July 19 – The knight who was afraid of water, but not afraid of martyrdom

July 18, 2013

Blessed Hroznata of Bohemia

Founder of the Monasteries of Teplá and Chotěšov, born (c) 1170, died July 14, 1217.

In the happy reign of Premysl, – also called Ottacar, – king of Bohemia, among the other magnates of the kingdom the first place at court, next to the king’s magnificence, was held by Hroznata, the descendant of an illustrious and princely line. The high position conferred by his birth he so adorned by the beauty of his character and his virtues, being made more excellent by his judgment and bountiful natural gifts, that he was revered by all with ardent affection. Possessing not learning only, but abundance of worldly goods, he would relieve from his own resources the needs of the destitute around him with farsighted beneficence. He was the pious comforter of the sorrowing, the father of the orphan, the supporter of the afflicted, ever keeping unobserved beneath his military cloak the steadfast purpose of a holy life. He rendered to God the things which are God’s with devoted zeal: to his king the things which were the king’s, with loyal obedience: to every man his own, with affection according to his deserts.

Blessed Hroznata's birth

Blessed Hroznata’s birth

Obedient from his earliest years to the fear and love of the Lord, he reached at last the period of early manhood and took to himself a wife of noble birth, with whom he dwelt many years in the hope of offspring, and at last by the grace of heaven became by her the father of a lovely son. His earnest wish thus gratified, he trusted that he had now obtained an heir to his possessions. But Christ had not thus ordained, willing that He himself should be Hroznata’s heir: which came to pass, as will be fully shown in the sequel. The boy survived but a short time, and died. Bereft of her one child’s endearing presence, and weeping and lamenting his death, the mother, too, whose only son he was, herself rested in the peace of Christ.

Bl. Hroznata before Pope Celestinus

Bl. Hroznata before Pope Celestinus

After no long interval, Hroznata being a man of a brave and sober heart, laid aside his grief and sorrow for the death of his son and wife: and turning his thoughts heavenwards, looked cautiously around him to see in what way he might so dispose the great gifts bestowed on him by God as to be pleasing in the sight of the Lord. While anxiously considering these things with himself, he revolved in his mind the saying of the apostle: Thou art released from thy wife: do not seek a wife and so, strengthened in his purpose of chastity, contemplated with his mind’s eye the condition of this transitory world and the shortness of human life. And shortly being changed to the perfect man, he abandoned from the inmost recesses of his heart all the secular hopes he cherished, seeking no longer for wife or children after the flesh, nor for honors, nor worldly riches, but zealous to please God alone: yearning to be made one of that flock to whom the Lord speaks in the Gospel, saying: Fear not, little flock: since it hath pleased your Father to give to you the kingdom and since the grace of the holy spirit knows no vain strivings or delays, that which by the inspiration of the Lord he had conceived in his heart, with his Lord’s cooperation he fully and fearlessly wrought out.

Accordingly, even as in the management of his temporal affairs he had shown incomparable zeal, so, after his conversion by the hand of the Most High, the blessed Hroznata became devoted to God with a service passing human estimation. For, remembering the truth of the passage in the Evangelist, where he says: Unless a man renounce all that he possesses, he cannot be my disciple: and in another place: Unless a man takes up his cross and follows me, he is not worthy of me being marked, I say, with the sign of his Lord’s cross he yearned with an inward fervor of love for his Lord’s passion to visit the Holy Land and Jerusalem, fulfilling in deed the word of the Psalmist, saying: It is a good thing for me to cleave unto my God, to put my trust in the Lord God. In which trust, persevering without change or fear, but with that devoted love which is God’s own attribute, collecting the necessary monies and accompanied by his retainers, he left the beloved soil of his native land and set forth on his purposed journey. But when he reached the sea shore, he contemplated with anxiety the broad ocean, the turbulent waves, and the difficulty of crossing, and reflected with alarm on the work still remaining to be done.

hroznata

Yielding at length to his weakness and to that fear to which even the firmest are liable he, if I may so say, “saw the sea and fled.” But, conscience-stricken concerning his vow which (he had made) in the exercise of his own direction and in the fullness of judgment and knowledge, inasmuch as no man putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God, he determined to set out for Rome, desiring with thirsting heart to visit the threshold of the Apostles, and panting with zeal to hear the judgment of the Supreme Pontiff concerning the condition of his soul and the nature of his vow. Setting forth at once with all speed, preceded by the angel of peace, he presently reached the city after a rapid journey. He was there received with due honor by Pope Celestinus, who at that time was pilot of the Holy Church in the midst of the tempestuous billows of the world. Having set forth to him the reason of his coming, he was furnished with the counsels of the Supreme Pontiff on all points, and strengthened with these words of comfort from the beatific lips: “He cannot be said to have transgressed his vow, who hath the sanction of the holy chair in deferring the fulfillment of his vow. Nor can he in anywise be held guilty of breach of his vow, who is known to have exchanged a momentary obedience for the perpetual worship of the Lord. Though all men, in making a vow, may freely use their discretion, yet after the vow is made, so necessary is it that it be carried out, that no man, without peril to his own salvation, may recede from it save by the well-advised dispensation of his superior. For valid reasons we have decided that in this case an atonement for the vow is better than a pilgrimage, and more acceptable to God. In the fullness of our power, therefore, we hereby, most dear son, remit thy vow of pilgrimage on this condition, that thou found a monastery to the honor of the glorified Virgin mother of Christ, under the rules and regulations of the Praemonstratensian order, and endow it plentifully, so that, possessing numerous ministers to the divine praise and adorned with suitable ministrations, it may become a priceless source of healing to those who mourn and sorrow for their sins.”

Bl. Hroznata

Bl. Hroznata

Hroznata, who was distinguished for his eagerness as well as earnest temperament, drank in with thirsting heart the apostolic sentence pronounced with impressive deliberation, and threw himself on the ground at the feet of the throned pontiff. His face was bedewed with tears, as with sincere and humble devotion he expressed his gratitude that his troubled mind, refreshed by the clemency of the paternal response, enjoyed once more a quiet conscience. The thankfulness with which he accepted the counsels of salvation set before him was the more fervent, the more completely he had it in his power and hoped to have it in his power to carry that counsel into effect most of all because in nobility of birth and abundance of riches he far surpassed all the Bohemians of his day. Making sumptuous gifts to the pontiff and remunerating the lord-cardinals with a lavish hand, he received the benediction and departed from Rome: and, made a new man by the saving commutation of his vow, he set out for Bohemia in a happy and joyful frame of mind.

After a prosperous journey he reached Bohemia, the beloved land of his birth, where, after indulging his body, worn out by his toilsome journey, with a little rest, he tried to find some beautiful spot, fit to become the site of a monastery dedicated to the praise of God and the honor of the glorified Virgin. Having discovered the spot on which the towering monastery now rises, he fell to the earth exclaiming: “O Thou who didst not despise the virgin’s womb, make ready in this place a habitation meet for thy service.” After this prayer, he rose, and seizing a spade, dug a deep trench in the ground, and was the first to carry on his shoulders several basketfuls of earth from the foundations. He gave it the name of Teplá, from the neighboring town which is popularly called Tepla by the inhabitants.

The monastery was founded on the best position in the world. The spot is a little elevated: on one side it is girt with woods and pastures: everywhere it is resplendent with flowers of every kind, while through the midst flow winding streams abounding with fish and driving mill-wheels in ceaseless revolutions. It is a spot convenient and salubrious for human habitation: while for religion it is exceptionally adapted. It is a spot, in short, saturated with the divine grace, wherein the soldiers of the Lord rise from good to better, from better to best advancing from virtue to virtue step by step unto perfection, as facts declare more plainly than the sun at noonday. For though religion grows of itself, be the plantation never so young, this foundation, amidst all others professing the same religion, grew and prospered in buildings, estates, and revenues-God giving the increase: not to mention the monastery of the holy Virgin mother of Christ, and patroness of the same, raised to a vast and marvelous height by a constructive skill quite incomprehensible, which is supported by stately columns with strong but graceful arches, while the interior glitters with decoration, and the sonority of its bells is so fine that, as men say, nothing throughout that whole region ever has surpassed or ever will surpass it. Since, however, this building in itself could not be pleasing to the Supreme Author of the universe, to give it a fuller and more worthy luster it was enriched with a numerous body of priests, chanting praises to God, and ministers sufficient thereto, dwelling together most laudably under the rules of the Praemonstratensian order of St. Augustine.

Teplá Abbey. Photo by Lumu

About the same time he founded, to the honor of St. Wenceslas, the prince and patron martyr of Bohemia, the monastery of Chotěšov. He endowed it richly, providing it with all things needful and instituting a convent for nuns serving the Lord, under the same rules and regulations. Here the lady Vojslava, his sister (whose husband, the governor of Krakow, had been removed from this earth), maintaining a chaste widowhood and persevering in the zeal of a holy conversation, wearing a suitable garb such as is generally worn by widows of her order, lived many years in the congregation of the sisters, holding the position of intercessor or patroness. At last she rested in the peace of Christ, and her body was honorably buried in the middle of the monastery church.

Having built and endowed the above-mentioned monasteries, he returned once more to Rome. Seeking an interview with the Supreme Pontiff, he reverently informed him of the erection and endowment of the monasteries, humbly and devoutly praying that they with their belongings might be received into the special protection of the apostolic chair. He also asked that, by the wonted kindness of the apostolic chair, the use of the pontifical chaplet might be granted to the succeeding abbots for their period of office. The Supreme Pontiff, considering the loyalty and constancy of his petitioner, and contemplating the fervor of his devotion as manifested in his munificent liberality to the two monasteries, received his interlocutor’s prayers and granted his request, all that I have mentioned being received into the special protection of the apostolic chair. Further, that the monastery (Norbertine Abbey) of Teplá might be more exalted through special marks of his favor than all the other churches of the same order, he strengthened it with apostolic privileges, lauding the knight for his high character and energy.

hroznataUpon this the energetic Hroznata, finding himself welcomed with such gracious favor by the apostolic chair, that he might show himself well deserving in God’s sight, and offer himself not partly but altogether as a sacrifice in the sigh of the Lord, asked that the garb of the Praemonstratensian (Norbertine) order be conferred upon him by the apostolic hand, and there and then assumed it.

Accordingly, clad in the garments of his profession, and made joyful with the blessing of the apostolic excellence, he kissed and embraced the Pope’s feet, thanking him for all his kindnesses, and having received his ordination there and then, he left the Pope to join his retainers, changed from a soldier to a brother in Christ. His knights, who stood waiting him at the door, remarking with heavy hearts the changed dress of their lord, and awe-struck at the change in his demeanor, multiplied their tears and lamentations. With one voice they cried, – Why dost thou leave us, father? Why dost thou rob us of life? For how shall we live, bereft of our only comfort next to God! Surely it had been better to have perished by the sword in our own land, than in the land of the stranger be orphaned of our protector! Why didst thou lead us from our parents’ homes to leave us fatherless?

Subscription20But he, in the midst of their sorrow, wearing the garb and aspect of an angel, turned to his followers with these words: “Cease to pour forth this torrent of tears, as if this change proceeded not from the will, since it is written, ´Without me ye can do nothing ´ but rather magnify the Lord in his works, who calls things that are not as though they are.” With words of this kind they arrived together at the hospice where they were staying. There, as all wished to receive some token of brother Hroznata’s love, abundance of food and drink was supplied, so that the fame of his hospitality grew daily from that time.

Having received a prosperous issue to his prayers, the new novice of the church militant returned from Rome, and went back to his own land. Reaching Bohemia, he inquired for that part of the country in which the king was staying, and diverting his course to meet him, presented himself before the king in his new garb. Premysl, with the native courtesy of noble birth, rose from his throne, welcomed the brother Hroznata with a kiss and placing him on his right hand, made diligent inquiry as to the reports and the method of his conversion. Subsequently brother Hroznata, after a long conversation on various subjects, falling on his knees before the king, begged for his merciful consideration, asking that he would deign to ratify with his sanction and confirm by royal decree the actions that had been carried out under the inspiration of the Lord and with the sanction of the apostolic chair, concerning the vow which he had offered.

Upon this all the magnates of the kingdom, who were present arose, and falling with Hroznata at the king’s feet, made entreaty on his behalf, crying out with him that the king will do this pious act, prompted by piety and dictated by honor. The monarch in his munificence granted his petitioners their request, and the property of the above-mentioned holy places which had already been received into the spiritual protection of the monastery was confirmed by decree of the king’s majesty. The royal generosity was extolled by all with suitable actions of gratitude, while Hroznata became the object of their warm affection, as with one mind they glorified God, the author of all good things, who magnifies his servants upon earth, and in heaven crowns them with glory.

Chotěšov Abbey Photo by Miaow

The devout brother Hroznata had now obtained his prayer. Distinguished by the king’s favor, he left the court in his licentiate’s habit, escorted, with wishes for his welfare, by the nobles of the kingdom to the place where a company of his knights awaited him. He expressed his boundless gratitude to them, mounted his horse, and proceeded on his journey. After advancing a little way, he raised his hands to heaven, praising the graciousness of his Savior, who of his mercy had deigned to be with him in all his acts and prayed for a long time, with tears, that God-who had begun the good work-would vouchsafe to carry it out unto the end. Thus he found himself once more in his paternal estates, where he was welcomed by the families of his kinsmen and his friends, who marveled at his habit, while all wept with joy to have him once more with them safe and sound. He then betook himself with gladness to his own monastery of Teplá, serving God and his bishop with due obedience.

Besides these and other works pleasing to God, since the grace of the Holy Spirit knows no stays or hindrances, at the command of John, the abbot of Teplá monastery, he was appointed, though sorely against his will, master and governor of the monasteries, which office he discharged with energy, exemplary humility, prompt obedience, and unwearied patience, showing to all who beheld him ever unchanged and admirable.

hroznataAt length the enemy of mankind, who envies good deeds, sowed discord. Hroznata was grievously wronged and insulted by the abbot above-mentioned, to such a degree that, opposing to persecution the shield of patience, rather than attempt anything to the detriment of lawful authority, he thought it most advisable to give way and leave the monastery walls, retaining, however, his priestly dress, and departing not from rule and discipline, until the proud presumption of the abbot was crushed by the influence of his friends and the power of his kinsmen. He was then recalled with all honor to the monastery, the brethren receiving him with the joyful cry: Thou hast come, O long desired!

But some who were jealous of his fame and whose hostility he had incurred by his manly defense of the estates of his monasteries against their attacks, finding that he was at Hroznetin, took him prisoner, and dragging him to Germany consigned him to the dungeon, where he was tortured with hunger, thirst, cold and various cruel punishments in order to extort money from him. But he, bearing all things patiently for the name of the Lord, happy amid his torments, prayed without ceasing, asking how soon He would vouchsafe to call him to Him with the palm of martyrdom. The abbot and brethren of the monastery at Teplá, bereft of the comforting presence of their father and patron, with sighs, tears and pangs, amassed a large sum which they were ready to spend for his ransom. But he, thirsting to pour out his life for his dear Jesus, chose rather to die than be ransomed with hurt to his tender plants. He therefore appealed to the abbot and his brethren in the grace of God, and bade them give not one penny towards redeeming his life: nay rather in his eagerness to die and be with Christ he asked them to make no obstacle to his martyrdom and thus like a well-deserving soldier doing battle for his king, he crossed death’s threshold, with the palm of martyrdom, to reign for ever with Christ in the courts of heaven.

On the death of this brave soldier of Christ, confessing Christ by the profession of his order, how deep was the grief of all, how loud above all the lamentations of the brethren of Teplá! Sons weeping for their father, brothers for their brother, the monasteries for their fonder, with sobs and sighs they exclaimed, – O pious father Hroznata, who more humble, more devout, more obedient than thou? Didst thou not bear with patience the gainsaying and persecution of the abbot John, whom thou hadst placed over us? Didst thou not, though afflicted with wrongs and insults, ever maintain thy patience? Who ever heard, who ever saw, deeds such as thine? Founder and endower of our monasteries, heir, lord and patron, such an example hast thou left us of patience! O blessed soul, who hast maintained the contest and the struggle till thou didst win the crown of glory! For, since death is the limit of all things, greater love couldst not have been shown than to lay down thy life for Christ, thy brethren and thy friends. In patience hast thou possessed thy soul: and verily, without shedding of thy blood, by bearing bravely thy adversities, thou hadst been able to become a martyr: but that naught might be lacking for thy attainment of the crown of life, like a good shepherd hast thou laid down thy for thy sheep. In these and other ways they outwardly expressed their inward heart-pangs of grief, and with one voice cried: Let us hasten to carry to the bosom of his mother the body of our most dear and blessed father. Accordingly they paid an immense sum of money for his corpse: and he who would not be ransomed alive, was ransomed after his death.

(adapted from The Life of Hroznata, original ms., date 1259)

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