Thomas a Kempis was born in 1380 in the village of Kempen near Düsseldorf, Germany. The period in which Thomas was born and lived was called the “Calamitous Century,” because of all of the chaos and turmoil that seemed to be pervasive. Europe was in a state of constant upheaval. The Hundred Years War was still in progress. There were repeated bouts with the Black Plague which swept away one fourth of the world’s population. The Great Schism tore the church apart, seating one pope in Rome and another in Avignon. In rural areas, roving bands of thugs pillaged villagers. Peasant revolts against rising taxes kept urban centers reeling with confusion. It seemed like the world was coming apart at the seams.
Throughout history, when there has been great unrest, God has always provided a witness, a voice crying out in the wilderness, and in the dark days of the 1400s there was that voice. A Dutch street preacher named Gerhard Groote called the people in Deventer, Holland back to God and the Bible. He wasn’t a priest, but he was called by God to walk the streets and call the townspeople to “Turn away from sin, live like Jesus, and read God’s Word.” The people listened and the word spread. Those who were drawn to the message eventually became known as the Brethren of the Common Life. They were humble people who desired to live like the early Christians and pattern their lives after Jesus. Groote and his followers were committed to the authority of the Scriptures first and foremost. They believed that the teaching of God’s Word had to be practical and accessible to all people. They founded schools to educate young men and women so that they might be wise and discerning believers as well as solid citizens. (more…)