Groot, Gerhard (1340-1384)

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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 1374.

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 education.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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