Daily CATHOLIC - December 16, 1997 volume 8, no. 53
THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH
Pope Urban III: Open war with empires on all fronts
It was at Verona on November 25, 1185 that Pope Lucius III died and it was on that very same day that the College of Cardinals unanimously elected his successor Cardinal Umberto Crivelli as the one hundred and seventy second in the line of Peter. He took the name Pope Urban III keeping in line with his two predecessors of taking a pontiff who was the third - Eugene, Alexander and Lucius. Urban had been made a cardinal by Lucius III in 1182 and elevated to Archbishop of Milan in early 1185. Now the people of Milan could rejoice that one of their own was supreme pontiff. Past popes had been elected in an effort to appease the German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. With Urban the conclave took a different tact. Seeing Frederickís unreasonableness with Lucius, they realized Urban would not cow-tow to the emperorís demands. Urban, as it turned out was dead-set against Frederick for it was the latter who ransacked his beloved city of Milan in 1162 and had tortured his family. Nevertheless, in the interest of protocol he sent a letter to Frederick offering to reopen talks with him regarding the issues left unsettled with Lucius III. Like Lucius, Urban III was strongly opposed to the marriage of Frederickís son Henry to the daughter of King Roger of Sicily - Constance. To make matters worse the wedding took place on January 4, 1186 in the new Popeís own beloved city of Milan. Urban refused to acknowledge it and Frederick turned to the Patriarch of Aquileia to perform the ceremony and crown Henry "King of Italy." Urban, in turn, excommunicated the patriarch and all bishops who took part. This further strained Norman relations with the Holy See which had enjoyed their support for nearly two full centuries. It marked the end of an alliance and the beginning of a bitter strife between the Germans and the Papal States. Frederick had gained the upper hand with his own German bishops who he controlled and often elected and they voiced disapproval over Urbanís actions with a strong letter to the Pope in November 1186. But Urban refused to compromise. Frederick retaliated by closing off the mountain passes to Papal envoys and commissioned Henry to attack the Papal States. Urban countered by demanding the emperor present himself at a tribunal in Verona or face excommunication. Frederick reacted by isolating the Pope and his curia in Verona, not allowing rations or envoys to pass inside the walls of the city. Realizing he no longer held the upper hand and seeing the united support of the German bishops behind the powerful Frederick, Urban was forced to concede somewhat and named German Archbishop Wichman of Magdeburg as a mediator to settle the issues. This satisfied Frederick and he sent indication of a truce. But Urban, still fostering deep resentment towards him and the power struggle between the two, let it be known that he would excommunicate the emperor once he arrived. Civil authorities in Verona, loyal to the emperor because of financial and political reasons, caught wind of this and alerted Urban he could no longer stay in their city. Thus, Urban sent Frederick an invitation to meet him at Ferrara, but the Holy Father fell ill along the way, and died on October 20, 1187 before he reached Ferrara. His death was truly a blessing in disguise for had they met historians truly believe it would have been all-out war and Frederickís strength would have decimated the Holy See. As it was, the conclave would elect a more dove-like Pope who would use a different tact than the disastrous one employed by Urban III. Urbanís body was buried at the Cathedral in Ferrara.
Despite Urbanís faults and terrible diplomacy in his bitter struggle with Frederick, he did accomplish a few things during his nearly two-year papacy. He made great strides in planting the seeds for another crusade to the Holy Lands which would be carried out by his next two successors. He wept bitterly when he learned the Saracens had taken possession of Jerusalem for he had given tremendous attention and privileges to the Knights Hospitallers who were defeated. One of the main problems of Urbanís pontificate was not just his personal vendetta against Frederick, but his alienation of the bishops who he seemed to fight at every turn - not just in Italy and Germany, but also in England and France. Too often Urban abused his throne of Peter to threaten excommunication in order to get his way and, in the end, it backfired badly on him. Though, at times, these threats prevented further wars, such as the war between England and France which, out of fear of being driven from the Church or set upon by a larger army, both nations called a truce which lasted two years. Besides Frederick, Urban III had a long-standing and bitter fued with Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury who the Pope had sided against in a dispute with the monks of the Archbishopís cathedral in England. This infuriated Baldwin who spent every second trying to gain revenge by trying to influence kings and noblemen against the Pope. This did not help Urbanís popularity and turned one of his own allies - King Philip of France against him. The bishops, united behind their king, joined in their protest of Urbanís policies and, in the end, it brought this pope down and signaled the College of Cardinalís experiment of electing a forceful pontiff who was opposed to the mighty rulers as a total failure. They would not make that mistake again when they gathered quickly at Ferrara to elect Urbanís successor as we shall see in next week's installment.
NEXT ISSUE: Pope Gregory VIII: the start of reconciliation and restoration
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.