Founder of the
Brethren of the
Common Life


Blessed Agostino Novello Altarpiece,. Siena


BORN in Deventer, Gelderland (Holland).  In early life he studied first in the cathedral school in his native town Geert then in Aachen, then in Paris, at the Sorbonne he studied the classical disciplines of medicine, theology, and canon law. In 1362, , he was appointed teacher at the Deventer cathedral-chapter school.

AFTER ordination to the diaconate and receiving a license to preach from the bishop of Utrecht he taught in Cologne, and enjoyed a well-to-do clerical lifestyle, receiving two benefices. 

HE underwent a profound conversion after becoming reacquainted with his fellow-student at the Sorbonne, Henry Æger of Calcar, prior of the Chartreuse of Munnikhuizen near Arnheim. Geert gave away his posessions and gave up his benefice. He visited the holy hermit Ruysbroek and spent three years at the monastery of  Munnikhuizen, where he spent three years in recollection.

NOW in his thirties, he was filled with zeal for prayer and teaching.  He was joined by like-minded disciples, whom he taught and with whom he founded the Brethren of the Common Life in Zwolle. His ministry of preaching out against vice and corruption, especially among clerics and religious, was cut short when his license to preach was revoked.  He devoted his remaining energy to the care of his communities in Holland and Germany, which he had considered organizing into a community of (Augustinian)  canons regular.  This was undertaken by his disciple Radewyns at Windesheim two years after Groote's death.  He contracted the plague while ministering to a stricken member of his new order.  The brethren would thus exist in two related branches: lay communities and Augustinian canons.


From The (1919) Catholic Encyclopedia:

Gerard Groote (Or Geert De Groote; Gerhardus Magnus.)

Founder of the "Brethren of the Common Life", b. 1340 at Deventer, Gelderland; d. 20 Aug., 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 Æger of Calcar, prior of the Chartreuse of Munnikhuizen near Arnheim. Geert stripped himself at once of honours, 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 favourite 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 Soveregin 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 knowledge, and for the development of the vernacular in the Netherlands and Germany. Of his biographies the "Vita Gerardi" of Thomas à Kempis still remains the best.

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