Thursday, February 9, 2017

Boniface VIII - The Decline of Papal Power

There was a long power struggle between the papacy and the medieval nation-states. And in the end, on the whole, the papacy lost.  Boniface VIII was a clear turning point in this struggle. While he had conflicts with other kings, the main struggle was between him and Philip IV of France (who I will have more to say about in a later post) over Philip's exacting taxes from the French clergy. This ended in Philip abducting Boniface and trying to force him to accept Philip's position. Boniface was rescued but died soon afterward, having not succeeded in making his case. Part of the issue here was the growing power and independence of the nation-state and its unwillingness to subject itself to outside control. But the papacy in general, and Boniface in particular, had brought this about by losing its prestige in the sight of the people,

The papacy had originally started its struggle with the civil governments in order to reform the church organization from corruption. While it may not have been without fault, it had good intentions. But over time this became more and more a power struggle, and the papacy ended up becoming more corrupt than the people it was trying to replace, selling whatever they could for money and seeking to eliminate all opposition. In this Boniface did not help. He came across as harsh and arrogant, more interested in his own authority than the welfare of the church. He engaged in nepotism and used his power to ruin his political enemies. Boniface confined his predecessor, who had abdicated from the position of pope, to prison, lest the predecessor should be used as a figurehead to oppose him. It was even rumored that Boniface had that predecessor put to death, though it was never proved. 

The result of this event was a pamphlet war, where the power of the papacy over the state in temporal affairs was severely questioned. Shortly after this the French managed to get one of their own people in as pope, and he, rather then coming to Rome, set up his headquarters in Avignon.  This began a period called the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, when the papacy ruled from Avignon rather then Rome and was perceived as being under the king of France's thumb. A later pope's attempt to go back to Rome resulted in two popes, and then later three popes, ruling at the same time, which is known as the Great Schism. This resulted in a heavy blow to the papacy's reputation. It also increased the corruption, as it cut off the papacy from part of its standard sources for money and made it scramble to find money somewhere else. For while the papacy had lost the majority of its authority to do good, it still retained much of its power to corrupt.

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