(14 Dec. 867–Nov. or Dec. 872)
Born in Rome in 792, of the same aristocratic family as Stephen IV and Sergius II, he was married before ordination, was made subdeacon and in 842 cardinal priest of S. Marco by Gregory IV, and subsequently held such important positions in the Lateran and was so highly regarded because of his charitableness that he was twice, in 855 and 858, proposed as pope but declined office. On Nicholas I's death (13 Nov. 867), after violent disputes between critics and supporters of the late pope's forceful policies, at the instigation of the Emperor Louis II (855–75), then fighting the Saracens in south Italy, he accepted election as a compromise candidate. Hadrian's reign started disastrously with the pillaging of Rome, for reasons not fully explained, by Duke Lambert of Spoleto. His own daughter, too, was raped and then brutally murdered with her mother by a relative of Anastasius, the former antipope whom he had made papal librarian and later also archivist. As Anastasius was suspected of complicity in the affair, Hadrian felt obliged to dismiss and then (12 Oct. 868) formally excommunicate him, but it was typical of him that less than a year later he restored him to his offices in his chancery.
Elderly and vacillating, Hadrian had neither the strength of character nor the personal impressiveness to maintain the papacy at the glittering heights to which Nicholas I had raised it. He showed weakness in dealing with the burning issue of the broken marriage of King Lothair II (855–69) of Lorraine, on which Nicholas had taken a firm line, for while pressing the king to take back his lawful wife Theutberga, he accepted his assurances of compliance and admitted him to communion pending a council which would reach a final decision on the affair. Again, in return for assurances he lifted the excommunication Nicholas had imposed on Lothair's mistress Waldrada. On Lothair's death (8 Aug. 869) he struggled ineffectually to secure the succession for Louis II, only to see Lorraine divided (treaty of Meerssen, 870) between Louis's uncles Charles the Bald (823–77) and Louis the German (c. 806–76), and to receive himself a sharp rebuke for interfering. Equally ineffectual were his attempts to bring civil and ecclesiastical disputes in the Carolingian realms before the papal court. His imperious demands, drafted intemperately by Anastasius, met with even more imperious warnings from Archbishop Hincmar of Reims (845–82) against intervening where he had no title to do so. The pope had to make a shameful climbdown, privately disowning the letters his secretary had written and even holding out to Charles the prospect of the imperial crown on Louis II's death.
Apprised of the sentence of deposition and excommunication pronounced on Nicholas I in 867 by Photius, then patriarch of Constantinople but recently deposed, Hadrian held a synod on 10 June 869 which anathematized him and his associates for their unexampled impudence. On the invitation of Emperor Basil I (867–86) he sent two personal representatives to the fourth council of Constantinople (869–70: since the 12th century recognized in the west as the Eighth General Council), although they were not allowed to preside as he had requested; Anastasius represented Louis II. This council fully upheld the Roman synod's condemnation of Photius, but also (canon 21) placed the great patriarchates in the order of precedence accepted in the east: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem. Rome had hitherto objected to Constantinople being placed ahead of Alexandria, but the success of the council temporarily restored peace between east and west. Three days after its closure, however, the delegates of the eastern patriarchates, summoned by Emperor Basil, ruled, in the teeth of protests from the papal envoys, that Bulgaria fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Constantinople, not of Rome as Nicholas I had claimed. A Byzantine metropolitan was consecrated for it, the Latin priests working there were expelled, and a fresh source of conflict was opened up; Bulgaria was lost to the Roman church, partly at least because the pope had delayed too long before appointing the archbishop King Boris had requested. As a compensation for this reverse Hadrian was able, by sanctioning the use of Old Slavonic in the liturgy when the missionary brothers Cyril (d. 869) and Methodius (d. 885), renowned as Apostles of the Slavs, visited Rome in 867/8 bearing the supposed relics of Pope Clement (91–101), and later by consecrating Methodius as archbishop of Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica in Yugoslavia) and legate to the Slavs, to retain Moravia for the western church.
Subjects: Christianity — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).