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Hadrian II - A Reluctant Pontiff

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Hadrian was a most reluctant candidate for the papacy. After the death of St. Leo IV and again after the death of Benedict III the Romans had turned to him as their first choice only to meet with a firm refusal. A third time, however, Hadrian gave in. Hadrian was a Roman of the same family as Popes Stephen V and Sergius II. His father Talarus became a bishop, and Hadrian himself had married and had a daughter before he became a priest. As cardinal-priest of St. Mark's he made so vivid an impression on the Romans by his prodigal charity to the poor that a story is preserved that once he miraculously multiplied some money he was distributing until every man in a huge crowd got three pennies. When the people heard that Hadrian had at last accepted the papacy, nothing would do them but that he should be consecrated at once, and it was only with difficulty that the nobles persuaded them to await the Emperor's confirmation.

Louis gave it quickly, and Hadrian was consecrated December 14, 867. It is not easy to follow a strong pope like St. Nicholas. Party feeling ran high. Enemies of St. Nicholas urged Hadrian to change policies, while the numerous admirers of the late Pope watched jealously to see that he changed nothing. The nobles were becoming more insolent. The Duke of Spoleto entered the city and practically sacked it. Arsenius, bishop of Orta, was still an important man in Rome. His son Anastasius, the former antipope, was papal librarian. Another son, Eleutherius, decided to marry the Pope's daughter. That the lady was already engaged bothered him not at all. The rascal kidnapped the girl and her mother, and when imperial officials closed in on him, he brutally slew both mother and daughter. In the East Hadrian had the satisfaction of ending the Photian schism. When Emperor Basil asked the Pope to settle the matter, Hadrian held a synod at Rome, and then sent legates to Constantinople.

There at the Eighth Ecumenical Council, held in 869-870, the deposition of Photius and the reinstatement of St. Ignatius as patriarch were confirmed. Hadrian followed Nicholas in refusing to grant the request of Boris, king of the Bulgarians, that Formosus, bishop of Porto, should be archbishop for the new Christians. Boris then turned to Constantinople and joined the Eastern Patriarchate and the Greek rite. Those great apostles, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, visited Pope Hadrian in 867. The Pope treated them with all honor, encouraged their grand work among the Slavs, and permitted them to use the Slavonic language in the liturgy. Like his predecessors, Hadrian tried and failed to keep peace among the Carolingian kings. He encouraged Emperor Louis II in his efforts to clear the Saracens out of Southern Italy. An old man when elected, Hadrian died in November or December 872. 

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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