This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23 -- Feast of Blessed Henry Suso

I don't think there is a more hilarious beatus than Henry Suso.  You may be protesting -- hey, he's the brilliant Swiss/German mystic who wrote The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom.  True, but that makes him all the more comic. 

Poor Henry started out somewhat like Prince Herbert in Swamp Castle.  His dad, Count von Berg, was a warlike man from a warlike family.  They did manly things like kill other men.  Henry preferred wandering around with a dreamy half-grin plastered on his tender, young face.  The Count grumbled that he wished Henry had been born a girl, and that the von Berg sisters had been born boys -- they would have made fine warriors.  I imagine that Henry took notice of this, and that it made him sad.  Later in life, he took his mother's maiden name (Sus) rather than keeping von Berg. 

The Dreamy Dominican Mystical Poet
After recognizing that he wasn't going to make a warrior out of a poet, the Count sent Henry to a Dominican monastery.  Henry was in his element.  He loved life among the monks.  Everything went swimmingly for several years, but then he had a religious revelation.  It wasn't a flash -- he sat entranced in chapel for an hour.  When he finally snapped out of it, he realized that he needed to be a much more serious, more penitent individual if he was going to honor his faith.  No more gadding about like a happy little Dominican monk, cheerfully sleeping on the cot in his cell, happily scrubbing the stone floors, chanting hymns all hours of the day and night.  That sweet, soft life was over!

He set about mortifying his flesh in the most distasteful ways.  First, he renounced bathing, a decision which lasted at least twenty-five years.  Second, he inserted needles and tacks into his gloves so he would not scratch the bugs that infested his body or slap at the mosquitoes that fed on him at night.  He wore a tight, half-length undershirt with 150 brass nails stitched into it.  This gouged his torso for sixteen years, until one Pentecost an angel brought him the message that "Enough is enough! Lose the damned shirt!"  He threw it in the river. 

an illuminated page from Henry's book  Exemplar
Speaking of rivers, sometimes he'd be lost in his mystical, poetic thoughts and wander into them.  He didn't swim and had to be pulled out.  He was prior of an abbey for a while, but mystics make poor accountants so the work had to be handed off to someone else.  He was on a journey once when his traveling companion, a lay brother, went into a tavern and played a little joke.  He said that Henry, who was down the street arranging someplace to sleep, had been paid by Jews to poison all the wells in town.  haha.  Picture the usual medieval town at night, with the customary mob of burghers, torches, clubs, and pitchforks in hand, chasing poor Henry.  He hid in a hedge and the next day, went back into town to bail the brother out of jail.  [You didn't think the mob would let him go, did you?] 

He had been a student of the controversial German mystic Meister Eckhart, whose teaching ran afoul of the official line.  Henry defended his teacher against the charges of heresy, and spent some years in confinement for that as well as for slander.  Of course, whether you sleep unwashed on the stone floor of a monastery or a jail cell is somewhat moot -- it is tough to punish a guy who voluntarily wraps himself in brass tacks. 

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