Pope Boniface VIII promulgated the Papal bull entitled, Unam Sanctam. In it, he speaks of two swords: the spiritual sword (gladius spiritualis) and the temporal sword (gladius temporalis).

We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal.

In hac ejusque potestate duos esse gladios, spiritualem videlicet et temporalem, Evangelicis dictis instruimur.

Did this Papal bull authorize Christian aggression by the sword (i.e., offensive military action), or does it simply implore Christians to defend themselves against the aggression of others? Or, none of the above?

And, is this Papal bull still in force today?

  • It may be convenient to recall that, in Roman political theory, the term potestas referred to a kind of sanctioned use of violence (rather, coercion) by the State and its agents. Therefore, the use of swords as a metaphor for this concept is probably natural, even if it does not refer properly to actual sanctioned violence.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


Pope Boniface VIII said there are two swords:

Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest. However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power.

By this, he was asserting that ultimate authority lay in the Church under his rule. In this bull, he was not promoting military action, nor proposing that Christians should defend themselves. He was stating that secular rulers must be subordinated to the Church and carry out its commands. The concluding remark in the bull is, "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

Shortly after Boniface's death, Pope Clement V withdrew Unam Sanctam, so this bull is no longer in force although it was not the last time that popes attempted to assert authority over temporal rulers.

  • Do you have the reference for the Bull being withdrawn? Thanks. In any case, the dogmatic teaching of Lateran Council V: "That it is of the necessity of salvation for all Christ's faithful to be subject to the Roman pontiff" remains to be the authentic teaching of the Church. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 21:22
  • @SolaGratia Perhaps I can cite Brittanica which says, "Not allowing the church a role in secular affairs, Philip forced Clement to annul Pope Boniface VIII’s bulls Clericis Laicos , forbidding clergy to pay subsidies to lay authorities, and Unam Sanctam , defining the pope’s supreme authority." Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 23:54
  • "forced" wouldn't come out with anything meaningful, and besides, some of that document pertained to such as can not be revoked. It's not clear it has ever been revoked in any meaningful capacity; 'Forced to' doesn't sound like anything more than pretend revocation—of something that cannot be revoked besides, due to its infallible nature: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that..." Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 20:23
  • I'm not disputing you or the historical occurrence, of course, just musing about the status of the teaching in the document. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 20:26

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