41 Pope Adrian VI Worksheet   41 Pope Adrian VI


Pope Leo X left Rome, as his custom was, in the autumn of 1521 and went to the country. He enjoyed hunting small prey with trained hawks, deer hunting and fishing. Later, he went to his favourite villa where musicians and entertainers of all kinds kept him and his guests entertained.

At War with France

In the meantime, King Francis I of France and his forces had taken the cities of Parma, Piacenza and Milan in Italy. Pope Leo X, forgetting the deals he’d made with Francis, joined his armies to that of Emperor Charles V, and together, they forced the French to retreat.

Leo X’s Death

In November, while still at his villa in the country, news of the victory was brought to Pope Leo. Leo and his company celebrated through the night. The next day, Leo and his courtiers returned to Rome. He had just arrived back at the Vatican when suddenly, at the age of just 45, he died. His death came so unexpectedly that all he had time for was to say, “Pray for me!” It was rumored that he’d been poisoned.[i]

The people of Rome, it seems, were not sorry to see him go. They were angry that he had not died a decent Christian death – he hadn’t even had time to receive extreme unction. Catholic priests administer extreme unction by making the sign of the cross with “holy” oil on a sick person’s eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands and feet. This ceremony is believed to take away a person’s sins and prepare a person for immediate entrance into heaven. Perhaps because Leo died without this ceremony the people said he died like a dog. Also, he left many unpaid debts.

Pope Adrian VI

Emperor Charles V’s former teacher and councillor, the Cardinal of Tortosa, was elected to be the next pope and went by the name of Pope Adrian VI. He had been a university professor. He was serious and studious by nature. His simple lifestyle was a great contrast to the extravagance of Leo X.

The Church’s Need for Reform

While Adrian condemned the Reformation, particularly Luther, he agreed that the church was in need of reform. He said, “…many abominations have existed near the holy see; abuses of spiritual things, excess in the exercise of authority; every thing has been turned to evil. From the head the corruption has spread into the members, from the pope to the prelates [high-ranking church officials, like bishops and archbishops]; we have all gone astray, there is none of us that hath done well; no, not one.”[ii]

Adrian was determined to correct the abuses of the church, but he faced opposition from the church’s leaders who were accustomed to the lifestyle their positions afforded them. He quickly made enemies in Rome.

Although Pope Adrian VI admitted that the church needed to reform, he was no friend of the Reformation, either. The pope blamed Frederick for allowing Luther, whom he called a “rebellious apostate,” to go unpunished. He threatened that Frederick himself would be punished not only in this life but in the everlasting fires of hell and told him that both the sword of the empire and of the church hung over his head. Persecutions broke out against the reformers in Germany because of Adrian’s intolerance and several Gospel preachers were killed and the Bible was prohibited.

“Popes May Err”

Maybe the most memorable thing that Adrian did was to declare the fallibility of the pope. He said, “It is certain that the pope may err….”[iii] This statement put church leaders in a difficult position. They could not say that Adrian was wrong in saying this because that would prove him right. Many years later, in 1870, a way around this difficulty was found. It was the creation of the doctrine of statements made ex cathedra.

Perhaps Adrian would have made improvements in the church, but he would likely have caused much bloodshed as well. He died after being pope for less than two years. Most of his official papers no longer exist. The people of Rome rejoiced at his death.

[i] Leopold von Ranke, The Ecclesiastical and Political History of the Popes During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; 1841, https://books.google.ca/books?id=HTVp7YHKEukC&pg=PA88&lpg=PA88&dq=pope’s+villa+at+malliana&source=bl&ots=5eBexmDCPx&sig=mLU3VLy2dS3QdCiEgvCQBC7Koh0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjG6dX3sYzUAhXs64MKHa9BDxkQ6AEIOTAE#v=onepage&q=pope’s%20villa%20at%20malliana&f=false

[ii] Ibid., 94.

[iii] As quoted in History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 547.