The Outrage On Pope Boniface VIII Anagni 1303

John S. Carroll (1904), Commentary on Purgatorio 20.85-96

As Hugh Capet thinks of his descendant haggling over his own flesh and blood, 'as corsairs do over the other women-slaves,' he almost defies Avarice to sink his race lower. Yet there is 'in the lowest deep a lower deep' -- the avarice of Philip the Fair, which outraged the very Church of Christ and 'crucified the Son of God afresh':

'That less may seem the future evil and the past,
I see the fleur-de-lys Alagna enter,
And Christ in His own vicar captive made.
I see Him yet another time derided;
I see renewad the vinegar and the gall,
And between living thieves I see Him slain.
I see the new Pilate so relentless
This doth not sate him, but without decree
He bears his greedy sails into the Temple.
O my Lord! when shall I be joyful
To see the vengeance, which, being hidden
In thy secret counsel, makes thine anger sweet?'

(The idea seems to be that there is a certain joy in the anger of God because his secret counsel has already ordained the vengeance for such wickedness. Man's anger, even when just, is often bitter, because it seems as if there were no Divine vengeance. Comp. Par. XXII. 13-18. Alagna or Anagna is now Anagni.)

The outrage on Boniface VIII. in Anagni in 1303 was the final act of the great quarrel for supremacy which he had carried on for years with Philip the Fair. In justice to Philip, it must be confessed that he was but defending the rights of France as a nation. War was going on between France and England, and both countries refused the Pope's arbitration. Boniface, who believed himself master of all Christendom, retorted by the Bull Clericis laicos, in which he forbade the clergy to pay taxes to the secular power. Philip replied by forbidding money to be sent out of France, thus cutting off all contributions to Rome. The Pope was forced to yield for the moment, but a new storm broke out over the question of vacant benefices which were claimed by the crown. Philip threw the papal legate into prison; whereupon Boniface addressed another Bull to him, claiming absolute power over kings, and summoning the French clergy to a Council in Rome, to pass sentence on his conduct. The King burnt the Bull in public, and forbade the clergy to go. The outrage at Anagni was the tragic and dramatic ending of the struggle. Philip resolved to capture the old man and arraign him before a Council at Lyons. The plot was entrusted to the hands of William of Nogaret, a doctor of law. In company with Sciarra Colonna, a hereditary enemy of the Pope, Nogaret stormed his palace at Anagni and burst into his audience chamber. The scene is vividly described by Gregorovius. 'They found themselves in the presence of an old man clad in pontifical vestments, the tiara on his head, seated upon a throne, and bowed over a gold cross which he held in his hands. He was resolved to die as Pope. His venerable age and his majestic silence disarmed the men for an instant, then with yells they demanded his degradation, declared that they would carry him in chains to Lyons to be deposed, and allowed themselves to descend to insults, which he bore with magnanimity. The wild Sciarra seized him by the arm, dragged him from the throne, and would have thrust his dagger in his breast. Nogaret held his companion back by force. The ferocity, the excitement, the terror and despair knew no bounds; moderation, however, finally triumphed over passion' (Rome in the Middle Ages, v. 590 [English Translation]). He was thrown into prison and his palace and the cathedral given over to plunder. After three days of imprisonment the citizens rose and set him free; but it was too late. The shock to the proud old man who believed himself the master of the world, seems to have upset his mind. Villani's account of the end has a touch of weirdness: 'Pope Boniface, seeing himself free, and his enemies driven away, did not therefore rejoice in any wise, forasmuch as the pain of his adversity had so entered into his heart and clotted there; wherefore he departed straightway from Anagna with all his court, and came to Rome to S. Peter's to hold a council, purposing to take the heaviest vengeance for his injury and that of Holy Church against the King of France, and whosoever had offended him; but, as it pleased God, the grief which had hardened in the heart of Pope Boniface, by reason of the injury which he had received, produced in him, after he was come to Rome, a strange malady, so that he gnawed at himself as if he were mad, and in this state he passed from this life on the 12th day of October in the year of Christ 1303' (Chronicle, viii. 63).

It is characteristic of Dante that he should see in this outrage a repetition of the Crucifixion of Christ. It may have been suggested, as Dr. Moore thinks, by the Pope's own words. Villani tells us that when Boniface found his palace taken, he said courageously: 'Since, like Jesus Christ, I am willing to be taken and needs must die by treachery, at the least I desire to die as Pope.' But the idea was natural to Dante apart from this. No matter how unworthy a Pope might be, he could never forget that, in virtue of his office, he was Christ's vicar, and therefore that any indignity offered to the office was an insult to Christ Himself. (It is true that to Dante Boniface was a mere usurper [Par. XXVII. 22-27]; but to Philip he was rightful Pope, and therefore his outrage was committed upon Christ's representative.) We know that he sternly consigned Boniface to the Moat of the Simoniacs in the Inferno; none the less did he regard this outrage with abhorrence. He knew it was not an attack on an individual but upon the Church; and the transference of the Papacy to Avignon and the election of Clement V. to be Philip's creature and tool, are the natural and inevitable issues of the outrage. When he says he saw 'Christ in His own vicar captive made,' it is not the mere imprisonment of Boniface for three days he is thinking of: it is the degradation and enslavement of the Church by the State, of the spiritual power by the temporal. The man who thus delivered Christ to His enemies is called 'the new Pilate,' and William of Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna are the 'living thieves' between whom Christ in His vicar is once more slain. The word 'living' indicates the contrast between the modern thieves and the ancient. The latter 'received the due reward of their deeds' in death; the former lived to enjoy the fruits of their robbery. (The variant nuovi ladroni [new thieves] misses the very point of Dante's contrast, which is that they are living [vivi] to enjoy their villany.)

The second crime charged against Philip is his inhuman suppression of the great military Order of Knights Templars on the ground of heresy, sacrilege, and unnatural vices. Nothing was really proved against the Templars. In their confessions, wrung from them by torture, they were, as Milman says, 'wildly bidding for their lives.' 'It was inevitable,' writes Professor Lodge, 'that a Celibate society of warriors should give occasion for the belief that the vow of chastity was not always observed. It is credible that in their intercourse with the Saracens many of the Knights may have been led into unbelief, or even to adopt a contemptuous and irreverent attitude towards Christianity. But it is not credible that the whole Order was guilty of the obscenity, blasphemy, and irreligion charged against it. Confessions extorted under horrible tortures and recanted when health and sanity were restored, do not constitute evidence from which any reasonable conclusions can be drawn' (The Close of the Middle Ages, p. 55). When Dante charges Philip with having suppressed the Order 'without decree,' he means something more definite than the absence of fair trial. In point of fact, Clement V. did issue a decree for its suppression, the Bull Vox in excelso, dated March 22, 1312. But from Dante's point of view Clement was not the rightful Pope, and therefore had no authority to issue decrees: in doing so, he was simply the tool of Philip's avarice, the wind that bore 'his greedy sails into the Temple.' (Compare Canto XXXIII. 34-35, where Beatrice declares that the Church 'was, and is not.' In calling Philip 'the new Pilate,' Dante would remind us that the old Pilate also acted 'without decree.' For the Bull suppressing the Order, see Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, vi. 96n. [English Translation].) The true reason for the suppression was the King's determination to fill his coffers with the Templars' wealth. 'The King,' writes Villani (viii. 92), 'was moved by his avarice, and made secret arrangements with the Pope and caused him to promise to destroy the Order of the Templars, laying to their charge many articles of heresy; but it is said that it was more in hope of extracting great sums of money from them, and by reason of offence taken against the master of the Temple and the Order. The Pope, to be rid of the King of France, by reason of the request which he had made that he would condemn Pope Boniface, as we have said before, whether rightly or wrongly, to please the King promised that he would do this.' (The allusion to 'secret arrangements' refers to the six conditions imposed by Philip on Clement before he had him elected Pope: [1] The annulling of the sentence of excommunication passed on him by Boniface. [2] The absolution of Nogaret and all others concerned in the outrage at Anagni. [3] A tithe of their incomes to be paid to Philip by the clergy for five years. [4] The condemnation of the memory of Boniface. [5] The restoration of the two Colonnas excommunicated by Boniface to their estates and their ranks as cardinals. [6] A secret condition to be disclosed in its due time and place. This is generally believed to have been the suppression of the Templars. Clement tried to escape from destroying the Order, but Philip held him to it by the threat of making him fulfil the fourth condition. The Templars were flung to the wolves in order to save the memory of Boniface from dishonour. See Villani, viii. 80, 92; Milman, Latin Christianity, Bk. XII.; Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, Bk. XI, ch. ii.) The case dragged on from 1307 to 1314, when Jacques du Molay, the Master of the Order, was publicly burnt alive in the presence of the King. So nobly did he bear himself that the popular imagination transfigured him into a martyr. The story rose that out of the flames the old man summoned Pope and King to meet him within forty days before the throne of the Most High. Its origin was probably the fact that both Clement and Philip died in the following year, -- the latter at the early age of forty-six. The absence of any reference to their deaths in the passage before us may be taken as proof that it was written prior to 1314. Dante puts a prayer for vengeance into the mouth of Hugh Capet; and if Pope and King had been already dead, he would certainly, as in other cases, have thrown it into the form of prophecy of the impending judgment of Heaven upon their almost unparalleled wickedness. (This is undoubtedly how their deaths were regarded by the world in general. See Villani's Chronicle, ix. 59, 66.)


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