HENRY OF UTRECHT (OR OF COLOGNE)
Father Henry of Utrecht, as often happened in those days, received the last part of his name from the city of his birth. Not infrequently, however, he is called Henry of Cologne from the fact that he established the Friars Preacher in that municipality, and ended his days there. The date of his birth is not known. Yet, as the writings of Blessed Jordan of Saxony clearly indicate that Henry was younger than himself, and the youthful religious from Utrecht was placed in charge of a colony of his confrères sent to Cologne in 1221 or 1222, one may safely conclude that the angelic Hollander was born about the middle of the last decade in the twelfth century.(1)
Practically all that is known of this early disciple of Dominic, extraordinary man though he was, has been handed down to us by his friend, Jordan of Saxony. Henry's parents were splendid Christians, as well as blessed with the goods of this world. From his earliest childhood, they not only instructed him in his religion and trained him in its duties with great care, but also provided every means for his education. Thus he enjoyed exceptional advantages, both spiritual and intellectual. Nature was bountiful to him. It accorded him a good heart, disposed to virtue, and endowed him with a rare mind, that gave him a ready grasp of all that he was taught.
Under these happy circumstances, little Henry made marvellous progress in the development of both mind and heart. God's grace also became manifest in its workings on his soul almost from infancy. Indeed, the boy showed signs of a vocation at an early age. Here again he was blessed. A saintly and learned canon of his native city, who was a friend, or perhaps even a relation, of the family, took charge of Henry's education for the priesthood. Under the diligent training of this capable tutor, for he combined great industry with a docile disposition, the subject of our sketch grew rapidly in knowledge, no less than in favor before both God and man. Jordan assures us that his ways were so angelic that goodness seemed to be inborn in him. Among his many virtues moral purity, humility, charity towards the poor, and a spirit of prayer occupied a conspicuous place.(2)
Because of these rare gifts of mind, heart, and soul, the canons of the cathedral at Utrecht, as sometimes happened in those days, apparently elected Henry a member of their distinguished body while he was but a ,student. There he completed his belles-lettres, and made his course of philosophy. Then, that he might the better round out his education in preparation for the brilliant future which seemed certainly in store for him, he was sent to the University of Paris for his theology. At the French capital, he at once contracted an intimate friendship with Jordan of Saxony, who was a student there before him. It was a holy alliance. Jordan took Henry to the hospice where he lived, and obtained lodging for him there. The two young men were seldom seen, except they were together. In the spirit of religious comradeship, they accompanied the one the other in all those visits of piety, prayer, and charity which have been laid before the reader in the sketch of Blessed Jordan. It is not necessary to repeat them here.
When Saint Dominic reached Paris on his way from Spain, it will be recalled, Jordan hastened to hear him preach and to consult him about his own vocation. This was in the spring of 1219. Although it is not on record, the intimate relations between the two pious students seem to leave little or no doubt that Henry of Utrecht did the same. Similarly, when Blessed Reginald of Orleans arrived in Paris from Bologna, about November, 1219, Jordan, and most likely Henry also, took a kindred keen interest in the new preacher.
Albeit Jordan, who recounts the story of their entrance into the Order, does not tell us what it was, it is evident that, while both felt strongly drawn towards the Friars Preacher, there was something that held them back from joining them. In Henry's case, it seems almost certain that the obstacle in the way to such a step was the fear of offense to the canon of Utrecht, to whom he was bound by a great debt of gratitude. Jordan's own description of his affection for Henry leads one strongly to suspect that his friendship for and the hesitation of the latter were among the difficulties which the future Master General had to overcome.(3) Jordan was the first to make up his mind. Then, to oblige himself to carry out his good resolution, he took a vow before Blessed Reginald that he would enter the Order. All this will be remembered from the sketch of Jordan.
After he had made this solemn promise, our pious Saxon youth used every argument that he might induce his favorite fellow-student and comrade to make the same decision. Jordan himself, who calls Henry "the friend of my soul'), tells us all this. Under his urging the young canon of Utrecht went to consult Blessed Reginald again in the confessional. On his return, still undecided, Henry opened the Bible in the hope that it might aid him. The first words on which his eyes fell were: "The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary. He wakeneth me in the morning; in the morning He wakeneth my car, that I may hear Him as a master. The Lord hath opened my ear, and I do not resist. I have not gone back" (Isaias, L, 4-5).
Jordan used his keenest ingenuity in interpreting the sacred text so as to make it show that it was the divine will that his friend should become a Friar Preacher. Since he himself had already taken a vow to enter the Order, the future Father General clinched his argument by the eighth verse of the same chapter, which says: "Let us stand together." Although he wished with his whole heart to embrace the life, Henry's fear still made him shrink from such a step. The next night he spent in prayer before the altar of the Blessed Virgin in the Church of Notre Dame for the courage which he felt he lacked. Even up to the time he left the sacred edifice, it appeared that his supplications had been in vain; but hardly had he begun to breathe the fresh air of the morning on the outside, when an impulse came upon him to go to Blessed Reginald, as Jordan had done, and take a vow to become a disciple of Saint Dominic. This the perplexed youth did at once, lest he should again become a victim of uncertainty. Then, with a radiant face, he returned to his anxious friend, and said with determination: "I have made a vow to God; and I will keep it."
One needs hardly to be told that Jordan was greatly rejoiced by this announcement. Yet there may be those among our readers who will marvel at such vows to, enter an order, for a number of them have been recorded in the course of these sketches, or even wonder if they did not constitute a formal embracing of the religious life. They simply show a preliminary step towards such an end which was not unusual in the middle ages. Doubtless they were born of the strong faith of the times, and were taken as an engagement so to consecrate one's self to the service of God, when the opportune moment presented itself.
Jordan and Henry, now that their resolution was taken, determined on Ash Wednesday, February 12, 1220, as the time when they should receive the habit of the new Friars Preacher. Then, apparently under the leadership of Jordan, they induced their mutual friend and fellow-Teutonic student at the University of Paris, whose name was Leo, to join them in their holy enterprise. On the appointed day, all three were clothed in the garb of Saint Dominic at Saint James' by Matthew of France. As he had gone to his eternal reward a few days before, Blessed Reginald of Orleans could not grace the occasion with his presence.
When Henry's benefactor and two other canons of Utrecht learned the step he had taken, they were greatly distressed, for they knew but little about the missionary society lately established by the holy man from Calcruega. Indeed, they decided that at least one of them should go to Paris and dissuade him from his rash act. Happily, before taking the journey, they determined to spend the night in prayer that they might know the divine will in the matter. In his vigil, one of them heard the words: "This was done through the inspiration of the Lord; and it can not be changed." Thus were their consciences, for they were men of God, set at rest.
Blessed Jordan of Saxony declares that, as far as he knows, he never loved any man so much as Henry of Utrecht. He calls him "a vessel of honor and divine favor;" "the companion and friend of my soul;" "a man of great intellectual acumen and a most orderly mind." "God," says the same author, "bestowed many marks of His grace on this vessel of election;" for he was 44prompt in his obedience; strong in his patience; quiet in his gentleness; pleasing by his joyous ways; diffuse in his charity." With rare candor of nature and sincerity of heart he combined an angelic purity. Although he possessed a marvellous gift of language, a keen, well-trained mind, and great talent for writing .and preaching, he was the most modest of men in speech as regards himself. His countenance was pleasant and handsome; his physique comely; his gestures graceful; his voice rich and extraordinarily melodious. No one ,ever saw him sad, or morose, or in bad humor. His manners won him the confidence and affection of all with whom he came in contact.
Such praise, did it come from a writer of the Latin races, might be considered more or less fulsome; but bestowed by one of the phlegmatic northern temperament it means much. Unfortunately, Jordan does not tell us when Henry of Utrecht was ordained. However, we fancy it must have been very shortly after his entrance into the Order. At any rate, he began to preach almost at once. All Paris and the surrounding country, whether young or old, lay or cleric, flocked to hear the sermons of the youthful, eloquent, and magnetic pulpit orator. Jordan assures us that he was the marvel, the honor, the pride of the French capital. The fruits of his ministry were visible in every rank of society. This success in no wise upset the equipoise of God's servant, or disturbed his religious spirit; for, in his prayers, he bad learned of our Lord to be truly meek and humble of heart.
From Paris Henry of Utrecht was soon sent to Cologne, where he established the Order, and became the first prior. All the writers agree on these facts, for they are expressly stated by Blessed Jordan. Echard thinks that Henry did not go to the city on the Rhine before 1224, but he gives no authority for his statement.(4) However, Touron follows him. Taegio and tradition, supported by the in ore common opinion, tell us that the general chapter, held in Bologna at Pentecost, 1221, sent fathers to Cologne tinder the leadership of Henry. In this case it was the work of Saint Dominic himself. This date is substantiated by Giles Gelenius, a non-Dominican, and an eminent authority on the medieval history of Cologne, who says that it was in 1221 or 1222 that the Friars Preacher settled there. Reichert, another German author, says the same as Gelenius.(5)
On their arrival the Friars Preacher were heartily received by Saint Engelbert, the prince archbishop of Cologne, who suffered martyrdom a few years later. Yet the people, under some sinister influence, clamored that they should be driven from the diocese at once. However, no sooner did the silver-tongued orator, Henry of Utrecht, begin to preach than all opposition ceased. Both the clergy and the laity were charmed by his extraordinary eloquence and magnetic personality. Zeal, the spirit of self-sacrifice, and holiness of life not merely completed the work of pacification; they bound the city to him by the strongest bonds of affection.
From this time on, the early disciple of Saint Dominic held as mighty a sway in Cologne as he had wielded in Paris. He preached incessantly. Audiences gathered from near and far to hear him. His word was law. The good became better. The wicked gave up their ways of sin, and began to practise their religion, or even to ascend the heights of virtue. One of the evils against which the man of God declaimed in season and out of season, as well as with all the vigor of his soul, was the vile habit of profanity then in shocking vogue throughout Rhenish Prussia. Few could withstand the almost resistless power of his appeals. He instilled so profound a veneration for the sacred name of Jesus into the hearts of the people that, wherever it was heard, they gave outward manifestation of the reverence which it stirred within their breasts. From the district of Cologne this pious custom spread into other parts. May we not have here the origin of the Holy Name Society, which is so intimately connected with the Friars Preacher, and which is today one of the great spiritual powers for good in English-speaking America?
Thus Henry labored zealously on until the end. Blessed Jordan does not tell us, in his historical outline, when the holy man died. For this reason, few of the older authors venture to approximate the date of his death. Pio and Castillo, however, place it in 1230. Touron, following Echard, simply says that he died before 1234, by which time Jordan had certainly written his Beginnings of the Order (De Initiis Ordinis), a work which indicates that our early disciple's life was all too short. Touron gives his age as thirty-nine years, which seems too much by perhaps a decade.(6)
The second volume of the Année Dominicaine, published in 1884, says Father Henry of Utrecht attended the general chapter of the Order assembled at Bologna on May 18, 1225. After this meeting, he and the other representatives from Germany were accompanied by Blessed Jordan to their native land, where the Master General presided at the provincial chapter held in Magdeburg. From this city Jordan continued his way to Treves, while Henry returned to Cologne. At this time Jordan made a visitation of the Province of Germany. On his arrival at Cologne, which lay on the way to Paris, he found his beloved friend, Father Henry of Utrecht, at death's door. The Master General gave him the last sacraments, and he breathed his last shortly afterwards.(7)
Jordan himself, as we shall soon see, says elsewhere he was present at the final moments of his angelic friend, and prepared him for his journey to heaven. All the community were in tears; but the dying man responded to the prayers with evident joy. Our Saxon General also clearly implies that the death of the man of God had been hastened by overwork and personal austerity. The Année Dominicaine and Touron say so expressly.
We have to thank the writer of the article on Blessed Jordan of Saxony in the Année Dominicaine for a long excerpt (translated into French) from a letter of the Father General to a Benedictine Nun concerning the death of Henry. Father Berthier (op. cit., pp. 108-111) reproduces the entire document in its pristine Latin, but without a word of comment. In neither work is it dated (perhaps it bears no date), or the whereabouts of the original made known to us. Thus, quite naturally, we are left with an element of uncertainty as regards the year of the sad event.(8)
In this letter, which we are to suppose was written late in 1225, or early in 1226, Jordan tells the Benedictine Sister of the sorrow caused him by the death of their mutual friend, Henry of Utrecht. In one place he says: "In the night of October 23, just as the bell rang for matins, I went to see him before going to choir. As I found him gasping for breath, and apparently beginning his agony, I asked him if he would like to receive extreme unction. He replied that he desired it ardently. So we satisfied his wish before office. From the way in which he recited the prayers of the Church, one would almost think he was administering the sacrament, instead of receiving it."(9)
After matins, Jordan tells his friend, the sick man was still living, and praying to God with his whole heart and soul. His death, which occurred in the course of the night, brought many tears and deep sorrow to the entire community. Jordan felt that he was specially grieved by it, for he regarded himself as the spiritual father of Henry, and bad lost a cherished son of whom he had need. "In spite of his youth," continues the letter, "he died full of years; or rather he slept in the Lord."
Thus our early disciple of Saint Dominic certainly died in the early morning of October 23, the feast of Saint Severinus, patron of Cologne. If we may judge by the way the document is woven into the Année's sketch of Blessed Jordan, the year of his death was 1225. On page 192 of his edition of de Frachet's Vitae Fratrum, Reichert gives this date, and it is doubtless correct. Marvellous things were attributed to Henry of Utrecht, as is the case with many of the Friars Preacher of whom we have written. Blessed Jordan himself is said to have had a vision of him in glory. At Cologne he is still held in the highest veneration; for the traditions of his zeal, holiness, great oratorical powers, and tireless labors have continued through the course of centuries. More than one of the old writers style him blessed. Many hope that some day he will be formally so honored by the Church.
During his visitations of the various convents, Jordan of Saxony was wont frequently to hold up a companion of his youth to the novices and students as a model, after whom he would have them pattern their religious lives. Though the General never mentioned the name of this former confrère, all knew that he meant Father Henry of Utrecht. Nor must we forget to call the attention of the reader to the fact that the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalen (later, and still, called Holy Cross), which Henry founded in Cologne, has a history no less glorious for the zeal, sanctity, and learning that flourished within its walls, than for the numbers who there wore the habit of Saint Dominic. We need mention but three by way of illustration. Blessed Albert the Great was one of its professors. Saint Thomas of Aquin studied there. The martyr, Saint John of Cologne, who is often called John of Gorcum by misnomer, honored it by loyal membership.
1. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (vol. 1 for August), 448-450; ALBERTI, fol. 198; Année Dominicaine II (February), 503-507; CASTILLO, pp. 175176; CHAPOTIN, op. cit., pp. 81-82; FRACHET, de, passim.; FLEURY, op. cit., XVI, 472-473; JORDAN of Saxony (Berthier ed.), pp. 20-27; MALVENDA, pp. 286-288-290; MAMACHL pp. 621, 622, 623, 624 ff, 651652; PIO, col. 93; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 93-95. The Acta simply gives what is contained in Jordan's work. Quetif-Echard does practically the same. It is strange that the Année Dominicaine has no special article on Henry of Utrecht (or Cologne, as it calls him); while Marchese overlooks him altogether in his Sagro Diario Domenicano. (Ed. note).
2. Father Touron refers to the De Initiis Ordinis of Blessed Jordan frequently through his sketch; but, as all the facts thus noted are given in three pages of the Acta, and also in eight of Berthier's edition of Jordan's work, it seems unnecessary for us to copy these references. (Ed. note).
3. We have never seen the ideas expressed in this paragraph given elsewhere. Yet they are suggested by Blessed Jordan's narrative itself. (Ed.note).
4. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 94.
5. MAMACHI, p. 651; Reichert's edition of de Frachet's Vitae Fratrum, p. 191.
6. CASTILLO, p. 176; PIO, col. 93; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 94.
7. Année Dominicaine, II, 503-505.
8. It is the Année Dominicaine that tells us this letter was written to a Benedictine Sister. Nothing in the document itself shows who the addressee was.
9. Ibid., 206.