Order of Premontre, Premonstratensians, Norbertines, and White Canons

02 Chapters 1-11

02 Chapters 1-11

Chapter 1:  Conversion

In the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1115, when Pope Paschal II[11] held the reins of the Catholic Church and Henry the Younger[12] was Emperor, Norbert, of Frankish and Salic German stock, was a man well known in the town of Xanten.[13]  He was a cleric, a subdeacon, and was already middle aged. He was gifted by nature, handsome and well-proportioned. He was eloquent, well educated, refined and pleasant to all who knew him.

His father was Herbert from the Castle of Gennep[14], near the forest of Ketela.[15]  His mother was Hedwig. They had decided that he would be a cleric since, because of a revelation received in a dream, they expected great things of him.

While Norbert was at the imperial court and at the church in Cologne he was held in great esteem. He enjoyed the affluence and the conveniences of temporal life to his heart's desire and lived with no fear of God.

Now when he had possessed all these things in abundance for a long time, it happened one day that he was hastening secretly to a place called Freden.[16]  He was dressed in silk, accompanied by a single servant. While on the way a dark cloud overtook him, lightning flashed, thunder roared, and much more inconvenient, there was no house for shelter nearby. Whole both he and his companion were unnerved, suddenly the terrifying sound and sight of a thunderbolt struck the ground opening it to the depth of a man's height. From here steamed forth a putrid stench which fouled him and his garments. Struck from his horse he thought he heard a voice denouncing him. Returning to his senses and now repentant he reflected on the words of the Psalmist: "Turn from evil and do good."[17] Thus motivated, he returned home.

Back home, caught up in the spirit of salvation through fear of the Lord he put on a hair shirt beneath his outer garments intending to do good deeds and penance for his past life. He went to the monastery of Siegburg[18] and there enjoyed the holy company of Abbot Conon[19] under whose teaching and good guidance he advanced in fear and love of the Lord.


Chapter 2:  Ordination

When the Ember Days approached, days set aside by church custom for ordination to sacred orders, Norbert, still a subdeacon, presented himself to Frederick[20], Archbishop of Cologne. He requested that he be ordained a deacon and priest on the same day. Since this was forbidden by canon law, the archbishop asked him the reason for this sudden and unexpected desire. Norbert, after being pressed for an answer, fell at the archbishop's feet and with tearful groans expressed sorrow for his sins. Asking pardon, he protested to the archbishop his firm and unbending decision to change his life. The archbishop, after much deliberation and considering the outcome, although it was altogether contrary to reason and customer to ordain someone to diaconate and priesthood at the same time without knowing the reasons, nevertheless, granted the dispensation and assented to his request.

When the time for the ordination was at hand, Norbert, about to put on the sacred vestments, changed his secular garb and clothed himself with garments that seemed more suited to religious life. Then, putting on the sacred vestments he was ordained first a deacon and then a priest on the same day.

His desire fulfilled, Norbert returned to the Abbey of Siegburg and there spent forty days in the service of God and the exercise of his priestly duties. He then returned to the church at Xanten. Taking his turn celebrating the sacred mysteries of the Mass, he preached a word of exhortation to the people who were present. The following day in the chapter hall, without holding back, he admonished his fellow canons regarding salvation. Patiently and wisely he denounced, entreated and reproached them. However due to his persistence, he became bothersome to some. He endured their derision and many insults, among which, a man of low station even spat in his face. After this insult he restrained himself and kept quiet. He wiped his face and, remembering his sins, preferred to give in to his tears before God rather than retaliate.

At a later date, worn out with fasting and vigils, Norbert celebrated Mass in a crypt. After the Lord's Body and Blood had been consecrated, a large spider fell into the chalice. When the priest saw it he was shocked. Life and death hovered before his eyes. But lest the sacrifice suffer any loss he chose rather to undergo the danger and consumed whatever was in the chalice. When the service was finished, believing he was going to die, he remained before the altar and commended his awaited end to the Lord in prayer. Then he was disturbed by an itching in his nose. He scratched it, and soon the spider was expelled by a sudden fit of sneezing. Through this event both his faith in God and God's goodness to him became evident.


Chapter 3:  Growth in Holiness

Norbert made daily progress towards perfection. At one time he would visit the monastery of Siegburg, at another time Rolduc[21], a church of regular clerics. But often he went to a hermit named Ludolph. This was a man of great holiness and temperance living the life of a cleric; this man was a lover of poverty and a fearless advocate of the truth. He was well known at that time, enduring untold threats and violence against himself and his brothers. These things were directed against them by perverse priests and clerics whom he used to admonish for their wickedness. Further, Norbert carefully inquired into the life and customs of anyone living under a rule - monks, hermits, and recluses - and by their example he made even greater progress.

Norbert then returned home and remained for two years in a suburb of Xanten at a church which was part of his property and which was located on a mountain called Fürstenberg. He lived here as a solitary spending his time in prayer, reading and meditation. Through fasting and vigils he chastised his body and daily offered a rich sacrifice[22] on the sacred altar. He spent many nights without sleep. He said that the practice of night vigils was fruitful although it left the body tired and open to temptation.

Thus while he kept watch one night he prayed for direction from God to help him in planning the future. Growing weak and drowsy, he supported his chin with his hand. Suddenly he heard the old enemy shouting insults: "Ha, Ha! How do you expect to accomplish the many things you propose if you cannot persevere in the intention of one night?" To this the priest responded: "Who believes your threats since, from the beginning, on the testimony of Truth itself, you are a liar and the father of lies!" At this the evil spirit fled confused.


Chapter 4:  Council of Fritzlar

While Norbert, amidst these events and other such, was subject to the derision of many, he attended a Council which Conon, legate of the Apostolic See, was holding in the church at Fritzlar[23] with the archbishops, bishops, abbots, and many of the clergy and Christian people. Here, accusations were made against him by some envious people.

They wanted to know why he had usurped the office of preacher and why was he wearing a religious habit although he was still living on his own and hadn't entered religious life; why was he wearing sheep or goat skins while still in the world. He responded: "If I am attacked concerning my preaching, it is written: 'If someone turns a sinner from the error of his way, he will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.'[24] However, the power to preach is given to us at the reception of the priesthood when it is said: 'Receive the power to proclaim the Word of God.' If I am questioned about religious life, religion, pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: 'to visit widows and orphans in their tribulation and to keep oneself pure from this world.'[25] Finally, if it is a question of clothing, the first shepherd of the church teaches us that acceptability before God is not found in precious garments. Hence we read that John the Baptist was dressed in camel hair[26] and St. Cecilia wore a hairshirt next to her skin. At the beginning of the world the Creator made and gave to Adam not a purple garment but a tunic of skin."[27]

Having said this in his own defense, he departed and after the third year of his ordination, seeing that he did not benefit the men of that region either in word or in deed, decided to set out for another country. He gave and confirmed the above mentioned church at Furstenberg to the Monastery of Siegburg, establishing that there would always be monks there serving God. He then resigned whatever benefices and income he held from the hands of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne. Moreover, he sold his houses and whatever else he possessed, either through patrimony or in some other way by hereditary right, along with their furnishings, and gave the money to the poor. He kept for himself only his priestly vestments and a small amount of silver, about ten marks in value. Then with two companions he set out on his pilgrimage in the name of the Lord.


Chapter 5:  Permission to Preach

When he had arrived at Castle Huy[28] located along the River Meuse, he distributed the above mentioned silver to the poor. Leaving behind all his temporal possessions, and clad only in a woolen tunic and mantle, barefoot and with his two companions, Norbert set out for St. Gilles[29] through the bitter winter.

There he found Pope Gelasius[30], successor to Pope Paschal. Upon request he received pardon for the canonical offense committed when he received the two sacred orders at the same time. When the Pope saw that Norbert was a prudent man and filled with zeal for God, he tried to keep him with him. But Norbert humbly explained his plans to the Pope and received permission to leave. He also received open permission to preach anywhere which the Pope confirmed in writing.

After receiving the apostolic mandate to preach, leaving St. Gilles he came to Orleans, trodding barefoot through the cold ice, deep snow up to his knees. Here he added to his company a subdeacon. And now with three companions he came to Valenciennes on Saturday before Palm Sunday. The next day he preached to the people who favorably received him. But when asked to stay there and rest, Norbert was detained against his will since his companions were suddenly seized by illness and he had to take care of them. Soon, however, within the Octave of Easter in that same city they fell asleep in the Lord. The two laymen were buried in a suburb of Valenciennes in the Church of St. Peter near the market on the left toward the west; the subdeacon who had become a monk was buried in the Church of the Blessed Mary located in the same town.


Chapter 6:  Hugh of Fosse

On the Wednesday before Holy Thursday[31], Burchard[32], Bishop of Cambrai and an honorable man, was passing through Valenciennes. Norbert who had known him previously went to see him. Arriving at the gate of the house where the bishop was staying, a cleric admitted him to a room and after some conversation the bishop recognized Norbert. The bishop, looking at him standing there with bare frozen feet and dressed in rough clothing, absolutely amazed and dumbfounded, fell upon his neck with a gasp and cried out: "Oh Norbert, who would ever have believed or even thought this of you!" The cleric who had admitted Norbert wondered about the bishop's affection for him and asked the reason. The bishop answered: "This man whom you see was brought up with me in the court of the king, a man noble and abounding in delights to such a degree that he refused my bishopric when it was offered to him." Hearing this, the cleric filled up with tears both because he saw his master weeping, but also because he longed for a similar way of life. Secretly he checked out where Norbert would be continuing his journey.

Norbert was suddenly seized by a serious illness while still in the city. The bishop kindly tended his illness, daily visiting him through the members of his court. The aforementioned cleric was among those visitors and when Norbert grew stronger he approached him and promised to accompany him in his profession and journey. Norbert thanked God thinking that the man was going to set out with him. But when the cleric stated that he first wanted to set his affairs in order, Norbert was troubled at his words and said only: "Ah, brother, if this is of God, it will not be undone."[33]  The cleric left promising to return and, disposing of his possessions, a little later did return henceforth to follow the man of God. The name of that cleric was Hugh.[34]

Enjoying Hugh's company, Norbert went with him about the castles, villages and towns preaching and reconciling those at odds with one another and reducing old hatreds and wars to peace. He sought nothing from anyone, but if anything was offered he distributed it to the poor and lepers. He trusted in the grace of God that he would have the necessities of life. Considering himself a stranger and guest on the earth[35], no trace of ambition could touch him; his entire hope was on heaven. He could not understand that someone could despise everything for Christ and yet use his ability to work for contemptible and abject rewards.

He inspired such love and admiration by his presence that wherever he went, accompanied by his one companion, as he was drawing near the villages and towns, shepherds would leave their flocks and go running before him to announce his arrival to the people. People flocked to him in droves and during Mass heard words of exhortation from him about doing penance or about the hope of eternal salvation promised to everyone who calls on the Lord's name. They took pleasure in his very presence and considered themselves fortunate if they could receive him into their homes. People were amazed at this new style of life, namely to live on earth and seek nothing from the earth. According to the gospel mandate he carried with him neither purse nor sandals nor two tunics[36] and was content with only a few books and vestments for Mass. His customary drink was water except when he was the guest of religious persons. Then he followed their practice for a time.

Frequently, when he was asked to give a word of exhortation, among those who were eager to learn were others who would test him and mock him in order to impede his sermon. But in his simplicity, ignoring their abuse, he never ceased to perform the work of God eagerly. He practiced fasting and vigils, was diligent in work, pleasing in word, pleasant to see, kind toward simple people, stern against the enemies of the Church, so much so that he gained the favor of all people.


Chapter 7:  Minister of Peace

One day when Norbert was passing through the village of Fosse[37] here occurred a gathering of clergy and laity who admired his unusual way of life, especially since they knew his companion. Understanding that he was a minister of peace and concord, they eagerly requested that he remain with them a while, explaining that there was a feud of mortal hatred in their region which could be settled neither by nobleman nor churchman. Because of this nearly sixty men had been killed. Now, by the grace of God, even while they were making their request, a man came along whose brother had been killed that very week due to this hatred. when they saw him they said: "Look, here's one of those about whom we've been speaking." Calling the man over, Norbert embraced him, saying: "My dear man, I am a stranger just passing through, but I ask a favor of you. Grant pardon to those who killed your brother and receive your reward from God." Immediately tears came to the man's eyes. Not only did he grant pardon but submitted himself to the man of God giving him the opportunity to reconcile other enemies and bring about peace completely.

On the following Saturday, when members of both sides of the dispute assembled at the town of Moustier[38], many other people came, partly to see the man of God and partly to be present for the hoped for reconciliation. Norbert remained praying in his room with the door closed until almost the third hour. When Norbert's companion politely informed him that the people were becoming restless, he responded that God must be served, not according to the will of men, but according to the will of God. But soon he came out after first devoutly celebrating the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary and then a Mass for those who had died due to the feud. Afterwards he preached to those who had at first drifted away but had regathered. He began: "Brothers, when our Lord Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to preach, among other things he gave them the command that whatever house they entered they should first say: 'Peace be to this house.' And if a son of peace was there, their peace would rest upon him.[39]  Now we, who have become imitators of them, not by our own merits but through the superabundant grace of God, announce that same peace to you. Do not let your unbelieving minds disregard this peace because it touches on everlasting peace. You are not unaware of why we have gathered. Its accomplishment is not mine nor of my doing, since I am a stranger and traveler[40], but it is of the will and power of God. It is for you, however, to comply with His will with complete and total affection." To this they responded with one voice: "Let the Lord, through you, command whatever is pleasing to Him. We should not contradict whatever the Lord wants us to do." What more is to be said? Both sides of the dispute went out into the courtyard and, with relics placed in the space between them, they abjured their discord and made peace, confirming it by oath.


Chapter 8:  Further Peacemaking

Very early the next day Norbert left this place and set out for another village called Gembloux[41], not far distant, to deliver a sermon to the people there. He was very well received because the people heard that he was a bearer of the Word of God and a bringer of desired peace.

In this region also two princes had almost reduced everything to a wasteland with their incessant fighting, plundering and burning. When the man of God heard this, moved by the cry of the people and taking pity on their destitution, he went to these leaders, first to the one, then to the other. He addressed the first man in these words: "You are great and powerful and you should be aware that your power has been granted you by God.[42]  Thus you should listen to me his servant not out of respect for me but out of respect for Him. I have been sent to you for your benefit and that of many. Therefore, listen to a poor traveler; receive the commands of the Lord your God which are passed on to you so that you may be received by Him. Forgive the one who has offended you so that you may be forgiven and thus the consolation of the poor and needy might bring about the remission of your sins." After hearing this, the prince, taking into consideration the man's poor clothing, his modest expression and the quality of his speech, became submissive and said: "As you wish. It doesn't make sense to contradict this request of yours."

Accomplishing what he desired with this man, he went to the other whose heart was hardened. From the grimness of his face and the harshness of his words Norbert knew that this was not a son of peace.[43]  Refraining from his planned speech, he said to the brother who was with him: "The man is insane, but he will soon fall and be captured and trampled down by his enemies." He said this and departed. Norbert's prediction was fulfilled within the week, for the prince was captured and put in prison.

Next Norbert cane to the nearby village of Couroy[44], and because his reputation had spread in all directions, people from that vicinity came out to him. After the celebration of Mass he spoke about peace and concord as was his custom. He began , with humble exhortation, to recall some who were at odds with one another due to their old quarrels. In spite of the request, one of them, unwilling to make peace, got up and ran outside, and jumped on his horse, attempting to flee. But the horse, although vigorously jabbed with spurs, would not move. At this the crowd gathered, some out of curiosity, some to mock, some weeping. The man himself, shaken, returned to the church and, prostrate, asked pardon. He agreed to the condition of peace to which he had been previously urged and received absolution for having offended the man of God.

In that same year the blessed Pope Gelasius, from whom he had received permission to preach, departed this world. He was succeeded by Callistus[45], the Bishop of Vienne, a man of pious and holy life and worthy of memory. He was unanimously elected at Cluny and was elevated to the highest honor, dignity and power in the See of the Universal Church. The aforementioned Gelasius, along with the more sensible Cardinals, had traveled in order to visit Holy Mother Church in her members. He had heard much about the Church while presiding as its head - he had been chancellor for many years during the reign of Pope Paschal and others - and whatever went on in the world could not be concealed from him. Therefore Callistus, the successor of Gelasius, held a Council at Rheims[46] where he both confirmed his own election and strengthened the state of the Church. He approved what was right and corrected what was wrong and authorized these corrections by the power of Rome.


Chapter 9:  Norbert at Rheims/Choice of Prémontré

When Norbert heard that the dignity of the Apostolic See had been passed on to another, he came to this Council barefoot in the fall of the year. He was joyfully received by the bishops and abbots who had gathered there. These asked him to ease up a little the harshness of the penance he had undertaken, but he refused to give in. While meeting with the Pope regarding his status he requested that the letter of Apostolic authority which he had received from his predecessor Gelasius, as mentioned above, be renewed. This was granted. The Pope then asked Bishop Bartholomew[47] of Laon to look after him. There were in the diocese and even in that city some close relatives on his mother's side who were concerned about him, and, due to their influence, the bishop was advised to administer a gentle hand to him for a time even though it was unwanted.

When the Council was finished, the man of God, Norbert, decided to spend the winter at Laon for he was alone and left without the comfort of companions. Until now Hugh had been his companion around his home territory, viz. around Fosse. He had not yet changed his secular garb for religious garb but traveled with Norbert through places he knew to put his affairs in order. After the Council he left his companion and master Norbert to himself, returning to Cambrai with his bishop, Burchard; he did not return for two years.

At that time there flourished at Laon the school of Master Anselm and his brother Rudolf. The man of God decided to attend their lectures on the psalm Beati immaculati.[48]  Drogo, a religious man and at the time prior of the Church of Blessed Nicasius at Rheims[49], heard about this. Norbert and he had been acquaintances and companions in school. Drogo angrily wrote to him: "What is this I hear about you? You were brought up and educated in the school of the Holy Spirit Who is not slow in teaching; do you now leave that school and attend a secular school? Divine Wisdom espoused you; now worldly philosophy has loved and allured you. Perhaps you say: 'Through the one to the other; I intend to reach wisdom through knowledge.' To which I say: 'The structure of your building was not begun in such a way that Rachel would follow Leah.[50] For the Holy Spirit, Who made a harpist and, without the help of a grammar teacher, suddenly made a psalmist out of a sheepherder[51], has taken you from the emptiness of the world and suddenly made you an evangelist.' Therefore, my dear friend, hear me as your prophet and know that if you wish to hold to both, without a doubt you will lose both. It is not so bad or even human for a man to sin, but to act against the Holy Spirit is serious."[52] What more? A word to the wise is sufficient. Norbert immediately withdrew, coming to his senses and turning to Him about Whom the Lord promises: "He will teach you all truth."[53]

Not long after this the Pope came to Laon. The Bishop, taking counsel with the Pope on how to keep Norbert in Laon, urged the Canons of the Church of St. Martin in the suburb of Laon to elect Norbert as their abbot. The canons petitioned both the Bishop and the Pope for Norbert. When asked and forced to respond Norbert answered the Pope humbly: "Reverend Father, do you not recall the duty and the labor of preaching the word of God to which I have been appointed twice now, both by your predecessor of happy memory and also by you? But lest I give the impression that I refuse to submit to authority, I assent to your wish, except, of course, for my intention. I am in no way able to alter my intention without grave detriment to my soul. My intention is this: not to seek what belongs to another; in no way to demand back through secular justice or legal process what has been stolen; not to entangle anyone in the bonds of anathema for any injuries or loss suffered; but, to sum up briefly, I have chosen to live simply the evangelical and apostolic life rightly understood. Nevertheless if the canons living in this church are not afraid to hold to this form of life, I do not refuse the burden."

But when the evangelical institution was explained to the Canons of St. Martin, viz. how they were to be imitators of Christ[54], how they would have to despise the world and be voluntarily poor, how they would have to bear up under reproach and insult and derision and suffer hunger, thirst and nakedness and other things of this sort, how they would have to be obedient to the precepts and rules of the Holy Fathers, they were immediately terrified by his words and appearance and said: "We don't want this man over us[55] because neither our custom nor that of our predecessors has known such a master. What is ours would be taken away and not returned, we would plead our case and not benefit, we would pass sentence but not be feared. Let us live as we are. God wants to chastise not kill."[56]  Thus Norbert obeyed and, since he was released from his obedience, did not disobey.

Meanwhile the bishop was trying to nourish his enfeebled guest, thin from cold and fasting, but he was daily nourished by his guest through the spiritual sharing of the honey-sweet word of God. For this reason he grew very fond of Norbert and urged him with all sorts of arguments to remain in his diocese. Daily he took him around and showed him places in the hope that there might be a church he liked, or some lonely place, some wilderness, some cultivated or uncultivated spot on which to build or remain. Finally, overcome by the bishop's pleas and those of many others, both religious and noble, he chose a place extremely deserted and lonely which from of old was called Prémontré[57] by the inhabitants. Here he pledged to remain if God would allow him to gather companions.

When winter had passed, he went forth to preach. He came to Cambrai where he attracted a young disciple by the name of Evermode[58], a man after his own heart. Norbert's spirit so rested in him that he confided to Evermode where he wanted to be buried after he died and ordered that he should never leave him without returning. After him Norbert attracted other disciples who were to be the root and foundation of a future multitude that followed this man of God.

But the snares of the old enemy were not lacking to the beginnings of this holy profession. Observing in each one of his individual behavior - in one, namely the love of contemplation, in another the desire for wisdom, in still another the intention to fast - Satan tried to impede each one. Thus it happened one night that the old adversary came to a certain man at Matins as he stood and contemplated the glorious and ineffable Trinity and said: "How happy you are, how praiseworthy in your intention. You have begun well and think you will perservere under affliction. Therefore you deserve to see the Holy Trinity to which you aspire with all your heart." Saying this he appeared with three heads claiming to be the Trinity. The man was frightened, but hesitated a moment, for out of this vision came a foul odor. The man said: "O wretched, unfortunate and most pitied of all creatures! You who were the image of God's likeness[59] and through pride lost the knowledge of this truth, how do you presume not only that you know the Trinity, but that you are the Trinity? You did not even have the strength to want to know yourself. Depart, and don't disturb me further since I am not obedient to your deceits."

Satan departed immediately, only to return to this man later. This confrere was indeed prompt to obey, devout in prayer, assiduous in fasting, so much so that he fasted the whole year both summer and winter and no one could persuade him to take a second meal during the day except on Sundays and even then food that was raw and uncooked. But while everyone was amazed at him, and his great abstinence and mortification in praise of God was spoken of everywhere, Satan was present again secretly setting snares to destroy the new soldier. He was a youth and Satan found it an insult that he had already resisted him. Therefore on Ash Wednesday when the Lenten fast is imposed on all the faithful, such hunger and voracious gluttony seized the man that he said he could not fast and undoubtedly would die if he were even forced to abstain from milk and cheese. When he was told: "It is not permitted anyone, even lay people, to eat twice; not even little children are permitted milk and cheese", he answered with grim face and wolfish fury: "Does God want a man to die by withdrawing from him at the hour of his need to eat what he created for his use?" Finally, the confreres allowed him to eat lenten food twice or even more often if only he would abstain from milk and cheese.

When Lent was over Norbert returned to his confreres. But as he approached he shuddered and felt a strong wind surround him. He told those with him that evil was present. When he heard what had happened, with great sadness, he ordered the man to be brought to him. When the man was brought in he was scarcely able to stand he was so fat. And he was so filled with the spirit of gluttony that he could only cast a grim look at his master, whom he had previously loved with a special affection. The man of God, however, seeing that this was not a human infirmity, but something diabolical that had overcome him, forbade that any food at all be given to him. After he had fasted for some days, he considered it a delight when a quarter part of rough bread and a cup of water were given to him. And thus with the help of God he was restored to his former way of life.


Chapter 10:  Healing of the Possessed Girl at Nivelles

Some time later Norbert set out to restore peace to some who were at odds with one another. Taking along Hugh, his first companion, who had been absent for some time, he arrived with him at Nivelles.[60]  There were some in this city who formerly had come to Norbert for the sake of conversion and later went away unable to bear the austerity of his life-style and rule. To insult him they did not come to see him or listen to his preaching. Moreover, they tried to turn the people away from him. But their malice was very quickly brought to naught. By the Providence of God one of the citizens, having a daughter who had been possessed a whole year by a devil, with weeping and sighing brought her to the man of God to be cured. Taking pity on his sorrow, the servant of God, vested in alb and stole, read an exorcism over the girl who was then twelve years old. When he was reading the gospel over her head, the demon mockingly responded: "I have frequently heard tunes of this sort. Neither for you nor for all of these people will I leave this house. For whom should I depart? The pillars of the Church have collapsed." But when the priest increased the exorcisms, the demon again responded: "You accomplish nothing, because you have not yet commanded me through the glittering blood of the martyrs." And soon the demon, flaunting his knowledge, recited, through the mouth of the girl, the Canticle of Canticles from beginning to end. Then, repeating word for word, he translated the same Canticle of Canticles into French. Once again he proclaimed the whole thing word for word in German through the mouth of the girl who, while she was well, knew nothing but the Psalter.

However, at the insistence of the priest that he depart from the creature of God, the demon said: "If you cast me out, permit me to enter a monk who is here present." He named the man. But Norbert exclaimed to the people: "Listen to the evil of this demon who, in order to shame a servant of God, seeks to trouble him as though he were a sinner and worthy of this punishment. But don't be scandalized because such is his wickedness that he wishes to revile all good people and as much as possible make them disreputable.: Having said this Norbert pressed on more intently with what he'd begun. Then the demon said: "What are you doing? I won't leave today either for you or for any other. But if you hear me cry out, many of my forces, the forces of darkness will come to battle. Ha Ha! To battle! Ha Ha! Now I will bring these arches and vaults down on you." At these words the people scattered but the priest remained calm. Then the girl grabbed his stole in order to choke him. When those present wanted to remove her hands he said: "Don't! Let her. If she has received the power from God, let her do what she can." When she heard this she released him on her own.

Now since a good part of the day was gone, Father Norbert thought that the girl should be placed in holy water. This was done. And because she was a charming girl with blonde hair, the priest, fearing that the devil would use her hair to keep her in his power, ordered her hair to be cut off. The demon, agitated by this outrage, attacked the priest with curses and said: "Stranger from France, stranger from France, what have I done to you? Why don't you allow me to rest? Every evil, every mishap and every misfortune will come upon you because you vex me without cause."

It was now evening. And Father Norbert, seeing that the demon had not left, was somewhat saddened. He ordered her to be returned to her father and to be brought to Mass the next day. He began to remove his alb and other Mass vestments. When the demon saw this he shouted in insult: "Ha ha ha! Now you're doing well and you have not yet done to me the work that God has approved. You've spent the whole day in vain." But Father Norbert, returning to his lodging, decided not to eat until the girl was healed and thus he passed that day and night without food.

When the next day dawned, the priest of God prepared to celebrate Mass. The girl was brought and a great crowd of people gathered, coming to await the outcome. Norbert instructed two of the confreres to hold the girl close to the altar. After the Mass had begun and the gospel was being read over her head, the demon responded mockingly that he had frequently heard tunes of this sort. Soon, within the action of the Mass, the priest elevated the host; the demon exclaimed: "Look, look, behold he holds his little God in his hands." Demons confess what heretics deny. But then the priest of God shuddered and, taking on the Spirit of Truth in his very speech, began more intently to act against the demon. But the latter, being constrained, shouted out: "Behold I'm burning, I'm burning, behold I'm dying, I'm dying!" And again: "I want to leave, I want to leave, let me go!" And while the confreres were firmly holding the girl, the unclean spirit fled leaving behind the repulsive traces of very foul smelling urine. He left behind the vessel which he had possessed. The girl, freed from her tormentor, collapsed, and was carried faint to the home of her father. A little later, after taking food, she appeared completely sound, in control of herself, and perfectly healed. This took place publicly and the people witnessed it. Together they proclaimed the praise of God and acknowledged Norbert a truly apostolic man in contrast to those who had previously detracted him.


Chapter 11:  Little Nicholas and the Real Presence[61]

Once Norbert was staying at Laon, intending to spend the winter with some of his powerful relatives whom he had met there, to take instructions in French, which he did not know. A pious woman from the town of Soisson heard of the reputation of the man of God. Wishing to speak with him, she secretly came to Laon on the pretext of visiting the shrines of the saints. After she had heard him preach the Word of God, she complained to him tearfully that she had for a long time remained sterile with her husband. She preferred, if it could be done, to be separated from her husband rather than be bound by legal or conjugal bond without the offspring that they had hoped for. The priest said to her: "It shall not be so, but very soon you will have a son. You shall not keep him as an heir for the world but you will soon dedicate your child to the Lord. After him you will bear several others with whom you will later take yourself and your possessions to the cloister to serve God." She believed him and was not disappointed. She bore a son. She called him Nicholas because she had obtained her promise around the feast of St. Nicholas. The child grew and was weaned.[62]

Meanwhile a council was held in which a decree was promulgated that the Masses of priests who had wives should not be attended. Hence occasion for heresies arose to such a degree that many believed and claimed that married priests did not confect the Body of the Lord on the altar.

One day this same lady, whose name was Helwig, accompanied by her sister, went around to the shrines of the saints to pray. The boy, now in his fifth year, was with her. They entered a church, not to hear Mass, but just to pray. A married priest was standing at the altar celebrating Holy Mass. O inestimable and ineffable grace of God's goodness! While the mother was praying with tears streaming down her face, the eyes of her child lay open to the divine mysteries. The boy was standing between his mother and aunt and looking at the priest. Although he could as yet not speak well, he cried out clearly, saying: "Mother, mother, look at the boy, more beautiful than the sun, whom the priest at the altar is holding, adoring as God." The mother rose from her prayer and, wondering what it was, asked the child: "Son, is that the boy hanging on the cross whom you see?" She thought he was looking at the wood of the cross. "Not at all," he said. "The priest was holding in his hands a boy of wondrous beauty whom he's now covering, wrapping him in a cloth." The mother and her sister looked and they saw the priest covering with a corporal the chalice with the Lord's body. A threefold lesson is derived from this miracle: the uncertainty of the incredulous is removed; the faith of the pious is strengthened; the faithful, for whom this event took place, are edified by this divine revelation. From that day until the day of his death the boy Nicholas always suffered from weak eyesight. Nevertheless he lived until the promise of Norbert, the man of God, was fulfilled, and his father and mother, with property and offspring and a great number of relatives, entered the cloister and sent him as a deacon to the Lord.

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Library » Documents » Life of St. Norbert (Vita A) - Translation of 12th Century Manuscript