chapter thirty eight

Two Popes Further the Gregorian Reforms to close the Eleventh Century with a Victorious First Crusade

The good seeds planted by Pope Saint Gregory VII for they bore fruit in his two following successors, but it wasn't instantly. Though Gregory had died on May 25, 1085 it wasn't until one year short of a day that a legitimate successor was chosen to carry on the succession of Peter in the long line of vicars. The confusion caused by the antipope Clement III which had forced Gregory VII to flee to Salerno threw the reform party of Rome into turmoil, taking with it many once loyal to Gregory. After Gregory's death the College of Cardinals felt helpless to act, intimitated by Clement and his cohorts, but as time went on the Norman prince Jordan of Capua realized the longer the Holy See was vacant the more powerful Clement could become. Therefore he pressured the College to convene and select a successor. Of the group of cardinals there was the abbot of Monte Cassino, Cardinal Desiderius who, after servicing Pope Leo IX, had retired to Monte Cassino in 1055 and was appointed abbot there in 1059. The next year he was named cardinal priest and papal vicar of the monasteries in Southern Italy by Pope Nicholas II. Though he had no ambitions to be pope, his fellow cardinals saw the good qualities in him and felt Desiderius had the background to bring about a reconciliation with the German emperor Henry IV. Reluctant to accept such an exalted position, Desiderius returned to Monte Cassino but the cardinals followed him and four days brought him back against his will. After exhaustive meetings with him, he was persuaded by the united body of cardinals to take the keys of the kingdom. This humble monk had been born Daufari around 1027 and was related to the Lombard dukes from Benevento. He turned his back on the noble life, opting instead to be a monk in Benevento. There he was given the name Desiderius. Now it was time for another name and he chose Victor III out of respect for the pontiff Victor II who sat on the holy throne when Desiderius was ordained. Thus the one hundred and fifty eighth successor to Peter became Pope Blessed Victor III on May 24, 1086. His first act was to excommunicate Clement III though he was not able to physically force the antipope out of Rome because of Clement's forces which had entrenched themselves in the eternal city. Victor then took up residence on the fortified Tiber island near what today is Vatican hill. Through the influence of Jordan of Capua and the Countess Matilda of Tuscany Victor's forces were finally able to gain full control of the Vatican on July 1, 1086. Ill health had started to take it's toll on Victor and he retired to the quietude and serenity of Monte Cassino where, inspired by the Holy Spirit and dedicated to Gregory's causes, he drew up plans to convene a council at Benevento in late August. The council reaffirmed Gregory VII's denouncement of Lay investiture, but they agreed to seek reconciliation with Henry. They also approved Victor's military plans to launch a massive naval expedition from Pisa and Genoa on the Saracens in eastern Tunisia, reasoning that by hitting the heart of their capital it would cause the infidels to stop and think about invading Italy again. The Italian forces attacked the Tunisian capital in August 1087, returning the next month with many spoils that would be stored in the Vatican. When they returned they found the holy pontiff gravely ill and, at his wish, the dying pope was carried back to Monte Cassino where Victor died on September 16, 1087. Eight hundred years later he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.

The gap between Victor and his successor being named only served to strengthen the antipope Clement's hold on Rome once again; so much so that the College of Cardinals had to retire to Terracina to choose a successor. At the conclave in Velletri they chose a Norman cardinal who had been born around 1035 in Catillon-sure-Marne in France. His name was Eudes who had been tutored by Saint Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order at Rheims, France. There Eudes was made a canon and then archdeacon, and later ordained at Cluny. He was consecrated a cardinal by Gregory VII to whom he remained ever loyal, especially during the heated differences with Henry IV for it was Cardinal Eudes who Gregory appointed to preside over the 1085 synod in Saxony which condemned Clement III and upheld the rejection of Henry IV. Now Eudes was the man chosen to take charge and he accepted this august responsibility, and became Pope Blessed Urban II, the first legitimate Urban since Pope Saint Urban I who converted Saint Cecilia to Christianity in the early third century. On March 12, 1088 Urban II became the one hundred and fifty ninth supreme pontiff. Realizing the axiom that one can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, Urban chose a more moderate approach and, in so doing, won over the majority. Though those staunch reformers took it as an afront to Gregory VII's mandates, they realized it was the only course for Urban to take if the Church were to grow and keep the wolves from her door. One of these wolves was Henry IV who still held great resentment for Urban II and, waging a successful campaign in the early 90's in Italy forced Urban to flee while reinstalling his handpicked antipope Clement III. Urban sought refuge in Southern Italy with the Normans where he built up support for his campaign to take back Rome. This opportunity came in late 1093 when he took advantage of Henry's preoccupation in Verona to wrest the Vatican away from Clement whose influence was waning greatly. While Urban struggled greatly with the politics of Rome, his influence was greatly respected in other parts of Europe where he was deeply revered. He gained many converts in France and Spain, totally reorganizing the ecclesial ranks in the latter country, restoring the archbishopric of Toledo. England was not as accepting of Urban's policies, especially its ruler William II but eventually came around but not before the papacy made concessions that would cause repercussions for future popes and lead, ultimately, to the great split in the sixteenth century under King Henry VIII. South of Rome Urban enjoyed tremendous support from the Normans and the Sicilians to whom he granted powers over the Church in the latter country which came to be known as the "Sicilian Monarchy" and which, to this day, has caused bitter strife and bloodshed.

With all these problems one would wonder how Urban ever became "Blessed Urban." No doubt due to what he accomplished after 1095. In those five years leading up to the twelfth century he not only regained all of the Lateran and Castel Sant'Angelo outside the Vatican, but held numerous successful synods. His first was at Piacenza in March of 1095 where the council declared all ordinations performed by Clement III as null and void. They also once again condemned Berengar of Tours for his false eucharistic teaching and reinforced the reform legislation first introduced by Gregory VII. The council also acted on the appeal from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus who pleaded to Rome to send troops to help preserve Christianity in the east. It was the seedling for the great crusades which would follow in ensuing centuries. In November of the same year Urban called a synod at Clermont, France in which this French-born pope reiterated the command that no bishop or cleric become a vassal of the king or prince. He then decreed what has come to be known as the "Truce of God" which called for no hostilities on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, providing a truce day to bury the dead. Finally, he issued a call for the First Crusade which would begin on November 27, 1095 and last until 1099 in which the Christian forces would retake the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. He not only fervently hoped for this victory but his missionary spirit envisioned a mass conversion of the infidels once they were conquered. In retrospect we can see this was an idealistic view but nevertheless noble in the days when indifference, corruption, and political expedience ruled. Many believe Urban II undertook the crusades on behalf of the Byzantine cause to reconcile with the Eastern Church for at his next synod in Bari, Italy Urban was able to convince the Eastern representatives, thanks to the astute explanation by Saint Anselm, the validity of the doctrine "Filioque". It is still conjecture, however, whether the Orthodox Church bishops in attendance truly believed Anselm's argument or went along in order to win over the Western Church in their battle with the infidels. Nevertheless the start of the Crusades remains Urban's greatest accomplishment which he undertook with the express purpose of reunifying the Eastern Church to Rome. Though his objectives were noble, he failed to make progress with the Eastern Church who, for all practical purposes used Rome to recruit much needed military strength in their battles with the infidels - a practice common in the middle ages. Yet, besides the crusades concept, Urban's reign is known for furthering Gregory VII's reform policies as well as centralizing Church government while reorganizing papal finances which had been greatly abused in the past. He made it tougher for antipopes and powerful political families in Rome to annex the papal coffers or set up their own accountants to alter the books. Urban also elevated the prestige of the Roman curia and bestowed greater responsibilities on the College of Cardinals, while reforming monastic rule in the universal Church. Two weeks after the Christian crusaders, which Urban had commissioned, recaptured Jerusalem on the July 15, 1099, the eleven year reign of this supreme pontiff ended. Urban II passed on to his Heavenly reward on July 29, 1099.

Within two weeks the College of Cardinals had selected his successor - the man who would lead the Church into the twelfth century, the early part of which would be wrought with more struggles with a string of antipopes as Rome was once again thrown into the throes of inner turmoil. This period we will cover in the next installment.