It is the 20th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1384.
Historians have treated the 14th century as a "calamitous" century and one in which the Middle Ages were waning.
The Black Death had ravaged Europe in the middle of the century leading to economic and social collapse. The Papal Schism began in 1378 and rent Papal authority asunder. The Hundred Years War was going on intermittently between England and France. And popular uprisings were seen from England to Switzerland and everywhere in between.
It was in these late middle ages that we see the common theme of an energetic populace frustrated by increasingly corrupt administrations. We tend to look at the corruption of the 14th century, but in doing so, we might miss some of the genuinely creative works that chronicled the age and looked beyond it.
Dante's "Divine Comedy" kicked the century off. It was soon joined by Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," Boccaccio's "Decameron," William Langland's "Piers Plowman," "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the poetry of Petrarch and the theology of names like Wycliffe and Duns Scotus.
The other day we discussed the Carolingian Renaissance, called so because it was a kind of rebirth that coincided with the Carolingian empire. Renaissance doesn't just mean "16th Century Renaissance," perhaps it is the case with the Reformation as well. Instead of seeing the 16th century Reformation as the preeminent and only reform movement in the church, we do well to see reform movements throughout the history of the church.
The end of the 14th century was such a time in the Netherlands. There's a pretty straight line between that Reformation and the one coming in the 16th century.
Today, we remember one of the chief figures of this 14th Century reform movement. It was on this, the 20th of August, in 1384 that Geert Groote died. The one-time, self-described prodigal had not only returned to his faith but died in service of it, as he contracted a deadly virulent disease from a sick and poor man to which he was ministering.
Groote was born in 1340 in Deventer to wealthy parents. He studied at the Sorbonne and prepared to enter the priesthood. After undertaking a mission to the Pope hiding out in Avignon, Groote was granted a pension and lived a life of luxury and vice. In 1374, he had a profound spiritual conversion and renounced worldly goods and aspirations. He gave up his home, and it became a hospital and shelter for women. Traveling around the Netherlands, he began to attract crowds as a preacher. He attacked the abuses in the church, lax morals amongst the clergy, and the church's love of and obsession with money.
He met with Jan van Ruysbroeck, the Augustinian mystic who encouraged Geert to form a society of Augustinian Canons Regular, that is, they could be in society, not cloistered and not necessarily ordained. With another friend, and in this same spirit, he formed the society of the Brethren of the Common Life. They would first make their name by becoming a center for the transcription and translation of manuscripts. The extensive library would attract scholars from elsewhere. Furthermore, the "Devotio Moderna" would mark the devotional life of its inhabitants and for Christians for centuries to come. Historians have credited this Devotion, a personal Christ-centered approach to piety with the coming 16th-century Reformation. The "Devotio Moderna" would be en vogue when many later Reformers were in school. Erasmus, the Dutch humanist and prince of the Northern Renaissance, claimed a direct theological line from Groote, the Brethren of the Common Life, and his work.
Geert Groote, the practical mystic and founder of the Brethren of the Common life, born in 1340, he died on this, the 20th of August in 1384. He was 44 years old.
The reading for today is a short poem from a 14th century Canon of Osney, John Walton. This is "God, the Port of Peace."
Now cometh all ye that been y-brought
In bonds full of busy bitterness,
Of earthly lusts abiding in your thought!
Here is the rest from all your business,
Here is the port of peace and restfulness
To them that stand in storms and disease,
Refuge overt to wretches in distress,
And all comfort from mischief and misease.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose "vocabulistics are limited to 'I' and 'am' and 'Groot,' exclusively in that order," Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.