Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Henry, Emperor

Article

stained glass window of Saint Henry II; 1802, artist unknown; parish church, Providence of God, Jaworze, Poland; photographed on 2 July 2013 by Hons084; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsAmong the Roman Emperors there is one whom the Catholic Church mentions, as well in the Martyrology as in holy Mass and the breviary, as a Saint; the Emperor Henry. He was the son of the Duke of Bavaria, and received instruction in the Christian religion, and also in the liberal arts, under Saint Wolfgang. This holy teacher inculcated not only piety, but also holiness, as is proved by the Emperor’s whole after-life. The early death of his holy tutor was a source of deep grief to the pious youth, and he spent many an hour at his grave, confiding all his cares to him with the confidence of a child. One day, while he was thus praying, sleep overtook him, during which he saw the holy bishop standing before him, telling him to turn his eyes to the wall. On doing so, he saw distinctly the two words “After Six.” He awoke, and thinking he should die after six days, he prepared himself piously for his departure from this life. The six days, however, passed, and as he was still alive, he thought that perhaps six weeks had been intended by those words. But these also went by, and in like manner six months and six years, during all of which he lived so piously that he was constantly ready to die. When, however, at the expiration of six years, he was chosen Emperor, he comprehended the import of those two words. Before he was crowned Emperor, he followed the wishes of his parents and married Cunegunda, daughter of the Palatine Siegfried, with whom, by mutual con- sent, he lived in perpetual chastity. Having attained the highest dignity that could be conferred upon him, he altered not in the least his pious manner of living. He united with his dignity, a most edifying humility, as he had accepted the imperial crown only with the intention of furthering the honor of God, of protecting and disseminating the true faith, and of laboring for the welfare of his subjects. During his reign of 22 years, he was often in the field, sometimes in one country, sometimes in another; at first against those who aspired to the throne, and then against the persecutors of the Church, or the rebels and enemies of the Empire. He was most miraculously assisted by Gcd and obtained many glorious victories over his enemies. We will give one example as a proof of this. Several barbarous nations of Sclavonia and other neighboring territories made inroads into some portions of the Empire, doing great damage to the inhabitants and sparing neither churches nor convents, but plundering and laying waste everything in their way. They ravaged the diocese of Merseburg, and the holy emperor, advised by the nobles of the land, marched against them. Girding around his loins the sword of the holy Martyr Saint Adrian, he called on the Lord of Hosts to be with him, and then begged his holy patrons, especially the holy Archangel Michael, Saint Gregory and Saint Adrian to intercede for him. He further promised to Saint Lawrence, the patron of the See of Merseburg, to renew the church that had been dedicated to him, and which had been destroyed by the idolatrous people,, if he would obtain from God the grace to vanquish them. His whole army was prepared for the battle, by receiving the Holy Communion, and when the morning broke, the Emperor beheld the barbarians marching against him in immense masses. Having again called on God for aid, he encouraged his soldiers to fight bravely against the enemies of the country and religion. When the battle began, the holy Emperor perceived those Saints whose aid had been invoked, at the head of his army, strengthening his soldiers and causing such panic among the enemy, that most of them fled and others turned in wild rage against each other. Thus did the Almighty renew the miracle, which, in ancient times, He had wrought for the benefit of His people, and the holy Emperor won a complete victory for which he gave due thanks to heaven and fulfilled the promise made in honor of Saint Lawrence. Valiantly as the holy Emperor marched against the enemies of his land and the Holy Church, on this occasion, he was equally ready, at other times, to spare those who humbled themselves and requested peace. The inhabitants of Troja in Calabria had rebelled against the general of the Emperor, and the latter was obliged to punish them for it, in order to prevent others from following their example. Hence he besieged Troja with his army. When the inhabitants saw that ‘they could not oppose the imperial power, they sent all the children in a long procession to the Emperor, crying “Lord, have mercy.” So touching a cry, accompanied by floods of tears, went to the Emperor’s heart, and withdrawing his army, he announced to the people of the city his pardon, with the words, that it would be wrong for him, as a man, to disregard prayers and tears which oftentimes moved even God. Surely a beautiful example of Christian charity, far from all desire to seek revenge on those who gave offence. The same charity actuated the holy Emperor to assist the poor and needy, and to stretch forth his hand to help the oppressed. His love to the Almighty he manifested especially by his zeal to further His honor on all occasions. To this end he erected many magnificent churches and convents, on which he spent large sums of money. There can hardly be named a monarch, who renewed and erected so many churches, endowed so many dioceses, and founded so many convents as this holy Emperor. He founded the diocese of Bamberg and endowed it most generously. In the city of Bamberg, he built, in honor of the holy Archangel Michael, a church on the site still called Mount-Michael, another dedicated to Saint Stephen, and also the magnificent Cathedral. The last was consecrated by the Pope himself, with great solemnity. The same Pope, Benedict VIII., crowned Henry and Cunegunda at Rome, on which occasion he presented the Emperor with a golden ball – the imperial globe – surmounted by the cross. This precious gift, as also the crown placed on his head at Rome, the Emperor, on his return, bestowed on the Church of the monastery at Cluny, to which he paid a pious visit. Notwithstanding his being engaged in frequent wars, which devoured enormous sums of money, he bestowed great treasure on the churches to procure everything that was necessary to ornament them. He wished to see the churches and everything belonging to the divine service magnificent, and kept in proper order, and used to say: “The Lord, to whom these churches are consecrated, is so great, that we ought to do all in our power to worship and proclaim His greatness and majesty. Nothing is laid out uselessly that is given to this end, nay, we never can ornament our churches so much that there will be no room left to do still more.” The holy Emperor desired in this respect to imitate the Emperor Constantine the Great, who was celebrated through the whole Christian world, not only for the many grand churches that he erected, but also for the splendid vessels, candelabra, paintings and vestments with which he furnished and ornamented them; for the same reason which actuated King Solomon to gather an almost inconceivable amount of gold and silver for the building of the Temple. “For,” said he, “we do not erect a dwelling for man, but for God.”

Besides these and other works, which the holy Emperor undertook for the welfare of the empire, and the honor of the Holy Church, he did not neglect those exercises of piety which he needed for his own salvation. He had certain hours both of the day and of the night, which he gave to prayer. He undertook nothing without first asking the assistance of the Almighty by prayer. During many bitter persecutions which he had to suffer, even from his own brother, his patience was most remarkable; a word of complaint was never heard to pass his lips. In like manner he bore the most cruel pains occasioned by sickness, until Saint Benedict, who visibly appeared to him during his sleep, cured him. He mortified his body with rigorous fasts and other penances. He received frequently, and always with great devotion, the Holy Sacrament, and by this means preserved his chastity until the end of his life.

After so virtuous a life he became sick at the Castle of Grone, not far from Halberstadt, while on a journey. After receiving the Viaticum, he called his holy consort, Cunegunda and her relations around his dying bed, and after once again asking her to forgive him, for having once suspected her of evil deeds, as is related in the life of* this holy Empress, on the third day of March, he took her hand and said to her relations, in the presence of many persons: “She was entrusted to me by you, or rather by Christ our Lord, and I give her back to Christ and to you, a pure virgin.” Soon after, he expired, in the year 1024, and the 52d of his age. It was the will of God that the holy Emperor should reveal, with his last words, the life of unviolated chastity which he and his consort had led; as until then it had been a secret His relics were entombed at Bamberg, in the Cathedral erected by him, where they are greatly venerated at the present day. The many miracles, which have taken place at his tomb, induced Pope Eugenius III, to canonize him in the year 1152.

Practical Considerations

1. The holy Emperor Henry expended large sums in ornamenting the churches and in providing them with splendid vessels and vestments to be used in the sacred service. He could truthfully say with the pious King David: “I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells.” (Psalm 25) Why he did this has been explained, and there can be no doubt, that in doing so, he acted in a holy and praiseworthy manner. What then shall be said of those who employ the abundance of their means, in immoderately adorning their own luxurious dwellings, in gaudy dresses, in maintaining useless animals, or in vain and even sinful amusements? What shall be said of those who, not only contribute nothing to the ornament of a church, but, like the heretics, speak against it, as though it were superfluous, unnecessary or unsuitable? Just as if God had been wrong when He ordained an infinitely more costly adornment for the Temple of Jerusalem, than can be found in our time in any Church of the Christian world! What of those who even try to prevent others from contributing to the decoration of a Church, or to the maintenance of devotion? What of those who declare invalid all donations, bequests and endowments made to this end, and who say that it would be much better if the money were given to the poor, or used for hospitals? Do they not think and speak like Judas, who murmured against the costly spices with which Mary Magdelene anointed the Saviour? In his estimation this was extravagance, and the spices ought to be sold, and the money given to the poor. He, however, as the Gospel testifies, cared not for the poor, but would himself have had some of the money which the spices would have brought. The same is the case with those of whom I spoke. What is used to embellish the churches is wasted: it ought to be given to the poor: but what is used in gaming, debauchery, luxurious banquets and garments, is not wasted, and ought not to be given to the poor. If great bequests or donations are made to them, it is all valid, and the poor are not thought of; but if the Church is benefited in this manner, it is all wrong, and must be the result of exaggerated piety, or the work of a greedy, crafty priest; then great injustice is done to the heirs; the bequest or donation must be invalid, and the poor are forthwith remembered! Oh you hypocrites! Oh you true followers of Judas! If you are so concerned about the poor, why do you not begin to assist them yourselves, as generously as you are able to do? It is in truth a pity that you did not live under the Old Testament, when the Lord commanded a magnificent Temple to be erected and decorated most sumptuously. I believe you would even then have remarked that it would be much wiser to bestow the money on the poor. And if you had been present when the poor widow put her two mites into the treasury, I believe you would have blamed her, saying, that she would have done much better, by using it for herself or for other poor. But Christ Himself praised the pious widow, as is seen in the Gospel (Mark 12). Hence, who shall dare to blame her or others who act in a similar manner? There will come a day when it will be made manifest who derived the greatest comfort, joy and benefit from his temporal possessions, he who used them for the maintenance and embellishment of the Church, or he who squandered them frivolously, uselessly, or perhaps sinfully; or he who hoarded them as a miser. A true Christian, who is himself unable to contribute to the maintenance or decoration of the Church, does not prevent others from so doing: he does not speak against such pious gifts, but rejoices in the thought that God is thus honored.

The above does not intimate that the poor should be neglected. We have often in this work, exhorted our readers to be generous to them. We now refer to those only who make a pretext of the poor, to blame the maintenance and decoration of the Church. The instruction of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which He gave on one occasion, is all that is here needed: “These things you ought to have done, and not have left those undone” (Matthew 23)

2. Saint Henry prepared himself, first for six days, then six weeks, then six months, and finally, six years for death, as he looked upon the above mentioned words, “After six,” as an announcement of his approaching end. He acted rightly; for, when death is concerned, no preparation can be too thorough, as our eternity depends upon it. Have you still to live six years, six months, six weeks, six days? You know not. You are not even assured of six hours; for, the same faith which teaches you that death is certain, teaches you also that the time, manner and place of it are unknown. Can you believe this, and yet defer to prepare yourself for your departure from this world? Of course you promise to yourself that you will live many years to come: but how can you promise yourself what is not at all in your power? Has the Almighty, who alone is Lord over time, life and death, assured you on this point? Have there not been many deceived who, like yourself, flattered themselves with the hope of a long life? But even should you still live many years, do you suppose that you would regret having prepared yourself for death, by penance and a Christian life, though you were spared to live longer? Saint Henry certainly did not regret it. How many thousands suffer in hell, and regret eternally, that deceived by the hope of a long life, they postponed preparing themselves for death. Taken away suddenly in their sins, they have gone to everlasting destruction. Whom, then, will you follow, these unhappy ones, or Saint Henry? “Reform your lives, and prepare yourselves early for death, because the end of our days is unknown.” This admonition comes to us from Saint Augustine.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Henry, Emperor”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 March 2018. Web. 19 November 2018. <>