power struggles. By the time Boniface was elected pope in 1294, though, papal power had already been much reduced. Papal supremacy had been established in practice, through the accumulation of benefices (estates from which rents and other fees were paid to the clergy) and other property, as well as in theory, through the legal and theological writings of clergymen and friars such as Duns Scotus and Saint Thomas Aquinas. But with the rise of the Capetian kings in France,...