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Gerhard Groot (1340-1384) was a Dutch priest and humanist educator. He is remembered
for establishing a religious order dedicated to education and to the preservation
and copying of manuscripts. Groot was born into a wealthy family and studied
for the priesthood in Paris, where he had a brilliant career. After receiving
a large pension following a successful papal mission to Avignon, he lived a
carefree and luxurious life until a spiritual crisis led to his conversion in
In 1371, before his conversion, Groot had helped to gather a group of poor
scholars who sought to earn an income copying manuscripts. From this group grew
the religious order called the Brethren of the Common Life (approved by Pope
Gregory XI [r. 1331-1378]). The order spread rapidly throughout northern Europe
(Netherlands and Germany), and its schools became recognized centers for reform
in elementary and secondary education. The Brethren's schools offered the finest
education available at no charge, emphasizing the intellectual development of
the individual (humanism) as opposed to simply religious instruction. Teaching
focused on classical Latin, moral development, and awakening aesthetic sensibilities.
Other reforms included the introduction of grades and textbooks. The Brethren
were a vital part of the Renaissance in northern Europe, and their schools produced
such scholars as Erasmus (1466-1536) and Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471).
The Brethren declined in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the spread
of universities and the advent of the printing press.
On his conversion, Groot renounced his worldly goods, gave up his house to
poor women who desired to serve God, and went into isolation. After returning
from his self-imposed isolation, he began to preach against various clerical
and church abuses, but this mission was taken up by only a few of the Brethren
after his death. Groot's lasting legacy lies chiefly in his contribution to
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.