Unam sanctam

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Unam sanctam[a] is a papal bull issued by Pope Boniface VIII on 18 November 1302. The Bull laid 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. Historian Brian Tierney calls it "probably the most famous of all the documents on church and state that has [come] down to us from the Middle Ages."[1] The original document is lost, but a version of the text can be found in the registers of Boniface VIII in the Vatican Archives.[2]

Political context[edit]

The bull was promulgated during an ongoing dispute between Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair, King of France.[3]

As long as England and France were at war with each other, neither was likely to participate in any expedition to the Holy Land. Benedict sent cardinal nuncios to each court to broker a truce.[4] Philip levied taxes on the French clergy of one half their annual income. On 5 February 1296, Boniface responded with the papal bull Clericis laicos forbidding clerics, without authority from the Holy See, to pay to laymen any part of their income or of the revenue of the Church; and likewise all emperors, kings, dukes, counts, etc. to receive such payments, under pain of excommunication.[5]

Edward I of England responded with outlawry, a concept known from Roman law. This effectively withdrew the protection of the English Common Law from the clergy,[6] and confiscated the temporal properties of bishops who refused his levies. As Edward was demanding an amount well above the tenth offered by the clergy, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Winchelsey left it to every individual clergyman to pay as he saw fit.[7]

In August 1296 Philip of France countered with an embargo. A common wartime precaution – disallowing the export of horses, arms, and money – the embargo served primarily to keep the French clergy from sending taxes to the pope. By prohibiting the export of gold, silver, precious stones, or food from France to the Papal States, this had the effect of blocking a main source of papal revenue. Philip also banished from France papal agents raising funds for a new crusade in the Middle East.

In September 1296 the pope sent a protest to Philip headed Ineffabilis Amor, declaring that he would rather suffer death than surrender any of the rightful prerogatives of the Church. On the one hand he threatened a papal alliance with England and Germany. At the same time 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, indicating that the clergy could indeed be taxed if the king would only obtain papal permission. In light of the Anglo-Flemish alliance, French bishops asked permission to make contributions for the defense of the kingdom. In February 1297, Boniface issued Romana mater eccelsia which declared that in a situation where the clergy had consented to make payment and where delay could cause grave danger, the process of requesting permission could be dispensed with.[4] Later that month Boniface issued Corum illo fatemur which allowed the grant from the French bishops. While insisting the clerical consent was required for subsidies to the state, he recognized that the clergy themselves must evaluate the justice of a claim for aid.[4]

At the same time, Boniface was contending with a suspiciously convenient uprising in Rome by the staunchly Ghibelline (pro-emperor) Colonna family.[8] In July 1297 Boniface issued the bull Etsi de statu which was essentially a retrenchment from his position the previous year, in Clericis laicos. Etsi de statu allowed the taxation of clerical property by lay authorities in cases of emergency.[9] Determination of what constituted an emergency was conceded to the authorities.

Then came the Jubilee year of 1300, which 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: "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, 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.

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."[10]


Most significantly, the bull proclaimed, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus: "outside of the Church, there is no salvation". The phrase is first found used by Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), who stated it in discussing the validity of baptisms by heretical clergy. Gregory of Nazianzus also held this view but, with his father as an example, recognized men whose devout conduct anticipates their faith. In other words, by the charity of their life they are united to Christians in Christ, even before they explicitly believe in Christ.[11] Subsequent commentators such as Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and Bede cited it in an ecclesiastical context.

Boniface interpreted it as a form of the concept known as plenitudo potestatis (plenitude of power); it declares that those who resist the Roman Pontiff are resisting God's ordination.[12] In the thirteenth century, the canonists used the term plenitudo potestatis to characterize the power of the pope within the church, or, more rarely, the pope's prerogative in the secular sphere.[13] The bull declares that the Church must be united and the Pope was its sole and absolute head: "Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster."[14]

The Bull also states, "We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal."[14] The swords being referred to are a customary reference to the swords yielded by the Apostles upon Christ's arrest (Luke 22:38; Matthew 26:52).[2] Early theologians believed that if there are two swords, one must be subordinate to the other. This then became a spiritual hierarchical ladder, the spiritual judges the secular "on account of its greatness and sublimity",[2] while the lower spiritual power is judged by the higher spiritual power, etc.[12] Thus, it was concluded, the temporal authorities must submit to the spiritual authorities, not merely on matters concerning doctrine and morality: "For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgment if it has not been good." The bull ends, "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."[14]

In the bull, Boniface reiterates what popes since the time of Pope Gregory VII had been declaring.[15] Much of what is said can be taken from the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of Saint Victor, and Thomas Aquinas.[2] The bull also contains writing from the letters of Pope Innocent III, who mainly reasserted the spiritual power and the "plenitudo potestatis" of the papacy.[15] A voice heavily noticed in the bull is Giles of Rome, who some hold might have been the actual writer of the bull.[16] Giles, in On Ecclesiastical Power, voices the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff over the material world. His line of argument states that since the body is governed by the soul and the soul is governed by the ruler of the spiritual, the Roman Pontiff therefore is governor of both soul and body.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, on the margin of the text of the record, the last sentence is noted as its real definition: Declaratio quod subesse Romano Pontifici est omni humanae creaturae de necessitate salutis ("A declaration that it is necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff");[2] thus this phrase, like some in canonical scripture, may have moved from an original position as a marginal gloss to an integral part of the text as it has been accepted. Some believe that this is the only intended dogmatic definition in the bull because the rest is based on differing "papal claims of the thirteenth century".[12] Eamon Duffy finds most of the claims in the encyclical to be similar to those made by every pope since Gregory VII. But what made this claim "notorious" was that Boniface "insisted that the Pope wielded both the spiritual and secular sword, [...] the culminating blow in a propaganda war against the French crown."[17]

The response to Unam sanctam[edit]

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 is said the document was not seen as authoritative because the body of faith did not accept it.[12][15]

In response to the bull, Philip had the Dominican John of Paris 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 Pope 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.

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. Boniface pardoned those who were captured. He was escorted back to Rome on 13 September 1303.[18]

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 W. Tuchman states that his close advisors would later maintain that he died of a "profound chagrin".

Boniface VIII's successor, Pope 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 attacked Pope Boniface.[19][20] He died on 7 July 1304. The Conclave to pick his successor[21] 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.[22] 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 with France minimal, fell under the immense pressure of the French monarchy. Some theologians[clarification needed][who?] 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.[15]

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 Alighieri, who expressed his need for another strong Holy Roman Emperor. His treatise De Monarchia attempted to refute the pope's claim that the spiritual sword had power over the temporal sword.[23] 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 respective domains.


  1. ^ The bull is known by its incipit: Unam sanctam ecclesiam catholicam et ipsam apostolicam urgente fide credere cogimur et tenere, nosque hanc firmiter credimus et simpliciter confitemur,...").


  1. ^ Tierney, Brian (1988) [1964]. The crisis of church and state, 1050-1300: with selected documents. Medieval Academy reprints for teaching. 23 (Reprint ed.). Toronto [u.a.]: University of Toronto Press in association with the Medieval Academy of America. p. 182. ISBN 9780802067012.
  2. ^ a b c d e  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainKirsch, Johann Peter (1912). "Unam Sanctam". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Unam Sanctam." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 5 March 2016
  4. ^ a b c Denton, Jeffrey H., Robert Winchelsey and the Crown 1294-1313: A Study in the Defence of Ecclesiastical Liberty, Cambridge University Press, 2002 ISBN 9780521893978
  5. ^ "Internet History Sourcebooks Project". sourcebooks.fordham.edu. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  6. ^ Powicke, F. M. (1947). King Henry III and the Lord Edward: The Community of the Realm in the Thirteenth Century. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. p. 403
  7. ^ Prestwich, Michael (1997). Edward I (Yale ed.). New Haven, US: Yale University Press. p. 417, ISBN 0-300-07209-0
  8. ^ "Boniface VIII's Bull Unam Sanctam | History Today". www.historytoday.com. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  9. ^ Canning, Joseph (1996). A History of Medieval Political Thought, 300-1450. London: Routledge. p. 138. ISBN 0-415-01349-6.
  10. ^ Harris, Matthew (2010). The notion of papal monarchy in the thirteenth century: the idea of paradigm in church history. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-7734-1441-9.
  11. ^ Jurgens, William A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 2, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979, p. 29
  12. ^ a b c d Collins, Paul (2000). Upon this rock: the popes and their changing role. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press. pp. 150–154. ISBN 9780522848496.
  13. ^ Pennington, K. (1976). The Canonists and Pluralism in the Thirteenth Century. Speculum , 35-48.
  14. ^ a b c Pope Boniface VIII (23 November 1996) [Jan 1996]. Halsall, Paul (ed.). "The bull Unam Sanctam, 1302". fordham.edu. Archived from the original on 23 June 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2016. Transcribed from Curley, Mary Mildred (1927). The conflict between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV, the Fair (PhD thesis). Washington, DC: Catholic University of America. OCLC 557785827.
  15. ^ a b c d Duffy, Eamon (2002) [1997]. "Set above nations". Saints and sinners: a history of the popes (2nd ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 158–166. ISBN 9780300091656.
  16. ^ Giles of Rome (2004) [1986]. Giles of Rome's on ecclesiastical power: a medieval theory of world government. Records of Western civilization. Translated by Dyson, Robert W. New York: Columbia University Press. p. xx. ISBN 9780231128032.
  17. ^ Eamon Duffy (1997). Saints & sinners. Internet Archive. Yale University Press, in association with S4C. p. 162.
  18. ^ Gregorovius, Ferdinand (1906). History of Rome in the Middle Ages. v. 5 pt. 2. Translated by Hamilton, Annie (2nd ed. rev. from the 4th German ed.). London: George Bell. pp. 527–597. OCLC 607930890.
  19. ^ Tosti, Louis (1911). History of Pope Boniface VIII and his times, with notes and documentary evidence, in six books. Translated by Donnelly, Eugene J. New York: Christian press association. pp. 403–404, 544–545. OCLC 276295328. OL 7192488M.
  20. ^ Rinaldi, Odorico (1871). "MCCCIV". In Theiner, Augustin (ed.). Annales Ecclesiastici (in Latin). 23. Barri-Ducis: Guerin. p. 352, n. 13. OCLC 697606081. OL 23277533M.
  21. ^ Adams, John P. (7 January 2016) [2010]. "Sede Vacante 1304-1305". csun.edu. Northridge, CA: California State University, Northridge. Archived from the original on 11 February 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  22. ^ Tosti, pp. 405-411.
  23. ^ Alighieri, Dante (1998). Monarchia (in Latin and English). Translated by Kay, Richard. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. p. 168. ISBN 9780888441317.

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