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Gerard Groote

Founder of the Brethren of the Common Life, b. 1340; d. Aug. 20, 1384

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Groote, GERARD, Or GEERT DE (GERHARDUS MAGNUS), founder of the “Brethren of the Common Life“, b. 1340 at Deventer, Gelderland; d. August 20, 1384. From the chapter school in his native town Geert went for higher studies first to Aachen, then to Paris, where at the Sorbonne he studied medicine, theology, and canon law. He returned home, barely eighteen years old. In 1362 he was appointed teacher at the Deventer chapter school. A few years later his admiring countrymen sent him to Avignon on a secret mission to Pope Urban V. Soon after we find him in Cologne teaching philosophy and theology, enjoying two prebends and ample means. Warnings of the vanity and danger of this life he heeded not until he met his fellow-student of the Sorbonne, Henry Aeger of Calcar, prior of the Chartreuse of Munnikhuizen near Arnheim. Geert stripped himself at once of honors, prebends, and possessions and entered seriously upon the practice of devout life. At this time he also frequently visited the famous ascetic Ruysbroek, and no doubt by the advice of this man of God he withdrew into the monastery of Munnikhuizen, where he spent three years in recollection and prayer. From his retreat he issued burning with apostolic zeal. He had received the diaconate and licence to preach in the Diocese of Utrecht wherever he wished. Young men especially flocked to him in great numbers. Some of these he sent to his schools, others he occupied at transcribing good books, to all he taught thorough Christian piety. Florence Radewyns, his favorite disciple, asked him one day: “Master, why not put our efforts and earnings together, why not work and pray together under the guidance of our Common Father? “In perfect accord both set to work and founded at Zwolle the “Brethren of the Common Life” .

His fearless attacks on vice, which spared neither priest nor monk, developed considerable opposition, which culminated in the withdrawal of his licence to preach. He submitted to episcopal authority, but applied to the Sovereign Pontiff for redress. Henceforth his communities, which were spreading rapidly through the Netherlands, Lower Germany, and Westphalia, claimed and received all his attention. He contemplated organizing his clerics into a community of canons regular, but it was left to Radewyns, his successor, to realize this plan at Windesheim two years later. Before the answer to his petition to the pope arrived, Geert De Groote died from pestilence, contracted in ministering to the sick. Groote was the first successful practical mystic, who worked and prayed, and taught others to do the same. He did much for literature in general, for the spread of know-ledge, and for the development of the vernacular in the Netherlands and Germany. Of his biographies the “Vita Gerardi” of Thomas a Kempis still remains the best.

CHARLES B. SCHRANTZ


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