St. Norbert, Bishop

June 3, 2016

The Pastor's Page

StNorbert

Norbert was born in 1080 in Xanten, a town in western Germany.   His father was Count Heribert of Gennep, his mother Hedwig of Guise.  His family was both nobility and Christian.  As a young man he was ordained a subdeacon, not because of his faith, but to gain the advantage of clerical position and a financial subsidy from the church.  He became a spiritual advisor to Emperor Henry V in Cologne, and he reveled in a life of political influence, luxury, and wealth.

Norbert accompanied Henry V to Rome in 1114 for a contentious meeting with Pope Paschal II over lay investiture, the appointment of bishops by secular rulers.  Norbert was moved by the Pope’s firm adherence to spiritual principles, and it proved to be the beginning of his conversion.  A year later Norbert was riding his horse, caught in a thunderstorm, struck by lightning, and thrown from his mount.  Spared, he experienced a conversion like St. Paul.

Norbert resigned his position with the Emperor and withdrew to the Benedictine Abbey of Siegberg outside of Cologne for a period of penance, fasting, and prayer.  At the end of his seclusion, he was ordained a priest in 1115, and to prove the genuineness of his vocation, he sold all of his land and material possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor.

Filled with zeal, Norbert returned to Xanten, but the local clergy were lax, not enamored with his call to holiness, and ostracized him.  Norbert departed for France, barefoot over snowy roads, to meet with Pope Gelasius II who had fled from Rome.   The Pope commissioned Norbert to be a missionary preacher, and for the next several years he traveled throughout northern France preaching Jesus, the gospel, and repentance, and he performed a number of miracles.

In 1120 the new Pope, Callistus II, sent Norbert to Laon to lead a spiritual renewal of the Canons of St. Martin.  Again, he encountered bitter resistance, and unable to lead a reform, he was given permission to found his own community, which he did on Christmas Day, 1120, with thirteen members, at Premontre in northern France.  The new community was called the Canons Regular of Premontre, or simply, the Premonstratensians, today called the Norbertines.  Norbert adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, and implemented some of the practices of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians regarding simplicity of life.  He combined the contemplative spirituality of monastic living with the active spirituality of outside ministry.

Norbert was appointed the Archbishop of Magdeburg, Germany, in 1126.  He instituted a clergy reform that enforced celibacy, eliminated corruption, and ended absenteeism.  Opposition was so intense that several assassination attempts were made on his life, and he fled Magdeburg briefly.

Pope Honorius II died in 1130, and two cardinals were elected separately, one legitimately, Innocent II, and one falsely, Anacletus II, the antipope, which caused a schism.  Norbert went to Rome in an attempt to support Innocent II and resolve the conflict.  Unsuccessful, he returned to Magdeburg, fell ill, and died on June 6, 1134.

Norbert was canonized by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  He is the patron saint of Magdeburg, Bohemia, and the Premonstratensian Order.  His symbol is a monstrance because he vigorously upheld the doctrine of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in his preaching.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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