Boniface VIII

(Benedict Gaetani)
1235-1303
Power-grabbing pope

Benedict Gaetani would be bullied by no one. Accusing professors at the University of Paris of dabbling in papal affairs, the 39-year-old cardinal promised the university's destruction if they continued on their course. "You Paris masters at your desk seem to think that the world should be ruled by your reasonings. I tell you that this is not so—it is to us that the world is entrusted, not to you." It would not be the last threat Gaetani (later Pope Boniface VIII) would make against Paris's elite.

Born into a modest Italian family, Gaetani coupled a sharp legal mind with iron determination to advance to the Sacred College, the body responsible for electing the pope. Once inside the papal palace, Gaetani persuaded the inexperienced and weak Pope Celestine V to renounce the papacy and return to his monk's cell. (In Dante's universe, this "great refusal" earns Celestine a place in hell's vestibule, home of the futile.)

Acting quickly, Gaetani negotiated support from his fellow cardinals and in January 1294 entered St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome as the victorious Boniface VIII. Many people hated him, though, believing he had usurped the papal throne.

Boniface lost little time securing fortune for himself and his family. He spent one-fourth of his pontifical revenue buying land for the Gaetani. The rival Colonna family despised him for it, so Boniface destroyed them. The pope's critics accused him of simony—selling church offices and indulgences.

Boniface appears in the Comedy as the greedy pope next in line for the terrors of hell. Mistaking Dante for Boniface, Pope Nicholas III (another simoniac) cries out:

"Art standing there already, Boniface?Why then, the writ has lied ...
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