Order of Premontre, Premonstratensians, Norbertines, and White Canons

04 Chapters 1-10

04 Chapters 1-10

The “Vita-B” of St. Norbert

also known as 

"The Origins and Spread of the Premonstratensians"

Section 4:  Text of the Vita-B

Chapter I

Birth, Origin and Secular Life of St. Norbert.

3. In the days of Emperor Henry the Younger[1-1], during the pontificate of Pope Paschal[1-2], in the year of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 1115, there lived in the town of Xanten[1-3], which from of old was called Troy[1-4], a man named Norbert. He was a German from illustrious Frankish and Salic German stock. He was wealthy, handsome, thin and somewhat tall and fullgrown. He was educated in both literature and the ways of the court and the world. He was a good speaker, a cleric, a subdeacon. However, in his life and conduct, for the times and secular custom, he was quite frivolous.

His father was Herbert of the town of Gennep[1-5] near the forest of Kettel[1-6]; his mother was Hedwig. While she was, in answer to her prayer, pregnant with him she heard a voice saying to her: "Be calm, Hedwig! He is to be great before God and men."[1-7]

4. Fortune favored his life and he prospered. Among other things he was well-known in the courts of the great, both in the court of Frederick the Archbishop of Cologne[1-8], and in the court of the emperor. In the former undoubtedly because he was a cleric and educated; in the latter because of his generous spirit and his demeanor. In both courts, however, he was admired because he was affable and cultured. Well-known in one, noble in the other, in both courts energetic. He was loved and honored not less by his masters than by those who served him. He was pleasing to everyone and open to all, great among the great, slight among the unimportant, illustrious among nobles, less than cultured among the ignoble, eloquent among the educated and foolish among the unlearned. To all he showed himself lovable. Finally, becoming all things to all men[1-9], he became suited to the endeavors of everyone among whom he stayed. He was a man of cheerful appearance, with calm face, pleasant speech, mild to deal with, affable in company, kind to his own, at peace with strangers, generous in giving, shy in receiving. Sensible and cautious, he was his own advisor and lived his life according to his own desires. He denied himself nothing and left nothing that he desired untried. He did not attend to what was allowed, nor did he avoid what was not proper so long as the pleasant was sufficient and the unpleasant did not stand in his way. He gulped down the past, devoured the present, anticipated the future. He was a distinguished citizen of this age and a renowned inhabitant of Babylon[1-10]. He moved forward with his eyes closed and his head turned backwards, ignorant of what the future held or what the next day had in store for him. Even worse, he almost did not care. He had no time for piety and quiet. He was a slave to unrest and impatience.

5. The passing of time with its favorable circumstances, the sound of human applause, so sweet to the ear, declaring "well done, well done", expanded the hope of his longings and broadened the desires of his heart. By comparison, the promise of the kingdom of heaven or the threat of the burning fires of hell or other similar ideas sounded mild and unthreatening. Such words were unappealing and confusing, offensive and annoying, like the ravings of old men or childish foolishness. In a word, anything that did not double his approval ratings seemed to him like empty words and a fabled story.

Chapter II

How the Grace of God Visited Norbert.

Animated and goaded by these incentives, Norbert drifted about in the midst of Babylon. He wandered about unthinking along many winding courses, along labored and difficult ways, always going but never returning, a wanderer and a fugitive, unknowingly being tossed about, in danger and yet safe, pursuing the wind and chasing after emptiness. Then, suddenly and without warning, a quick word and a powerful hand extended over the back of the fugitive casting down the rider[2-1] and raising up the crooked.[2-2]

6. Accompanied by a single servant, Norbert hastened alone to a place called Frethen[2-3]. Why he went secretly or alone only He knows who said: "I will surround your way with briars"[2-4]. But while he was riding along in a pleasant green meadow dressed in silk and on a fine horse, suddenly clouds appeared, a storm came up, thunder roared and lightning flashed. There was a tempest. There was no refuge nearby. The power of the storm struck them with terror and thoughts of a fearful death.

What can we say? The unlettered boy called to his learned master, servantto lord, boy to elder: "Norbert, where are you going? Sir, what are you doing? Comeback, Father, turn back. The hand of the Lord is powerful against you." The servant calls but the ass speaks with more results than Balaam's.[2-5]

The Lord above is compassionate in calling back and not slow to change, as if He were saying: "Norbert, Norbert, why are you persecuting me?[2-6]  I have fitted you with a body. I have given you wealth with which to outfit yourself. You ought to have served me. Why do you rush to destroy others? It is hard for you to kick against the goad."[2-7]

Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the ground before the horse's feet. It scorched the grass splitting and opening the earth to a greater depth than that of a man's height. It was a crack no one could bear to hear. As said above, the powerful hand of the Lord cast down the rider.[2-8]  His lifegiving mercy immediately raised up the bent and humbled man. The boy stood there stunned. His master lay there, as did the horse, unconscious, almost to the point of death. The place and the man's clothing stank. It was the stench of sulphur, like the fire of hell.

7. After an hour the man rose as from a deep sleep. Coming to himself he was touched with grief of heart and began to say to himself: "Lord, what do you want me to do?"[2-9] Immediately, as if He were responding: "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."[2-10]  Norbert went no farther. Nor did he cross the ditch which the Lord had dug for him. Rather, reflecting on the Lord's mercies, that He is good, that His mercy is forever"[2-11], Norbert returned home.

From this time on the fire of divine love which had been ignited gradually expanded.  He neither changed his garb suddenly nor immediately left the world.  However, beneath his soft garments he wore rough haircloth to tame his members and fight against his lower nature.  Then gradually and slowly the interior sword of the Word of God, penetrating his depths and burning his loins and searching his heart[2-12], began interiorly to reform what had been deformed, plucking out and destroying, rebuilding and planting[2-13], casting out the serpent by the same way in which he had crept in, and suddenly and in a moment turned and changed the wild and rapacious hawk into a simple and meek dove.   But as the Apostle says, where sin abounded grace also abounded.[2-14]

Because the Holy Spirit knew the manner and order of His working, nothing was forgotten. After He inspired love He opened Norbert's understanding. He put it into his already interiorly renewed mind that he should wait a suitable amount of time before putting off the exterior man with its acts, and choosing an apt and suitable place for publicly renouncing this world and its prince and teacher, the devil, with all his pomp. In this way, the clemency of divine compassion might be more pleasingly evident.

8. Meanwhile, the man of God gathered together all his strength. Returning to his senses and strengthening his spirit and reflecting on higher counsels, he changed all the efforts of his life into a completely other and altogether different direction. Instructed on how to fight with the enemy, he immediately withdrew from the court. He resided either at home or stayed in the Abbey of Siegburg[2-15] with Abbot Conon[2-16] of happy memory, a man of admirable holiness, who at that time presided over that monastery. He studied the Sacred Scriptures and, as Solomon says: "The wise man bides his time".[2-17] Being inexperienced, he trained himself for his future conversion. He prepared himself through tireless meditation for whatever he was planning for himself regarding poverty, for whatever could happen regarding suffering and struggle. Lest the eager spirit of the new recruit, and still untrained soldier, be in any way distressed by the constant delay of advancement, he was comforted by the example of his Lord and Master and Redeemer of all, Jesus Christ, who endured until His time and hour arrived, as the Gospel passage says, referring to the Jews: "And they did not take hold of Him because His hour had not come"[2-18]; and elsewhere in reference to himself: "What is this to me and to you, woman? My hour has not come".[2-19] And again: "My time has not come, but your time is always ready".[2-20] And again the Evangelist says: "When the Passover had drawn near, the feast day of the Jews"[2-21], Jesus, knowing that His hour was coming to cross from this world to the Father[2-22], etc.

Imbued with the new grace of interior virtue, but not yet having put off the old exterior garment, he modified his desire with the hope of a more abundant harvest. He chose to take on the garb of the new man[2-23] and its mark of honor at the same time, the former with the religious habit, the latter with the dignity of the priesthood. The conferred gifts would be the more pleasant the more they would be stronger from the double conferral, and thus the evil spirit would be more seriously damaged in the sight of onlookers the more the magnificent King gloriously triumphed in Norbert.

Chapter III

Where and When Norbert Put Off the Old Man and Put On the New

9. When the long desired time was at hand and Sacred Orders would be celebrated in the Church according to custom[3-1], the man of God, filled with pious rejoicing and devotion, quickly approached Lord Frederick, the Archbishop of Cologne. For the first time he sought to be ordained among the others. Hearing this, the Archbishop was no little surprised that Norbert finally requested what he often refused when it was offered by others. Nevertheless he freely and gladly agreed to do what he was asked. Then Norbert added: "I want to be ordained deacon and priest at the same time." At this the Archbishop was taken aback and somewhat hesitant. He asked the cause of this so sudden and unexpected desire. Norbert answered: "My conscience demands it. You will not be able to understand now but you will understand later.[3-2]

The Archbishop, wanting to know the reason, on his part insisted more strongly. The Man of God, considering that the Archbishop was an altogether honest and suitable person to whom he could and ought reveal the secrets of his conscience, fell at his feet with tears and groans. He asked and received pardon for his sins. He confessed to him the firm and unchangeable intention of his will.

The Archbishop saw that the man had carefully thought over what he requested and feared to violate the pleasing and pleasant friendship of this member of his household. He also considered the good which could easily come from so praiseworthy a man, and understood that such things could not happen without divine instigation. Although it was not permissible for anyone either to give or receive these two highest orders at the same time, nevertheless he finally agreed and granted dispensation, given the reason and the circumstance.

10. When it was time for the ceremony and each one to be ordained was garbed in white sacred vestments, according to ecclesiastical practice, and each was in his place, Norbert was also in the midst of the gathering congregation. He was known, as was thought, to all, but the truth of the matter was unknown to everyone. He was wonderful among men but more wonderful before God. Everyone was watching expectantly when the sacristan offered the blessed vestments which, like the others, he should put on for the reception of Orders. But he, in whose heart the Holy Spirit had begun to make his temple, turned to one of his servants next to him and signaled for the lambskin to be given to him. He had ordered this to be prepared for this purpose. As he took it the attention of all was riveted on him. He took off his varied and multiformed "devil" (a garment of tremendous price and vanity, purchased with wicked mammon[3-3], by comparison to which nothing like it would be found in the streets of Babylon) and as all looked on he put on the plain and simple Christ[3-4], a garment uncustomary for men of this world and especially among the nobles of that region, a garment of very little value and almost no importance. To the companions of his former frivolity this was rather a sign of mockery than any indication of conversion, but to the Man of God this garment was more precious than purple and linen.[3-5]  Next he extended his hand to the sacristan and put on the vestments which were to be worn to receive the Sacred Orders. He was completely unaware of what people were thinking or saying about him.

11. After receiving the Sacred Orders according to his plan and desire, completely ignoring human judgment in his regard, he went immediately to Siegburg, a well-known and distinguished monastery. There among the devout and holy monks he would learn the practice of the priesthood which he had received and study certain texts on religious life. When he had spent about forty days there, he returned to his own region. He went to the church where he had been and was, as they say, a secular canon.

Chapter IV

The Beginning of Norbert's Preaching, and his Long-suffering Patience.

On the following day the dean and his fellow canons offered Norbert -- as is the custom among many to offer to the newly ordained -- the opportunity to celebrate the high Mass in the convent. He humbly agreed to do this. At the proper time he approached the altar and performed everything solemnly according to the ritual until after the Gospel.

After the Gospel was read, the Man of God, inflamed with the zeal of divine fervor, and with the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in his heart, turned to the vestibule of the church. Placing his tongue and voice at the service of God's Word, he began, as if divinely inspired, to bring forth from the treasures[4-1] of the wisdom and knowledge of God pious admonitions and salutary encouragement for eternal happiness. He continued to show how all the enjoyments of this life are fleeting and perishable, short-lived, cheap, not worthy of love, not suitable for possession. He spoke about fleeting glory, blind ambition, transitory riches, momentary delight, unfaithful rest, uncertain security, vain joys, false prosperity. Finally he spoke about how biting, among all of these, are the cares and how troublesome the solicitudes which drive the one desiring and cause concern for the one possessing. For whatever is avidly possessed in this life is not lost without sorrow. Whatever is coveted and sought with difficulty, is not guarded without danger.

Then Norbert shifted and imposed the whole weight of this business onto his fellow canons. He accused no one openly, but with the turn of a word or two he more sharply pressed their consciences, held out threats and exaggerated their punishment. He emphasized and backed up his emphasis with many necessary arguments stating that the severity of the divine rigor allows nothing that is wrongly done to go unavenged. Nor does it leave what is illicit to go unpunished. "Whoever does such," says the Apostle, "will not attain the kingdom of God."[4-2] After this Norbert returned to the altar and finished the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

12. The next day when everyone had taken his seat in the chapter, Norbert took the text of the rule and began to address the dean. He pointed out from the words of Sts. Gregory and Isidore, whose rule[4-3] they followed, that whoever was the provost and teacher of all ought to call them back to the right path of an honest and holy life.

The seniors and prelates, however, inasmuch as they were wise, considered the situation in silence, according to what is written: "The wise man defers and waits till later."[4-4]  In no way did they presume to resist the truth and the Spirit who was speaking. But the younger men, whose practice it was to pay less attention to what is of God, murmured to one another and mocked him privately. They marked this up to his early frivolity. They departed showing him only an external reverence, both because he was of great authority among them, and because he wore the sign and habit of some religious order.  But somehow from afar he observed and noted each one's comings and goings. The next day, when they had again gathered, Norbert began to rail against them, indicating each one by name, and declaring what, where, at what hour, and with whom each man did or said what was not permitted.

13. After continuing in this manner for several days, Norbert seemed intolerable to them. And because, as Scripture says, "no one is accepted as a prophet in his own country"[4-5], God arranged his path in a more profound way for the salvation of many. By the secret permission of God, the evil spirit who "works on the sons of despair"[4-6] crept into their hearts. They stirred up against him a very ignoble cleric of low rank and humble fortune. This man contradicted him rashly and boldly, roughly insulted him and finally, seized by an incredible madness, spat in Norbert's face. The man of God accepted the insult, restrained himself and kept silent. He wiped his face and, reflecting on his sins, preferred to give in to tears before God rather than retaliate. Clearly this incident showed Norbert how much strength he had, through the grace of God, to endure greater things for justice.  As we know from the report of many, such was the character of that cleric who spat at him, that if Norbert had ordered the man to be dragged through the mud by the cooks of his kitchen[4-7] no one would say anything other than "Well done".

Events such as these are recounted about him especially for the reason that visible miracles cause the simple and unlearned to stand in awe. Patience and the virtues of the saints, however, are to be admired and imitated by those who join the army of Christ so that, being sharers of the labor and suffering, they can be partakers of the reward. The reward should not be dissimilar for those whose desire is similar.

Chapter V

Why the Saints Suffer Evil Which They Do Not Cause.

14. If as Scripture says: "Nothing happens on earth without a reason"[5-1], then it is the highest and principal glory of a rational creature to understand the reasons for those things which happen. Certainly no one doubts that there are adversities which the saints suffer in this world. I do not say why there are adversities but that there are. These adversities are worth noting and should be known because the reason for them cannot be known if their outcome is unknown. When the reason is understood and known, each person, freely and of his own desire, very easily moves toward his goal according as reason dictates the usefulness or loss of what is proposed for imitation or avoidance.

In everything carefully considered there are two aspects, namely the cause, by the cognition of which the interior reasoning of the soul is fed, and the effect, by the use of which the exterior sense of the body is aided. From this comes a double perception of things. The one, experienced through use, pertains to the exterior sense of the body; the other, knowledge by cognition, pertains to the interior reasoning of the soul.

Since the nature of the soul and the body, i.e. reason and sense, is diverse and their movement contrary, it frequently happens that either the reason, when exercised, weakens the sense and removes the ongoing ability to sense or, on the contrary, the sense, growing stronger, blocks the reason and dulls the sharpness of understanding. Consequently reason, when the bodily sense is subjected to it, aims toward virtue and acts strongly. But the sense, if reason is overpowered, tends toward pleasure and acts like an animal.

From this it follows that men given over to the senses of the flesh and accustomed to the corporeal neither seek reasoning nor look for a cause. They think everything comes from accidental and unexpected causes. Those, however, in whom reasoning thrives and the light of nature shines, carefully inquire and easily observe not only that nothing happens without a certain and rational cause, but that it cannot happen.

15. Therefore, if you see a man entangled in visible affairs, subject to the judgment of the senses, attending to the care of the flesh, speaking of chance events and fortune, blaspheming Mercury[5-2], do not ask him why holy, just and good men suffer in this world so many evils which they did not cause, because someone like this does not care to know what they suffer nor to imitate what they do.

But for him to whom "to live is Christ and to die is gain"[5-3] and who can truthfully say with Paul "the world is crucified to me and I to the world"[5-4], this man is seriously concerned about his salvation. This man, without a doubt, solicitously and carefully averts to what the saints, for a time in this life at least, suffer for the debt of the human condition, and where they are led through such patience by the clemency of divine mercy.  In this distinction three things should be noted in particular: what each one suffers, why he suffers, and what is the result. This can be stated more briefly: punishment, cause, and end.

Concerning the "punishment", the Apostle says: "Because through many trials it is fitting that we enter the kingdom of God".[5-5] And again: "The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the future glory which will be revealed in us".[5-6]

Concerning the "cause", we read: "It is not the punishment that makes the martyr but the cause"[5-7]. In this regard we read in the Gospel: "Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice".[5-8]

Finally, concerning the "end", it is written: "God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of his saints"[5-9]. And again in the book of Wisdom: "These are the ones we once held in derision".[5-10] And other references follow.

Of these three, "punishment" is the first in cognition, then follows the "end". Nevertheless, in imitation "end" precedes and "punishment" follows. "End" spurs us on to desire. "Punishment" tests if we are able. "Cause" in the middle distinguishes between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of gehenna, as between the chaff and the grain, between those who suffer because of justice and those who are punished according to justice.

16. For this reason God, by whose providence the whole world is governed and administered, in order to reveal Himself as a most powerful and just creator and disposer of all created things, has not prohibited anyone from being evil. He has, however, subjected those who are evil, through their own evil desire, to the laws of His sovereignty. Through His omnipotence, He brings it about that just as something was made by Him and through Him from nothing, likewise by Him and through Him evil men become good and those who want to be good and try to be good are perfected through the instrumentation of evil men. He does not separate nor disjoin the good and evil but permits them to be mixed together at the same time.  These four concepts, "good" and "something", "nothing" and evil", both in the order of consideration and in the condition of their nature, are somehow gradually disjoined from one another.

For however much "nothing" differs from "something" no doubt by that much "evil" through punishment is less, because it is nothing". And "good" through merit is greater, because similarly it is "something". For this reason God, like a king in his domain, disposes and orders everything everywhere through His all-encompassing wisdom. He allows free rein for the desire of evil men or blocks their way to whatever they desire, according as He sees fit. However, He prepares the will of good men by anticipating it and aids its accomplishment by His support. So that what has been said may become clearer, both positions should be proved from Sacred Scripture. In Psalm 103, after commemorating certain works of God, the Holy Spirit says: "How highly exalted are your works, O Lord! You have made all things in wisdom".[5-11] And again, after enumerating a few things briefly, he adds: "that dragon which you formed to amuse him; all things wait for you to give them food in due time".[5-12] Undoubtedly "to give food" is "to open the way" to what they desire to obtain. What we read in the Gospel where the devils requested from the Lord Jesus Christ to enter into the swine[5-13] corresponds to this. For where the prophet says "they wait", in the Evangelist Matthew we read "they asked". And where the former says "you give to them", the latter says "go". The former says "they will gather", the latter says "they went away". After this the prophet continues: "If you turn away your face they will be troubled"[5-14], which is to block their way by restraining the perverse will and by holding it back with invisible bonds. In the Book of Tobit is found something similar to this statement: "Then the Angel Raphael laid hold of the devil and tied him up in the desert of Upper Egypt"[5-15]

17. Concerning mercy which comes before, Psalm 58 says: "And his mercy will come before me".[5-16] Concerning mercy which follows after, Psalm 22 says: "And his mercy will follow me"[5-17] The rest of the words of either psalm from beginning to end attest to this sense. The first psalm begins with adversity and, as if not yet anticipated, continues by describing his tribulation. The second begins with prosperity, as if already anticipated, and describes the divine benefits toward himself. Hence he first prays with a groan: "Deliver me from my enemies, my God".[5-18] The second tells with joy: "The Lord rules me and I will lack nothing".[5-19]

Without distinction good men share with evil men temporal good and bad fortune, sometimes the better they are the greater their share. Good fortune comes to good men so that they may believe it comes from God and is dispensed by Him. But it comes to evil men so that those who are good or who wish to be good may not consider it important. Likewise temporal misfortunes fall to the lot of good and evil men. They fall to the good so that they may be tested, purified and prepared; to the evil so that they don't think God has forgotten or neglected their crimes and iniquity. Thus the depth of God's counsel is more worthy of greater respect the more incomprehensible it is to the human intellect.

We too then, who fear the punishments of the evil and desire the rewards of the good, should not harden our hearts to what we hear and know. Challenged by the examples of the good and the evil, as by a call from God, let us strive with the help of our Lord to pursue our goals, reform our lives, correct our actions, put our conduct in order, and better our senses, wills and intentions.

Chapter VI

The Constancy of Norbert's Faith at the Point of Life and Death

18. The Man of God Norbert, as mentioned above, was put to the test and through one incident found worthy in all areas. Accordingly, the working of divine providence in him becomes more evident according to that which is written: "He who loves his son applies the whip to him".[6-1]

Once again he is tried by an even greater temptation. Sometime later he was wearing himself out by severe fasting and abstinence, pushing himself day and night with vigils and prayer. While he was celebrating Mass as customary in a certain crypt, a spider fell into the already consecrated chalice.[6-2] When the priest saw it he was shocked. Life and death hovered before his eyes. The spider was large. What should the man do whose faith[6-3] was now deeply rooted in the Lord? Lest the sacrifice suffer any loss he chose rather to undergo the danger and consumed whatever was in the chalice.

When the sacrifice was finished he expected to die immediately. While he remained at his place before the altar he commended his awaited end to the Lord in prayer. When he was disturbed by an itching in his nose he scratched it and suddenly he sneezed expelling the whole spider. Once again God did not want the death[6-4] but the faith of his priest who he knew would be useful to him. This incident clearly showed how much faith Norbert had in the Lord as well as the Lord's kindness toward him. In preparation for the task ahead of him Norbert needed patience and faith. Patience would be his weapon, faith his strength. Lest he advance unarmed he needed patience; faith lest he fail from weakness. Such was Norbert's faith that, throughout his entire life, he easily surpassed all his contemporaries in the public opinion. The man was undoubtedly gifted with the other virtues as well. His faith, however, is so expressly commended before the other virtues that undoubtedly it was through his faith that he accomplished what he did. Accordingly, we read in the Gospel what the Lord told his disciples. "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed and said to this mountain: move, it would move"[6-5]. And again: "To the believer all things are possible".[6-6]  In agreement the Apostle says: "The saints through faith have conquered kingdoms, they have performed"[6-7], etc. What follows after this also unquestionably commends faith. Hence someone, when he was pondering who excelled in which virtue during the time in which he lived, said: "In Norbert faith is outstanding, in Bernard of Clairvaux charity, in Mile of Therouanne humility. For that reason, if anything is said about him which exceeds the human condition, it ought not seem unbelievable to him who is not such. Rather he should immediately give credit to God who through grace gave Norbert faith and, through this faith, the ability to perform such deeds.

Chapter VII

Norbert's Persistent Preaching.

19. Protected by the shield of patience and supported by the strength of faith, Norbert preached to everyone and announced the Word of God "when convenient", as it is said, "and when inconvenient".[7-1] He improved daily and for three years wore the same clothing.[7-2]

When he was pursued by those to whom his preaching was not convenient he sometimes went to Siegburg, a house of monks three leagues from Cologne. Occasionally he went to a monastery of canons regular which is called Rolduc[7-3] but more often to a hermit named Ludolph, a man of outstanding holiness and mortification who lived the life of a cleric.

Norbert took refuge with such men to refresh his spirit as often as he was pursued by those who found his words of truth tiresome. He stayed with them, however, in order to learn from them the institutes of holy life and to advance in heavenly hope. Sometimes he returned to his home in Xanten and continued untiringly with his efforts at preaching.

Chapter VIII

How Norbert Justified Himself When Before the Legate of the Roman Curia.

With this as background, a council[8-1] was taking place in German territory in a town called Fritzlar[8-2]. It was presided over by Conon[8-3], the legate of the Apostolic See. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the bishops, archbishops, abbots and many other persons who had gathered there to handle their affairs, after consultation, summoned the man of God.

In his presence they unanimously began to accuse him before Lord Conon. They wanted to know why, namely, he had usurped the office of preaching and why in his preaching he reproached them so bitterly with insulting words since no one sent him nor appointed him their leader. Moreover, they wanted to know why he wore the habit of a religious order since religious life and ownership don't go together. And why had he cast off his rich clothing, since it was not the custom of the land -- especially among the nobles of which he was a member -- to wear clothing made of lambs or goats as long as one was still living in the world?

20. To all of these accusations the wise man, taught by God, responded wisely saying: "If the accusation against me concerns religious life[8-4], religion pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their tribulation and to keep oneself pure from this world.[8-5]  If the accusation concerns my preaching, it is written: 'If anyone causes a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, he shall save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins".[8-6]   If it is a question of power, it is given to us by the reception of priesthood when it is said: 'Receive the power to proclaim the Word of God.' If, finally, it is about clothing, the first shepherd of the Church teaches us that acceptability before God is not found in precious clothing.[8-7] John the Baptist was dressed in camel hair.[8-8]  Caecilia wore haircloth next to her skin. And what is greater than all of these, Almighty God at the beginning of the world made and gave to the first man Adam not a purple garment but a tunic of skin.[8-9]

With the help of God's grace Norbert was unbowed and left them because their testimony against him did not agree.[8-10] Destitute of all consolation he threw himself constantly into prayer and psalmody relying only on God's help. He lived completely contrary to the vanity and pleasure of those in the world. Thus he was against everyone and everyone was against him".[8-11]

Chapter IX

How Satan Appeared to Norbert as He Spent the Night in Prayer.

21. Norbert planned to spend the whole next night in vigil and prayer and to ask God that He, who is the giver of right counsel and the helper in good works, might direct him according to His good pleasure and aid his plan. Norbert did this and, at dawn while his hand supported his chin, his adversary was there hoping to accomplish what his instruments were unable to do. Mocking and ridiculing, the devil said: "Hah, hah, you'veproposed many things, but to what end do you hope to come if you cannot persevere in the intention of one night?" Awake now and aware of the snares of the insidious enemy, he answered: "Who believes your threats since from the beginning, on the witness of Truth, you are a liar and the father of lies?"[9-1] Thus the evil spirit departed from him in confusion.

The man of God saw that everyone was against him and that the truth,to which he bore witness, was being choked off because of their many lies. Their sin increased because of what the Lord said: "If I had not come and spoken to them they would not be in sin".[9-2]

Understanding too that they would attack him even to the point of accusing him falsely, he grieved and feared more for their injuryand loss than that they could harm him. He went to his archbishop and resigned to him all the many benefices and income he had acquired in the church.

22.  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. He distributed all this to the poor. He kept nothing for himself other than ten silver marks, a mule, and whatever was needed to celebrate Mass. Taking with him only two lay companions for his journey, after the example of the Patriarch Abraham[9-3], he began his freely undertaken pilgrimage. When he arrived at Castle Huy[9-4], located on the Meuse River, he thought that he should follow the naked cross naked. Here he distributed to the poor the above mentioned property which he kept for himself. He retained only what he needed to celebrate Mass.

Chapter X

How Norbert Began His Pilgrimage after Leaving Everything.

After completely putting aside and rejecting his temporal baggage, he settled down and prepared himself with strength of mind to bear every type of poverty and need. He then entered upon the steep and sublime way of a holy life. Barefoot and clothed in a woolen tunic and content with only a cloak, with no roof over his head and no sure residence, with strength of mind he overcame the harsh winter and sharp cold. With Christ as his only leader he set out for St. Gilles[10-1] with two like-minded companions.

When he arrived there, by the grace of God who does not desert those who hope in Him, he found Pope Gelasius[10-2] who succeeded Paschal. He confessed to him his wish and the intention of his heart. Then he sought pardon from the Pontiff especially for receiving the two highest Orders together, contraryto canon law.

23. The Pope, seeing his prudence and the Spirit of God which resided in him, wanted Norbert to stay with him. Norbert pleaded with the Pope that he not force him to this obedience. He explained how he had dissipated himself wantonly in the courts of kings and pontiffs and that what he was now asking of him was by no means suited to his youth[10-3] and the penance he had undertaken. However, if he were to order him to be a canon or monk or hermit, or even a wandering pilgrim"[10-4], he would gladly obey him in everything.

Other Categories:
Library » Documents » Life of St. Norbert (Vita B) - Translation of 12th Century Manuscript