705 Years of UNAM SANCTAM


705 years ago on this day, Pope Boniface VIII made the following statement in Unam Sanctam:

“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”


*] The pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as pastor and doctor of all Christians, not merely in his private capacity as a theologian, preacher or allocutionist, nor in his capacity as a temporal prince or as a mere ordinary of the Diocese of Rome. It must be clear that he speaks as spiritual head of the Church universal. CHECK
*] Then it is only when, in this capacity, he teaches some doctrine of faith or morals that he is infallible CHECK
*] Further it must be sufficiently evident that he intends to teach with all the fullness and finality of his supreme Apostolic authority, in other words that he wishes to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final and irrevocable way, or to define it in the technical sense. These are well-recognized formulas by means of which the defining intention may be manifested. CHECK
*] Finally for an ex cathedra decision it must be clear that the pope intends to bind the whole Church. To demand internal assent from all the faithful to his teaching under pain of incurring spiritual shipwreck (naufragium fidei) according to the expression used by Pius IX in defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Theoretically, this intention might be made sufficiently clear in a papal decision which is addressed only to a particular Church; but in present day conditions, when it is so easy to communicate with the most distant parts of the earth and to secure a literally universal promulgation of papal acts, the presumption is that unless the pope formally addresses the whole Church in the recognized official way, he does not intend his doctrinal teaching to be held by all the faithful as ex cathedra and infallible. CHECK

So it seems to me that the statement is infallible. Of course, the real debate is what he meant.

I know this has been debated endlessly on here, but admit it, you love fighting about it, don’t you?


<< So it seems to me that the statement is infallible. Of course, the real debate is what he meant. I know this has been debated endlessly on here, but admit it, you love fighting about it, don’t you? >>

Yeah sometimes. And it is just over the 10 year anniversary of my response to this in FidoNet. 10 years ago. Before I was on the “Internet” :stuck_out_tongue: Some of my points then:

(A) The immediate historical context of the Bull is important, written to French CATHOLICS in the 14th century who were not submitting to the Pope. It was basically a war of letters between the French Catholic king Philip IV (the Fair) and Pope Boniface : Recordare Rex Inclyte (July 18, 1300); Secundum Divina; Salvator Mundi; Ante Promotionem Nostram; Ausculta Fili (AF) and its French version Deum Time (Dec 4-5, 1301); then Unam Sanctam (November 18, 1302); and finally Nuper ad Audientiam (August 15, 1303).

As Catholic historian Philip Hughes explains the purpose of the Bull –

"In many ways this letter hardly differs from the remonstrances which Boniface had already sent to the king. It tells him that his sins, as a Catholic ruler oppressing the rights of the Church, are notorious and a bad example to all Christendom…

“The Church has but a single head, Boniface reminds the king, and this head is divinely appointed as a shepherd for the whole flock of Christ. To suggest, then, that the King of France has no earthly superior, that he is not in any way subject to the pope is madness, is indeed, the prelude to infidelity. This doctrinal note is to appear again, and still more strikingly, in the controversy.” (Philip Hughes, A History of the Church, volume 3, page 78)

(B) The theological context is also important, and must take into account the broader context of Catholic theology, especially on salvation, Baptism, and the Mystical Body of Christ. A single line from a 14th century document, even if infallible, cannot be taken out of context.

From decidedly anti-Catholic historian Philip Schaff, who says that Boniface was “controlled by blind and insatiable lust of power” and in Unam Sanctam “the arrogance of the papacy finds its most naked and irritating expression,” nevertheless admits:

“There was no assertion of authority contained in the bull which had not been before made by Gregory VII and his successors, and the document leans back not only upon the deliverances of popes, but upon the definitions of theologians like Hugh de St. Victor, Bernard and Thomas Aquinas.” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, volume 6, page 20)

© The Bull simply CANNOT be applied to (for example) modern Protestant Christians (who did not exist in the 14th century and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bull) without carefully considering the WHOLE teaching of the Church on salvation and the Body of Christ.

(D) The final statement of Unam Sanctam must be understood in light of the first statement about membership in the Church for salvation since ONLY Catholics can submit to the Roman Pontiff. A Protestant, or any other religion must first BECOME a Catholic to submit (or be subject to) the Roman Pontiff.

(E) The final sentence is basically a re-statement of the first sentence.

“The Bull lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Church, the necessity of belonging to it for the attainment of eternal salvation, the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation.” (Catholic Encyclopedia [1913], article “Unam Sanctam” page 126)

“We must immediately distinguish between defined doctrine and ordinary papal teaching. Only the final sentence, as italicized, was solemnly defined and represents traditional Catholic dogma on the Church’s necessity for salvation.” (Fr. John Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, page 247)

“The other statements quoted (before and after the words about the two swords) regarding the need to be subject to the Pope for salvation, refer to the obligation to believe the teaching of the Pope on morals – which Boniface VIII himself pointed out. The statements also express that there is ‘no salvation outside the Church.’ Actually, the very wording of the last sentence that says men must be subject to the Pope comes word for word from St. Thomas Aquinas [Contra Errores Graecorum, Part II, Chapter 38]. Considering the context of St. Thomas’ statement it is just a statement of no salvation outside the Church.” (Fr. William Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, page 171)

Unam Sanctam Problem Resolved

Phil P


I believe some might be arguing this stance, Wrongly. fact that in order to be subject to the Pope one must be Caholic. Is not everyone subject to the Pope? Did not Christ establish Peter as the Rock? Is not the Pope the Vicar of Christ? What I am trying to say is that Christ established One Church, and this Church that Christ established is for every human creature, therefore every human creature is subject to the Pope. Now I am NOT calling the Pope,God. But an atheist is subject to God even if he does not believe in God. Just as Non-Catholics are subject to the Pope even if they do not believe in his authority established by Christ.


This is a common explanation, but it is incorrect.

The context of the Bull demands that the Pope was speaking of a condition that is entered to by an act of the will.

To “be subject” is an act of the will, by definition, according to this Bull.

We should also note that the Pope purposely did not say:

“it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every French Catholic”

…but specifically said:

“it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature


That is how I interpret the statement.


To be a Christian requires “an act of the will.” The Pope is the leader of the Christian Church!..whether you may know it or not but you are subject to the Roman Pontiff! For everyone is called to be in the One Church of God, the Catholic Church. All truths come from God revealed to his Church, and these truths extend and are bound on everyone. Therefore the Pope, being established by Christ, whom is infallible on matters of Faith and Morals, and the Magesterium of the Church, proclaims a Dogma or Doctrine is bound upon everyone.


I think John Paul II demonstrated that there were many people who were not Catholics who were subjects of the Supreme Pontiff nonetheless.

Is there anyone else whose teachings and example are so widely respected as the Pope’s?


Yes, but he was respected because of who he was and what he stood for probably more than the office he held. Much as the world respects Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.


With due respect, John Paul II was far more respected and influential in matters of faith and morals than either Mandela or the Dalai Lama, as evidenced by the influx of new Catholics versus African National Congress members or Tibetan Buddhists.

I certainly wish the Dalai Lama were more influential; the plight of the Tibetans is terrible.


It indeed IS infallible, because of the solemn definition.

As for being subject, take an example of modern secular society. A person, say, an American turns anarchist and says that he no longer subjects himself to the authority of the United States, and as a way of enforcing that, he bombs a federal building, killing hundreds. Shortly after, he’s caught.

He may insist till he’s green in the face that he’s no longer subject to American law, but his rants notwithstanding, he will be executed by the U.S. Federal Government as a terrorist.

It is still possible to be subject to the Pope without being aware of it, by truly searching for the truth, and living it the best one could. But even the Catechism clearly says: once you know that the Catholic Church is the true church, yet refuse to enter it, you cannot be saved.


It seems you do not understand the context of the Bull in question.

The context demands that being “subject” is something one can do or not do…their choice.


One may not believe in God, but that person is still subject to God! Again the Papacy is established by Christ, to lead everyone. This is why the Pope is SUPREME Pontiff. Every truth that protestant communties have, comes from the Catholic Church. These truths are not separate from the Pope. These truths are calls to Catholic Unity. Unity with the Pope of Rome. Therefore one could say that we are subject to the Roman Pontiff by excepting these truths, where ever to be found in whatever Religion. And if someone knows the Catholic Church to be the True Church, and refuses to join the Church they can not receive salvation. This teaching comes from the Catholic Church.


How is that true for a Buddhist monk or for a Jewish rabbi ?


It is not.

Doesn’t the appeal of Pope John Paul II simply gall anti-Catholics?

It must really twist their knickers.


Because the Catholic Faith is the Church of God. Not the Buddhist Faith nor the Jewish Faith. God calls everyone home to Rome.


Everyone except Buddhists and Jews?

There is no consistency here at all.


Save perhaps for your consistent difficulty in following the argument, Atemi.

The response was of course to a specific inquiry which referenced Buddhists and Jews for some reason or other.

You may have particular sensitivity on this issue having been subject to the Vicar of Christ on Earth and rejected his God-given authority.

For the rest of us, however, it depends on what “subject to” means.


So Atemi, God doesn’t call everyone to follow his son? To be a Christian?


God calls every human creature!


Yes. We are all called by God. But
Buddhist monks and Jewish rabbis do not see themselves as subject to the Pope.

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