On August 31 (1522) Adrian was crowned in St. Peter’s. For many years Rome had not seen such a pontiff. He was pious and sincere and of irreproachable morals. He hated luxury and dissipation with which Leo, his predecessor, filled the papal palace. When he was shown the group of Laocoon (a famous Grecian work in stone, representing a Trojan priest who distrusted the wooden horse and was destroyed by serpents sent by Athena), he expressed his disdain by saying, “They are idols of the heathen.” “I would rather serve God,” said he, “in my deanery of Louvain, than be pope at Rome.” The Romans wondered at his habits. His household was simple. He had as cook an old Flemish woman; two pages waited on him at table. On Sept. 1 he held a consistory. He told the cardinals that the manners of Rome were sorely in need of reformation. He warned that their revenues would be reduced, and told them that they ought not to hoard their money but use it for the common needs. He bade consider that many of them were men without the benefit of learning and that they ought to employ their time in qualifying themselves for their duties. He insisted that they conform to regulations. Thus he requested them to shave their beards and prescribed their dress. His personal expenses he reduced to the simplest necessities, and dismissed from the palace the needless crowd of officials who lost their places. “The pope leads an exemplary and devout life/? wrote the Venetian envoys. “Every day he says his hours; rises from bed for early services and then returns to rest; rises at daybreak, says his mass, and then comes to give audience. He dines and sups very temperately, and it is said that he spends only a ducat a day, which he takes from his purse every evening and gives to the steward, saying, “For tomorrow’s expenses.” He is a man of good and holy life, but he is slow in his doings and proceeds with great circumspection. He speaks little and loves solitude.” Adrian’s cardinals imagined that his simple life was due to greed. They held him guilty of hoarding. On his deathbed they tried to compel him to discover to them his hoard. In vain did he tell them that all he possessed was a thousand ducats. With growing anger they persisted in their examination until compelled to withdraw by the Duke of Sesse. When he died the cardinals were glad to be rid of a severe master. They rejoiced at the prospect of the return of the good old times. The Roman people were no less happy to be rid of the morose foreigner. They hung a wreath on the door of his physician in which was inscribed, “To the deliverer of his country.” On his temporary tomb were graved these words, “Here lies Adrian VI., who thought nothing in his life more unfortunate than that he became pope.”
As pontiff Adrian had impressive plans. First he wished to make peace between Francis I of France and emperor Charles V. When Charles was but nineteen years, he fell heir to the crowns of four dynasties. To them was added, by the vote of the Electors of Germany, the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. Thereafter he was known as Emperor Charles V, while hitherto he had born the title of Carlos of Spain. Charles’ greatness aroused the fears and jealousies of his neighboring rulers, particularly Francis I of France and Solymon, Sultan of Turkey, both of whom attacked his dominions during all the first part of his reign. Francis almost incessantly made war against Charles, whose enormous possessions now nearly surrounded his kingdom. Much of the fighting was done in Italy, the object of the rivals being to secure dominions in that peninsula. The wars between Charles and Francis proved a blessing for the Reformation. Charles had pledged all his resources to the extirpation of that movement; but by those combats his attention was drawn away from a serious consideration of church questions and the result was that in the meantime Protestantism so firmly established itself in Northern Germany and other countries as to render abortive all later attempts for its destruction.
Adrian was desirous of putting an end to those wars. So he expressed to Henry VIII of England and Charles the wish that the two unite in a league for the maintenance of the peace of Christendom that all the world and particularly France and the Turks might know that he who broke the peace would be deservedly punished. The league was formed but no peace ensued. What is more, every one tried to seduce the pope into an alliance with himself by proving that he had promoted his election to the papacy. Francis I had the first chance. He told the pope that it was not Charles but he who had made him pope, because he believed him to be a holy man. It was not true but Adrian felt flattered. He had an uneasy feeling that his election was entirely political and was due to Charles. Shortly thereafter Charles paid the pope his respects. He sent Adrian word that he esteemed him as ‘his true father and protector, and would be always his obedient son, ready to share his fortune’. The interest of the rulers in the pope was purely mercenary. Each wanted his permission to tax his dominions. But Adrian refused to join either the alliance that Henry and Charles had formed or ally himself with the king of France. He wanted to be independent of both. His aim was to free, the papacy from all political complications, thinking that only in this way could he make peace in Europe and unite Christendom against the Turks. To Charles he wrote, “My intention is to labor to procure peace among Christian princes that we may resist the Turks”; and accordingly he besought Charles to negotiate peace with Francis with a view to a truce of at least two years. He communicated an identical petition to Henry. Both replied that they had received such injuries from the French that they would have neither peace nor truce, but would settle the dispute with the sword. Wolsey declared that the French were the real Turks, the enemies of Christendom, and said that they must be exterminated. Charles V repeated the same advice. If the pope would join the emperor, he would most effectively prevent bloodshed among the Christian powers and enable them to combine against the Turks.
Then the Turks became very bold. They made themselves masters of the city and island of Rhodes and threatened Hungary with invasion. Adrian vainly hoped that the shock of the disaster might unite Christendom against the common foe. He issued more exhortations to peace and offered to mediate between the belligerents. Charles let the pope know that unless he adopted his political plans and permitted him to tax the clergy as he pleased, he must take the consequences and bear all the blame. Then Adrian exhorted the French king to go to Charles with overtures of peace. Francis replied that a truce was useless, as it would only give his rivals—Henry and Charles—time to make greater preparations. Adrian was overwhelmed with grief. But he refused to forsake his principle of neutrality. Then Francis threatened to invade Italy and cross the papal frontier, and Adrian yielded. He signed a defensive league with Henry and Charles and five principalities in Italy. But he did not long survive the signing of this confederacy. He was seized with a slow fever on the day he subscribed it, which was the 4th of August, and died on the 14th of the following September.
Though Adrian failed in his attempts, to restore peace to Europe, he hoped to accomplish something in the way of reforming the church. And indeed there was need of reform of the church; for in her there existed frightful scandals in both head and members. This was recognized by all earnest and spiritually minded men. Thus Adrian had a considerable weight of opinion back of him. There was much outspokenness concerning the abuses in the church and the wicked lives of the clergy. It was pointed out to Adrian by the reform party that the only remedy was a general council and the strict enforcement of discipline. In the past all previous troubles in the church were appeased by a General Council, in which diseases were brought to light and proper remedies applied. The pope must call together grave earnest, upright, and peace-loving men to inquire into the cause of all the troubles. The time was past for exercising authority against the rebels, meaning all those who were taking part in the Lutheran revolt. ‘The time is past,’ wrote Alexander, ‘when God will connive at faults. The age is changed, and popular opinions no longer thinks that the charges brought against us are partly false, and partly capable of better interpretation. The axe is laid at the root of the tree, unless we choose to return to wisdom. There is no need of issuing new laws, of fulminating Bulls; we have the canons and the institutes of the fathers, and if only they are observed, the evil may be arrested. Let the pope and the curia (the curia, the body of tribunals and offices through which the pope governs the Roman Catholic Church), do away their error by which God and man are justly offended; let them bring the clergy once more under discipline. If the Germans see this done, there will be no further talk of Luther. The root and the cure of the evil are alike in ourselves.’ Erasmus advised the pope to lay aside authority and trust to reasonableness; to promise amnesty, and to allow free discussion, to minimize differences, and to leave all essentials open to free discussion. The advice was bad. Not reasonableness but the Scriptures should be made to take the place of the authority of the Pope. This was the Reformers stand. Engidius, the general of the Augustinians, submitted to the pope a memorial in which he inveighed against indulgences in language as strong as that used by Luther. Indulgences were an incentive to sin, a source of danger to souls. Nevertheless, Lutheranism must be rooted out. The very name of such a monster must be forgotten.
This, too, was Adrian’s conviction. He was heartily in favor of reform; but the emperor must stamp out Lutheranism. And the authority of the pope must be maintained. He was opposed to free discussion of doctrinal differences on the basis of the Scriptures in a church council.
Something actually was attempted by Adrian in the way of reform; but he accomplished nothing worthwhile, and his reforming schemes quickly vanished away. On one thing all were agreed—Luther must be crushed. ‘Heresy”, said Cardinal Soderini, ‘has always been put down by force, not by attempts at reformation; such attempts can only be partial, and will seem to be exhorted by terror; they will only confirm the heretics in the belief that they are right, and will not satisfy them. The princes of Germany must be taught that it is to their interest to put down the Lutheran heretics.’
There was little in Germany that could give Adrian comfort. Luther had been excommunicated by Adrian’s successor, Leo X, June 16, 1520. The following year he was summoned to Worms. He decided to attend and on April 17, 1521—the first year of Adrian’s pontificate—he appeared before the emperor and that Reichstag. He was asked to recant the 41 heresies of which he had been accused but refused, and was put under the ban of the empire. On his return home he was captured by his friends and removed to the Wartburg. Here and there his books were being burned by order of the emperor, but his movement was steadily gaining in momentum; the number of his inherent were increasing by the day and practically nothing was done against them. In Wittenberg abrupt changes were made in the ritual of the Church. Infant baptism was attacked. Images were removed. The mass was abolished. War with France for the control of Italy was making it impossible for Charles V to execute the Ban on Luther. Sympathy with Luther was rapidly spreading in Germany. The Turks were a- gain threatening the eastern frontier of Germany. A Diet held early in Nuremburg in 1522 occupied itself solely with the question of finance. It adjourned without saying and doing anything about Luther.
But if the upholders of the Old Church were standing still, not so the reformers. Great changes followed one upon another. An Augustinian brother, Gabriel Zwingli, preached against all Roman Catholic institutions and usages that did not have the sanction of the Scriptures. The gospel derives no authority from the church. Salvation is by faith alone. The mass is not a sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus. Good works are non-meritorious. The intercession of the saints is valueless. Monastic vows are not binding. Purgatory is non-existent. The church has but one head, the Lord Jesus Christ. The clergy should marry.
In the meantime Luther returned to Wittenberg, and the government took no notice of it. But the protestants were somewhat disturbed by Luther’s violent reply to Henry VIII’s defense of the seven sacraments. In his book Luther called the king of England a fool, an ass, an empty head, accused him of flattering the pope, whose conscience was as bad as his own. He poured scorn on all the authorities of the church, and denounced all the doing of the past as the work of the devil.
The government in Saxony did nothing about it except express its regret that the king should have been treated with so little respect.
On November 16, 1623 the diet of Nuremberg opened its sessions. The papal nuncio communicated to the assembly Adrian’s willingness for reform, and dwelt on his efforts for peace and urged the princes to rescue Hungary from the Turks. He said that the pope admitted that Luther had done a good service in uncovering abuses, but that he became absurd and intolerable when he attacked the order of the church, and sacraments and the authority of the pope, the fathers and the councils. Accordingly, he demanded a vigorous execution of the ban of the emperor, issued against Luther and his followers at the Diet of Worms. In reply, the princes of Germany drew up a memorial containing a hundred grievances, which, they said, gave the Germans just reasons to complain of the court of Rome, and which they desired his Holiness would take care to remedy, since they would no longer submit to such extortions. That memorial they sent to Adrian. He admitted the necessity of a reformation and also wanted to take action, but the opposition he met with on the part of the cardinals compelled him to move so slowly that when he died shortly thereafter nothing had been accomplished. The only means of restoring the peace of the church and correcting her abuses was by a church council. What was needed was a free discussion on the basis of the Scriptures to determine the meaning and bearing of Luther’s teachings. But to this Adrian was opposed. His word alone was all that was needed. He had condemned Luther’s ideas; and that should be enough for men.