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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Brethren of the Common Life

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(Fratres Vitae Communis), a religious fraternity which arose about the end of the fourteenth century. It was formed by Gerard de Groot at Deventer (1374 ?), and began to flourish after it had obtained the sanction of the Council of Constance. It was divided into two classes, the lettered brethren, or clerks, and the illiterate: they lived in separate habitations, but maintained the closest fraternal union. The former devoted themselves to preaching, visiting the sick, circulating books and tracts, etc., and the education of youth, while the latter were employed in manual labor and the mechanical arts. They lived under the rule of St. Augustine, and were eminently useful in promoting the cause of religion and education. Thomas a Kempis was one of the luminaries of the order. On the death of Gerard, his disciple Florentius Radewins became head of the order (1384). More active than Gerard, he spread the order widely, founding a central cloister, or monastery of regular canons, at Windisheim, another in St. Agnesberg, near Zwoll, to which Kempis belonged, and additional ones at Deventer. He was greatly assisted by Zerbolt (died 1398), who labored earnestly to introduce the use of the vernacular Bible among the common people, and the use of the mother tongue instead of Latin in the prayers. The theory of this community was that unity should be sought rather in the inward spirit than in outward statutes. Vows were not binding for life. Property was surrendered, not on compulsion, but voluntarily. All the brother-houses were kept in communion with each other, and the heads of houses met annually for consultation. Particulars of their rule, domestic arrangements, etc., may be found in Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, ii, 89 sq. Luther and Melancthon spoke with approval and sympathy of the brotherhood in their time. Its flourishing period extended from 1400 to 1500. Most of their houses were built between 1425 and 1451, and they had, in all, some thirty to fifty establishments. During the sixteenth century the Reformation broke them down, in common with other monkish establishments, or, rather, they crumbled to pieces as needless amid the new developments of the age. By the middle of the seventeenth century the brotherhood was ended. Many of the brothers became Protestants, the rest were absorbed by the Roman orders, especially the Jesuits.-Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, ii. 57, 184; Bohringer, Kirchen- Geschichte in Biographien, vol. ii, pt. iii; Delprat, Die Briiderschrft des gemeinsamen Lebens (Leipz. 1840); Bibl. Sacra, ii, 201.


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Brethren of the Common Life'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/b/brethren-of-the-common-life.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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