On this day in 1303, Pope Boniface VIII was taken prisoner by King Philip IV of France. There, he was beaten almost to death. He died three days after his release just a month later.
So what was up with that? Well, Boniface had this theory that since everyone’s salvation depended upon the Catholic Church, everyone needed to be subordinate to it — and thus him. And this wasn’t some “kingdom of God” sort of thing. He was actively involved in foreign affairs. So Philip had him arrested for sodomy. That was pretty much Philip’s default charge against his enemies. He probably thought it was something that everyone was guilty of anyway. The truth is that under some definitions of sodomy, masturbation and sex with condoms qualify.
What’s more interesting is that Dante threw Boniface into hell in The Divine Comedy. Since it was set in 1300 — three years before Boniface died. We simply learn that, yeah, the old bastard is coming to the eighth circle of hell for the sin of simony. That’s the selling of church titles. There is no doubt that Boniface was guilty of that charge. It would be damned hard to find a pope of that time who didn’t.
Still, was Boniface a terrible pope? By the standards of the time? Well, he did massacre the entire town of Palestrina just because he was pissed off at one family. But it is important to remember that this isn’t what got him in trouble. What can I say? It was a time when being a pope meant something!