Heinrich Suso or Seuze
21.03. ca 1295 - 25.01.1366
A brief biography.
Henry (Heinrich) Suso (also called Amandus, a name adopted in his writings). was born at Constance on 21 March, about 1295.
His father belonged to the noble family of Berg; his mother, a holy woman from whom he took his name, to a family of Sus (or Süs).
'His father said more than once that he wished Henry had been a girl and some of his spirited daughters had been boys; for Henry was not a type to carry a sword. Henry was a gentle, dreamy lad, who liked to accompany his mother on pilgrimages and read about heroic deeds.
He had taken his mother's name of Suso, perhaps out of sheer inability to live up to the warlike title of the Count von Berg.'(1) When thirteen years of age he entered the Dominican convent at Konstanz (Constance), where he made his preparatory, philosophical, and theological studies.
'At the convent, Henry found a happy life, one that he did not know existed. Like a starved child who has had no happiness before, he revelled in the companionship of friendly people and the beauty of community prayers. For five years it did not occur to him that there was anything more to religious life than the gay and irresponsible way he lived.
This brief paradise came to an abrupt end when he was eighteen. He sat one day in chapel, restless and worried, because suddenly it had dawned upon him that he was not really getting anywhere, and without warning he fell into an ecstasy that lasted more than an hour. Arousing from the ecstasy, he was a different person, and a whole new life began.'(1)
From 1324 to 1327 he took a supplementary course in theology in the Dominican studium Generale at Köln, where he was a pupil of Johann Eckhart, "the Master", and probably at the side of Tauler. Returning to Constance, he was appointed to the office of lector. In 1334 he began his apostolic career.
About 1343 he was elected prior of a convent, probably at Diessenhofen. Five years later he was sent from Constance to Ulrn where he remained until his death on 25. January 1366.
Suso's life as a mystic began in his eighteenth year, when giving up his
careless habits of the five preceding years, he made himself "the Servant of the
Eternal Wisdom", which he identified with the Divine essence and, in a concrete
form, with the personal Eternal Wisdom made man.
Henceforth a burning love for the Eternal Wisdom dominated his thoughts and controlled his actions. He had frequent visions and ecstasies, practised severe austerities (which he prudently moderated in mature years), and bore with rare patience corporal afflictions, bitter persecutions and grievous calumnies.
He became foremost among the Friends of God in the work of restoring
religious observance in the cloisters.
His influence was especially strong in many convents of women, particularly in the Dominican convent of Katherinenthal, and in that of Toss, where lived the mystic Elsbeth Stagel, who turned some of his Latin into German.
In the world he was esteemed as a preacher, and was heard in the cities and towns of Swabia, Switzerland, Alsace, and the Netherlands.
The first writing of Suso was the "Büchlein der Wahrheit",
which he issued while a student at Köln.
In "Das Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit", published early in 1328, he is eminently practical and speaks out of the fullness of his heart to "simple men who still have imperfections to be put off".
In 1334 Suso translated this work into Latin, but in doing so added considerably to its contents, and made of it an almost entirely new book, to which he gave the name "Horologium Sapientiae". Even more elevating than the original, finished in language, rich in figure, rhythmic in movement, it became a favourite book in the cloisters at the close of the Middle Ages, not only in Germany, but also in the Netherlands, France, Italy, and England.
After retiring to Ulm Suso wrote the story of his inner life ("Vita" or "Leben Seuses"), revised the "Büchlein der Wahrheit", and the "Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit", all of which, together with eleven of his letters (the " Briefbüchlein"), and a prologue, he formed into one book known as the "Exemplar Seuses".
Besides the above-mentioned writings we have also five sermons by Suso and a collection of twenty-eight of his letters (Grosses Briefbuch).
'Henry died in 1365 of 25 January 1366, in the priory of Ulm, and was buried there in the convent of Saint Paul. However, in spite of the fact that his body was found intact and giving forth a sweet odor two hundred and fifty years later, the beatification was delayed until 1831 by Gregory XVI. .The relics, meantime, had disappeared entirely and have never been recovered.' (1)
For centuries he exercised an influence upon spiritual writers. Among his readers and admirers were Thomas à Kempis and Peter Canisius.
Sources: Al. McMahon,
transcribed by HCC. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII.
(1) Dorcy, Marie Jean. Saint Dominic's Family. Tan Books and Publishers, 1983,
Henry Suso by Francisco de Zurbarán (baptised
Tempera on canvas, 209 x 154 cm., 1640-1645.
Preserved in the Museum of Sevilla.
Sierra Leone 1992, Mi 1794, Sc 1491.
Henry Suso was the prior of the Dominican priory on the island near Konstanz from 1295 till 1306.
Germany 1966. Postmark Konstanz 15.07.1966.Heinrich
Prior der Dominikaner auf der Insel zur Konstanz.
In the pilgrim's church of our Lady of Mercy in Bad Rippoldsau, Germany, Suso is to see on the stone relief of the side altar, right, by Willi Dorn, St. Georgen, Schwarzwald, c 1952/56.
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