Pope Adrian was born in Langley, England near St. Albanís where he had been educated. He had applied at the same monastery to be a monk but was refused. Britainís loss was Franceís gain and eventually all of Christendom for Nicholas eventually ended up as abbot of St. Rufus outside Avignon, France. However, his strictness to following the rule and insistence to obedience caused his ouster as the rest of the monks gained up on him and petitioned Pope Eugene to remove him. This the Holy Father did, but rather than demoting the ostracized holy monk, the Pope promoted him to the rank of cardinal, appointing him Bishop of Albano. Seeing his loyalty beyond question, the Pope sent him as a papal legate to Scandinavia to calm problems that had arisen in Norway and Sweden. His wise diplomacy was so well received that he became an official papal legate.
Like many others before him, when first notified that he had been chosen as the successor of Peter, he respectfully declined, not feeling worthy. But when pressed he accepted and the Church was the better for it for he became a strenuous defender of Papal supremacy. He was a strong-willed pontiff who would not compromise when it came to asserting the principles and principals of the Church. One of his first acts was to renew the Treaty of Constance with the German king Frederick I Barbarossa since Adrian needed his aid in quelling the insurgence of Roman families who were once again stirring the pot, as well as attacks on the papal states by good old William I of Sicily. With the Holy Roman Emperor in his corner, Adrian turned to the task at home, arresting Arnold of Brescia the leading agitator of the revolt. Yet the Roman families had dreams of power despite Arnoldís incarceration and sought to negotiate clandestinely with Frederick who had visions of restoring the empire as it was in the days of Charlemagne. The Pope and Emperor met at Sutri on June 8, 1155. Frederick was cold and distant and mistrust of him set in, especially in light of the fact Frederick had not kept his end of the bargain in supplying troops. The emperor refused the custom of holding the reins of the Holy Fatherís mule, and Adrian retaliated by not giving him the customary kiss of peace. Undaunted and to counter this impasse, Pope Adrian arranged to have Frederick officially crowned Emperor at St. Peterís on June 18, 1155. The ceremony was worded and performed so that it looked to all the world that the emperor was subservient to the Pope as it should be. Adrian knew what he was doing and had to assure the cardinals that he was in charge. This did not sit well with Frederick, but Adrian had other plans since he mistrusted the German king so. The first was to make peace with William of Sicily which was accomplished at the Treaty of Benevento exactly a year to the date he had crowned Frederick. Frederick did not take kindly to this "sharing of power" which he had assumed was singular from the Treaty of Constance. Frederick mistook Adrianís promise of "benefits" as meaning fiefdom and a battle of words and will was underway. Things came to a head at the Diet of Besancon in October 1157 when both sides accused the other of dastardly deeds. Adrian was upset that Frederick did not seek justice when the Archbishop of Lund, to whom Adrian had appealed and won over as a papal legate in Scandinavia, was murdered by a robber baron. The thread of accord had totally unraveled and a year later in November 1158 Frederick captured Milan, claiming all of northern Italy and Corsica as his territory at the Diet of Roncaglia. This, of course, infringed on the Popeís right to the territory and Adrian would not approve Frederickís nominee to the see of Ravenna. Frederick threatened the Pope by stirring up the Roman families against him, forcing Adrian to flee Rome for the refuge of Anagni, Italy where the now-exiled Pope tried to rally the Lombard cities against Frederick, even issuing in October of 1159 an excommunication verdict against the Emperor unless he rescind the Roncaglia degrees within forty days from the Popeís decree to him. Unfortunately, neither took place for Adrian died at Anagni on November 1, 1159.
While Adrianís papacy was often embroiled in heated controversy with Frederick and trying to convince the curia that alignment with Sicily was a good thing, Adrian was a generous and forgiving pontiff. He bestowed favors and privileges on the two monasteries that would not have him and he encouraged annexation of the country of Ireland by the English king Henry II through his "phantom" encyclical Laudabiliter which no one can authenticate. This staunch pope He feared no one, yet was open to constructive criticism which was often wisely and discreetly imparted by his closest counselor Cardinal Roland who would become his successor. It was Adrian who coined the title for the popes that has been used ever since: Vicar of Christ.
NEXT ISSUE: Cardinal Roland becomes Pope Alexander III.
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.