July 15, 2019: ST. HENRY II
July 15, 2019: ST. HENRY II, EMPEROR, CONFESSOR
“I will compare him to a wise man, who built his house on a solid rock.”
(St. Matth, vii. 24)
O God, on this day You transferred Blessed Henry, Your Confessor, from the summit of an earthly empire to an eternal kingdom; we humbly beseech You, that, even as You protected him with the fullness of Your grace to overcome the snares of the world, so You would enable us, by imitating him, to shun the allurements of this world and to come to You with pure minds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Henry of Germany, the second King, but the first Emperor of that name, was the last crowned representative of that branch of the house of Saxony descended from Henry the Fowler, to which God, in the tenth century, entrusted the mission of restoring the work of Charlemagne and Leo III. This noble stock was rendered more glorious by the flowers of sanctity adorning its branches, than for the deep and powerful roots it struck in the German soil by great and long-enduring institutions.
The Holy Spirit, who divideth his gifts according as he will, was then calling to the loftiest destinies that land, which, more than any other, had witnessed the energy of his divine action in the transformation of nations. Won to Christ by St. Boniface and the continuators of his work, the vast country which extends beyond the Rhine and the Danube had become the bulwark of the West, and for many years had been the scene of devastation and ruin. Far from attempting to subjugate to her own rule the formidable tribes that inhabited it, pagan Rome, at the very zenith of her power, had had no higher ambition than to raise a wall of separation between them and the Empire: Christian Rome, more truly Mistress of the world, set up in their very midst the seat of the Holy Roman Empire re-established by her Pontiffs. The new Empire was to defend the rights of the common Mother, to protect Christendom from new inroads of barbarians, to win over to the Gospel or else to crush the successive hordes that would come down on her frontiers—Hungarians, Sclaves, Mongols, Tartars, and Ottomans. Happy had it been for Germany if she had always understood her true glory, if the fidelity of her princes to the Vicar of the Man-God had been equal to their people's faith.
God, on his part, had not closed his hand. Today's feast shows us the crowning point of the period of fruitful labour, when the Holy Ghost, having created Germany anew in the waters of the sacred font, would lead her up to the full development of a people's perfect age. The historian, who would know what Providence requires of nations, must study them at such a period of truly creative formation. Indeed, when God creates, whether in the order of nature or of the supernatural vocation of men and societies, he first deposits in his work the principle of that grade of life for which it is destined: it is a precious germ, the development of which, unless thwarted, must lead that being to attain its end; and the knowledge of which, could we observe it before any alteration has taken place, would clearly indicate the divine intention with regard to that being. Now, many times already, since the coming of the Holy Ghost the Sanctifier, we have shown that the principle of life for Christian nations is the holiness of their beginnings: a holiness as manifold as is the Wisdom of God, whose instrument these nations are to be, and as peculiar to each as are their several destinies. This holiness, beginning as it does for the most part from the throne, possesses a social character. The crimes also of princes will but too often bear this same mark, from the very fact of the princes being the representatives of their people before God. Then, too, we have seen, how in the name of Mary, who, through her divine Maternity, is the channel of life to the whole world, a mission has been intrusted to women: the mission of bringing forth to God the families of nations (familiӕ gentium) (Ps, xxi. 28), which are to be the objects of his tenderest love. Whereas the princes, the apparent founders of Empires, stand with their mighty deeds in the foreground of history, it is she, that, by her secret tears and prayers, gives fruitfulness, a loftier aim and stability to their undertakings. The Holy Ghost multiplies these imitators of the Mother of God; like Clotilde, Radegond, and Bathildis, giving the Franks to the Church in the midst of troublous times, there arose in another land another three, in honour of the Blessed Trinity: Matilda, Adelaide, and Cunigund superadded to the diadem of Germany the aureola of sanctity. Over the chaos of the tenth century whence Germany was to spring, they shone out like three bright stars, shedding their peaceful light over the Church and the world in that dark night, and thus doing more to suppress anarchy than could even the sword of an Otho. The eleventh century opened: Hildebrand had not yet arisen, and the angels of the sanctuary were weeping over many a desecrated altar, when the royal succession was brought to a beautiful close by a virginal union, as though, weary of producing heroes for the world, it would now bear fruit for heaven alone. Was such a step against the interests of Germany? No; for it drew down the mercy of God upon the country, which, in the midst of universal corruption, could offer Him the perfume of such a holocaust.
Let earth and heaven this day unite in celebrating the man who carried out to the full the designs of eternal Wisdom at this period of history. In his single person he discovered all the heroism and sanctity of the illustrious race, whose chief glory it is to have been for a century a worthy preparation for so great a man. Great before men, who knew not whether to admire more his bravery or the energetic activity which made him seem to be everywhere at once throughout his vast empire, he was ever successful, putting down internal revolts, conquering the Sclaves on his Northern frontier, chastising the insolence of the Greeks in southern Italy, assisting Hungary to rise from barbarism to Christianity, concluding with Robert the Pious a lasting peace between the Empire and the eldest daughter of the Church. But the virgin spouse of the virgin Cunigund was greater still before God, who never had a more faithful lieutenant upon earth. God in His Christ was in Henry's eyes the only King; the interest of Christ and the Church, the one principle of his administration; the most perfect service of the Man-God, his highest ambition. He understood how the truest nobility was hidden in the cloister, where chosen souls, fleeing from the universal degradation, were averting the ruin and obtaining the salvation of the world. It was this thought that led him, on the morrow of his imperial coronation, to confide to the famous Abbey of Cluny the golden globe representing the world, which he, as soldier of the Vicar of Christ, was commissioned to defend. It was with the desire of imitating those noble souls, that he threw himself at the feet of the Abbot of Saint Vannes at Verdun, begging admission into his community, and then, constrained by obedience, returned with a heavy heart to resume the burden of government.
The following is the notice, necessarily incomplete, which the Church gives us concerning Saint Henry:
Henry, surnamed the Pious, Duke of Bavaria, became successively King of Germany, and Emperor of the Romans; but not satisfied with a mere temporal principality, he strove to gain an immortal crown, by paying zealous service to the eternal King. As emperor, he devoted himself earnestly to spreading religion, and rebuilt with great magnificence the Churches which had been destroyed by the infidels, endowing them generously both with money and lands. He built Monasteries and other pious establishments, and increased the income of others; the bishopric of Bamberg, which he had founded out of his family possessions, he made tributary to St. Peter and the Roman Pontiff. When Benedict VIII, who had crowned him emperor, was obliged to seek safety in flight, Henry received him and restored him to his See.
Once when he was suffering from a severe illness in the Monastery of Monte Cassino, St. Benedict cured him, by a wonderful miracle. He endowed the Roman Church with a most copious grant, undertook in her defence a war against the Greeks, and gained possession of Apulia, which they had held for some time. It was his custom to undertake nothing without prayer, and at times he saw the angel of the Lord, or the holy Martyrs, his patrons, fighting for him at the head of his army. Aided thus by the Divine protection, he overcame barbarous nations more by prayer than by arms. Hungary was still pagan; but Henry having given his sister in marriage to its King Stephen, the latter was baptized, and thus the whole nation was brought to the faith of Christ. He set the rare example of preserving virginity in the married state, and at his death restored his wife, St. Cunigund, a virgin to her family.
He arranged everything relating to the glory or advantage of his empire with the greatest prudence, and left scattered throughout Gaul, Italy, and Germany, traces of his munificence towards religion. The sweet odour of his heroic virtue spread far and wide, till he was more celebrated for his holiness than for his imperial dignity. At length his life's work was accomplished and he was called by our Lord to the rewards of the heavenly kingdom, in the year of salvation, 1024. His body was buried in the Church of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul at Bamberg. God wished to glorify his servant, and many miracles were worked at his tomb. These being afterwards proved and certified, Eugenius III inscribed his name upon the catalogue of the Saints.
Another account of St. Henry II, Emperor
St. Henry, surnamed the Pious and the Lame, was son of Henry, Duke of Bavaria, and of Gisella, daughter of Conrad, King of Burgundy, and was born in 972. He was descended from Henry, Duke of Bavaria, son of the Emperor Henry the Fowler, and brother of Otho the Great, consequently our saint was near akin to the three first emperors who bore the name of Otho. St. Wolfgang, the Bishop of Ratisbon, being a prelate the most eminent in all Germany for learning, piety, and zeal, our young prince was put under his tuition, and by his excellent instructions and example, he made from his infancy wonderful progress in learning and in the most perfect practice of Christian virtue. The death of his dear master and spiritual guide, which happened in 994, was to him a most sensible affliction. In the following year he succeeded his father in the duchy of Bavaria, and in 1002, upon the death of his cousin Otho III, he was chosen emperor. He was the same year crowned King of Germany, at Mentz, by the archbishop of that city. He had always before his eyes the extreme dangers to which they are exposed who move on the precipice of power, and that all human things are like edifices of sand, which every breath of time threatens to overturn or deface; he studied the extent and importance of the obligations which attended his dignity; and by the assiduous practice of humiliations, prayer, and pious meditation, he maintained in his heart the necessary spirit of humility and holy fear, and was enabled to bear the tide of prosperity and honour with a constant evenness of temper. Sensible of the end for which alone he was exalted by God to the highest temporal dignity, he exerted his most strenuous endeavours to promote in all things the divine honour, the exaltation of the church, and the peace and happiness of his people.
Soon after his accession to the throne, he resigned the dukedom of Bavaria, which he bestowed on his brother-in-law, Henry, surnamed Senior. He procured a national council of the bishops of all his dominions, which was assembled at Dortmund, in Westphalia, in 1005, in order to regulate many points of discipline, and to enforce a strict observance of the holy canons. It was owing to his zeal that many provincial synods were also held for the same purpose in several parts of the empire. He was himself present at that of Frankfort in 1006, and at another of Bamberg in 1011. The protection he owed his subjects engaged him sometimes in wars, in all which he was successful. By his prudence, courage, and clemency, he stifled a rebellion at home in the beginning of his reign, and without striking a stroke compelled the malcontents to lay down their arms at his feet, which, when they had done, he received them into favour. Two years after, he quelled another rebellion in Italy, when Ardovinus, or Hardwic, a Lombard lord, had caused himself to be crowned king at Milan. This nobleman, after his defeat, made his submission, and obtained his pardon. When he had afterwards revolted a second time, the emperor marched again into Italy, vanquished him in battle, and deprived him of his territories, but did not take away his life, and Ardovinus became a monk. After this second victory, St. Henry went in triumph to Rome, where, in 1014, he was crowned emperor with great solemnity by Pope Benedict VIII. On that occasion, to give a proof of his devotion to the holy see, he confirmed to it, by an ample diploma, the donation made by several former emperors, of the sovereignty of Rome and the exarchate of Ravenna; and after a short stay at Rome, took leave of the pope, and in his return to Germany, kept the Easter holidays at Pavia; then he visited the monastery of Cluni, on which he bestowed the imperial globe of gold which the pope had given him, and a gold crown enriched with precious stones. He paid his devotions in other monasteries on the road, leaving in every one of them some rich monument of his piety and liberality. But the most acceptable offering which he made to God was the fervour and purity of affection with which he renewed the consecration of his soul to God in all places where he came, especially at the foot of the altars. Travelling through Liege and Triers, he arrived at Bamberg, in which city he had lately founded a rich episcopal see, and had built a most stately cathedral in honour of St. Peter, which Pope John XVIII took a journey into Germany to consecrate in 1019. The emperor obtained of this pope, by an honourable embassy, the confirmation of this and all his other pious foundations. For he built and endowed other churches with the two monasteries at Bamberg, and made the like foundations in several other places; thus extending his zealous views to promote the divine honour and the relief of the poor to the end of time. Bruno, Bishop of Ausburg, the emperor's brother, Henry, Duke of Bavaria, and other relations of the saint, complained loudly that he employed his patrimony on such religious foundations, and the Duke of Bavaria and some others took up arms against him in 1010; but he defeated them in the field; then pardoned the princes engaged in the revolt, and restored to them Bavaria and their other territories which he had seized.
The idolatrous inhabitants of Poland and Sclavonia had, some time before, laid waste the diocess of Meersburg, and destroyed that and several other churches. St. Henry marched against those barbarous nations, and having put his army under the protection of the holy martyrs, St. Laurence, St. George, and St. Adrian, who are said to have been seen in the battle fighting before him, he defeated the infidels. He had made a vow to reestablish the see of Meersburg in case he obtained the victory, and he caused all his army to communicate the day before the battle which was fought near that city. The barbarians were seized with a panic fear in the beginning of the action, and submitted at discretion. The princes of Bohemia rebelled, but were easily brought back to their duty. The victorious emperor munificently repaired and restored the episcopal sees of Hildesheim, Magdeburg, Strasburg, Misnia, and Meersburg, and made all Poland, Bohemia, and Moravia, tributary to the empire. He procured holy preachers to be sent to instruct the Bohemians and Polanders in the faith. Those have been mistaken who pretend that St. Henry converted St. Stephen, King of Hungary; for that prince was born of Christian parents. But our saint promoted his zealous endeavours, and had a great share in his apostolic undertakings for the conversion of his people.
The protection of Christendom, and especially of the holy see, obliged St. Henry to lead an army to the extremity of Italy, where he vanquished the conquering Saracens, with their allies the Greeks, and drove them out of Italy, left a governor in the provinces which he had recovered, and suffered the Normans to enjoy the territories which they had then wrested from the infidels, but restrained them from turning their arms towards Naples or Benevento. He came back by Mount Cassino, and was honourably received at Rome; but during his stay in that city, by a painful contraction of the sinews in his thigh, became lame, and continued so till his death. He passed by Cluni, and in the duchy of Luxemburg had an interview with Robert, King of France, son and successor of Hugh Capet. It had been agreed that, to avoid all disputes of pre-eminence, the two princes should hold their conference in boats on the river Meuse, which, as Glabor writes, was at that time the boundary that parted their dominions. But Henry, impatient to embrace and cement a friendship with that great and virtuous king, paid the first visit to Robert in his tent, and afterwards received him in his own. A war had broke out between these two princes in 1006, and Henry gave the French a great overthrow; but being desirous only to govern his dominions in peace, he entered into negotiations which produced a lasting peace. In this interview, which was held in 1023, the conference of the two princes turned on the most important affairs of church and state, and on the best means of advancing piety, religion, and the welfare of their subjects. After the most cordial demonstrations of sincere friendship, they took leave of each other, and St. Henry proceeded to Verdun and Metz. He made frequent progresses through his dominions only to promote piety, enrich all the churches, relieve the poor, make a strict inquiry into all public disorders and abuses, and prevent unjust usurpations and oppressions. He desired to have no other heir on earth but Christ in his members, and, wherever he went, he spread the odour of his piety, and his liberalities on the poor.
It is incredible how attentive he was to the smallest affairs amidst the multiplicity of business which attends the government of the state; nothing seemed to escape him; and whilst he was most active and vigilant in every duty which he owed to the public, he did not forget that the care of his own soul, and the regulation of his interior, was his first and most essential obligation. He was sensible that pride and vain-glory are the most dangerous of all vices, and that they are the most difficult to be discovered, and the last that are vanquished in the spiritual warfare; that humility is the very foundation of all true virtue, and our progress in it the measure of our advancement in Christian perfection. Therefore, the higher he was exalted in worldly honours, the more did he study to humble himself, and it is said of him, that never was greater humility seen under a diadem. He loved those persons best who most freely put him in mind of his mistakes, and these he was always most ready to confess, and to make for them the most ample reparation. Through misinformations, he, for some time, harboured coldness toward St. Herebert, Archbishop of Cologne; but, discovering the innocence and sanctity of that prelate, he fell at his feet, and would not rise till he had received his absolution and pardon. He banished flatterers from his presence, calling them the greatest pests of courts; for none can put such an affront on a man's judgment and modesty, as to praise him to his face, but the base and most wicked of interested and designing men, who make use of this artifice to insinuate themselves into the favour of a prince, to abuse his weakness and credulity, and to make him the dupe of their injustices. He who listens to them exposes himself to many misfortunes and crimes, to the danger of the most foolish pride and vain-glory, and to the ridicule and scorn of his flatterers themselves; for a vanity that can publicly hear its own praises, openly unmasks itself to its confusion. The Emperor Sigismund, giving a flatterer a blow on the face, called his fulsome praise the greatest insult that had ever been offered him. St. Henry was raised by religion and humility above this abjectness of soul, which reason itself teaches us to abhor and despise. By the assiduous mortification of the senses, he kept his passions in subjection. For pleasure, unless we are guarded against its assaults, steals upon us by insensible degrees, smooths its passage to the heart by a gentle and insinuating address, and softens and disarms the soul of all its strength. Nor is it possible for us to triumph over unlawful sensual delights, unless we moderate and practise frequent self-denials with regard to lawful gratifications. The love of the world is a no less dangerous enemy, especially amidst honours and affluence; and created objects have this quality, that they first seduce the heart, and then blind the understanding. By conversing always in heaven, St. Henry raised his affections so much above the earth as to escape this snare.
Prayer seemed the chief delight and support of his soul; especially the public office of the church. Assisting one day at this holy function at Strasburg, he so earnestly desired to remain always there to sing the divine praises among the devout canons of that church, that, finding this impossible, he founded there a new canonry for one who should always perform that sacred duty in his name. In this spirit of devotion it has been established that the kings of France are canons of Strasburg, Lyons, and some other places; as in the former place the emperors, in the latter the dukes of Burgundy, were before them. The holy sacrament of the altar and sacrifice of the mass were the object of St. Henry's most tender devotion. The blessed Mother of God he honoured as his chief patroness, and among other exercises by which he recommended himself to her intercession, it was his custom, upon coming to any town, to spend a great part of the first night in watching and prayer in some church dedicated to God under her name, as at Rome in St. Mary Major. He had a singular devotion to the good angels and to all the saints. Though he lived in the world so as to be perfectly disengaged from it in heart and affection, it was his earnest desire entirely to renounce it long before his death, and he intended to pitch upon the Abbey of St. Vanne, at Verdun, for the place of his retirement. But he was diverted from carrying this project into execution by the advice of Richard, the holy abbot of that house. He had married St. Cunegonda, but lived with her in perpetual chastity, to which they had mutually bound themselves by vow. It happened that the empress was falsely accused of incontinency, and St. Henry was somewhat moved by the slander; but she cleared herself by her oath, and by the ordeal trials, walking over twelve red-hot ploughshares without hurt. Her husband severely condemned himself for his credulity, and made her the most ample satisfaction. In his last illness he recommended her to her relations and friends, declaring that he left her an untouched virgin. His health decayed some years before his death, which happened at the castle of Grone, near Halberstadt, in 1024, on the 14th of July, toward the end of the fifty-second year of his life, he having reigned twenty-two years from his election, and ten years and five months from his coronation at Rome. His body was interred in the cathedral at Bamberg with the greatest pomp, and with the unfeigned tears of all his subjects. The great numbers of miracles by which God was pleased to declare his glory in heaven procured his canonization, which was performed by Eugenius III, in 1152. His festival is kept on the day following that of his death.
Those who, by honours, dignities, riches, or talents, are raised by God in the world above the level of their fellow-creatures, have a great stewardship, and a most rigorous account to give at the bar of divine justice, their very example having a most powerful influence over others. This St. Fulgentius observed, writing to Theodorus, a pious Roman senator,—“Though,” said he, “Christ died for all men, yet the perfect conversion of the great ones of the world brings great acquisitions to the kingdom of Christ. And they who are placed in high stations must necessarily be to very many an occasion of eternal perdition or of salvation. And as they cannot go alone, so either a high degree of glory, or an extraordinary punishment will be their everlasting portion.”
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
Saint Joseph Daily Missal, Imprimatur 1957.
St. Henry II, pray for us.