Deacon, preacher of moral reform, author of ascetical and canonical treatises, father of the Devotio Moderna; b. Deventer, Netherlands, Oct. 1340; d. Deventer, Aug. 20, 1384.
Son of patrician parents, Groote took his master of arts degree at the University of Paris in 1358 and specialized further in Canon Law. He held prebends at St. Mary's Cathedral, Aix-la-Chapelle, and St. Martin's Cathedral, Utrecht. In 1374, Groote gave up most of his possessions, resigned his prebends, and withdrew to the Carthusian monastery of Monnikhuizen, near Arnhem, where he stayed more than two years as a guest. Longing for a moral reform of the Church, he left the monastery, became a deacon, and received permission to preach throughout the Diocese of Utrecht. Starting in early 1380, Groote endeavored to revive the faith and morals of the laity, contributed to monastic reform, and insisted on stricter application of ecclesiastical laws against simony and clerical marriage. He attacked the latter most severely on the occasion of a synod at Utrecht in 1383. Although in large part successful, Groote experienced much opposition, particularly from the higher clergy, and was finally forbidden to preach. An appeal was made to Pope urban vi but, before receiving the answer, Groote died of the plague.
Groote attached great importance to apostolic poverty and common life, even when not sanctioned by vows. Changing his house into a hospice for pious women and giving them statutes, he founded the Sisters of the Common Life. Some of his disciples lived together at Deventer and Zwolle and organized themselves as brethren of the common life. Groote's plan to establish a community of Canons Regular of St. Augustine, probably inspired by Jan van ruysbroeck, was forestalled by his death. In 1386, Groote's disciples founded the monastery of windesheim, which became the center of a spiritual revival, known as devotio moderna.
Groote's spirituality is Christocentric (Sermo de nativitate Domini; Sermo in die palmarum; Epistola de paciencia ). There is no evidence that Groote wrote the imitation of christ, but his ideas influenced its author. Deeply concerned about the western schism, he stressed the invisible unity of the Church and desired a general council (Epistola de scismate ). His De matrimonio lacks appreciation for marriage. The De simonia ad beguttas, De locatione ecclesiarum, and Sermo contra focaristas reveal the vehement temperament of the reformer.
Recent editions and studies of his writings include: Gerardi Magni epistolae, ed. W. Mulder (Tekstuitgaven van Ons Geestelijk Erf 3; Antwerp 1933); Tractatus de quatuor generibus meditationum sive contemplationum of Sermo de nativitate Domini; ed. A. Hyma, Archief voor de Geschiedenis van het Aartsbisdom Utrecht, 49 (1924) 296–326; Geert Groote en het Huwelijk: Uitgave van zijn Tractaat De Matrimonio en Onderzoek naar de Bronnen, ed. M. H. Mulders (Utrecht 1941); "Geert Groote's Sermoen voor Palmzondag over de vrijwillige Armoede," ed. W. Moll, Studiën en Bijdragen op het Gebied der historische Theologie 2 (1872) 425–469; De simonia ad beguttas: de Middelnederlandse Tekst, ed. W. de Vreese (The Hague 1940); "De locatione ecclesiarum," ed. J. Clarisse, Archief voor kerkelijke Geschiedenis (1937) 119–152; Sermo magistri Gerardi Magni, dicti Groot, de focariis, ed. T. A. and J. Clarisse, in article "Over den Geest en Denkwijze van Geert Groote (Groot, de Groet), kenbaar uit zijne Schriften," Archief voor kerkelijke Geschiedenis (1829) 355–398, 2 (1830) 245–395 3 (1831); "Bijlagen," 1–90, 8 (1837) 3–383.
Bibliography: k. c. l. m. de beer, Studie over de spiritualiteit van Geert Groote (Brussels 1938). j. g. j. tiecke, De Werken van Geert Groote (Utrecht 1941). r. r. post, "De onderlinge Verhouding van de 4 oude Vitae Gerardi Magni en haar Betrouwbaarheid," Studio catholica 18 (1942) 313–336, 19 (1943) 9–20. t. p. van zijl, Gerard Groote: Ascetic and Reformer, 1340–1384 (CUA Studies in Mediaeval Hist., NS 18; 1963). c. c. de bruin, e. persoons, a. g. weiler, Geert Grote en de Moderne Devotie (Zutphen, Germany, 1984). e. f. jacob, "Gerard Groote and the Beginnings of the 'New Devotion' in the Low Countries," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 3 (1952) 40–57.
[t. p. van zijl]
The Dutch evangelical preacher Gerard Groote (1340-1384) is considered the founder of the Brethren of the Common Life and of the Devotio Moderna, a religious movement which contributed to the Protestant Reformation.
Born of wealthy parents at Deventer, Gerard Groote received extensive education in law, medicine, and theology at Aachen, Cologne, Paris, and Prague. But about 1375 his life changed dramatically when he experienced a spiritual conversion. Influenced by his friend Jan Van Ruysbroeck, he gave up his wealth and possessions and entered a Carthusian monastery. After 2 years there he wanted to preach, was ordained a deacon (but never a priest), and left the monastery. He began to preach in the diocese of Utrecht and attracted large, enthusiastic audiences.
Groote's popularity was the result of his preaching in the vernacular (unlike the Latin services of the Church) and his appeal to the spiritual ideals of the times. Popular religious feeling centered on the imitation of Christ, the idea that all Christians should practice his virtues. Groote preached this message, and although never heretical, he angered the Church by his criticism of the clergy's wealth and power. For this reason, in 1384 the bishop of Utrecht ordered Groote to stop preaching. Groote obeyed, but he appealed to the Pope. Before the Pope could reply, Groote died at the age of 44, on Aug. 20, 1384.
Although his career was cut short, Gerard Groote is tremendously important for his influence on others. His followers formed the Brethren of the Common Life, whose aim was to teach the common people and thus develop their moral and spiritual qualities:the practical result of this movement was greatly improved education in the Netherlands. Groote's disciple Florent Radewyns founded the Windesheim Congregation of Canons Regular, which was copied in the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. A member of this order was Thomas à Kempis, probable author of The Imitation of Christ. The Brethren of the Common Life and the Windesheim Congregation, in turn, gave rise to the Devotio Moderna (New Devotion), a religious reform movement of the Low Countries and the Rhineland which influenced Renaissance humanists and figures of the Reformation. Thus Gerard Groote has a double significance:he is the culmination of popular religious feeling in the Middle Ages, the search for a more meaningful faith; and he is one of the spiritual forerunners of the Protestant Reformation.
The definitive work on Gerard Groote in English is Albert Hyma, The Brethren of the Common Life (1950), which includes a biography of Groote. Groote's influence is further considered in Hyma's The Christian Renaissance:A History of the "Devotio Moderna" (1924; 2d ed. 1965). Another biography is by T. P. Van Zijl: Gerard Groote, Ascetic and Reformer (1969). □