Pope Adrian VI (1522-23)
Who was Pope Adrian VI?
Pope Adrian VI was the last pontefice barbaro (Guicciardini, XIV, v), and the only pope of modern times, except Marcellus II, who retained his baptismal name; succeeded Pope Leo X, from 9 January, 1522, to 14 September, 1523. He was born of humble parentage in Utrecht, 2 March, 1459. He lost his pious father, Florentius Dedel, at an early age, and was kept at school by the fortitude of his widowed mother, first at home, later at Zwolle with the Brothers of the Common Life, finally at the University of Louvain. After a thorough course in philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence he was created Doctor of Divinity in 1491.
Margaret of Burgundy defrayed the expenses of the poor student. His popularity as professor of theology in Louvain is shown to have been deserved by his two chief works, Quaestiones quodlibeticae (1521), and his Commentarius in Lib. IV Sententiarum Petri Lombardi (1512), which was published without his knowledge from notes of students, and saw many editions. As dean of the collegiate church of St. Peter in Louvain, and vice-chancellor of the university, he laboured to advance the arts and sciences, sacred and profane, and gave universal edification by a life of singular piety and severe asceticism.
In 1506, he was, happily for the Church, selected by the Emperor Maximilian as tutor to his grandson, the future Charles V, then in his sixth year. Whatever accomplishments Charles possessed, beyond the art of war, he owed to the efforts of Adrian; most precious of all, his unalterable attachment to the Faith of his fathers. Transferred from the academic shades into public life, the humble professor rose to eminence with wonderful celerity. Within a decade he was the associate of Ximenes, Bishop of Tortosa, Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish peninsula, Cardinal of the Roman Church, and finally Regent of Spain. He was no less surprised than the rest of mankind when the intelligence reached him that the unanimous voice of the Sacred College had raised him to the highest dignity on earth. Appalling tasks lay before him in this darkest hour of the Papacy.
To extirpate inveterate abuses; to reform a court which thrived on corruption, and detested the very name of reform; to hold in leash young and warlike princes, ready to bound at each other's throats; to stem the rising torrent of revolt in Germany; to save Christendom from the Turks, who from Belgrade now threatened Hungary, and if Rhodes fell would be masters of the Mediterranean — these were herculean labours for one who was in his sixty-third year, had never seen Italy, and was sure to be despised by the Romans as a "barbarian." Adrian accepted the responsibilities of his office with a full conception of their magnitude. Charles was elated at the news of the elevation of his tutor, but soon found that the new pontiff, notwithstanding his affection for him, was resolved to reign impartially.
Francis I, on the contrary, who had looked upon Adrian as a mere tool of the Emperor, and had uttered threats of a schism, before long acquiesced, and sent an embassy to present his homage. Apprehensions of a Spanish Avignon were baseless; at the earliest possible date Adrian embarked for Italy, and made his solemn entry into Rome on 29 August. Two days later he received the triple crown. History presents no more pathetic figure than that of this noble pontiff, struggling single-handed against insurmountable difficulties. Through the reckless extravagances of his predecessor, the papal finances were in a sad tangle. Adrian's efforts to retrench expenses only gained for him from his needy courtiers the epithet of miser. Vested rights were quoted against his attempts to reform the curia. His nuncio to Germany, Chierigati, received but scant courtesy.
His exaggerated acknowledgment that the Roman Court had been the fountainhead of all the corruptions in the Church was eagerly seized upon by the Reformers as a justification of their apostasy. His urgent appeals to the princes of Christendom to hasten to the defence of Rhodes found unheeding ears; on 24 October that valiantly defended bulwark of the Christian Faith fell into the hands of the Turks, a disaster which hastened the Pontiff's death. His unrelaxing activity and Rome's unhealthy climate combined to shatter his health.
He died appropriately on the feast of the Exaltation of that Cross to which he had been nailed for more than a year (14 September, 1523). His monument, erected by his faithful friend, Wilhelm Enckenvoert, is still seen at Rome, in the national church of the Germans, Santa Maria dell' Anima, with its quaint inscription, so often admired, to the effect that even the best of men may be born in times unsuited to their virtues: "Proh Dolor! Quantum refert in quae tempora vel optimi cujusque virtus incidat" [Gregorovius-Ampère Les tombeaux des papes Romains (Paris, 1859), 200, 201, 294,295]. To the times, in fact, was it owing, not to any fault of his, that the friendship of the sixth Adrian and the fifth Charles did not revive the happy days of the first Adrian and the first and greatest of the Charleses.
- Catholic Encyclopedia