V. ADRIAN VI: 1522–3

His successor was an anomaly in Renaissance Rome: a Pope who was resolved at all costs to be a Christian. Born of lowly folk in Utrecht (1459), Adrian Dedel imbibed piety and scholarship from the Brothers of the Common Life at Deventer, Scholastic philosophy and theology at Louvain. At thirty-four he was chancellor of that University; at fortyseven he was appointed tutor of the future Charles V. In 1515 he was sent on a mission to Spain, and so impressed Ferdinand with his administrative ability and moral integrity that he was made bishop of Tortosa. After Ferdinand’s death Adrian helped Cardinal Ximenes to govern Spain in the absence of Charles; in 1520 he became regent of Castile. Through all this progress he remained modest in everything but certainty, lived simply, and pursued heretics with a zeal that endeared him to the people. The repute of his virtues reached Rome, and Leo made him a cardinal. In the conclave that met after Leo’s death his name was put forward as a candidate for the papacy, apparently without his knowledge, and probably through the influence of Charles V. On January 2, 1522, for the first time since 1378 a non-Italian—for the first time since 1161 a Teuton—was chosen pope.

How could the Romans, who had hardly heard of Adrian, forgive such an affront? The populace denounced the cardinals as madmen, as “betrayers of Christ’s blood”; pamphleteers demanded to know why the Vatican had been “surrendered to German fury.”16Aretino composed a masterpiece of vituperation, termed the cardinals “filthy rabble,” and prayed that they might be buried alive.17 Pasquino’s statue was covered with lampoons. The cardinals feared to show themselves in public; they ascribed the election to the Holy Ghost, who, they said, had so inspired them.18 Many cardinals left Rome, fearing both the contumely of the people and the ax of ecclesiastical reform. For his part Adrian calmly completed his unfinished business in Spain, and notified the Curia that he could not reach Rome before August. Unaware of the splendor of the Vatican, he wrote to a Roman friend asking that a modest house and garden be rented for his residence. When at last he reached the city (which he had never seen before), his pale ascetic face and lean frame awed observers into some reverence; but when he spoke, and it appeared that he knew no Italian, and talked Latin with a guttural accent all the world away from Italian melody and grace, Rome fumed and despaired.

Adrian felt himself a prisoner in the Vatican, and pronounced it fit for the successors of Constantine rather than of Peter. He discontinued all further decoration of the Vatican chambers; the followers of Raphael, who had been working there, were dismissed. He sent away all but four of the hundred grooms that Leo had kept for his stable; he reduced his personal servants to two—both Dutch—and bade them bring his household expenses down to one ducat ($12.50) a day. He was horrified by the looseness of sex and tongue and pen in Rome, and agreed with Lorenzo and Luther that the capital of Christianity was a sink of iniquity. He cared nothing for the ancient art that the cardinals showed him; he denounced the statuary as relics of idolatry, and walled up the Belvedere Palace, which contained Europe’s first collection of classical sculpture.19 He had a mind to wall up the humanists too, and the poets, who seemed to him to live and write like pagans who had banished Christ. When Francesco Berni, in one of his bitterest capitoli,satirized him as a Dutch barbarian incapable of understanding the refinements of Italian art, literature, and life, Adrian threatened to have the whole tribe of satirists doused in the Tiber.20

To lead the Church back from Leo to Christ became the devout passion of Adrian’s pontificate. He set himself with blunt directness to reform such ecclesiastical abuses as he could reach. He suppressed superfluous offices with sometimes inconsiderate and indiscriminate vigor. He canceled the contracts that Leo had signed to pay annuities to those who had bought church offices; 2550 persons who had purchased these as an investment lost, so to speak, both principal and interest; Rome resounded with their cries that they had been defrauded; and one of the victims tried to kill the Pope. Relatives who came to Adrian for sinecures were told to go back and earn an honest living. He put an end to simony and nepotism, scored the venality of the Curia, enacted severe penalties for bribery or embezzlement, and punished guilty cardinals with the same treatment as the humblest clerk. He bade bishops and cardinals go back to their sees, and read them lessons on the morality that he expected of them. The ill repute of Rome, he told them, was the talk of Europe. He would not accuse the cardinals themselves of vice, but he charged them with allowing vice to go unpunished in their palaces. He asked them to put an end to their luxuries, and to content themselves with a maximum income of 6000 ducats ($75,000) a year. All ecclesiastical Rome, wrote the Venetian ambassador, “is beside itself with terror, seeing what the Pope has done in the space of eight days.”21

But the eight days were not enough, nor the brief thirteen months of Adrian’s active pontificate. Vice hid its face for a while, but survived; reforms irked a thousand officials, and met with a sullen resistance and the hope for Adrian’s early death. The Pope mourned to see how little one man could do to better men; “how much does a man’s efficiency,” he often said, “depend upon the age in which his work is cast!”—and he remarked wistfully to his old friend Heeze: “Dietrich, how much better it went with us when we were living quietly in Louvain!”22

Amid these domestic tribulations he faced as honorably as he could the critical problems of foreign policy. He restored Urbino to Francesco Maria della Rovere, and left Alfonso undisturbed in Ferrara. Ousted dictators took advantage of the pacific Pope and again seized power in Perugia, Rimini, and other Papal States. Adrian appealed to Charles and Francis to make peace, or at least accept a truce, and to join in repelling the Turks, who were preparing to attack Rhodes. Instead, Charles signed with Henry VIII of England the Treaty of Windsor (June 19, 1522), which pledged them to make a concerted assault upon France. On December 21 the Turks took Rhodes, the last Christian stronghold in the Eastern Mediterranean, and it was rumored that they were planning to land in Apulia and conquer disorganized Italy. When Turkish spies were captured in Rome the trepidation mounted to a point that recalled the city’s fear of invasion after Hannibal’s victory at Cannae in 216 B.C. To quite fill Adrian’s cup of gall, Cardinal Francesco Soderini, his chief minister and confidante, and a principal agent in his negotiations for a European peace, plotted with Francis a French attack upon Sicily. When Adrian discovered the plot, and learned that Francis was massing troops on the border of Italy, he abandoned neutrality and leagued the papacy with Charles V. Then, broken in body and spirit, he fell sick and died (September 14, 1523). His will left his property to the poor, and his last instructions were that he should be given a quiet and inexpensive funeral.

Rome greeted his death with more joy than if the city had been saved from capture by the Turks. Some believed that he had been poisoned for art’s sake, and a wag attached to the door of the Pope’s physician an inscription Liberatori patriae SPQR— expressing the gratitude of the “Senate and People of Rome to the Liberator of the Fatherland.” The dead pontiff was blackened by a hundred satires; he was accused of greed, drunkenness, and the grossest immorality, and every act of his career was transformed into wickedness by malice and ridicule; now the surviving freedom of the “press” in Rome prepared by its excesses its own unmourned demise. It was a pity that Adrian could not understand the Renaissance; but it was a greater crime and folly that the Renaissance could not tolerate a Christian pope.

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