This book could be a black hole for reviewers. By itself it exceeds 800 pages, but it is only one part of a project whose publication began forty-eight years earlier with Papst Urban II. (1088-1099). Teil 1: Herkunft and kirchliche Laufbahn: Der Papst und die lateinische Christenheit (MGH Schriften 19.1 [Stuttgart, 1964]); and continued with Papst Urban II. (1088-1099). Teil 2: Der Papst, die griechische Christenheit und der Kreuzzug (MGH Schriften 19.2 [Stuttgart, 1988]). It spans an academic career inasmuch as its roots extend back through Becker's 1955 Saarland University dissertation and its final volume appeared only after his death in 2011. Since he was long associated with the scholars of the MGH, who published Papst Urban II in their Schriften series and who, as his acknowledgements indicate, provided information, help, and editorial assistance, it is hard not to contextualize his work within that distinguished and distinctive academic culture. Unless a reviewer is willing to risk vanishing forever into some alternate universe, it is prudent to navigate around the periphery of this black hole by limiting comments to descriptive orientation and some gross generalizations.
What is Pope Urban II, Part 3? For readers interested in the pope himself, this volume is the wrong place to start. Part 1 is more biographical, presenting what is known about Urban's early life and his policies toward different areas of the Latin Church. Part 2 focuses on Urban's relations with the Eastern Roman Empire and on the crusades, and includes editions and German translations of the Greek sources related to Urban's dealings with the East (206-271) as well as a register of the charters documenting the Frankish journey on which he proclaimed the crusade at the Council of Clermont (435-458). What is left forPart 3? Here Becker attempts to insert Urban into a larger picture of the reforming Church. He examines Urban's understanding of the papal office, including the papacy itself, the pope as Vicar of Peter, ecclesiastical freedom, Christendom, and ecclesiastical universality and obedience (1-97). Then he relates the papacy to the institutions of the Church: to Rome-centered administration (98-217); to the episcopate (218-394); to monks, canons, and new religious movements (395-525); and to the lay world (526-661). He follows with a summary conclusion (662-677). Then the volume turns retrospective: it offers useful appendixes on papal ceremonial (678-686); on twenty-three newly identified documents (687-703); and on Urban II's lost register (704-713). Becker provides Corrigenda to the two earlier volumes (712-717). Indexers, working after his death, have supplied a "Namenregister" which locates mentions of medieval persons and places in all three volumes (723-750). Ernst-Dieter Hehl completed the final editing of this well- produced volume.
This is a very old-fashioned book, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Becker began work before Vatican II, before the decline of intellectual history as a popular field, and before literary criticism had attacked faith in historical sources and called into question the possibility of objective history. His work assumes that people's actions flow out of and express their beliefs. Therefore, he begins by attempting to reconstruct the ecclesiology of Urban II, a laborious task given that this pope had left behind no ecclesiological, theological, or canonistic writings. The contemporary narrative sources are rarely helpful about Urban's ideas and motivations. What can be known has to be deduced from the fragmentary canons of his ten councils and from about 650 randomly surviving papal letters and other documents. After Becker has created models of Urban's views, he uses them to help explain Urban's actions. Critics may consider this approach to be overly rational and constructed, and ultimately circular in its argumentation. But Becker's method produces close readings of text and vocabulary that are more intellectually challenging and thought provoking than many studies today which blithely assume that political actions can be sufficiently explained as manifestations of the desire for hegemony.
What can be learned from a project more than a half-century in the making? Becker's constant attempts to update his meticulous documentation reveal that papal reform studies are still progressing. The narrative of Gregorian Reform was once championed in multiple volumes of Studi Gregoriani by Catholic scholars attempting to understand an institutional Church that had providentially managed to survive World War II, but their enthusiasm was shipwrecked on the shoals of Vatican II and subsequent ecclesiastical controversies. Nevertheless, in specialist, mostly non-English publications, solid research on ecclesiastical administration still glacially advances. Becker's treatment of cardinals can now rely on Rudolf Hüls, Kardinäle, Klerus und Kirchen Roms: 1049-1130 (1977); his use of the canons of Urban's councils now depends on ongoing editions and analyses by Robert Somerville; and the new literature cited for "Priests, Monks, Canons, and New Religious Movements" is particularly impressive. At a time when world historians are beginning to envision an "age of clericalization" dawning throughout Eurasia around the year 1000, this research may be of more than provincial interest.
Although Becker directly treated Urban's crusade ideology back in Part 2, he necessarily alludes here to Urban's broad perspectives on the Christian world (e.g. 356, 675). Becker's close analyses of the crusade sources is important to the long ongoing debates among historians about the cause and nature of the crusades. Over the last two generations scholars have been attempting to de-center the Jerusalem-based crusade narrative, adopting later and wider perspectives that encompass crusades waged into the early modern period as well as earlier perspectives emphasizing origins in the Muslim / Christian hostilities of the tenth and early eleventh centuries. Paul Chevedden in particular, in a half dozen recent articles, has attempted to present the movements dubbed the crusades as aspects of a world conflict that broke out in Spain and Sicily around the mid-eleventh century (Becker cites one of Chevedden's studies, 675n-676n). What Becker establishes in his second volume and continues to reference here, is Urban's concern--long before the Council of Clermont in 1095--that the wars in Spain, Sicily, and the Christian East were related parts of a divine plan (356-368). As Becker summarizes Urban's stance back in his second volume, the crusade "is not or is only secondarily about pilgrimage and pilgrims" (II 396). Becker does recognize that the councils of Piacenza and Clermont were real councils with real consequences for what came to be known as the crusades, but his descriptions of Urban's vision of one Church struggling in one world support aspects of the revisionist argument.
Although the standard historiographical narrative envisions a triumphant Urban II processing north in 1095 to call the crusades, Urban's reign, according to Becker, remained under the shadow of the papal schism in which antipope Clement III (1080-1100) presided over Rome and/or Ravenna. He finds in Urban's documents relatively few actual confrontations over particular investitures, and far more evidence of concern about how to deal with the papal schism (308, 366). Cardinals were cardinal bishops, priests, and deacons, and not yet conceptualized as a unified "college." Many supported the anti-pope, enough to hold eight anti-Gregorian councils, one as late as 1098 in Rome itself (98). In the investiture struggles, bishops were the key swing force (218). It was with full awareness of the existence of a competing curia that Urban consistently strove to define and solidify episcopal power and to more tightly integrate bishops into a pope-centered hierarchical order.
Becker also contributes to the debate over the significance of Gregory VII. Some historians, including this reviewer, have characterized Hildebrand/Gregory VII as a charismatic prophetic reformer, and contrasted him against Urban II as a rational, diplomatic institution-builder of the type that would come to dominate the reforming movement in the aftermath of Gregory's failures. Even Becker himself sees Gregory approaching the papal office with a certain "St-Peter mysticism" and Urban as the more rational and juridical administrator (662). But the last volume of Papst Urban II undercuts attempts to distance Urban from Gregory, his patron and mentor. A Leitmotif is Urban as a follower of Gregory, as pedissequus Gregorii, consistently respecting Gregory's precedents and adopting his programs (for examples, 4, 11, 14, 21, 44, 144, 326, 606-07, 624, 668, and 670).
How should today's historians approach Becker's trilogy? A research project spanning a half century is difficult to read as a unit, except perhaps by admiring specialists in the history of the papacy or the Gregorian Reform. Many of Becker's analyses can be read with profit as independent articles on aspects of ecclesiology, history, and local policy, but it is not very easy to use this magnum opus of more than 1500 closely documented pages as a reference manual on Urban and his world because a researcher hoping to track down a particular point is guided only by the chapter headings and the single index devoted to medieval names. The bibliographies in front of each volume are complementary, avoiding duplication but at the cost of potentially requiring a researcher seeking to expand a reference to consult two or three volumes. One must also consult the Corrigenda at the end of the third volume. Thus an individual scholar attempting to make effective use of Papst Urban II. Teil 3 actually needs to have all three volumes in hand, which the MGH can provide at a total cost of €235. Yet one must admire Becker's attempt to lay out what can be known about an important ecclesiastical leader in a transitional era of European history. And one expects that, had Becker not been constrained by the limits of human mortality, he would have wanted to keep going because, as he laments in a Foreword written in 2009, "there is still much to do" (vii).