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Clericis laicos

Clericis laicos was a Papal bull issued on February 5, 1296 by Pope Boniface VIII in an attempt to prevent the secular states of Europe, in particular France and England, from appropriating church revenues without the express prior permission of the pope. The two expansionist monarchies had come to blows, and the precedents for taxation of the clergy for a "just war" if declared a crusade and authorized by the Papacy had been well established. The position of Boniface was that prior authorization had always been required, and the clergy had not been taxed for purely secular and dynastic warfare.

The bull's wording[1] decreed that all prelates or other ecclesiastical superiors who under whatsoever pretext or color shall, without authority from the Holy See, pay to laymen any part of their income or of the revenue of the Church, likewise all emperors, kings, dukes, counts, etc. who shall exact or receive such payments, incur eo ipso the sentence of excommunication.

James F. Loughlin, writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1903), interpreted this wording as expressing two underlying principles of this Bull:

  1. That the clergy should enjoy equally with the laity the right of determining the need and the amount of their subsidies to the Crown;
  2. That the head of the Church ought to be consulted when there was question of diverting the revenues of the Church to secular purposes.

Catholic writers have claimed that these were by no means strange or novel at the time. Outside of France and England there was no secular authority strong enough to resist these Papal claims, and the bull was generally accepted. But what excited the wrath of its two main groups of antagonists, the ministers of Philip IV of France and of Edward I of England, was that by its aggressive tone, from the express mention of sovereigns, and the grave penalties attached, they felt that behind the decree there stood a new Pope, resolved to enforce it to the letter.

The Bull was criticized for the unprecedented vehemence of its tone,[2] for its exaggerated indictment of the hostile attitude of the laity of all ages towards the clergy, and for its failure to make clear the distinction between the revenues of the purely ecclesiastical benefices and the "lay fees" held by the clergy on feudal tenure. The unscrupulous advisers of Philip were quick to take advantage of the Pope's hasty language and, by forcing him to make explanations, put him on the defensive and weakened his prestige.

Clericis laicos was essentially neutralized by the bull Etsi de statu issued in July 1297, which allowed lay taxation of clergy without papal consent in cases of emergency.[3]

Nonetheless, Clericis laicos was included by Pope Boniface in his collection of canon law, the Liber sextus decretalium. Only after the death of Boniface's successor, Benedict XI, would the canonists begin treating the bull as truly revoked.[4]


  1. ^ Clericis laicosMedieval Sourcebook:
  2. ^ Its opening statement asserted that "the laity have been from the most ancient times hostile to the clergy", "a palpable untruth" observed Norman F. Cantor, in The Civilization of the Middle Ages (1993:493), citing the enormous enthusiasm and devotion of most laymen were still showing to many of the clergy.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Thomas M. Izbicki, “Clericis laicos and the Canonists,” in Popes, Teachers, and Canon Law in the Middle Ages, ed. J. R. Sweeney and S. Chodorow, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989,179-190; Izbicki, Thomas M. Izbicki, "Guido de Baysio's unedited gloss on 'Clericis laicos'," Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law (13 (1983): 62-67.
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