Saint of the Day – 23 January – Blessed Henry Suso OP (1295-1366) Henry (also called Amandus, a name adopted in his writings and Heinrich Seuse in German), was a German Dominican Priest and Friar and the most popular vernacular writer of the fourteenth century. Suso is thought to have been born on 21 March 1295. An important author in both Latin and Middle High German, he is also notable for defending Meister Eckhart’s legacy after Eckhart was posthumously condemned for heresy in 1329. He died in Ulm on 25 January 1366 and was Beatified 1831, by Pope Gregory XVI. Blessed Henry was a Priest, Preacher, Writer, Poet, Mystic. His body is incorrupt.
Henry was born in Switzerland—hence the epithet “Suso,” or “Swiss”—in 1290. The gentle Henry was a great disappointment to his military family. Gifted with a deep awareness of God’s presence within him and drawn to a life of prayer, at the age of thirteen, he entered the Dominican convent at Lake Constance near the Alps on the Swiss-German border. His Dominican formation developed and matured his natural contemplative gifts, giving his prayer an outlet in a joyful zeal to share its fruits with others. Once ordained, he travelled constantly and widely, preaching and hearing confessions.
Bl Henry Suso is known in the Order for his gentleness and slight eccentricity. For example, he once erected a Maypole and danced around it in a joyful display of uninhibited love for the Lord. He used to call his beloved crucified Lord “God’s Eternal Wisdom”, which indeed Christ is. Although in his lifetime Blessed Henry suffered much and was not renowned for being a great theologian or preacher, the manuscripts surviving of his writings suggest he was the most widely read spiritual author in the later Middle Ages until the publication of the Imitatio Christi. Henry wrote the spiritual classic The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, or The Exemplar. He had a very strong devotion to Christ’s passion and crucifixion and speaks of it in very human terms. This makes him and especially his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, ideal reading and material for meditation during Lent. In many images you will see him writing the name of Jesus under his heart – it is believed that he really did ‘tattoo’ himself in this way.
From his teens, Henry had imposed severe penances on himself. However, his greatest sufferings were not of his own making. In his innocence, he was constantly misunderstood and taken advantage of. On one preaching tour, Henry was victim of the deceit of his lay companion, who lied about Henry’s poisoning a well in the town. The story was believed and Henry was almost clubbed to death. In another situation, which found him in the middle of disputes between feuding families, he was falsely accused by a woman from one of them as being the father of her child.
Henry was a contemporary of John Tauler OP and Master Eckhart, Dominican theological writers of the Rhineland Mystics of Germany in the fourteenth century. Henry complemented their theology with his beautiful devotional poetry.
He died in Ulm, near Bavaria, in 1365. His body was later found incorrupt and emitting a fragrance reminiscent of that of his Holy Father Dominic 150 years before.
Suso was esteemed as a preacher and was heard in the cities and towns of Swabia, Switzerland, Alsace and the Netherlands. His apostolate, however, was not with the masses but rather with individuals of all classes who were drawn to him by his singularly attractive personality and to whom he became a personal director in the spiritual life.
The words of the Christmas Hymn “In dulci jubilo” are attributed to Suso. In his biography (or perhaps autobiography), it was written:
Now this same angel came up to the Servant (Suso) brightly and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings, adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus ..:
In sweet rejoicing,
now sing and be glad!
Our hearts’ joy
lies in the manger;
And it shines like the sun
in the mother’s lap.
You are the alpha and omega!