Monastic Saints – Saint Henry – 13 July

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Monastic Saints – Saint Henry, Co-Patron (with Saint Frances of Rome) of Benedictine Oblates – 13 July

[This is a series on saints from the Benedictine family ( monks and nuns, generally, as distinct from other charisms—such as canons regular, mendicants, and clerks regular—that developed from the late Middle Ages on).  There used to be a commemoration of all saints of the Benedictine family on 13 November.  But even in the days when the liturgical calendar was much more heavily festooned with saints’ feastdays, I suspect there were many monastic saints who had been lost to memory.  This series tries to introduce or re-introduce us to at least a few in this monastic cloud of witnesses.]

[Image:Saints Henry and  CunegundAdamspforte (Adam’s Door), Bamberg Cathedral (ca. 1235) ]

St. Henry – Born: ca. 6 May 973, Abbach, Bavaria – Died 13 July 1024, Göttingen, Saxony – co-patron (with St. Frances of Rome) of Benedictine oblates

[ The following summary of St. Henry’s life is taken from this source and from this source. ]

Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, also called “Henry the Exuberant,” was a Bavarian leader who succeeded his father as duke of Bavaria in 975, was elected king of the Kingdom of Germany (the mostly-Germanic-speaking East Frankish region) in 1002, and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1014.  He  linked his political authority to the church, greatly strengthening its position in the power dynamics of 11th-century Europe. Historian Donald Attwater writes: “Henry’s chief concerns were the consolidation of the power of the German monarchy, and reform and reorganization in the church, the second in subordination to the first.” (Attwater, 147) He challenges the claims of Henry having a “celibate marriage” to his wife St. Cunegund of Luxembourg, although their union did not produce an heir. Despite these ambiguities, Henry was a supporter of clerical celibacy, was devout, committed to the church, and concerned with the integrity of its leaders and the orthodoxy of its doctrine. He and Cunegund also was deeply rooted in monasticism. While it is debated whether he ever truly desired to become a monk, he did in fact become an oblate. Attwater notes that St. Odilo of Cluny was one of his friends. He was canonized by Pope Eugene III in 1146, the sole German monarch so honored. 

[The following is from Leonard Foley’s _Saint of the Day_. ]

As German king and Roman Emperor, Henry was a practical man of affairs. He was energetic in consolidating his rule. He crushed rebellions and feuds. On all sides he had to deal with drawn-out disputes so as to protect his frontiers. This involved him in a number of battles, especially in the south in Italy; he also helped Pope Benedict VIII quell disturbances in Rome. Always his ultimate purpose was to establish a stable peace in Europe.

According to 11th-century custom, Henry took advantage of his position and filled bishoprics with men loyal to him. In his case, however, he avoided the pitfalls of this practice and actually fostered the reform of ecclesiastical and monastic life.

All in all, this saint was a man of his times. From our standpoint, he may have been too quick to do battle and too ready to use power to accomplish reforms. But, granted such limitations, he shows that holiness is possible in a busy secular life. It is in doing our job that we become saints.

[Pope John XXIII wrote in Pacem in Terris:] “We deem it opportune to remind our children of their duty to take an active part in public life and to contribute toward the attainment of the common good of the entire human family as well as to that of their own political community.

They should endeavor, therefore, in the light of their Christian faith and led by love, to insure that the various institutions—whether economic, social, cultural or political in purpose—should be such as not to create obstacles, but rather to facilitate or render less arduous our perfecting of self in both the natural order and the supernatural…

“Every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven amidst his fellow men and women. And they will be this all the more perfectly, the more closely they live in communion with God in the intimacy of their own soul.”

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