Can the Church’s power trump the state’s?
America as a nation celebrates the important idea of Separation of Church and State. Congress is forbidden from establishing a national religion or interfering with any private practice thereof. This radical idea would likely ruffle some important feathers in one of the principal actors in today’s #HistoryMonday.
On this day in 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issues the papal bull known as Unam sanctam. For reference a papal bull is not a bovine that the Pope releases to terrorize opponents. The word bull refers to a clay seal on a letter and is connected to the Latin word ‘bulla’ which means ‘bubble’ since the seals were usually round blobs. Although the Pope sending wild cattle to intimidate opponents might have more effect if not more entertaining.
Anyways, back to Unam sanctam and its historical significance. Pope Boniface VIII was embroiled in a Philip IV, the King of France over monetary obligations to the church or the state. King Philip in 1296 had ordered clergy serving in France to pay taxes at about 50% of their income in response to Boniface’s ambassadors insisting on the importance of following Church law. Boniface issued a papal bull Clericos laicos in response which effectively denied King Philip’s unfair taxes on clergy and any other clergy taxes, such as King Edward I, of England. Government agents including royalty faced excommunication for levying such taxes.
The Catholic Church was fine with collecting their own taxes to pay for Holy Land travels and building projects but saw their own power as superior to the national leaders who were appointed to serve by the Pope. Philip then responded by enacting an embargo to prevent goods being delivered to the Papal States to bring pressure to bear on Boniface.
Unam sanctam is named for a portion its opening line, “We are obliged by the faith to believe and hold—and we do firmly believe and sincerely confess—that there is one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that outside this Church there is neither salvation nor remission of sins…. In which Church there is ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’” The line in Latin, “est unam Sanctam Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam” can easily be parsed by using cognates in the English. Boniface makes a further assertion in Unam sanctam that there are two swords to be used by the Church, the spiritual and the temporal. Obviously, the spiritual is the Church contending against false doctrine to preserve the true Gospel while the temporal are the princes, kings, and rulers that the Church permits to enforce non-church matters in consultation with the head of the Church which is the Pope.
Obviously, Unam sanctam would have pushback during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther encouraged the Prince of Saxony to refuse the Pope in 1517 after addressing issues with papal authority and misuse of Church funds in his Ninety-five Theses.
Prior to the Reformation, the immediate aftermath of Unam sanctam was felt by Boniface at the hands of King Philip. John of Paris was asked by Philip to refute the bull with his own criticisms. Boniface then excommunicated King Philip.
Following this back and forth, King Philip convened an assembly and alleged several crimes that Boniface was guilty of committing such as heresy, murder of Pope Celestine V, and magic. Guillaume de Nogaret, an advisor to Philip with an army of mercenaries attacked the papal residence. Once inside, the ruffians apprehended Boniface, but spared his life because they decided episcopicide crossed some line. Sadly, Boniface succumbed to the injuries by King Philip’s forces about a month later.
Boniface and Unam sanctam was seen as problematic not just by King Philip. Dante Alighieri penned an article arguing that both the Pope and the Monarch are only humans who are empowered by God to serve in their capacities. Ultimately, God should decide how to use the swords not two fallible and mortal human beings. Dante also included Boniface in Inferno and doomed Boniface to the eighth level of Hell for simony, the act of selling church offices or roles. King Philip would also encourage Pope Clement V to conduct a posthumous trial of Boniface. The council leading the trial accepted the testimony of three cardinals as to Boniface’s innocence and declared the matter closed.
The fact that King Philip is also known as Philip the Fair should not be lost on anyone for the rich irony of attacking a Pope, likely leading to his death and then trying him for crimes against the Church. Essentially what would be seen now as a playground squabble had serious effects because each actor ratcheted up the tension, with Boniface declaring Philip as having lost salvation while Philip declared the Pope was a corrupt heretic.
While this might get missed in modern times, since we have realized the lunacy of the battle between church and state, the idea of the distinguishing features of the church persist. The Church is one or united because we share one faith, one mission, one hope, and one Lord. We are united in at least two of the sacraments whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. We are also holy because we are to be set apart from the world to accomplish the goodness and purpose of God. We are catholic because we exist as a body of believers universally for all people, at all times, in all places. Lastly, we are apostolic because we follow the authority of the apostles. This authority was then handed on from bishop to bishop. This tradition was preserved, taught, and handed on by the apostles—an unbroken chain of succession. Similar language is still confessed even today with the Apostles’ Creed, but more especially with the Nicene Creed.
[For what it’s worth, trying to write seriously about this was somewhat of a challenge because I read this with a focus on the more humorous aspects of this story. As I first read Unam sanctam during my continuing education classes, another pastoral colleague and I jokingly referred to the Pope as Boney-face and of course Phil for the King. By applying diminutive nicknames to each person, it helps to process the information and remember it more easily.]
Do you recite the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed at church on a regular basis?