Feast Day : March 2 (in the Dominican Order)
Also known as: Amandus
Henry Suso was born Heinrich von Berg in Constance, Swabia, to a noble family on March 21, about 1295. He took his name from his mother’s family, Sus or Süs. He was creative, quick, highly imaginative and restless. He was of frail health and often ill. Perhaps because of this, his parents took him at age 13 to the Dominican convent at Constance, where he would spend a large part of his life. He was professed at age 14. At age 18, he had a mystical experience that propelled him to become “the Servant of the Eternal Wisdom.” He was flooded with divine light and joy and felt transported out of the world. This experience changed his thinking and opened the way for frequent visions and ecstasies throughout his life. He initiated a practice of severe austerities. Henry excelled in his studies, and in 1324 he was sent to Cologne to the Dominican house of advanced studies. There he had the privilege of studying with the great and controversial German mystic, Johann Eckhart, or Meister Eckhart, for three years, becoming his ardent supporter. He also studied the works of SS. Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard and Dionysius. After his return to Constance, he was named lector and pursued his writing. In 1329, Pope John XXII (r. 1316–34) condemned Meister Eckhart. Henry defended him, earning censure from his superiors and suffering the loss of his teaching job. In 1334 Henry began his apostolic career, earning an outstanding reputation for his preaching throughout Europe. In particular he worked with the Friends of God, whom he called the Brotherhood of Eternal Wisdom, helping to restore religious practices. He especially influenced Dominican convents of women, including the famous Katherinenthal, a home to mystics in the 13th and 14th centuries, and Toss, where Elsbeth Stagel preserved some of his writings and most of his letters. Throughout his life, Henry suffered the persecutions and ill will of others, despite his brilliance as a preacher. A woman accused him of fathering her child, and the gossip destroyed his reputation for a time. Henry was crushed by this defamation. At the height of the scandal, another woman came to him in secret and offered to destroy the child. She argued that unless the child were eliminated, he would be forced to accept it. Henry, of course, could do no such thing. He accepted the child as his and gave it to the care of the woman. This damaged his reputation even further. Friends deserted him and he was nearly expelled from the religious life. Henry was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and venerated the holy name of Jesus. He took a stiletto and carved the name into his chest above his heart, so that the name moved with every beat of his heart. He never revealed the carving to anyone, but once while in ecstasy, a brilliant radiance streamed from his heart. Henry died on January 25, 1366, in Ulm. Henry began writing while he was a student in Cologne. His early works, heavily influenced by Eckhart, were The Little Book of Truth and The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom. The latter is considered a classic, and was the most widely read meditation book in German until Thomas à Kempis produced Imitation of Christ. Kempis was influenced by Suso. Henry also wrote his autobiography, The Life of the Servant, which discusses his inner life. Extant are 28 letters and five sermons.