The Vatican’s’Unam Sanctam’ Decree, Reformation & Conquest Of The New World
“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff….” (Unam Sanctum: Pope Boniface VIII: 1302).
On 18 November 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued the Papal Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’ which is widely considered one of the most extreme statements of Papal Spiritual Supremacy ever made.
I would say its most stark characteristic is the way it lays down dogmatic propositions on the necessity of belonging to the Catholic Church for eternal salvation.
It also emphasizes the position of the Pope as Supreme Head of the Church, and the duty of all ‘earthly authority’ to submit to the Pope in order to belong to the Church, and thus to attain salvation.
The Pope also asserts the ‘higher position’ of the ‘Spiritual’ in comparison with the ‘Secular’ order…..Ideas still in common circulation today.
Historical Context Of Unam Sanctam Papal Bull
In its Historical context, Unam Sanctam was promulgated during an ongoing dispute between Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair, King of France.
In response to the Bull, Philip had the Dominican John of Paris issue a refutation. Pope Boniface reacted by excommunicating the King.
It was not just the French monarchy and Clergy who disapproved of Boniface and his assertions.
There were many texts circulating around Europe that attacked the Bull and Boniface’s bold claims for the power of the Papacy over the Temporal.
In the end, it led to a war that ended in Pope Boniface’s defeat and death.
Unam Sanctam Legacy
‘Unam Sanctam’ also sowed the seeds of the Protestant Reformation which led to the decline of Papal Supremacy.
The decline of Papal Supremacy and the rise of Protestant Christianity in itself birthed a period of monumental change in Human Civilization and organisation, the most notable of which is the Industrial Revolution’ which crystallised the foundation of the modern world.
Ultimately, in my view, one of the most important things for the World and Post-Colonial Africa in particular, to understand about ‘Unam Sanctam’ is the Legal force of such arbitrary Papal Decrees in regulating Human organisation in Europe.
This would have implications not only for Europe, but for the rest of the world.
First in the Spanish Conquest Of The Americas or ‘New World’, and also in Africa, as Colonial Conquest in Africa and the New World both gave rise to the need to establish and maintain Legal Sovereignty over newly conquered territories required a Legal mechanism to enable it.
Papal Bulls were useful for this purpose, as an essentially European Legal mechanism employed to impose foreign Laws on indigenous Colonised populations.
This introduced Law would also form the basis of Post-Colonial Legal systems.
Meanwhile, the scandal of ‘Unam Sanctam’ continues to haunt the Catholic Church as Theological defences to attacks mounted against it by modern Christians continue.