Proverbs 16:18—Too much pride will destroy you—finds a perfect illustration in Benedetto Gaetani. Gaetani, a clergyman, carried himself with aplomb, serving the Vatican well in various capacities across Europe. When he became Pope Boniface VIII in 1294, he determined to raise the papacy to its highest point. His crown contained 48 rubies, 72 sapphires, 45 emeralds, and 66 large pearls. The Roman pontiff, he said, “is most high over princes, and monarchs receive their light from him as the moon receives its light from the sun.” He sometimes appeared before pilgrims crying, “I am Caesar. I am emperor.”
France’s young King Philip IV would have none of it, and he continually outmaneuvered Boniface in diplomatic skirmishes. Things came to a head when Philip arrested the pope’s legate. Boniface roared back with a document known as Ausculta fili—Give ear, my son—charging Philip with arrogance toward the clergy and with plundering church property. Philip assembled the French Parliament and asserted independence from the church.
The pope then issued another edict, the most extreme assertion of papal power in church history, called Unam sanctam. The pope is the vicar of Christ, it said, and every human must obey him. The pope further announced that on September 8, 1303, he would appear at the church of Anagni, Italy, near his summer residence, and with great solemnity pronounce a ban on Philip.
September 8th never came. On September 7 Philip’s commandos attacked the papal residence and burst in on the 86-year-old pope. He was roughly treated. His palace was looted and the cathedral was burned, its relics destroyed. Its most priceless possession, a vase reportedly containing milk from Mary’s breasts, was shattered. Boniface remained prisoner for three days till forces loyal to him retook the palace. But the old man never recovered. He lost his mind and began beating his head against the wall. He refused to eat. A month later he died. The event is known to history as the “Terrible Day at Anagni,” and it marked the beginning of the decline of the papacy in medieval Europe,
Too much pride will destroy you.
You are better off to be humble and poor
than to get rich from what you take by force. (Proverbs 16:18,19)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 8.
*The photograph in the header is The Crypt of Anagni Cathedral (Italy) also called the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages. And was taken by Xavi Ruiz.