The thirteenth century – regarded as the "Greatest of Centuries" – was coming to an end. The century of the glorious Crusades, in which selfless men of faith sacrificed their lives to recover the revered relics of Christendom; the magnificent cathedrals with spires that reached into the heavens to adore Him on High; the great universities, dedicated to the education of a God-centered people, that gave to the world men not only learned, but holy – such as Saints Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Albert the Great. In a word, the thirteenth century had been everything that is Catholic.
On the Eve of Christmas, in the year of Our Lord, 1294, a new pope was elevated to the Chair of Peter. Concomitant with his accession, however, a menacing new spirit of revolution had entered the world. Catholic princes of Europe were brazenly repudiating the Sovereign Pontiff’s supreme authority.
It was amidst this tumultuous sea of rebellion that Boniface VIII had been chosen by the Holy Ghost to take the helm of Peter’s Barque. His ten-year reign is marked by ceaseless but unavailing efforts to reconcile and pacify the enemies of the Holy See. Sister Catherine, MICM noted this in Our Glorious Popes:
Pope Boniface VIII, the last of the Glorious Popes of the Middle Ages, tried with every breath of his priestly heart, every effort of his extraordinarily gifted mind, … every power, to stem the tide of revolution, only to go down to terrible defeat before the same diabolic forces which achieved the religious revolution of Luther in 1517, and the French Revolution of 1789.
Probably no pope in the history of Christendom has been more maligned, more slandered, than this great pontiff. His unyielding defense of the Church’s supreme authority over every temporal power – granted by Our Lord Himself – earned the unrelenting contempt of the enemies of Jesus Christ. In one of the advanced degrees of Freemasonry, for example, the initiation ritual includes thrusting a dagger through a ceremonial skull, which stands for that of Pope Boniface VIII. Why Boniface? Because everything that Freemasonry despises – the power and authority of Jesus Christ invested in His Vicar – was exemplified and upheld most formidably by this holy pope. And he was holy indeed. Three centuries after his death, his body was found to be incorrupt – a compelling sign, to the contradiction of his implacable enemies both within and with out the Church, that his life and works and teachings were wholly pleasing to God. It is for this reason that we believe Boniface VIII may one day be canonized a saint.
Elsewhere on this site, we have reprinted in full, the text of his famous Bull, Unam Sanctam, issued in 1302. We have also published a more detailed discussion of the historical circumstances that occasioned this thunderous exposition of Catholic dogma and pontifical authority. It is enough to say here that the message of Boniface VIII is as clear and challenging – and every bit as valid- today as it was some seven hundred years ago. It is the same challenge that our Founder, Father Leonard Feeney, brought to the attention of the entire world over forty years ago: There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, nor without personal submission to our Holy Father the Pope!