Childhood & Early Life
Pope Adrian I was born Adrian, in 700 A.D., in Rome, Byzantine Empire, to a Roman nobleman named Theodore. Not much is known about his childhood, but considering he was born to a nobleman, he may have received classical education, which was usually designed for the highborn children in Rome.
Religion played a huge part in the Roman society back then. This could have been the reason for Adrian’s early interest in the Church. He worked as a clerk, a notary, and a regional bishop.
He later served as a cardinal-deacon, serving under the popes before him, namely, Paul I and Stephen III. He spent many years in the service of the church, and in 772, he was instated as the pope.
Paul Afiarta, the representative of the Lombard king Desiderius, too, nominated Adrian. This was ironic, as the Lombard king and Adrian later had a huge conflict.
As the pope, he was also appointed as the ruler of the Papal States. The Papal States were the territories in the Italian Peninsula that were ruled by the pope and run solely according to Christian faith. The control over the Papal States also exhibited the temporal power of the pope, other than his status as a highly respected religious figure.
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The Lombard king Desiderius was known for his high ambitions to increase the number of territories he ruled. His representative Paul Afiarta had made several visits to the Papal States, asking people to bow down to the king, and when they did not, they were either imprisoned or exiled. Adrian knew that Desiderius would soon make his big move to take over the Papal States.
Adrian secured the release of the people imprisoned by Desiderius and thus earned his hostility. Paul asked the pope to swear his allegiance to the king, but Adrian denied. Paul then threatened to end the pope’s rule. Desiderius began a military expedition toward the Papal States and annexed many cities.
The kingdom of the Franks was facing its own troubles back then. Although they had sworn allegiance to the Papal States, following the death of his father, Charlemagne was competing with his brother, who claimed his right to the throne. The Lombard king opposed Charlemagne’s claim to the throne and supported his brother’s claim instead. This led to a growing tension between Charlemagne and Desiderius.
Charlemagne’s brother Carloman I passed away in 771. Thus, Charlemagne was crowned as the king of the Franks. Carloman’s widow and sons fled to seek asylum at the court of Lombard. The pope had the power to crown kings in the Holy Roman Empire back then. Desiderius asked Adrian to crown Carloman’s son as the king, but Adrian denied.
The Franks had maintained good relations with the popes for a long time. Adrian sought help from Charlemagne, the new king of the Franks, against Desiderius, who was occupying the Papal territories. Charlemagne knew the importance of the pope in maintaining his rule. He also had his own issues with the Lombard king.
He thus invaded Italy and conquered the capital city of Pavia. To celebrate the victory, Charlemagne visited Rome and celebrated Easter with Adrian. Although many sources claim that their friendship was not organic but opportunistic instead, many others claim that they had truly loved each other as friends.
Pope Adrian was thankful and received Charlemagne with warmth. By 774, Desiderius had been defeated by Charlemagne’s forces, and the latter had crowned himself as the new king of the Lombard. This was also the beginning of a long relationship between Adrian and Charlemagne. They also shared a subtle rivalry. However, that was not above the mutual admiration they had for each other.
His relationship with Charlemagne was one of the first instances of the State and the Church working together harmoniously for the mutual benefit of both institutions. However, there are still many disputes about who had the upper hand in the relationship. Despite that, the Papal States flourished under the rule of Pope Adrian.
Adrian also presided over the ‘Seventh Nicene Council,’ a council that was established to conclude that Jesus Christ was a spiritual being and not a created being (as proposed by Arianism). This debate had lasted many years and had eventually divided the Christians into two opposing sects.
As a pope, Adrian worked toward bridging the gap between the Eastern and the Western churches. He also repaired and built several churches and the city walls. He was also associated with many social causes and took great care of the sick and the poor. He was highly popular with his subjects. He was also an ardent believer of Christianity and had immense faith in God. He was associated with many humanitarian deeds, motivated by the teachings of God.
He was arguably the first Christian figure who claimed that the pope was the ultimate authority in both political and spiritual matters in the Roman Empire. However, he did not exercise his power merely to show off his authority. Instead, he used it to build a powerful and moral Christian society.
However, this doctrine of harmony between the State and the Church remained hugely controversial and gave rise to many international and national disputes over the years. It also ended up separating the two, causing complete submission of the Church to the State.
He was also known for his strict stand with regard to the Muslims. Muslims were increasing in number in the 8th century, and this worried Adrian. He asked Charlemagne to invade Spain against the Muslims who were residing there. He was interested in the exponential growth of Christianity, and perceived Islam as a dangerous rival to the Christian faith.