free ebooks

Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

Communities of Christian men corresponding to the Beguines


were certainly many points of resemblance between these women who were so active in the sphere of Christian charity in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the deaconesses of Europe to-day. The most prosperous period for the Beguines was the first half of the thirteenth century, when they were numbered by thousands.[19] Gradually persecution was directed against them. The nuns looked upon them with disfavor, and the pope withdrew his protection. In the Netherlands many became Protestants at the time of the Reformation, but the Beguines of to-day, changed in many respects from the original type, and now, closely resembling the other sisterhoods of Catholicism, are frequently to be seen in the cities of Belgium and north-eastern France.

A new current of spiritual life swept over the church in the fourteenth century, and again we find women living together in community life, and devoting themselves to common service in good deeds, and known as the Sisters of the Common Life. There was also a Brotherhood of the Common Life, as there were Beghards, communities of Christian men corresponding to the Beguines. The Brotherhood and the Sisterhood of the Common Life honored as their founder Gerhard Groot, of Deventer, who was born in 1340. Of a singularly attractive personality, a creative mind, and an ardent, enthusiastic nature, he was born to influence and command. He was already known as a priest of eloquence and wide learning when, in 1374, he

met with a deep spiritual change, and from that year dated his conversion. Henceforth, with every power of a rarely gifted nature, he sought to lead those who heard him to lives of purity and holiness. Gradually there grew up about him a circle of like-minded friends, occupied in writing books to spread his ideas, and aiding him as they could. His friend Florentius proposed that they live together and form a community. "A community!" answered Groot. "The begging orders will never permit that." But Florentius, the planner and organizer, persisted, offering his own house as a home, and held to the advantages of his plan until Groot yielded, and said, "In the name of the Lord begin your work."

Such was the origin of the Brotherhood of the Common Life, and from its circle proceeded that immortal book, the _Imitation of Christ_, by Thomas a Kempis, keeping alive in the hearts of choice spirits of every generation the thoughts and sentiments of the men of whom its author was the interpreter. For a community of women of similar aims and purposes it needed only that Groot should make a few changes in the house that he had already set apart from his paternal inheritance as a home for destitute women, and the first sister house began. Like the Beguines, the Sisters of the Common Life took no obligations binding them to life-long service, but they differed from them in living more closely together in one family, and had a common purse. They wore a gray costume, and also worked for their own support. The special virtues they inculcated were obedience to those above them in authority, humility that would not shun the meanest task, and friendliness to all. Their charitable duties were much the same as the Beguines; they cared for children, nursed the sick, and often acted as midwives. In the first half of the sixteenth century there were at least eighty-seven sister-houses, mostly in the Netherlands.[20]

It will be noticed that these freer communities of religious women, that bear so much closer resemblance to the deaconesses of the early Church than to the sisterhoods of nuns contemporary with them, mostly existed in the great free cities of Germany and the Netherlands, which were the cradles of political and religious liberty, the centers of commerce and of civilization at that time.

eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us