Adrian I, Pope

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Pontificate: Feb. 1, 772 to Dec. 25, 795. A member of a prominent Roman family representing the military aristocracy, Adrian began his career in the service of the papal bureaucracy, eventually becoming a deacon with a reputation for learning. His election as pope represented a reconciliation of the clerical bureaucracy and the military aristocracy, two elements in the papal state whose rivalry for control of the papal office during the pontificate of Pope stephen iii (768772) posed major challenges for Adrian. The Lombard king, desiderius, had exploited the turmoil in Rome to establish his agent, Paul Afiarta, as the dominant figure in the papal administration. More importantly, Desiderius had taken advantage of developments in the Frankish kingdom to create uncertainty about the Frankish protectorate over the Papal State.

Adrian responded decisively to those challenges. He extended amnesty to those who had suffered as enemies of Paul Afiarta and moved skillfully to eliminate Afiarta from his position of power. The new pope indicated a willingness to establish peace with the lombards, but only on condition that Desiderius restore territories promised to the papacy in earlier agreements. The Lombard king responded with renewed assaults on territories claimed by the papacy. One of his goals was to pressure Adrian into anointing the heirs of the recently deceased Frankish king, carloman, as kings, thereby recognizing their rights to their father's kingdom. Desiderius hoped that success in this venture would disrupt the Frankish-papal alliance by alienating charlemagne, who had taken over Carloman's kingdom and whose claim to it would be threatened by papal recognition of the rights of his nephews. Adrian firmly resisted this pressure, all the while continuing his demands for territorial restoration and imploring Charlemagne to fulfill his responsibility as protector of the Papal State. Finally in 773, after Charlemagne's efforts to mediate a peace settlement between the papacy and the Lombards were rebuffed by Desiderius, the Frankish king decided on military action against the Lombards to remove the threat to the realm of St. Peter. While his campaign was in progress Charlemagne traveled to Rome in 774 to celebrate Easter. On that occasion he renewed the promise made in 754 to Pope stephen ii by his father, pepin iii, at Quierzy; the specific terms of that promise, now put into writing, served as the basis for papal claims to territory embracing more than two thirds of the peninsula, including, besides the duchy of Rome, the former Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna, the Pentapolis, Spoleto, Benevento, Venetia, Istria, Lombard Tuscany, and Corsica. After demonstrating his loyalty to the alliance formed by his father, Charlemagne returned to Pavia, where Desiderius soon surrendered. Charlemagne thereupon deposed the Lombard king and took control of the kingdom, becoming king of the Lombards as well as king of the Franks and patricius Romanorum.

During the next few years after 774 Adrian was chiefly concerned with efforts to extend the boundaries of the Papal State and to safeguard papal autonomy in the face of the yet unknown Italian policy of his Frankish protector, now also the neighbor of the Papal State. At first Adrian was persistent in seeking from Charlemagne restoration of all the territories granted to the papacy in the document drawn up in 774. Charlemagne paid little heed to these claims, partly because he was too occupied with his wars against the Saxons and the Muslims to deal with problems in Italy. In time he began to come to grips with his role as king of the Lombards; in doing so he realized that conceding all the territory which Adrian claimed would irreparably damage his Lombard kingdom. As a consequence, Adrian was forced to scale back his claims substantially. On the occasion of trips to Rome in 781 and 787788 Charlemagne favored Adrian with territorial concessions that enlarged the Papal State, but these concessions fell far short of the claims of the papacy based on its understanding of earlier Frankish promises made in 754 and 774.

In his relationship as ruler of the Papal States with Charlemagne as patricius Romanorum Adrian insisted on the autonomy of the Papal State and as a rule acted like an independent ruler in full control of the administration and the resources of his realm. However, there was resistance to papal authority in some parts of the Papal State, especially in Ravenna, where the archbishop sought to establish his own autonomy. Occasionally Adrian clashed with Charlemagne over issues affecting the internal governance of the Papal State, but usually these conflicts were worked out amicably. The Frankish king did put limits on the freedom of Adrian in conducting the external relations of the Papal State, but even in those cases Charlemagne never acted in ways that suggested that he was the pope's overlord. His actions usually worked to the pope's advantage by securing the boundaries of the Papal State.

Freed from the threat of outside intervention and recognized as the unquestioned master of the government of the Papal State, Adrian proved himself an effective ruler. Through skillful management of revenues derived from the patrimonies of St. Peter located within the Papal State and beyond its borders, he was able to repair the city walls, improve the aqueduct system, and expand the charitable activities of the Church. Especially impressive were his initiatives in restoring old churches and in building new ones. In this respect Adrian gave fresh impetus to efforts begun by his predecessors that resulted in the physical transformation of Rome from a classical to a medieval Christian city, a transformation that had no small effect on the mentality of Rome's citizenry.

All of these activities did not prevent Adrian from discharging the responsibilities implicit in the alliance of friendship, love, and charity made between Stephen II and Pepin III in 754 and renewed between Adrian and Charlemagne. Adrian made special provisions for public prayers for the success of Charlemagne's military undertakings leading to the expansion of Christendom, especially against the Saxons. He repeatedly praised the Frankish ruler for his service in the cause of the Christian community, thereby enhancing Charlemagne's image as guardian of God's people. In 781 Adrian stood as godfather for Charlemagne's son Pepin, and then anointed Pepin and his brother, Louis, as kings of Italy and Aquitaine, thereby helping Charlemagne to put the rulership of his sprawling empire on a sounder footing. He agreed to help Charlemagne maintain control over Bavaria by threatening to excommunicate its rebellious duke unless he abided by his oath of obedience to the Frankish king. He lent his full support to Charlemagne's efforts to reform the Frankish religious establishment, giving advice on proper ecclesiastical organization and providing liturgical texts and a canon law collection known as the Dionysio-Hadriana to serve as guides in revitalizing Christian life in Francia.

Despite the mutually friendly and beneficial relationships between Adrian and Charlemagne, tension did emerge in an unexpected area involving the locus of authority in spiritual affairs. At least since the days of Pope gelasius i (492496) it had been widely accepted that there was a unique sphere of human activity involving spiritual affairs over which the Church and its leaders exercised authority. A long succession of popes held that position and resisted the intrusion of secular authorities, including emperors in Constantinople, into spiritual matters, especially those pertaining to the definition of doctrine. Although the liberation of the papacy from imperial control during the eighth century seemed to resolve that issue in favor of papal precedence in spiritual affairs at least in the Latin West, the issue began to emerge in new form during Adrian's pontificate. Increasingly Charlemagne expanded his claim to a directive role in religious affairs, a claim nourished by his actions to renew religious life in his kingdom. Justification for his involvement in religious affairs was provided by religious leaders formed by the intellectual renaissance accompanying Charlemagne's religious reform. They interpreted Old Testament history and St. Augustine's writings in a way that led to a concept of kingship which vested both spiritual and temporal authority in the hands of a single figure, a priest-king responsible to God for the spiritual and temporal well-being of his subjects. Charlemagne increasingly shaped his actions according to this model of ministerial kingship which strongly resembled the caesaropapism of the imperial government in Constantinople; as a result he assumed undisputed direction of religious life in his realm.

Adrian made no effort to curb Charlemagne's control of ecclesiastical affairs within the Frankish kingdom, partly because he welcomed the success of the king's religious reforms but chiefly because it was beyond his power to restrain Charlemagne. But when matters of doctrine came up, the pope's position was different. One such case involved the Adoptionist heresy which developed in Spain in the 780s. Although Adrian collaborated with the Frankish king in the effort to end this heresy, Charlemagne and his religious advisers took the decisive action by officially condemning adoptionism at the Council of Frankfurt in 794 and by preparing the theological case upon which the condemnation was based. The issue was posed even more sharply by a significant development surrounding the iconoclastic heresy which took shape during Adrian's pontificate. Like all his predecessors since Pope Gregory II (715731), Adrian opposed the policy instituted by Emperor leo iii to outlaw the veneration of icons. He thus welcomed the initiative taken by Empress irene after she became regent for her infant son in 780 to reverse the iconoclastic policy of the imperial government. He gave his approval to the summoning of the second Council of nicaea in 787 and sent a letter to Constantinople that provided the theological grounds for the council's condemnation of iconoclasm and its sanction of the veneration of images in religious worship. But when a badly translated Latin version of the acts of the council reached Charlemagne's court, the Frankish reaction was anything but approving. Miffed at being denied any part in Nicaea II and confident of the theological prowess of his advisers, Charlemagne took steps to produce a refutation of the acts of the council. The result was a compilation called the libri carolini, which among other things condemned the Nicaea II for theological innovations concerning icons, mounted a savage attack on the Greek church and its leaders, and argued for the key role of the Frankish church in guarding orthodoxy and judging departures for it. As work on the Libri Carolini proceeded, Adrian was informed of the Frankish position and asked to disavow the acts of the Council of Nicaea despite the fact that he had played an decisive role in shaping its decisions. Adrian responded in a long document defending the position on images taken at Nicaea, but he did agree to withhold his official approval of the council's position on images until the emperor met certain other conditions. Disregarding Adrian's teaching on images, the Franks officially condemned the position taken at Nicaea II at the Council of Frankfurt in 794. On still another theological issue, the Franks challenged Adrian by insisting that he condemn the Greeks for excluding the filioque phrase from the nicene creed used in the liturgy of the Mass. Adrian, whose Roman Church followed the Greek custom, responded by providing evidence from ancient authorities refuting the Frankish position and upholding the Greek-Roman position. In each of these cases the Frankish church and its leader, the king, were claiming a role in the definition of dogma even to the point of challenging positions taken by the pope. Although Adrian stood his ground in this matter, he was by no means able to put limits to the intrusion of an ambitious king and his aggressive, educated clerical supporters into a realm where the Church's spiritual leaders claimed precedence.

Although his pontificate was marked by challenges, Adrian I proved remarkably creative in advancing the interests of the papacy and in shaping a mutually beneficial working arrangement with the increasingly powerful Frankish state and its most famous ruler, Charlemagne. Through Adrian's efforts the Papal State was enlarged, its boundaries secured, its administration given firm direction, and its role in Italian affairs expanded. During his pontificate papal influence spread beyond Rome to contribute to the quickening of religious and cultural life over large areas of the West, especially where the Franks dominated. Perhaps it was his understanding of the magnitude of Adrian's accomplishments that, according to Charlemagne's biographer, Einhard, caused the king to weep like one who had lost a brother or a child when he received news of the death of the pope in 795.

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[r. e. sullivan]