(LifeSiteNews) –– 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 witnesses 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, Slavs, 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 labor, 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, possess 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, (Time after Pentecost, Vol. III, St Clotilde) who, through her divine maternity, is the channel of life to the whole world, a mission has been entrusted to women: the mission of bringing forth to God the families of nations (familiæ gentium), (Psalm 21:28) 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 honor 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 Slavs 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 defense 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 odor 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.
By me kings reign, by me princes rule. (Proverbs 8:15-16) Thou, O Henry, didst well understand this language of heaven. In an age of wickedness, thou knewest where to find counsel and strength. Like Solomon thou didst desire wisdom alone, and like him thou didst experience that with her are riches and glory, glorious riches and justice; (Proverbs 8:18) but more blessed than David’s son, thou didst not suffer thyself to be drawn away from Wisdom herself by those lower gifts, which were rather a test of thy love of God, than an expression of his love for thee. The test, O Henry, was decisive: thou didst walk to the very end in the right path, following up loyally every consequence of our Lord’s teaching; not content to mount, with many even of the best, by the gentler slopes, thou didst run with the perfect, following closely the footsteps of adorable Wisdom, in the midst of the paths of judgment. (Proverbs 8:20)
Who can gainsay what God approves, what Christ counsels, what the Church has canonized in thee and thy noble spouse? Surely kings are not placed in so pitiable a condition that the call of the Man-God cannot reach them on their thrones? Christian equality requires that princes should not be less free than their subjects, to have high ambitions than those of earth. Thou didst prove to mankind that even for the world, the knowledge of the holy is true prudence. (Proverbs 9:10)
By claiming the right to the highest mansions in our Heavenly Father’s house (the baptismal birthright of every child of God), thou didst shine like a beacon-light under the darkest sky that ever overspread the Church; and thou didst rescue souls whom the salt of the earth, having lost its savor and being trodden under foot, could no longer preserve from corruption. It was not for thee in person to reform the sanctuary; but as chief servant of Mother Church, thou didst not fear to respect both her ancient laws and recent decrees, which are every worthy of the spouse, and holy as the Spirit who in every age dictates them.
Thy reign was a period of sunshine before the satanic fury which was all too soon to break as a storm over the Church. While seeking first the kingdom of God and His justice, thou didst not abandon thy fatherland, nor the nation that had placed thee at its head. To thee, above all others, Germany owes the establishment in her midst of that empire which was her glory until in our times it fell, never to rise again.
Long after thy departure from this earth, thy holy works were of sufficient weight in the scales of divine justice to over-balance the crimes of a Henry IV or a Frederick II, which would have compromised forever the future of Germany. From thy throne in heaven, cast down a look of pity on thy extensive domain of the Holy Empire, which owed so much to thee, and which heresy has forever dismembered.
Put to confusion those principles, unknown to Germany in happier days, which would reconstruct, for the benefit of earthly prosperity, the grandeurs of the past without the cement of the ancient faith. Return, O emperor of glorious days! return and fight for the Church; gather together the remains of Christendom upon the traditional ground of the interests common to all Catholic nations: then will the alliance, which thy able policy concluded, give to the world a security, a peace, a prosperity, which it can never enjoy so long as it remains on such a slippery footing, and exposed to the violence of every hostile agency.