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Article: June 6 + Saint Norbert

June 6 + Saint Norbert - VENXARA®

June 6 + Saint Norbert

Norbert started out as a frivolous and worldly cleric, but was changed by God’s grace into a powerful preacher and an important reformer of the Church during the early 12th century and is the founder of the Norbertine order.

Born around the year 1080 in the German town of Xanten, Norbert belonged to a high-ranking family with ties to the imperial court. As a young man he showed a high degree of intelligence and sophistication but Norbert's gifts and advantages would prove to be a source of temptation even after he joined the ranks of the clergy.

Norbert was ordained as a subdeacon, and enrolled with a group of clerics in his town, before moving on to an appointment with the Archbishop of Cologne. He went on to serve the German Emperor Henry V, in a position which involved the distribution of aid to the poor. In all of this, however, Norbert displayed no particular piety or personal seriousness, living a rather pleasurable and luxurious life.

But all of that changed when a thunderstorm had boiled up suddenly as Norbert was out riding. High winds pushed and pulled at his fashionable coif, rain slashed at his fancy clothes, and dark clouds pressed night down upon his light thoughts. A sudden flash of lightning split the dark and his horse threw Norbert to the ground.

For almost an hour, Norbert lay unmoving. Even the rain soaking his clothes and the howl of thunder did not bring him back to consciousness and life. When he awoke his first words were, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" — the same words Saul spoke on the road to Damascus. In response, Norbert heard, "Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it."

He immediately returned to Xanten to devote himself to prayer and penance. He now embraced the instruction for the priesthood he had avoided and was ordained in 1115. His complete conversion and new ways caused some to denounce the former courtier as a hypocrite. Norbert's response was to give everything he owned to the poor and to go to the pope for permission to preach.

With this commission in hand, he became an itinerant preacher, traveling through Europe with two companions. In an extreme response to his old ways, he now chose the most difficult ways to travel — walking barefoot in the middle of winter through snow and ice. Unfortunately his two companions died from the ill-effects of exposure. The bishop offered Norbert land where he could start his own community. In a lonely valley called Prmontr, began his community with thirteen canons. Despite the strictness of his regulation his reforms attracted many disciples until eight abbeys and two convents were involved.

When two rival popes were elected after the death of Honorius II, Norbert helped try to heal the Church by getting the emperor to support the first elected, Innocent II. At the end of his life he was made an archbishop but he died soon after on June 6, 1134 at the age of 53.

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