Boniface VIII

In the history of the Catholic Church there have been good popes, and bad popes.There are also been more than a few who have exerted great influence over Western civilization, while simultaneously engaging in behavior that today would never be tolerated.  One great example of this is Pope Boniface VIII, who was pope from 1294 to 1303.

First the bad news.  Raised in an influential and noble family, Boniface VIII showed a particular interest in gathering property and political power. After the abdication of pope Celestine V, Boniface was selected to follow him.  One of Boniface’s first acts as pope was to imprison his predecessor in the castle of Fumone in Ferentino Italy.  Boniface also pushed the boundaries of papal supremacy by declaring in 1303 that, “It is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff.”  It should be noted that the Catholic church no longer holds this position.

At the same time, while Boniface was something of a tyrant, he also had a keen legal mind, and formulated some of the principles that form the interpretive basis of the Churches’ Canon Law.  Among these principles is “Once bad, always bad,” meaning that someone caught in perjury could never again provide testimony, but should not be presumed guilty of other crimes.” Other principles include, “Time doe not heal what was invalid from the beginning,” and, “what is not allowed to the defendant is denied to the plaintiff.”

So, while Boniface VIII might be criticized for his extremes of authority, it must be acknowledged that his legal principles, the Regulae Juris, have influenced our understanding of justice for 700 years.