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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Now the Dutch province of Ober Yessel


style="text-align: justify;">? 4. The Brethren of the Common Lot.

Germany and the Low Countries had been singularly prepared for that revival of letters, art, and science which had come to Italy. One of the greatest gifts bestowed by the Mystics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries on their native land had been an excellent system of school education. Gerard Groot, a disciple of the Flemish mystic Jan van Rysbroeck, had, after long consultations with his Master, founded a brotherhood called the _Brethren of the Common Life_,(21) whose aim was to better the religious condition of their fellow-men by the multiplication of good books and by the careful training of the young. They were to support themselves by copying and selling manuscripts. All the houses of the Brethren had a large room, where a number of scribes sat at tables, a reader repeated slowly the words of the manuscript, and books were multiplied as rapidly as was possible before the invention of printing. They filled their own libraries with the best books of Christian and pagan antiquity. They multiplied small tracts containing the mystical and practical theology of the _Friends of God_, and sent them into circulation among the people. One of the intimate followers of Groot, Florentius Radewynsohn, proved to be a distinguished educationalist, and the schools of the Order soon became famous. The Brethren, to use the words of their founder, employed education for the purpose of

"raising spiritual pillars in the Temple of the Lord." They insisted on a study of the Vulgate in their classes; they placed German translations of Christian authors in the hands of their pupils; they took pains to give them a good knowledge of Latin, and read with them selections from the best known ancient authors; they even taught a little Greek; and their scholars learned to sing the simpler, more evangelical Latin hymns.

The mother school was at Deventer, a town situated at the south-west corner of the great episcopal territory of Utrecht, now the Dutch province of Ober-Yessel. It lies on the bank of that branch of the Rhine (the Yessel) which flowing northwards glides past Zutphen, Deventer, Zwolle, and loses itself in the Zuyder Zee at Kampen. A large number of the more distinguished leaders of the fifteenth century owed their early training to this great school at Deventer. During the last decades of the fifteenth century the headmaster was Alexander Hegius (1433-1498), who came to Deventer in 1471 and remained there until his death.(22) The school reached its height of fame under this renowned master, who gathered 2000 pupils around him,--among them Erasmus, Conrad Mutti (Mutianus Rufus), Hermann von Busch, Johann Murmellius,--and, rejecting the older methods of grammatical instruction, taught them to know the niceties of the Latin tongue by leading them directly to the study of the great writers of classical antiquity. He was such an indefatigable student that he kept himself awake during the night-watches, it is said, by holding in his hands the candle which lighted him, in order to be wakened by its fall should slumber overtake him. The glory of Deventer perished with this great teacher, who to the last maintained the ancient traditions of the school by his maxim, that learning without piety was rather a curse than a blessing.


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