HENRY OF MARSBERG (OR OF GERMANY)
Like Henry of Utrecht, an outline of whose life has just been seen, the subject of this sketch often goes by the name of Henry of Cologne. Frequently he is also called Henry of Germany. Father Touron gives him this latter title. Some writers confuse the two Henrys, and attribute to one things for which the other should receive credit. Many, for the sake of differentiation, place the adjective "junior" after the name of the man from Utrecht, and "senior" after that of Dominic's early disciple of whom we now speak; for he was older in years, entered the Order somewhat sooner, and lived much longer. In calling him Henry of Marsberg, which has been mistaken for Marburg, we follow the example of Reichert, in his edition of de Frachet's Lives of the Brethren (Vitae Fratrum). It is a more distinctive and befitting designation, as it was in that city of Prussian Westphalia (not far from Brilon) that the saintly man first saw the light of day.(1)
All that can be said in regard to the date of Henry's birth is that it occurred sometime late in the twelfth century. Possibly he was somewhat older than Jordan of Saxony. While the parents of the future Friar Preacher from Marsberg were rich in piety, they seem to have possessed little earthly wealth. It was an uncle, a military officer, who enabled the talented youth to realize the aspirations of his heart. He finished his belles-lettres somewhere in his native land. Then he was sent to Paris for the higher studies. Before the completion of these, however, the premature death of his kinsman benefactor obliged the promising youth to return home.
The subject of our narrative now taught in Germany for three years. Then, no doubt partly out of religious motives, and partly under the influence of the military spirit that ran in the family, he enlisted with the crusaders who marched to the succor of the Christians in the Holy Land. However, this engagement was brief. Hardly had he reached home from the cast, when he again set out for Paris, where he joined the Friars Preacher, who had just come to that city. This was late in 1217. But we can not do better than let him tell his own story of his vocation, as recounted in de Frachet's Vitae Fratrum.Father Henry, the Teutonic, a holy man whose preaching greatly pleased both the clergy and the people, was wont to give this reason for his entrance into the Order. He had an uncle, a military officer, who took care of him, bad him educated, and maintained him in Paris at his own expense. After his death in Germany, this uncle appeared to Henry, and said: "Release me from purgatory by enlisting in the expedition of the crusaders to the Holy Land which is now being preached.. When you return from Jerusalem, you will find a new Order of Preachers at Paris. You must join them. Do not feartheir poverty, or despise their small numbers; for they will. grow into a great body of men, and labor unto the salvatiom of the souls of many."Henry's vocation was certainly a true call frorn heaven. He at once resumed his course of theology, which he had been forced to interrupt, with so much earnestness that he soon became marvellously versed in the science. His rare pulpit oratory won him great. renown, as well as brought numbers to hear him preach. What is more to his credit, he proved so faithful to his new state of life that he was considered a model of modesty, wisdom, and regularity. When, in 1221 or 1222, the convent of Cologne was established, the former crusader became a professor of theology in this new institution. There he taught, labored, and preached with great fruit for the next six or seven years.
He therefore took up the cross. When he had fulfilled his vow, he returned to Paris. A few of Dominic's preachers, had just come from Toulouse, and accepted a house in the city. He joined them without delay. Then his uncle appearedto him again, and thanked him for delivering his soul from purgatory.(2)
The story of the first most general chapter of the Order, its erection of the Province of the Holy Land, and the ardor with which the fathers responded to the call for missionaries for those distant parts is told in the sketch of Blessed Jordan of Saxony. Henry of Marsberg attended that assemblage from Cologne, and received the appointment as the first provincial in Palestine. This, it will be recalled, was at Paris, in 1228. In this new field of labor he toiled with incredible zeal. His eff orts met with no little success. Father Touron thinks nearly all the houses in the east visited by Jordan in 1236 and 1237 rose under Henry's care. He effected much good among the Christians who lived there, as well as made converts among the others, some of whom entered the Order and became efficient harvesters of souls.
After five years of privation and hardship, Christ's ambassador was obliged to resign his office of provincial, for his health had given way under the strain.(3) He then returned to Europe, and, after a short respite, was again stationed in Paris, where he now remained for some fifteen years. Although a German by birth, and had spent the greater part of his life in his native country or the Holy Land, Henry was one of the most popufar preachers among all classes in the French capital. He was a leader among the best. Whilst his zeal, holiness, and eloquence stirred the people to fervor, his learning, open character, and friendly ways won the hearts of the clergy and the university circles, whether professors or students.
Furthermore, there were few, if any, men in the city whose advice was more frequently sought, or whose word carried greater weight. Indeed, Henry was a favorite among the savants, for they always found a source of delight in the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and in the keenness of his judgment. His candor prevented him from speaking otherwise than he thought. His even temperament never permitted him to be led into anger. France's saintly king, Louis IX, not only held him in the highest esteem, but even placed the greatest confidence in him. Many, in every walk- of life, regarded him as a saint. He was a power in Paris.(4)
All this, no doubt, had its part in bringing Henry of Marsberg into the affair of which we have now to speak. About 1236, Nicholas of La Rochelle, a learned Jew, was received into the Church. In 1238 he went to Rome, where he represented to Gregory IX the errors, blasphemies, fallacies, etc., of the Talmud. The Jews, he told the Holy Father, held this book in much greater veneration than the law or revelations of Moses. It was principally through the Talmud that they were kept back from the faith. Under Nicholas' persuasion, Gregory sent letters to various countries ordering the -authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical, to seize and burn all copies of the Talmud. This was in June, 1239. At Paris twenty cart loads were consigned to the flames. In 1244 Innocent IV issued a somewhat similar order, but in a more modified form. On both these occasions we find the subject of our sketch sitting, with the doctors of the University of Paris, in the councils of the highest authorities. It shows how his judgment and advice were sought in all matters of importance.(5)
Attention has been called to the affection in which Louis IX held our Friar Preacher, and the confidence which the sainted monarch placed in his advice. Louis started on his expedition to Palestine, June 12, 1248. In the royal suite was Henry of Marsberg, for the king insisted on having the learned, holy, and prudent counsellor with him. For six years the subject of this sketch was now constantly at the side of Saint Louis. History tells us of the many good deeds which the noble monarch managed, in spite of difficulties, to do for religion and the Christians in the near east. No doubt, by way of advice, suggestion, or encouragement, good, zealous Father Henry had his part in all these acts of benevolence; for he never tired of helping those who stood in need of assistance.
On his return journey, Louis IX sailed from Ptolemais, April 25, 1254. By permission of the apostolic legate in the Holy Land, the Blessed Sacrament was taken and preserved aboard the vessel -- an almost unheard-of thing in those days. It was kept in a convenient place, and the divine office was recited before it every day. We wonder if the influence of our pious Friar Preacher was not in some measure responsible for this extraordinary action, for he is said to have bad great devotion to his Eucharistic God. The travellers landed at Hy&res, a seaport of southern France, on the Mediterranean, July 11, 1254. Thus their voyage lasted just two months and a half. On September 13 they reached Paris(6)
Father Henry of Marsberg, the writers tell us, died on this journey. While it is not so stated, we are left to conjecture that the sad event occurred at sea. In this case, because of the lack of means for the preservation of bodies at that time, he most likely had a watery grave. However, for there were other priests aboard the vessel, he did not meet his God unprepared. Anyway, if we may judge by the spiritual character of the man, he was ever and always ready for the divine call. The reader has seen the light in which Father de Frachet regarded him. Father Cantimpré speaks of him in terms of similar praise. Both attribute miracles to him.
Father Echard, an eminent authority, informs us that the tireless worker left, in manuscript form, a number of sermons which attest his ability in that line. Indeed, Henry of Marsberg was one of the lights of his day. He shone both spiritually and intellectually. His useful labors were extended to many fields. By his own Order he is still held in veneration; and his memory should not be suffered to die.
1. ALBERTI, fol. 221; Annie Dominicaine, II (February), 529, and XII (December), 666 ff; CANTIMPRE, Thomas, De Apibus, Book 1, Chap. III; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 418, 499-500, 505-507; FRACHET, de, p. 30 and passim; MALVENDA, pp. 234-235, 288-289; MAMACHI, pp. 417-418, 480 ff ; PIO, col. 207; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 148-149.
2. Page 183 (Reichert ed.).
3. There is a divergency of opinions as to when Henry of Marsberg resigned the provincialship in the Holy Land. But the letters of Blessed Jordan (quoted by the Année Dominicaine, II, 548-550) demonstrate the truth of the statement that the resignation was induced by ill health.
4. QUETIF-ECHARD, as in note 1.
5. Ibid.; FLEURY, XVII, 418.
6. FLEURY, XVII, 499-500, 505-507.