The End of Europe's Middle Ages

Brethren of the Common Life

The Brethren of the Common Life was a religious organization in the Netherlands founded by Gerhard Groot in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. Gerhard Groot was a lay preacher who spoke out against the corruption and the declining spirituality within the Church. Following the ideas of Meister John Eckhart, Groot encouraged the search for individual salvation and spirituality through the performance of pious and charitable works and scriptural study.

The majority of the Brethren were laymen who did not take monastic vows. They devoted themselves to doing charitable work, nursing the sick, studying and teaching the Scriptures, and copying religious and inspirational works. They founded a number of schools that became famous for their high standards of learning. Many famous men attended their schools, including Nicholas of Cusa, Thomas á Kempis, and Erasmus, all of whom studied at the Brethren's school at Deventer.

The Brethren's undogmatic form of piety became known as the 'devotio moderna', a form which some historians have argued helped to pave the road for the Protestant Reformation. In the fifteenth century, the movement spread to southern and western Germany.

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The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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