222 AD to 230
Reigned 222-30, date of birth unknown; died 23 May, 230.
According to the "Liber Pontificalis," Urban was a Roman and his
father's name was Pontianus. After the death of Callistus I (14
October, 222) Urban was elected Bishop of Rome, of which Church he
was the head for eight years, according to Eusebius (Hist. eccl.,
VI, 23). The document called the Liberian catalogue of popes puts
the beginning of his pontificate in the year 223 and its close in
the year 230. The dissension produced in the Roman Church by
Hippolytus (q.v.) continued to exist during Urban's pontificate.
Hippolytus and his adherents persisted in schism; it was probably
during the reign of Urban that Hippolytus wrote his
"Philosophumena", in which he attacked Pope Callistus severely.
Urban maintained the same attitude towards the schismatical party
and its leader that his predecessor had adopted. The historical
authorities say nothing of any other factious troubles in the life
of the Roman Church during this era. In 222 Alexander Severus became
Roman emperor. He favoured a religious eclecticism and also
protected Christianity. His mother, Julia Mammaea, was a friend of
the Alexandrine teacher Origen, whom she summonded to Antioch.
Hippolytus dedicated his work on the Resurrection to her. The result
of the favourable opinion of Christianity held by the emperor and
his mother was that Christians enjoyed complete peace in essentials,
although their legal status was not changed. The historian
Lampridius (Alex. Sever., c. xxii) says emphatically that Alexander
Severus made no trouble for the Christians: "Christianos esse passus
est." Undoubtedly the Roman Church experienced the happy results of
these kindly intentions and was unmolested during this emperor's
reign (222-235). The emperor even protected Roman Christians in a
legal dispute over the ownership of a piece of land. When they
wished to build a church on a piece of land in Rome which was also
claimed by tavern-keepers, the matter was brought before the
imperial court, and Severus decided in favour of the Christians,
declaring it was better that God should be worshipped on that spot
(Lampridius, "Alex. Sever.", c. xlix).
Nothing is known concerning the personal labours of Pope Urban.
The increase in extent of various Roman Catacombs in the first half
of the third century proves that Christians grew largely in numbers
during this period. The legendary Acts of St. Cecilia connect the
saint, as well as her husband and brother-in-law, with Urban, who is
said to have baptized her husband and her brother-in-law. This
narrative, however, is purely legendary, and has no historical value
whatever; the same is true of the Acts of the martyrdom of Urban
himself, which are of still later date than the legend of St.
Cecilia. The statement of the "Liber Pontificalis" that Urban
converted many by his sermons, rests on the Acts of St. Cecilia.
Another statement on the same authority, that Urban had ordered the
making of silver liturgical vessels, is only an invention of the
later editor of the biography early in the sixth century, who
arbitrarily attributed to Urban the making of certain vessels,
including the patens for twenty-five titular churches of his own
time. The particulars of the death of Urban are unknown, but,
judging from the peace of his era, he must have died a natural
death. The "Liber Pontificalis" states that he became a confessor in
the reign of Diocletian; the date added is without authority. His
name does not appear in the "Depositio Episcopoirum" of the fourth
century in the "Kalendarium Philocalianum".
Two different statements are made in the early authorities as to
the grave of Urban, of which, however, only one refers to the pope
of this name. In the Acts of St. Cecilia and the "Liber
Pontificalis" it is said that Pope Urban was buried in the Catacomb
of Praetextatus on the Via Appia. The Itineraries of the seventh
century to the graves of the Roman martyrs all mention the grave of
an Urban in connexion with the graves of several martyrs who are
buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus. One of the Itineraries gives
this Urban the title "Bishop and Confessor." Consequently, from the
fourth century, all Roman tradition has venerated the pope of this
name in the Urban of the Catacomb of Praetextatus. In excavating a
double chamber of the Catacomb of St. Callistus, De Rossi found,
however, a fragment of the lid of a sarcophagus that bore the
inscription OUPBANOCE [piskopos]. He also proved that in the
list of martyrs and confessors buried in the Catacomb of St.
Callistus, drawn up by Sixtus III (432-40), the name of an Urban is
to be found. The great archaeologist De Rossi therefore came to the
conclusion that the Urban buried in St. Callistus was the pope,
while the saint of the same name buried in St. Praetextatus was the
bishop of another see who died at Rome and was buried in this
catacomb. Most historians agree with this opinion, which, however,
chiefly founded on the Acts of St. Cecilia. The lettering of the
above-mentioned epitaph of an Urban in St. Callistus indicates a
later period, as a comparison with the lettering of the papal
epitaphs in the papal crypt proves. In the list prepared by Sixtus
III and mentioned above, Urban is not given in the succession of
popes, but appears among the foreign bishops who died at Rome and
were buried in St. Callistus.
Thus it seems necessary to accept the testimony that Pope Urban
was buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus, while the Urban lying in
St. Callistus is a bishop of a later date from some other city. This
view best reconciles the statements of the "Martyrologium
Hieronymianum". Under date of 25 May (VIII kal. Jun.) is to
be found the notice: "Via nomentana miliario VIII natale Urbani
episcopi in cimiterio Praetextati" ("Martyr. Hieronym.", ed. De
Rossi-Duchesne, 66). The catacomb on the Via Nomentana, however, is
that which contains the grave of Pope Alexander, while the Catacomb
of Praetextatus is on the Via Appia. Duchesne has proved (Lib.
Pontif., I, xlvi-xlvii) that in the list of graves of the popes from
which this notice is taken a line dropped out, and that it
originally stated that the grave of Pope Alexander was on the Via
Nomentana, and the grave of Pope Urban on the Via Appia in the
Catacomb of Praetextatus. Consequently 25 May is the day of the
burial of Urban in this catacomb. As the same martyrology contains
under the date of 19 May (XIV kal. Jun.) a long list of
martyrs headed by the two Roman martyrs Calocerus and Partenius, who
are buried in the Catacomb of St. Callistus, and including an Urban,
this Urban is apparently the foreign bishop of that name who lies
buried in the same catacomb.