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St. Henry received a strong Christian education as a child. Born in Bamberg in 973, he was the son of the Duke of Bavaria. Among his teachers was St. Wolfgang, bishop of Ratisbon (now called Regensburg).
Henry became duke when his father died and later became king of Germany in 1002, when his cousin Otto III died. Two years later, he added the title King of Italy. In 1014 Henry was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII.
One of Henry’s counselors was St. Odilo, the abbot of Cluny. Together they reformed monastic life and the life of the church in general. At that time, it was common to sell the offices and goods of the church and Henry successfully combated the practice.
He fought for clerical celibacy and defended the patrimony of the church. He was responsible for restoring episcopal sees and founded the Diocese of Bamberg. He helped introduce the recitation of the Creed into the Mass.
Henry was also an astute politician. He successfully defended his claim to the throne against various rebellious lords. He even allied himself with pagan Slavic tribes against the Polish Duke Boleslaw. In Italy he defeated Arduin of Ivrea, who had been elected King of Italy. Henry also had to deal with conflicts with the Byzantine empire.
Henry’s love for his wife, St Cunigunde, was legendary. The couple did not have children and, contrary to a common medieval practice, St. Henry did not divorce her. His fidelity bore witness to his deep love for his wife, and his profound respect for the Sacrament of Marriage.
Henry II was canonized by Pope Eugene III in 1146.