The stormy pontificate of Stephen IV had been not the beginning but only
the forerunner of a time of troubles for the papacy. On Stephen's death,
there was a speedy quiet, unanimous election of the holy priest Hadrian.
Hadrian, a Roman of noble family, had been known for his austere piety even
before he became a cleric. Now as pope his first act was one of justice to
recall the exiled victims of Paul Afiarta.
The Lombard menace still loomed over Rome. Desiderius, after a deal of
ravaging, marched on Rome as a pilgrim--he said. Hadrian, not at all
reassured by the Lombard's pilgrim staff, mobilized his army and forbade
Desiderius to enter Rome under pain of excommunication. Though the Lombard
turned back, his continued depredations forced Hadrian to appeal to
Charlemagne. Charlemagne, after a vain try at diplomacy, marched into
Italy, defeated Desiderius, and blockaded him in Pavia. While the siege was
in progress, Charlemagne hurried to Rome to pay the Pope a visit. Hadrian,
at first a little suspicious, was delighted to find in his powerful
protector a true friend. Charlemagne confirmed Pippin's donation. Then
having captured Pavia, he put Desiderius in a monastery and made himself
king of the Lombards.
Hadrian found a new version of an old heresy arising in Spain. Elipandus,
bishop of Toledo, and Felix, bishop of Urgel, taught that the Second Person
of the Trinity did not really become Man but only adopted human nature in
such a way that Jesus Christ the Man is only an adopted Son of God. The
Pope wrote to the Spanish bishops to condemn this Neo-Nestorianism, and
Charlemagne had a council at Ratisbon in 785 and another at Frankfort in
794 echo the Pope's condemnation.
Ever since the iconoclast or image-breaking heresy had separated
Constantinople from Catholic unity, the popes had not ceased to urge the
emperors to repent. Now at last a ruler arose who would listen. When Leo IV
died in 780, he left a beautiful wife, Irene, who ruled for her little son
Constantine VI. Empress Irene at once allowed the veneration of images, and
soon she listened to the Pope's plea for a general council. The Seventh
Ecumenical Council, held at Nicaea in 787 under the legates of Pope
Hadrian, reaffirmed Catholic belief in the proper veneration of images.
Both Empress Irene and Patriarch Tarasius accepted the decrees and ended
the iconoclast schism. Once more Constantinople returned to Catholic unity
Hadrian was delighted, but he was annoyed because the imperial government
refused to return the estates of the patrimony confiscated by Leo the
Isaurian, and refused also to return to the Western patriarchate
jurisdiction over Illyricum.
The Pope was embarrassed to find the Franks attacking the Seventh
Ecumenical Council. The Caroline Books were a bitter and stupid attack on
the council, and the Council of Frankfort had the boldness to censure the
Seventh Ecumenical Council. This Frankish furor seems to have been caused
by a misunderstanding and perhaps a mistranslation of the acts of the
Nicaea council. Hadrian was patient. He contented himself with gently
reminding Charlemagne that after all it was to St. Peter and his successors
that Christ left the government of the Church. He explained the true
meaning of the decrees of Nicaea.
Hadrian was a great builder, who did much for Rome. Above all, he was a
true father to his people. Not content with giving help to the needy and
distressed, he visited them personally.
Hadrian died on Christmas Day 795. He had been a great leader for the
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.