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CHAPTER XV

Of the devout communities and monasteries which arose through him

(1)

THE everlasting wisdom of the Father, and His mercy from on High provided that there should be sent so great and good a man as Gerard as an ambassador from Heaven to a world which was now growing old and ever turning to yet more evil courses: one who had put on the breastplate of faith and was sustained by righteousness of life, so that, through him, Holy Religion might be made to flourish again, and the devotion of Christian people, being oft instructed by his discourses, might again grow warm, continue in the worship of God and the observance of His commandments, and show works of mercy toward the poor. To resist the malice of so many enemies, and to call souls that were perishing out of the deep darkness of sin into the light of Truth should seem to be a work for no unskilled man; but Gerard was deeply learned, one, moreover, who had made trial of many things, and to him the Grace of God gave the power of the word: for he was most fully instructed in heavenly doctrine and excelled other men in the virtue of his life: thus he was able to persuade his hearers to despise the world not only by words of human wisdom but even more by the example of his godly conversation.

Such was the inclination amongst the people to hear the Word of God, that the Church could scarcely contain the crowd that came together. 44Many left their food, and being drawn by an hunger after righteousness postponed their urgent business and ran together to hear his discourses: he often delivered two sermons in one day, and sometimes continued preaching for three hours or more when fervency of spirit took hold upon him. He preached in the chief cities of the diocese of Utrecht, Deventer and Zwolle; in Kempen often, and in Utrecht itself before the assembled clergy; in the country of Holland at Leyden, Delft and Ghent; in Amsterdam (where he delivered his first sermon in the vulgar tongue) and in various other towns and well-known villages where he hoped to gather fruit and to bring forth new children for God. Blessed be God, Who sending His Holy Spirit from Above kindled the hearts of His faithful people, and mightily increased them, so that from the seed of a few converts there grew many companies of devout brethren and sisters who served God in chastity; and to them several monasteries of monks and holy nuns owed the origin of their Godly life.

(2) It is the great glory of Master Gerard that by his preaching so great a tree was planted and watered, a tree which after his death, though but newly set in the ground, ceased not to flourish in the field of the Lord. Although this religious order and these communities of devout per sons were first planted in the nearer parts of Holland, Gelders and Brabant, they afterwards spread rapidly to the more remote regions of Flanders, Frisia, Westphalia and Saxony, for God prospered them, and the sweet savour of their good reputation reached even to the Apostolic See.

Now the venerable Master Gerard, being filled with the Holy Ghost, and perceiving that by little 45and little the number of his disciples was increasing, and that they were burning with zeal for heavenly warfare, took due care and forethought that the devout might come together from time to time into one house for mutual exhortation, and that they might deal faithfully with one another of the things pertaining to God and to the keeping of the law of Charity: and he ordained that if any should wish to abide continually together, they should earn their own living by the labour of their hands, and, as far as might be, live in common under the discipline of the Church. He allowed none to beg in the public ways unless compelled by evident necessity, nor toilsomely to go round from house to house to obtain alms, but rather he ordered them to remain at home, and, as St. Paul taught, to be diligent in the labour of their hands, but not to engage in any business which might hinder their devotion in the hope of greater gain, lest at the instigation of the Devil there might be given to the weak some occasion of falling back into their former naughty ways.

(3) He had it in mind to build a Monastery for Clerks of the order of Regular Canons, for he wished to move some of those Clerks who followed him and were fitted for such a life, to take the Religious habit in order that they might serve as an example to other devout persons, and show the way of holiness to any clerks or lay folk that came from elsewhere.

He was moved to institute this religious order chiefly by the especial love and reverence he had for that venerable John Ruysbroek, the first prior of Grünthal, and for the other brethren in the same place, who lived the Religious life and were without reproach. These were they whom he had 46visited in person in Brabant; in them he observed and from them derived, a mode of life greatly tending to edification by reason of their deep humility and the wearing of a simple garb.

But although he busied himself with all diligence to find a place and a monastery fitted for the Religious Life, he could not accomplish the end which he desired, for death was beforehand with him; yet in the sight of God the King immortal, invisible, the Founder of all things, the intention was counted as if it were the fulfilment of his design, and he bequeathed his desire to build a religious house to those most beloved disciples whom he had converted, exhorting them not to let so great a purpose fall into forgetfulness when he was dead, but to unite in lending their aid and counsel in carrying it out so as to further the Glory of God. Some of these disciples were they who dwelt in the Monastery of Windesheim, and also they who with the help of God first founded the house of Agnietenburg near Zwolle.

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