Norbert of XantenAbout Norbert of Xanten
Norbert of Xanten was a principal figure in the reforms that swept the Catholic Church in the 11th and 12th centuries.
In his early years, Norbert was hardly a candidate for the “reformer” label. He had used family influence to get a position at the parish church in Xanten. He then paid someone a small fee to perform his minimal duties while he secured a second, lucrative appointment in the emperor’s court. He lived quite well.
Norbert began to experience a moral awakening inspired by the reforms of Pope Gregory VII. A frightening incident the following year later made his conversion complete.
As he rode his horse to a nearby village, a thunderbolt from a sudden storm struck at his horse’s feet. The animal threw him and he lay unconscious for nearly an hour.
After recovering, Norbert committed himself to Jesus and the ideals of the Gospel. He got rid of all his possessions and received the pope’s permission to become a missionary preacher.
For the next several years he roamed through lands in what is now western Germany, Belgium and France. He preached repentance, peace and moral reform in a lawless world where ordinary citizens faced unpredictable violence.
Establishing the Norbertine Order
On Christmas day, 1120, Norbert established the Canons Regular of Prémontré. This religious order is also known as the Premonstratensians – or, more simply, the Norbertines. They swore to seek Christ by means of community living, poverty, obedience, celibacy and a dedication to active ministry.
Within eight years, Norbert became the Archbishop of Madgeburg, Germany, where he put into practice the precepts he instituted at Prémontré.
Norbert died in 1134. He left behind a model of ministry-minded priests living in community. His order soon grew to include hundreds of abbeys throughout northern Europe. Some seven-and-a-half centuries later, St. Norbert College opened its doors to begin its role in furthering Norbert’s vision.