By Phillip Myers
BA Thesis, Western Oregon University, 2009
Introduction: During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the conflict between secular states and the papacy was a central issue to the development of nations. This paper intends to outline how Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303), in his struggle with King Philip IV le Bel of France (1268-1314), had an ultimate objective to create a theocratic government under which all other nations existed, essentially creating a Christian nation without borders, as God is everywhere and should not be limited to temporal sovereign limitations. The role of church influence in national affairs had reached its apex under the feudal system, however feudalism was beginning to decline with the changes in economy, trade and commerce, urbanization, population growth and included a change in mentality. An idea of an independent Christian kingdom, which was anathema to the papacy, had begun to grow. The battle of King Philip and Pope Boniface emphasized the growing concept of state versus church.
The policies of Boniface were primarily focused on putting the French monarch squarely under the power of the spiritual authority of the pope. However, it backfired and caused criticism towards the papacy that led to Boniface’s conflict with Philip leading to his deposition as pope by an army led by Guillaume of Nogaret, Philip’s chief minister, and Sciarra Colonna, who was a member of a major clan that opposed Boniface in the church. After he died in captivity on October 11th 1303, he was posthumously tried for heresy and subsequent excommunication by the French prime minister. What were Pope Boniface’s goals in this struggle? Was Boniface seeking to satisfy his personal desires to dominate or was his ultimate objective to revive the Catholic Church as the supreme power over all of Christendom, both temporal and spiritual? The various actions that Boniface took outline some of his more prominent ideologies on what the role the church should be in relation to itself, but also earthly affairs, specifically the issuing of his three most famous bulls. The struggle between Philip and Boniface shows that nation building is not just a battle of words, but economic and political consolidation of national interests. However, an important link is missing between the rise of Benedict Caetani and his anti-secular policies and his attempt to expand the ultimate power of the church to ever corner of the Christian world. The struggle between France and the pope helps us to get some perspective on the rising proto-nationalism on the part of some European kingdoms.