(1) What was the significance of the conflict between Philip IV and Boniface VIII?
In the 14th century, the king of France (Phillip IV, also known as Phillip the Fair) and the Roman Pope (Boniface VIII) were at odds due to a variety of reasons.
The King had decided to levy taxes on the Catholic Church and the rest of the clergy, however Popes, bishops, and the owners of church property had not been previously taxed. Phillip had also failed to ask the Pope’s permission, and in doing so had undermined the Pope’s authority. Boniface reacted strongly to the new taxation, but Phillip merely retaliated with the declaration that money from the Church in France could not be transferred to the church in Rome. The Pope backed down and changed his mind on the taxation law, allowing him (perhaps grudgingly) to continue in his plan to tax the church.
Later however, Phillip imprisons one of Boniface’s appointed French bishops, which obviously would have angered the Pope. The tension continued to escalate. Pope Boniface wrote a letter to the French, clarifying the issue of the rights of the Pope versus the rights of the king. Whatever he may have said in the letter, did not get read to the public, or even to the King. Instead, the letter had been doctored by a group of people prior to it being presented to the public. The people understood the doctored letter to mean that the Pope believed himself to be the ultimate authority under God. They were confused and dissatisfied.
Regardless of the fact that the previous letter had been doctored, Bonficace then sent another letter, with his opinions stated in clearer terms: That the Pope is greater in authority than the King, and the King, in certain situations, must seek guidance and permission from the Pope. The King was very displeased with Boniface’s missive, and Boniface was prepared to excommunicate the king, when the angry Phillip sent men to harass Boniface, who soon died in 1303.
Conclusion: It all comes down to a power struggle. Neither the Pope nor the King actually cared about what was the right thing to do – They were more preoccupied with their own self-interests. The struggle was not new to Europe, and it wouldn’t end here – It’s the question of the ages. Who holds more earthly authority? A religious figure, or political figure?
(2) What were the effects of the Black Death on Europe?
The Black Death decimated Europe in the 14th century, killing between 1/4 and 1/2 of Europe’s population, although it’s often more specifically stated to be 1/3. Many people abandoned God and theology because, as they reasoned, He had abandoned them. (I explain this in more detail in another essay.) Of course, the plague disheartened the people so much that they despaired of ever getting out of it alive, and so they lived as though each day was their last, looting, drinking, and committing all sorts of crimes against the the State AND the ultimate moral code. However, the Black Death is only one of the contributing factors to a steady moral decline in Europe, a decline that has crept around the world and continues to grow to this day.