Biography of Urban, II

Name: Urban, II
Bith Date: 1042
Death Date: July 29, 1099
Place of Birth: Châtillon-sur-Marne, France
Nationality: French
Gender: Male
Occupations: pope
Urban, II

Urban II (1042-1099) was pope from 1088 to 1099. He laid the foundations for the papal monarchy, and his pontificate marked a turning point in the institutional organization of the papacy and in papal-imperial relations.

Otto (or Odo) de Lagery, who became Urban II, was born near Châtillon-sur-Marne of a great French noble family. He grew up at Reims, where he became archdeacon, and at Cluny, where he became a monk and then prior. In 1078 Gregory VII created him cardinal bishop of Ostia. Loyally supporting Gregory's reforming ideals, he represented the Pope on numerous successful missions to France and Germany.

On March 12, 1088, Otto was elected pope and took the name Urban II. Though he was a convinced Gregorian, he was less fiery and passionate than Gregory VII and more politically astute about realizing a program of reform. Whereas Gregory VII had neglected the ties that bound the papacy and southern Italy, Urban II carefully cultivated them, seeing in them a political means for resisting the German emperor.

Soon after his election Urban went to Sicily to renew the alliance with Roger Guiscard and to establish one with the Greek emperor, thus laying the foundations for the good relations that obtained between Rome and Byzantium throughout his pontificate.

In November 1088 Urban reestablished himself in Rome with the aid of Norman troops, which he used against the imperial antipope Clement III. Ten months later Urban left Rome for southern Italy to preside over a council of 70 bishops concerned with lay investiture. Together with comparable later councils in northern Italy, Germany, and France, this meeting symbolized Urban's effort to reform the Church throughout Europe along Gregorian lines, especially by isolating the hostile German emperor Henry IV. To further his aims against Henry, Urban sanctioned political marriages and formulated military alliances, chiefly the first Lombard League (1093). In November 1093 an assembly of rebellious German nobles made common cause with the Pope at Ulma, swearing obedience to his representative.

In March 1095 at Piacenza, Urban officiated at a reunion of the entire reform-oriented episcopate--by a chronicler's estimate a gathering of more than 4,000 prelates and 30,000 laymen. Also in attendance (and further bearing witness to the power of the Pope) were Henry IV's estranged wife, Praxedis, an embassy from Philip I of France, and an embassy from the Greek emperor seeking help against the Turks.

After the council adjourned, Urban triumphantly proceeded north, continuing with the work of restoring papal authority wherever it had been usurped by secular power. From Nov. 18 to Nov. 28, 1095, he convened a council at Clermont, France, where, in addition to excommunicating King Philip I of France, he reaffirmed the primacy of papal power over the entire Church. On November 27 Urban solemnly proclaimed the First Crusade against the infidels. By mobilizing Europe's chivalric elements to his cause, Urban proved that he had not only excluded the German emperor but that he had displaced him as leader of Europe. On July 15, 1099, the crusaders entered Jerusalem; but Urban died on July 29, 1099, before the news reached him. He was beatified on July 14, 1881.

Urban left behind the solid foundations of emerging papal monarchy. In seeking to create for the papacy a central governmental structure modeled on that of the French royal court, he invented the papal curia--an organ that put the papacy on an equal footing with the emerging feudal monarchies of Europe. His organizational efforts also included the discovery and use of legal texts for bolstering papal authority. In 1140 they were systematized in the famous Decretum of Gratian, which, because it emphasized the pope's legislative and dispensatory powers, became the starting point for 12th-century ecclesiastical law.

Further Reading

  • Virtually all studies of Urban II are in French or German. Good general studies in English which include Urban II are Henry Hart Milman, History of Latin Christianity (8 vols., 1861-1862; 4th ed., 9 vols., 1872); Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages (trans., 8 vols., 1894-1902); and Geoffrey Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (1968).

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