Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Emperor Saint

Today, on the anniversary of his death, the Church commemorates Emperor Saint Henry II (973-1024), of whom the Church's prayer says that he was raised in a wonderful way from the cares of earthly rule to heavenly realms. Henry was a member of the Bavarian branch of the Ottonian dynasty, the family that held the Holy Roman imperial crown beginning with Emperor Otto I in 962. As a boy, Henry received a strongly religious education. He succeeded his father of Duke of Bavaria in 1995. He got himself crowned German king (Rex Romanorum) in 1002 and king of Italy in 1004. He supported Pope Benedict VIII in his conflict with an anti-pope and so was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Saint Peter's on February 14, 1014. 

Henry was successful not only in consolidating his own position but in centralizing authority in the Empire. But, unlike the empire's contemporary reincarnation in the form of the European Union, he built much of that authority on his personal and political relationship with the Church. He is said to have commanded the Abbot of Verdun to accept him as a monk in his monastery, whereupon, so the story goes, the Abbot then commanded him as an obedient monk to continue ruling his empire. (A Benedictine Oblate in life, Henry became the patron saint of Oblates.) His queen-empress, Cunegunde of Luxembourg, was also very devout and after Henry's death retired to a monastery Henry had founded. Henry was canonized by Pope Eugenius III in 1147, and Cunegunde was canonized by Pope Innocent III in 1200. So they are among the handful of the Church's canonized couples.

In addition to serving as a model of a statesman who was also pious and devoted to the Church, Henry might well serve as a patron of a type of European integration that was rooted in Europe's Christian soul - a soul that it seems has been sold off in modern Europe.

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