“At Least I Shall Die as Pope”: September 7, 1303
The following is an excerpt from our text, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For information on ordering this or our other texts, please go here.
King Philip IV “the Fair” of France (reigned 1285-1314) did not appear to be an enemy of religion. He attended Mass daily and wore a hair shirt as a penitential act. He was charitable and kindly toward the poor and counted himself a loyal son of the Church. Nor was Pope Boniface VIII (reigned 1294-1303) anti-French; on the contrary, his policies as pope often favored France. Boniface and Philip should have been on friendly terms with each other. Instead, they came into serious conflict. The pope and the king had very different views of the nature of Church and the state and how they relate to one another.
The quarrel between Philip the Fair and Pope Boniface arose because the king needed money for a war with England and decided to tax the French clergy to get it. The French bishops did not protest against the tax, but the lower clergy appealed to the pope for help. In 1296, Boniface replied by issuing an official statement or bull, called Clericis Laicos, in which he excommunicated any king or prince who taxed the clergy without the pope’s permission. Philip retaliated by forbidding any gold or silver to leave France, thus cutting off a large part of the wealth the pope received from France. The English King Edward I took similar measures in his domains. Confronted with so much resistance, Pope Boniface was forced to allow that kings, in times of necessity, may tax the clergy of the realm without approval from Rome. Continue reading