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Saint of the week

The saint who may keep an eye on Prince William

St Henry (July 13) helped cement the rule of priestly celibacy

By on Thursday, 4 July 2013

Henry II is crowned as Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014

Henry II is crowned as Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014

As the patron saint of dukes (as well as those rejected by religious orders), St Henry will perhaps keep an eye over Prince William as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge await the birth of their child next week.
Born in 972, the young Henry, as the son of the Duke of Bavaria and the grandson of the King of Burgundy, received a first-class education under St Wolfgang of Regensburg, one of the finest minds of the age, and became first Duke and then Holy Royal Emperor, aged 30, receiving the imperial crown in Rome from Benedict VIII.

Noted as the most moderate and clement of rulers during the period, admittedly when the bar was set fairly low, he was no stranger to warfare and lived during a period when the Empire was fighting conflicts on several fronts.

He won several small wars in southern Italy against Greeks and Saracens, and also spent a good 16 years at war with the newly Christianised Poles over territory in what is now eastern Germany, even allying himself with some of the still-pagan Slavic tribes on the Baltic.

Despite these battles, and conflict with the Byzantines during the last years before the Latin and Greek churches split, he was noted for his mercy and support for justice, his genuine piety and his support for Church reforms when Rome was still rebuilding itself from the corruption and intrigue of the ninth century (which makes the Borgia-era papacy seem like a Scandinavian social democracy in comparison).

Henry could also be a humble and devout man. In one famous incident he cast himself at the feet of Heribert, Bishop of Cologne, begging his pardon for having brushed him off, which he put down to an honest misunderstanding. He married St Cunigunde, the patron saint of Luxembourg, but the marriage produced no children, and Henry is, as a result, also the patron of the childless.

Henry’s greatest legacy was to help cement the rule of priestly celibacy, a reform that prevented the corrupting effect of dynasticism in the Church. At the Council of Pavia in 1022 strict celibacy was mandated and clergy forbidden to live with any women. Among his other lasting influences on the faith, he persuaded Benedict VIII to include the Filioque clause in the Creed. The clause, which refers to the Latin phrase “and (from) the Son”, is still a source of division between Catholics and Orthodox believers to this day.

Henry’s marriage was a loving one. In May 1017, when Empress Cunigunde became seriously ill in Kaufunger, central Germany, Henry vowed to found a monastery on the site if she survived. She did, and he kept to his word, Kaufunger Abbey still stands today. After Henry II’s death in 1024 his queen retired to the abbey, where she lived another 16 years.