Urban II, Pope, Bl.
URBAN II, POPE, BL.
Pontificate: March 12, 1088 to July 29, 1099; b. Odo of Châtillon-sur-Marne c. 1035; d. Rome. Odo was educated and later was archdeacon at Rheims, then a monk and eventually prior at Cluny. In 1079/80 he was appointed by Pope Gregory VII as cardinal bishop of Ostia. Late in the year 1084, as Gregory found himself increasingly isolated, he entrusted Cardinal Odo with an important legation to Germany. Odo presided over a synod at Quedlinburg in which the antipope, Clement III, his followers and their orders, were condemned. Odo was still in the north when Pope Gregory died at Salerno in May 1085, and Gregory was followed by the brief pontificate of Abbot Desiderius of Monte Cassino as Victor III. But Victor's successor, elected at Terracina in March 1088, was Cardinal Odo, who took the name Urban II.
His reign can be divided into two parts. The first period, from 1088 to late 1093, was spent mainly in southern Italy, away from the forces of Clement III and Emperor Henry IV in Rome and the north. During these years Urban worked to undermine his enemies, to rally the fragmented Gregorian party, and to stabilize its support in both East and West. He was able to return to Rome at the end of 1093, and the remainder of his pontificate was characterized by visibility and activity throughout the Church (no pope since Leo IX travelled as widely as did Urban) and increasingly by vigorous pursuit of reforming goals, through correspondence, papal legates, and papal synods. Early on Urban had convened three councils in southern Italy, at Melfi (1089), Benevento (1091), and Troia (1093), which repromulgated many of
the reforming decrees of Gregory VII, including the prohibition against lay investiture of bishops and abbots (Melfi). But the councils over which Urban presided after returning north, especially those in 1095 at Piacenza and Clermont, renewed and amplified the Reform programs.
By the end of Urban II's pontificate the bleak prospects faced by the Gregorian party in the mid-1080s had been reversed, and the fortunes of Clement III and Henry IV diminished as Urban's support increased. The familiarnotion of an 11th-century "Gregorian Reform" has been questioned by scholars in recent decades, and texts from Gregory VII are not especially visible in canon law books of the time. But from the beginning of the 12th century up to the time of the compilation of Gratian's Decretum —which marks a turning point in the collection of canon law from the first millennium of the Church— Urban II is a prominent source of law and papal authority. At times obscured by the spectacular political struggles which erupted during Gregory VII's pontificate, the contribution which Urban II made in rescuing and advancing the cause of papal reform, while also dealing with the concomitant political tensions that this movement generated, cannot be underestimated.
The preaching of the First Crusade must be seen in that larger context of papal leadership, and Urban's special concern for East-West relations. That concern already is visible during his early days in southern Italy, when he made contact with Constantinople, and sent legates there in 1089. Perhaps ambassadors from the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, appeared in March, 1095, at the Council of Piacenza, seeking military support for Alexius's battles against the Turks. Eight months later, at the Council of Clermont, Urban announced a great penitential pilgrimage/military expedition aimed both at helping the Greeks and capturing Jerusalem from Muslim control. In so doing he launched one of the most famous and multifaceted enterprises in Christian history. Crusading was an important element in Latin Christendom for centuries, yet Urban died in late July, 1099, no doubt without learning that Western armies had captured Jerusalem on July 15. A cult appeared soon after his death, and formal beatification was proclaimed by Leo XIII on July 14, 1881.
Feast: July 29 or 30.
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