1902 Encyclopedia > Henry the Deacon

Henry the Deacon
Swiss/Italian religious reformer
(fl. 12th century AD)




HENRY THE DEACON,—variously called of Cluny, because he was at one time a monk of that rule, of Lausanne, because he is believed to have first appeared as a preacher of repentance there, and of Toulouse, because his later years were passed in that city and neighbourhood, —founder of the anti-sacerdotal sect of Henricians, was of Swiss or Italian extraction (his birthplace is unknown), and was born towards the end of the 11th century. About the year 1115 he abandoned the cloister, where he had entered the diaconate, and, burning with righteous indignation against the dead mechanical ceremonialism of the dominant church and the hideous moral corruption of its clergy, began to go about as an itinerant preacher. The neighbourhood of Lausanne was probably the scene of his earliest appearances, but he soon betook himself to France, where the soil had been prepared for him by Peter of Bruis (leader of the Petrobrusians), and where he at once began to attract adherents. About the beginning of Lent in 1116 he asked and received permission of the bishop Hildebert of Le Mans (Cenomani) to visit that city; the fact that he was not only tolerated but received with some degree of honour at this time shows that he had not as yet fallen under serious suspicion of heretical pravity. Soon the extraordinary fascination of his character began to make itself felt; and the rude but convincing eloquence with which he exposed the immorality of the clergy rapidly alienated the people of the town from their spiritual guides ; remonstrances and inhibitions by the local ecclesiastical authorities were equally vain; and when Hildebert, who had been absent in Rome, returned to his diocese, he found his episcopal blessing treated with contempt, and was bluntly told by his flock that they had found " a father, a priest, an intercessor, more exalted in authority, more honourable in life, more eminent in knowledge." From the confused accounts of Henry's life and labours which have reached us it does not appear that even then he had come forward as the teacher of any new or strange doctrine; his efforts as a reformer of public and domestic morals are chiefly insisted on, especially the measures he took for the reclamation of fallen women, for the encouragement of early and honourable marriage among the laity, and for the promotion of a higher standard of purity among the nominally celibate clergy. It was not as a heretic but merely as a somewhat inconvenient agitator that he was ordered by Hildebert at last to leave Le Mans. We next read of Henry as conspicuously active in Provence, especially after the burning in 1124 of Peter of Bruis, with whose peculiar views he is alleged, upon evidence which has not reached us, to have entirely sympathized. In 1134 he was arrested by the bishop of Aries and taken to the council of Pisa ; there he was declared to be a heretic, and condemned to imprisonment. This captivity, however, does not appear to have lasted long. The scene of the third and concluding chapter of the recorded life of Henry is laid at Toulouse, where after ten years of uninterrupted activity with the result complained of by Saint Bernard (Ep. 241)—"the churches are without flocks, the flocks without priests, the priests are nowhere treated with due reverence, the churches are reduced to the level of synagogues, the sacraments are despised, the festivals disregarded "—it was found necessary by Pope Eugenius III. to take active measures for the defence of the church. With this view the cardinal bishop Alberic of Ostia was sent as a legate to the disaffected districts, and with him was associated Bernard of Clairvaux. Their efforts were ultimately successful; Henry died an obscure death in prison about the year 1148, and his sect soon afterwards ceased to have any separate existence.

The original authorities upon this subject are the Acta Episco-pm-um Genomanensium ("Gesta Hildeberti"), which have been published in Mabillon's Anal. Vet., and Bernard's letter (Ep. 241) to Count Ildephonso of St Gilíes, written in 1147. From these sources the distinctive tenets of Henry and the Henricians (if dis-tinctive tenets there were) cannot be gathered with any clearness. The probability is that Henry and his disciples had not any definite system of doctrine to oppose to that of the church, but were anti-sacerdotalists pure and simple, " insurgents, who shook the estab-lished government, but did not attempt to replace it by any new form or system of opinions and discipline." See Milman, History of Latin Christianity, bk. ix. c. 8; and Hahn, Geschichte der Ketzer im Mittelalter (1845).







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