The Pope owns your soul – Unam sanctam

bnjhggv b

Many of the more religious OPCA adherents claim that centuries ago, the Papacy placed a claim of right over every soul on earth that has never been rebutted, so in order to free oneself, one must send notices to the Vatican refuting the claim. This theory is based in the Papal bull Unam sanctam, and ignorance of the separation of church and state that followed, which became part of the constitutional framework of all democratic nations.

On 18 November 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued the Papal bull Unam sanctam which some historians consider one of the most extreme statements of Papal spiritual supremacy ever made.   The original document is lost but a version of the text can be found in the registers of Boniface VIII in the Vatican Archives.The Bull lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Catholic Church, the necessity of belonging to it for eternal salvation, the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation. The pope further emphasizes the higher position of the spiritual in comparison with the secular order. The main propositions of the Bull are the following: First, the unity of the Church and its necessity for salvation are declared and established by various passages from the Bible and by reference to the one Ark of the Flood, and to the seamless garment of Christ. The pope then affirms that, as the unity of the body of the Church so is the unity of its head established in Saint Peter and his successors. Consequently, all who wish to belong to the fold of Christ are placed under the dominion of Peter and his successors. (1)

The response to Unam sanctam

The furious reaction of Philip IV, King of France and his ministry cannot be understood outside the context of a conflict between the increasing power of secular rulers in France and England who had come to blows with attempts to tax the clergy to support warfare that was no different from some of the “crusades” that had been authorized during the thirteenth century — against the king of Aragon for instance — save that the warfare had not been authorized by the Pope and the taxes were also to be levied on the clergy. Known for his very impulsive interference in international affairs, Boniface’s stringent reaction was the fierce bull Clericis laicos of 1296. (2)

In England, Edward I withdrew the protection of the English Common Law from the clergy, an action with fearful possibilities. Philip’s ministers reacted with their own typical methods: they banished all non-French bankers from France and forbade the export of bullion from the King’s territories, without exception. The supply of French money to the Roman curia dried up completely. The royal ministers and their allies circulated open letters asserting the sovereignty of the king within his realm and the duty of the Church to help in the defense of the realm. (3)

Boniface made the tactical error of backing down from some positions. In September 1296, he sent an indignant protest to Philip headed Ineffabilis Amor, declaring that he would rather suffer death than surrender any of the rightful prerogatives of the Church; but he explained in conciliatory terms that his recent bull had not been intended to apply to any of the customary feudal taxes due the King from the lands of the Church.

Then came the Jubilee year of 1300, that filled Rome with the fervent masses of pilgrims and made up for the lack of French gold in the treasury. The following year, Philip’s ministers overstepped their bounds. Bernard Saisset, the Bishop of Pamiers in Foix, the farthest southern march of Languedoc was recalcitrant and difficult. There was no love between the south, that had suffered so recently with the Albigensian Crusade, and the Frankish north. Pamiers was one of the last strongholds of the Cathars. Saisset made no secret of his disrespect for the King of France. Philip’s ministry decided to make an example of the bishop. He was brought before Philip and his court, on 24 October 1301, where the chancellor, Pierre Flotte, charged him with high treason, and he was placed in the keeping of the archbishop of Narbonne, his metropolitan. Before they could attack him in the courts, the royal ministry needed the Pope to remove him from his See and strip him of his clerical protections, so that he could be tried for treason. Philip IV tried to obtain from the pope this “canonical degradation”. Instead, Boniface ordered the king in December 1301 to free the bishop to go to Rome to justify himself. In the Bull, Ausculta Fili (“Give ear, my son”) he accused Philip of sinfully subverting the Church in France, and not in terms that were conciliatory: (4)

“Let no one persuade you that you have no superior or that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for he is a fool who so thinks.”

At the same time, Boniface sent out a more general bull Salvator mundi that strongly reiterated some of the same ground of Clericis laicos. Then, at the end of the year, Boniface, with his customary tactlessness having criticized Philip for his personal behavior and the unscrupulousness of his ministry (that being an assessment with which many modern historians would agree, summoned a council of French bishops for November 1302, intended to reform Church matters in France — at Rome. Philip forbade Saisset or any of them to attend and forestalled Boniface by organizing a counter-assembly of his own, held in Paris in April 1302. Nobles, burgesses, and clergy met to denounce the Pope and pass around a crude forgery titled Deum Time (“Fear God”), which made out that Boniface claimed to be feudal overlord of France. The French clergy politely protested against Boniface’s “unheard-of assertions”. Boniface denied the document and its claims, but he reminded them that previous popes had deposed three French kings. (5)

This was the atmosphere in which Unam sanctam was promulgated weeks later. Reading of the “two swords” in the Bull, one of Philip’s ministers is alleged to have remarked, “My master’s sword is steel; the Pope’s is made of words.” As Matthew Edward Harris writes, ‘The overall impression gained is that the papacy was described in increasingly exalted terms as the thirteenth century progressed, although this development was neither disjunctive nor uniform, and was often in response to conflict, such as against Frederick II and Philip the Fair’. Boniface’s reputation for always trying to increase the papal power made it difficult to accept such an extreme declaration. His assertion over the temporal was seen as hollow and misguided and it’s said the document was not seen as authoritative because the body of faith did not accept it. (6)

In response to the bull, Philip had the Dominican Jean Quidort issue a refutation. Pope Boniface reacted by excommunicating the king. Philip then called an assembly in which twenty-nine accusations against the pope were made, including infidelity, heresy, simony, gross and unnatural immorality, idolatry, magic, loss of the Holy Land, and the death of Celestine V. Five archbishops and twenty-one bishops sided with the king. Boniface VIII could only respond by denouncing the charges; but it was already too late for him. On 7 September 1303, the king’s advisor Guillaume de Nogaret led a band of two thousand mercenaries on horse and foot. They joined locals in an attack on the palaces of the pope and his nephew at the papal residence at Anagni, later referred to as the Outrage of Anagni. The Pope’s attendants and his beloved nephew Francesco all soon fled; only the Spaniard Pedro Rodríguez, Cardinal of Santa Sabina, remained at his side to the end. (7)

“The palace was plundered and Boniface was nearly killed (Nogaret prevented his troops from murdering the pope). Boniface was subjected to harassment and held prisoner for three days during which no one brought him food or drink. Eventually the townsfolk, led by Cardinal Luca Fieschi, expelled the marauders. Pope Boniface pardoned those who were captured. He was escorted back to Rome on 13 September 1303. Despite his stoicism, Boniface was shaken by the incident. He developed a violent fever and died on 11 October 1303. In A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, Barbara Tuchman states that his close advisors would later maintain that he died of a “profound chagrin”.

Boniface VIII’s successor, Benedict XI, reigned only nine months. He removed himself and the Roman Curia from the violence of Rome as soon as the Easter celebrations of 1304 were completed. But, on 7 June, 1304, from Perugia, he excommunicated Guillaume de Nogaret, Reynald de Supino, his son Robert, Thomas de Morolo, Peter of Gennazano, his son Stephen, Adenulph and Nicolas, the sons of a certain Matteo, Geoffrey Bussy, Orlando and Pietro de Luparia of Anagni, Sciarra Colonna, John the son of Landolph, Gottifredus the son of John de Ceccano, Maximus de Trebes, and other leaders of the factions who had attached Pope Boniface. He died on 7 July, 1304. The Conclave to pick his successor was in deadlock for eleven months before deciding, under the intimidation of King Charles II of Naples, on Archbishop Bertrand de Got of Bordeaux, who took the name Pope Clement V. To please Philip IV of France, Clement moved his residence to Avignon. From this point until around 1378, the Church, in an effort to keep tensions loose with France, fell under the immense pressure of the French monarchy. (8)

The separation of church and state

Some theologians feel this stemmed from Boniface VIII’s and Philip IV’s battle against each other. Philip was said to have held a vendetta against the Holy See until his death. It was not just the French monarchy and clergy who disapproved of Boniface and his assertions. There were many texts circulating around Europe that attacked the bull and Boniface’s bold claims for the power of the Papacy over the temporal.

One of the more notable writers who opposed Boniface and his beliefs was the Florentine poet Dante, who expressed his need for another strong Holy Roman Emperor. His treatise Monarchia attempted to refute the pope’s claim that the spiritual sword had power over the temporal sword.

Dante pointed out that the Pope and Roman Emperor were both human, and no peer had power over another peer. Only a higher power could judge the two “equal swords”, as each was given power by God to rule over their respected domains. (9)

bbbbbb - Copy (34) - Copy - Copy

Bradley v Barber [2016] QCA 053:

“As to the significance of a decree made by Pope Francis concerning the application of criminal law in the Vatican, the respondent correctly points out that the decree on its face seeks only to make a statement concerning certain aspects of the criminal law in the Vatican City State. The decree has no relevance to this application.

The appellant contended that this Court’s oath of office to the Queen (or affirmation for that matter), somehow required it to apply the law of the Vatican, because the Queen owed her authority to the Holy See. The appellant described this proposition as the foundation of his argument. It was the thing he needed a trial to establish. There was no substance to the argument, as was correctly found by the learned primary judge.”


  • (1) “History of Pope Boniface VIII” Luigi Tosti, (tr. E.J. Donnelly) (New York 1911) Augustinus Theiner (Editor), Caesaris S. R. E. Cardinalis Baronii, Od. Raynaldi et Jac. Laderchii Annales Ecclesiastici Tomus Vigesimus Tertius, 1286-1312 (Barri-Ducis: Ludovicus Guerin 1871)
  • (2) “The notion of papal monarchy in the thirteenth century : the idea of paradigm in church history.” Harris, Matthew (2010). Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.
  • (3) “History of Rome in the Middle Ages” Ferdinand Gregorovius, Volume V.2 second edition, revised (London: George Bell, 1906)
  • (4) “Saints and Sinners: a History of the Popes” (2nd ed.).Duffy, Eamon (2002) New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • (5) “Unam Sanctam”. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
  • (6) “Sede Vacante and Conclave of 1304-1305” (Dr. J. P. Adams).
  • (7) “Giles of Rome’s On ecclesiastical power : a medieval theory of world government : a critical edition and translation. Records of Western civilization.” Romanus, Egidius (2004) Translated by R.W. Dyson. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • (8) “Monarchia.” Alighieri, Dante (1998) Translated with a commentary by Richard Kay. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
  • (9) “The crisis of church and state, 1050-1300” Tierney, Brian (1988) Published by University of Toronto Press in association with the Medieval Academy of America.

Leave a Reply