Order of Premontre, Premonstratensians, Norbertines, and White Canons

09 Chapters 51-54

09 Chapters 51-54

Chapter LI

How Norbert Was Restored to His See.

111. When his adversaries saw what grieved the Man of God most, they tried to ease his grief where they felt he was burdened. They completely repaired the house of the wounded man which they had destroyed and they contributed forty marks of silver toward healing the wound which they had inflicted on him.

After this the doors of the fortress, which had been closed at his earlier arrival, were opened. He was received there with honor, surrounded by a band of many nobles. The multitude of people praised God for the constancy of such a bishop. They declared that he, whom Almighty God delivered from the hands of so many persecutors, in such evident danger of death, and who remained undefeated with faith intact and secure in body, was worthy of his bishopric. Humility won out, since the grace of humility had been given to him in advance. As a result there shone forth in him the characteristics of Truthwho said, "He who humbles himself will be exalted".[51-1]  Therefore the praises of such a man should not be silenced because God is glorious in his saints. When the great deeds of the fathers who have gone before are told, the works of the sons who follow are called forth in imitation of them.

These events took place in the fifth year[51-2] of Norbert's episcopacy. After this he ruled for three years, and from day to day gave honor to the ministry entrusted to him by God, advancing in all religion and virtue, preserving the unity of the Holy Church and resisting and protesting against those who disturbed it and against all schismatics, embracing the good, giving counsel to the desolate, supporting the poor and orphans and widows, fostering and helping to spread religious orders, while setting an example of religious life, presenting himself affably both to the lesser and greater according as the dignity of his office could bear. Not unmindful of the divine generosity and grace, he daily offered to the Lord his God an upright conscience with a pleasant and charming personality.


Chapter LII

How Norbert Went to Italy with Pope Innocent and King Lothair.

112. In the Holy Roman See there was a very serious schism which was most difficult to settle. As mentioned, it concerned the two pontiffs, Innocent and Pierleoni. Innocent, canonically elected, was Catholic and was accepted and approved by all Catholics. The other, however, Peter, was an intruder but nevertheless had taken possession of the Holy See, not by the help of God or the Holy Church, but by use of secular power. Although not a member of the nobility, he was powerful in the city because of the size of his family. Blinded by the passion of his ambition, he destroyed the holy laws, right order, all the statutes of the Fathers and the Holy Church as well as the model of the Christian Faith. He tore down some of the towers and fortifications of the city and strengthened others. He was preparing to take over all the secular power and fulfill the hope of his greed.

For this reason King Lothair[52-1] with the princes of the Holy Faith conceived a plan. Fearing that the knowledge and strength of the faithful might perish in these modern times because of that deadly plague, they arranged an expedition to Italy in order to strike that sacrilegious man with the material sword since the spiritual sword[52-2], with which he had been frequently struck, was unable to pierce him.

Bishop Norbert set out with him and others, both bishops and archbishops[52-3], by order of and out of obedience to the Catholic Shepherd, Innocent".[52-4] After passing fortresses and cities[52-5] without intolerable burden they arrived at Rome with a great army preceding and following them[52-6], leading the venerable Pope Innocent with them. There they entered with a great show of force and placed the Pope in the Holy See in spite of the opposition of all his enemies and adversaries.[52-7]

113. Once installed in his See, the Pope and the others who had come with him consecrated King Lothair as Roman Emperor. The man was an active leader of war, distinguished in arms, prudent in counsel, frightful to the enemies of God and the Holy Church, a friend of truth, an ally of justice, and an enemy of injustice. His uprightness was known in Sicily, renowned in Saxony and, as long as he lived, the whole Roman Empire, which had been entrusted to his custody, stood firm. He too loved the Man of God, Norbert, because he continually made use of his advice which he valued for its promptness and foresight and because he drew from him a drink of heavenly sweetness and was daily fed with the bread of divine food.[52-8]

Physically Norbert was weak, worn out from long and hard penitential practices. His infirmity grew worse because of the burden and strain of travelling as well as the corrupt air of these lands. Add to this sollicitude for his domestic affairs, the change of climate and the constant unrest. However, it is not possible for any one person to tell all the things which were accomplished by him there or elsewhere because it is impossible for one person to know or become acquainted with everything.[52-9]

It is known that not long after his return to the city of Magdeburg from Italy, Norbert was seized by a grave illness and suffered from it for some time, i.e. for four months. Filled with the Holy Spirit and in full possession of his senses and while giving his blessing to those in attendance, Norbert died peacefully. He had administered his diocese wisely and faithfully for eight years. As Augustine said, "one who had lived well could not die badly."[52-10]

It was the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1134, the Wednesday after Pentecost, the eighth day before the Ides of June[52-11], in the fifth year of the reign of Pope Innocent, the ninth year of the reign of Lothair.


Chapter LIII

The Dispute About Norbert's Burial Between the Cathedral and the Church of Blessed Mary.

114. After the death of Father Norbert of blessed and worthy memory, and his spirit had been called to its eternal reward and his holy body was left lifeless, a great dispute arose between the Cathedral and the Church of Blessed Mary regarding the place of his burial.

Some desired, and they said it was worthy and right[53-1] because Norbert had been the head of the churches of that city, that his bones should bring honor to the principal church, and there await the coming of the sovereign judge. There he held the title of the church permanently and forever, even if he would have lived forever in the flesh. But others, namely the confreres of Saint Mary, claimed that he was rightfully theirs. They had been reconciled to their creator through him and they chose him as their father. Through him they returned to the Lord their God from whom they had turned away. This was especially so since the man, while still alive, had ordered that he be buried and rest among his confreres and sons whom he had begotten for God through the Word of God at the time of his poverty. Until the end the inclination of his will remained the same.

This was the dispute and either side produced clear and sound arguments. Strange! They fought to keep the lifeless body of this man, thinking they would benefit from the presence of his corpse. While he was alive and could benefit them, they wanted to get rid of him. Those, however, who were neutral and saw that the arguments on either side were irrefutable, gave the following advice. They should send to King Lothair as quickly as possible and consider settled whatever he commanded or decided. And this was done.[53-2]

115. Meanwhile the body lay unburied and day by day was brought to the different monasteries of the city. In each one vigils and those prayers which are due to the faithful departed were carefully celebrated. On the eighth day[53-3] those who were sent out returned. Then, on command of the Emperor, the body of the holy man was buried with his confreres in the Church of Blessed Mary.

This was noteworthy, however, and should not be passed over in silence. Although it was excessively warm, so much so that in that year no meadow hay was harvested because of the excessive dryness, no stench of any corruption exuded from his body over so many days. Hence it is given to be understood how abundant grace cleansed him of corruption of the mind which in turn preserved his body from corruption during the time he had to be handled[53-4] and preserved for burial by the funeral ceremonies, according to custom, as an expression of consolation.

He was buried before the altar of the Holy Cross and remained in the midst of the monastery[53-5] for several years. But his good sons, who on the command of Truth, as it is written, "Honor your father that you may have long life on the earth"[53-6], and out of memory of the kindness which he had shown them, moved him before their eyes into the choir so that he might be commended to their memory and not forgotten.[53-7]   There in his tomb, carefully adorned as much as the location allows, he awaits the final day in hope of certain resurrection and glory.


Chapter LIV

The Three Visions in Which Norbert Was Seen After His Death

116.[54-1]  Proof of Norbert's salvation and hope should not seem incredible in the judgment of any of the faithful, especially when he appeared in his own likeness after his death to some who surrely should be believed.   To those who asked about his condition, with God's permission, he gave such a response that no one carefully paying attention should doubt as to its truth and certainty.

On the same day and hour on which his soul was separated from his body, a confrere saw him in a white garment and a fine likeness holding an olive branch in his hand. When the confrere asked him, somewhat fearfully[54-2], whence he came and where he was hastening, he answered, "I was sent from paradise whence I have brought this green olive branch and I go quickly to transplant it to the place of my poverty, that is, to Prémontré. The confrere, excited about so unaccustomed a vision, began to think about what this might mean. He reported this vision to some at the church, for he was at a grange[54-3] of this church. They committed the day and hour of the vision to memory and waited to see what it might mean and what might follow so clear an apparition. After they heard about the death of their master, they realized the vision took place on the same day on which his soul was released from his body.

Norbert also appeared in his own likeness to another confrere, who was a priest, standing before him. But immediately the image of the man was changed into a flower of wonderful brightness, like a lily, which the angels took and carried off to heaven. Waking up very early, the confrere ran to his prior to receive permission to celebrate Mass in order to commend to God the soul of his pious father, Norbert. When the prior asked for the meaning of so sudden a request he explained what had happened. The prior ordered him to remember the day. That day was found to be the burial day of the man of God.

117. There was another of those whom God had given Norbert at the beginning of his conversion[54-4] who clung to him faithfully and affectionately and who grieved interiorly about the departure of his master, even more so because he had no certitude about his salvation. He humbly begged God persistently in prayer to receive some answer about the mercy which He undeservedly conferred on His soldier and truly repentant sinner. One night Norbert appeared to this confrere in a very beautiful house which was handsomely illumined by the brightness of the sun.

He recognized his master, the sight of whom he fervently desired in some way to enjoy. He quickly fell at his feet and humbly begged him to reveal something about his condition and the mercy received from God. Norbert lifted him from the ground, threw his arms around his neck and said to him, "My son, you are asking something difficult. Yet, because to him who keeps knocking the door is opened[54-5], come, let us sit down."

A very beautiful chair had been prepared there and when they had sat down Norbert said to him, "It was said to me, 'Come, my sister[54-6], rest'. I am in peace and at rest. But I have not yet lost the tremendous fear of judgment at which even the angels stand in fear. Satisfied with this pleasant and desired response, the confrere, fearing that Norbert might leave because he knew that he saw this as he had requested, said, "Most beloved father, I ask you to tell me if you were offended that I did not come to you when, still alive, you commanded me to come." Norbert answered: "You will come." And after this he vanished. It was true. That confrere was going to go to him but some business impeded him and he did not come.[54-7]

118. May Almighty God grant that, according to the understanding of the promise, he might come to him[54-8] and might make him, whom he left as his companion and successor and participant of the wretched and painful tribulation of this world, a sharer in the joys of eternal felicity and the gifts of the blessing received from God, through Him who lives forever, keeps His mercy and gives it to all who obey Him in doing good and walk in the way of salvation, justice and truth.

What more is to be said? Should one of the faithful despair about the salvation of such a man who both lived as already described and with God's permission, after his death, showed these signs of his salvation? Perhaps someone will say, "I hear what is written but I doubt whether what is written is true -- he heard about them from truthful witnesses who had seen them. They were still alive when he committed the above work to memory through this writing. The exception here would be certain events which the author learned from him about what he did[54-9] before he left his country and his relatives[54-10] and put aside the burden of ownership.

May those who succeed us live and strive to commit to memory whatever has been done and told by Norbert and by the confreres of this Order who have preceded us. Even if some do not receive this narrative completely, or everyone is not completely pleased with it, it cannot cause harm to the well-disposed, even if it should happen that it does not benefit the ill-disposed and detractors.[54-11]

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