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THE LIFE OF GERARD OF ZUTPHEN

(1)

NOW it is my purpose to trace briefly the virtues of the devout and learned Gerard of Zutphen, and to set up his writings and example before the coming generation as a pattern to them, and a good memorial of his life, for he hath deserved to be named in a foremost place amid those brothers who formed the first of our Communities and were zealous followers of the Divine Law. Although he lived for but a short time, yet he left us Doctrinal Treatises that are most acceptable, for he was a very diligent student of the Holy Scriptures, and from the dark sayings of the learned he extracted divers aromatic spices having virtue against the distempers of vice to heal the languors of the soul, as doth appear particularly in two books which he put forth, of which one doth begin “A certain Man” and the other is entitled, “Blessed is the Man.” From his infancy and the days of his youth he was disposed to learning, quick of wit, eager to study the liberal arts, and heartily averse from worldly business and everything that might hinder the pursuit of wisdom.

(2) When he grew to manhood, being a youth of virtuous disposition, he went to foreign schools to be the better instructed, and busied himself with all diligence to be regular in attendance, to rise up very early in the morning and hasten in due time to hear the lectures. All the time given to study seemed short to him, for he was ever desirous of gathering from his master’s lips some 221yet more fruitful knowledge which he seized and stored up in the inner chambers of his heart. The ardour of his mind for progress in learning burned so fiercely that he was greatly downcast when the teachers in the Schools did not lecture; and for this cause he sometimes wept because there were no lectures on holidays, for he was ill-content that any day should go by without yielding some fruit of learning. His ingenuous mind was far removed from the sloth of dullards and the idle rovings of the wanton who run about the streets and take delight in senseless pastimes, but hate the School and seldom visit a Church. Gerard, on the other hand, thought upon the purpose for which he had come, and the reason for which Schools were founded, wherefore he applied himself zealously to study; and so wisely did he profit thereby as afterward to deserve to become a learner of that Wisdom that is eternal in place of the wisdom of the Schools; for by the ordinance of God he came at last to study at Deventer, and having found the devout Brothers there he attached himself closely to Florentius, and being by this time sufficiently instructed, he quitted the unstable worldly life for the sake of the love of Christ and his own Salvation.

(3) Being converted therefore he began to be diligent and instant in the amending of his life, to be zealous for spiritual progress, to separate his mind from all the entanglements of temporal things, and like a good son of the Cloister to love his cell, to give himself up to spiritual exercises, and to spend his time in study and writing. For this cause many wondered, because he was seldom seen to go forth, and sought no solace outside the Monastery. Yet he held the holy writings to stand 222for his greatest solace, and in place of seeking the wide expanse of earthly fields, he sought the hallowed mansions of Heaven. When he went across the street to the Church he seemed not to notice the presence of other men, and when he was asked whether he was not hindered by them of the world who passed him, he answered: “It is to me as though a herd of swine were passing; what is it to me that they wear the form of men?”

(4) As he sat in his cell he was so occupied with his work, writing, reading, and prayer, that often he left his window shut all day and did not look out, although the weather might be fair enough. One of the Brothers therefore said to him: “Why dost thou not open thy window? Thou dost sit here shut up as it were in a cellar, and it would be good for thee to breathe the fresh air”; and Gerard, being wholly given up to his zeal for discipline, replied: “If I had spare time and could take forethought about such matters, perhaps it would be good to do so.” When he was asked by the same brother what his thoughts were when the bell rang for the morning meal, he said: “I go to one duty as to another.” He scarce cared at all what he ate, nor what the hour for his meal might be, and when the necessity for taking food was instant upon him, even then he hastened to hear the reading rather than to refresh the body, for he took no thought for this latter, but rather was careful to restore the powers of his soul, and if Florentius had not anxiously provided for his needs he would soon have destroyed himself and perished. Thus it came about that for a long time he bore without complaint and secretly a disease which physicians 223call fistula—for he was unwilling that any should be troubled with the care of him, or that expenses should be incurred on his behalf, and he preferred to suffer pain in the flesh as a wholesome medicine for the soul. But when Florentius discovered this he called a physician to take charge of him until he should be healed.

(5) He was librarian and keeper of the books, and showed great diligence in collecting and copying them. Likewise he lent copies of the sacred books to many Clerks outside the monastery that they might have readings therefrom in their own houses and in schools, and so avoid the telling of idle stories and aimless wanderings on holidays, which are seasons during which Clerks are specially admonished to give their mind to holy things. He used to say, “These books preach and teach better than any words of ours; for holy books are the luminaries of our souls and their comfort; they are the true medicine of life, which are not less necessary to us during our sojourn here than are the Sacraments of the Church.” He loved the books of sacred Theology above all the riches of the world, and rejoiced more over a fair writ copy than over a sumptuous banquet, or wine of most sweet savour; for he knew that they shall not be wise who take pleasure in delicate meats and drinks; but they who are given up to sacred studies shall be filled with wisdom, and access to the hidden treasures of Heaven shall be their guerdon. Wherefore he dealt with books in all reverence, reading them with the utmost diligence and keeping them in careful ward.

(6) Many Clerks came to him to resolve divers doubtful matters, and heard his discourses gladly, for he was a man that was ready of speech and 224learned, proved by many disputations, and having knowledge how to answer every man. Florentius often summoned him to settle the business of the Community, and with his assistance was wont to deal with those matters in particular which demanded skilled knowledge of law and also seemed to require spiritual treatment. In such cases if any grave or difficult question arose he reserved it for the examination and decision of the wise whenever it was desirable to do so, and he listened reverently to learned doctors, followed the authority of the Saints without hesitation, and confirmed his own decisions clearly by sacred testimony. Wherefore he was highly praised by wise and learned men for the abilities that were united in him, but he himself accounted the praise of men as nothing, for he did not strive to pursue after subtility of speech, but rather to preserve a good conscience. So in the understanding of the Holy Scriptures his long application to study profited him less than the informing grace of the Holy Spirit Who giveth understanding to the little ones and doth reveal His mysteries to minds that are pure. Verily Gerard directed all his exercises toward the attainment of this purity, impressing the fear of God upon those who were newly converted, chiding the slothful, and exhorting those who would go forward in virtue to mortify their vices.

(7) “If,” said he, “we neglect to fight against our vices, our passions shall prevail, and we shall fall into the snares of the devil who is ever lying in wait to hinder our progress. Therefore we must labour with all diligence to quit us like men in fighting against them, for a crown of Eternal Glory hath been promised to him that overcometh.” After that he had received the Light 225this Priest lived humbly and devoutly among the Brothers, being filled with grace, and though he had read many books, yet before his death he began to read again “The Mirror for Monks” and “The Progress of the Religious” as if he were a new convert, and from these books he strove to gather afresh the spirit of devotion, and to renew himself again to his first fervour. Yet burning with such zeal for progress he did not long survive, but mindful of Lubert that was dead—a friend whom he had deeply loved and for whose departure he had shed many tears—he soon followed after him. He was sent with Brother Amilius to the Abbot at Dickeninghe, a man learned in Canon law whom he used often to consult in legal questions, and as he was returning from his journey he came to Windesheim, and while passing the night there fell sick unto death.

(8) And Amilius said to him, “It seemeth to me that thou art near to die,” to whom Gerard made answer, “So seemeth it to me also,” and so as his sickness increased upon him, he breathed forth the breath of his life, like one steeped in a gentle sleep, during the night of the Feast of St. Barbara the Virgin, in the year of our Lord 1398, and in the thirty-first year of his age. His body was buried by the Prior and the Brothers, with due honour, in the path before the door of the Church.

Florentius hearing of the death of the beloved Gerard was very sad, and he with all the Brothers wept with great lamentation, for their deep love for him constrained them to mourn for the taking away of a brother most dear, who was a pillar of their House, and, as it were, another hand to Florentius in performing the business thereof.

But blessed be God Who lent us such a man!

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