The Chronicle of the Canons Regular of Mount St. Agnes
by Thomas a Kempis
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In Zutphen was Henry of Huesden; in Doesborch, Tric Gruter; in Zwolle, Henry of Gouda; in Kampen, Tric of Gramsberch; in Utrecht, Werembold. In Amersfoort, William son of Henry; in Leyden, Peter of Poel; in Harlem, Hugo Goltsmit; in Amsterdam, Ghijsbert of Oude; in Horn, Paul of Medenblic. Likewise in Enchusen, Paul of that city; in Pormereynde, Nicolas of that city; in Almelo, Everard of Eza; likewise in Schutdorp, Henry of that city. These are the holy men whom the Lord chose with love unfeigned to carry on and complete His work which Master Gherard Groet had begun in wholesome wise by His inspiration, as hath been set forth already. Holiness made them priests, learning made them doctors, diligence made them profitable rectors of many congregations, and zeal for the gaining of souls made them notable preachers as hath been found in the case of many of them. O happy day on which that great Gherard was born amongst us, for he was the fount and source whence flowed the waters of salvation to our land, so that what before his time had been parched became a pool, and the thirsty land, springs of water.

XI. Of the multiplication of the devout, especially of virgins.

From this time forth the fount that once was small began to grow by means of the rivulets aforesaid into abundant waters, that is, monasteries without number and congregations also which fed them, so that it should seem that the saying in Exodus was fulfilled which saith of the sons of Israel how that when Joseph died his seed was multiplied exceedingly and filled the land. Thus it came to pass that the people, both men and women, loved a life of virginity, and in chastity emulated the dwellers in Heaven. But above all there was a vast band of women that were virgins who despised the thought of motherhood, and spurned this flowery world with contempt, ever showing by their thoughts, their deeds, and their bearing, that they desired rather to be united to that Spouse Who is in Heaven. What state is there to-day, what township or city in the whole province of Cologne but rejoiceth to have known the savour and scent of these same lilies? Yet was there diversity in their lots, for as Paul doth testify of himself, so too was it with them; some having a savour of life unto life, and some a savour of death unto death. But in this the matter of their election is most clearly shown, and likewise the fact that they were not of the world, because they ever bare the world's hatred and persecution, sometimes suffering at the hands of parents and kindred, sometimes from rulers and the common folk of the cities and towns, beneath which persecution they bore themselves with all patience and humility; yet they suffered most greatly from false teachers and preachers who were zealous to assail with mad words, and to persecute a manner of life that they knew not, yet did not they not prevail.

XII. How a certain monk of Cologne was put to confusion.

For example, one such was preaching in Cologne at the time of the Prague heresy, and he said among other matter: "Ye do go to Prague to contend with heretics whom ye might find readily in your midst—even in St. Gereon's Street"—by which he signified the Sisters of the congregation who dwelt in the said street. But the great ones of the city took the word very ill, saying that such a thing was never heard, namely, that heretics should dwell in the fair city of Cologne. But why should I say more? At length the matter was referred to the bishops and to the university, and, save that the monk had somewhat speedily sought refuge by flight, it would have conduced to his own detriment that he ever preached that word in Cologne.

XIII. How the Sisters were examined.

Forthwith Master Henry de Gorinchem was sent to enquire into the charge of the false preacher aforesaid (for this Master Henry was held in the highest esteem among theologians at that time), and he did skilfully perform the task assigned to him, examining the affairs and condition of those Sisters with all diligence, and when he understood clearly their sincerity in the Faith; their obedience in all things to Holy Church; how that they had given up all personal property both in goods and in their own will; their chastity and how in all things they did imitate the Mother of Christ; their patience in watching, fasting, and in seeking to gain their whole sustenance by the labour of their hands, he was astonished thereat and returning to those who had sent him he spake openly, saying, "If this life be not that in which every Christian ought to follow Christ, then have I never read the Scriptures." And from that time he bore such goodwill toward them, that very often he would help them in their suits, and likewise by his will he distributed notable gifts amongst them.

XIV. Concerning Master Bernard de Reyda.

Next in order there was the disciple and successor of this doctor, namely, Master Bernard de Reyda, who may fittingly be reckoned amongst the most illustrious, and he ruled over the Sisters aforesaid until the present day, being also their Confessor and Fellow Commoner. But whither have we come? Verily it was our purpose, according to thy petition to say somewhat of the first members of our House at Windesem for thy delectation: but I do confess I have been led further than I thought by my desire to bring forth into the light the names of the Fathers aforementioned who were well known to me, fearing lest in process of time they should be hidden altogether in the darkness of silence, which thing God forbid. But in the second place, the savour of these sweet-scented lilies that were now spread far and wide amid the monasteries and congregations, did compel me to bear some testimony as to their number and their most holy conversation, while the breath of life is yet whole in me. For unworthy though I be, I have conversed with them for these many years past, visiting and holding colloquies with them, and I have ever found them firm in the faith, and in deed effectual; wherefore let any man say what he will of them, but I say with Balaam: "Let me die the death of the Righteous, and let my last end be like theirs"—but let us return to the purpose whence we have wandered.

XV. Of the origin of the House at Windesem.

So under Florentius and his companions there grew a great company of devout persons, both Clerks and Laics, who either wished to dwell with them or at least relied upon their wholesome admonition and counsel.

Amongst these were two men of no mean rank according to worldly dignity, sagacious in mind and sufficiently learned for their degree, namely Henry de Wilsen, a citizen of Kampen, and Goswin Tyasen, a citizen of Zwolle. These two, being prudent men and well skilled in worldly matters, were a strong stay to Florentius and his companions, and ever present helpers in all the work that the Lord had ordained should be done through them.

But when they saw how, that after the death of Master Gherard Groet of holy memory, the heavens continually dropped honey, and how that from the seed which Gherard had planted and the skies bedewed from above, many congregations of men and women began to spring up on every side, they rejoiced with exceeding joy; also they began to hold many colloquies amongst themselves, as to how this good beginning that had its wholesome origin from God might continue unshaken for a yet longer space to His glory, and the salvation of many souls.

They found by God's inspiration that this might be done by the means following, that is to say, if a monastery of some approved order, but preferably of the Canons Regular, should be founded, under whose shadow all the devout turtle-doves might have a secure refuge from the swoop of the falcon. But where might a place be found, and the other things also that were needful for the carrying out of such a work? For, as saith the Apostle of the calling of the primitive Church, so amongst these also there were not many rich, not many noble—save them that their virtue did make noble and them that voluntary poverty did make rich before God.

Wherefore these Converts prayed to the Lord with all their hearts, that He, without whom no good thing is begun, carried forward, or ended, might deign effectually to show them what might be His good pleasure in this business; and they remembered likewise that Master Gherard Groet ever kept the same purpose in mind, although he could not carry his desire into effect, for death was beforehand with him.

XVI. Concerning Brother Bertold, and the site of this monastery.

The Lord therefore, that He might show how He was the cause and the beginner of all these things, stirred up the spirit of a young Clerk named Bertold ten Hove, who was the owner of broad meadows, and particularly of an estate that is called "Hof to Windesem"—where by God's aid we now do dwell—and he, coming to Florentius and his company, did of his own act and free will offer to give himself and all his possessions into their hands for the service of God, and he desired earnestly that a monastery might be builded in the aforesaid place, if this might be done.

When they knew this, all betook them to praising God, reaching up their hands toward Heaven; for they held it as a most sure sign that He had heard their prayer, and had promised to be, by some means or other, the promoter of this cause. Straightway so many of them as were owners of houses or lands sold them and put the price into Florentius' hands, or at least resigned the same for the use of the monastery that should be builded.

XVII. Of the goodwill and consent of Florentius the Lord Bishop.

Forthwith they began to be instant with the venerable Lord Florentius of Wevelichoven, who was then Bishop of Utrecht, for his consent to the founding of a monastery, and for the privileges needful for this business; and him they found most gracious in all things, for he had a special love of virtue.

This was done in the year of the Lord 1386, and by the co-operation of God (good men also reaching forth an hand to help them) the affair so prospered that in the year following, that is in 1387, on the day following the Feast of St. Gallus the Confessor, an humble church and burial-ground and also four altars were consecrated in due order by Hubert, the venerable Bishop of Yppuse, in honour of the Holy Trinity, and the Blessed Virgin and others.

XVIII. Of the first Brothers of this monastery.

But since it is written, "Not the people for the place's sake, but the place for the people's sake," we must see who were the first to dwell here; since indeed these were the founders and the pattern of all who did afterwards come under the Chapter of Windesem.

In the first place there was Henry of Uxaria, at that time the only priest amongst them, and he was appointed Rector by the Bishop, by whose commission the said Henry received the Religious habit from the suffragan.

Next there was Henry de Wilsen and Goswin Tyasen, who were invested as Clerks, that did devote themselves, for they would not be promoted to holy orders by reason of a stain that did unfit them under the rule. Also there were these following: Brother John of Huesden, Brother Henry Wilde, Brother Werner Keencamp, Brother Bertold ten Hove, Brother John Kempis, and Brother Henry Balveren. All these were sons and disciples of Florentius, from whose breast they sucked in abundance the milk of all goodness, which same they poured forth without stint for their posterity in after days.

These men and certain others of the community, whose will was good thereto, were marked out by Florentius to build the monastery in the place aforesaid, and to take the habit of Holy Religion therein to the Glory of Christ; which task they were forward to fulfil with wisdom and all speed; also to the men above named there were added, a short space afterward, certain persons of like intention and fervour, namely, John Otto of Zoes, Henry Loder, Arnold of Kalkar, Gherard of Naeldwijc, John of Broechusen, and others.

XIX. The praise of the early Fathers.

O Windesem, these are they by whom thy first foundations were laid, through whom was kindled that bright light, namely, the rule of the truly Regular life; so that thou who wast then as a grain of mustard seed, the least of all herbs, wast enabled to grow into a great tree, beneath the shadow of whose branches fowls of heaven, without number, might take their pleasant rest.

XX. How the Brothers aforesaid were promoted in other monasteries.

At last when many houses that sprung from the same stock had been founded on all sides, both for men and women, there was scarce one of them but desired that a pastor might be provided from amongst the aforesaid Brothers of Windesem.

This we did see with our own eyes and hear in after days, how Brother Henry of Uxaria was appointed by the Bishops to be the first Rector of this House, which office he held for but a short time; then we did see Brother John of Huesden, a young man in years but hoary in mind, who ruled this church of ours for above thirty-three years in wholesome wise, to the great increase of our goods, both spiritual and temporal, and was beloved of God and man. When he died Brother Gherard Naeldwijc was chosen by all the Brothers to take the place of the departed Prior, yet scarce for half a year could he bear the honour and burden of this care by reason of his exceeding lowliness, but he renounced the office of Prior and cast off the burden thereof in presence of all the Brothers, though this was contrary to the opinion of the whole community, and likewise to that of the Fathers gathered together in the Chapter.

Likewise we have seen how Henry Wilde was chosen to be Prior at Eemsteyn, Brother Werner at Horn, Brother John Kempis at Mount St. Agnes, Brother Arnold Kalkar at the Fount of the Blessed Mary, Brother John Otto at Amsterdam, Brother Henry Loder at Northorn, Brother John Broechusen at Leerdorp, and so forth.

XXI. Of the pattern of virtue left for us by the Fathers.

And now, in the last place, one must see how virtuous were these men, and what an example they left for us to imitate. But no one amongst men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him; yet by considering his outward deeds one may guess what lieth hidden inwardly in him.

XXII. Of their simplicity and poverty.

One may know by the humble plan of the former House which they builded how greatly these men loved simplicity and holy poverty. For the inner walls thereof were small, and the House was covered in with reeds or thatch; so at that time what is now the part behind the church was the whole church itself; and the chapel that is now was then the refectory; the brewery was the kitchen, and the old brewery was our mill house and infirmary. Moreover, the bounds of the monastery were so narrow that the present inner wall on the north of the barn was then the extreme outer wall of the House. So the whole was lowly and small, being arranged to receive but few inmates.

XXIII. Of their Victual.

They kept a frugal and poor table, not so much of necessity, or through lack, as out of love of poverty, and the habit which was implanted in them, which same they had acquired together with the disciples of Florentius.

So on a time I heard Brother Gherard Naeldwijc say in pleasantry that in those times on fast days they would sometimes divide one fig into four or six portions that so the great quantity of the bread they consumed might be seasoned by those fragments. On a time also there come to us, I know not whence, half a jar of salted salmon, and as the Brothers were doubting what should be done therewith, Brother Henry de Wilsen, being ever greatly zealous for discipline, persuaded them that by all means it ought to be sold lest such new and unaccustomed dainties should begin to be brought in.

At this time they had no flocks of sheep, nor any fishery, nor fishers, but so piously and soberly did they live that Gherard of Bronchorst, a Canon of St. Saviour's, who once sojourned for a while with the Brothers at Windesem, was wont to say in his own pleasant manner, "None fare sumptuously in Windesem unless it be the swine and the guests." So also to drink wine and eat roast fowls were held in Windesem to be matters that should be referred to the Bishop.

XXIV. Of their Vesture.

Their vesture and their utensils were notable examples of their true lowliness and simplicity, so that I remember to have seen those venerable elders, Brother Henry of Uxaria and Brother Henry de Wilsen, wearing garments that were altogether worn through by constantly rubbing against the seats as they leaned back, and these were botched about the elbows with great patches of rough cloth. But if men of their quality wore such vesture what wonder if the younger men in those days were not more freakish than they in the matter of clothing?

Indeed, I lie if I have not seen some of our household that were Laics wearing sad-coloured garments made of bark fibre, in providing which and like garments also Brother Henry Balveren, the Vestiarius, showed great zeal, as did the tailor, Brother Herbert, a Convert who was formerly a disciple of Gherard Groet.

They had likewise certain hair shirts which were lent from time to time to divers of the younger Brothers for the taming of their vices and concupiscence, and one of these was as rough as those hair cloths with which the brewers' cauldrons are wont to be dried.

XXV. How they avoided all occasion of scandal.

One may see how greatly they preferred their own good report and the edification of all men before all worldly good, by this tale; namely, that on a time two young men of Deventer came to Windesem, of whom one was called Goswin Comhaer (a man who was afterward a great example), but the other was Conrad Mom. These earnestly sought to be received here, but the members of the House made answer saying that in this region there would be too much talk if this were done, and if they remained in this place, for their parents dwelt hard by: let them rather go to Eemsteyn. And receiving this reply the men took it ill enough, so that I heard one of them exclaim in a sad voice: "May God pity us in that we cannot obtain or know any place of rest for this cause, namely, that we are rich." And they went obediently to Eemsteyn.

XXVI. Of their Charity.

These men also were wondrous charitably disposed toward all that did lack, especially toward new Houses of our own order that were begun in poverty. These they desired to help to an extent even beyond their power, by transferring to them both goods and men, as is manifest not only in the matter of the two youths aforementioned, but also in the case of divers others that were rich and desired to dwell with them. These they did often direct to other monasteries to relieve their needs, for they sought not what might be profitable to themselves, but rather what should be so to others. Thus they sent Arnold Droem to Mount St. Agnes, Stephen Wael to the Valley of Peace, and Brother Nicholas Bochorst to Nazareth, and so forth.

In like manner it was agreed by the community with regard to Brother John ten Water that he should be sent to the Fount of the Blessed Mary where there seemed to be notable scarcity; yet by his lowliness and his great importunity that he should by no means be parted from the Brothers, he did overcome this resolution.

But the well spring of their goodness ceased not with these, rather it did flow forth and reach all men, especially poor Clerks and members of the Houses of the New Devotion. What man did ever return from them empty- handed? for if the petitioner were rich, he brought back counsel, if he were poor he received help.

XXVII. Concerning Gherard of Renen.

There was in those days, that is, amongst the first Fathers, a man of great age, who was by no means the least of his own folk, and his name was Gherard of Renen. He would sojourn for long spaces of time with the Brothers at Windesem, for he was bound to them by an exceeding love: and being on a time in the House at Utrecht wherein I dwelt, and in the presence of a certain honourable matron who was his kinswoman, he began to speak of the aforesaid Brothers, their manner of life and their virtues, and I myself was there present also. So then this woman was suddenly kindled to so great fervour by the things that she had heard that she suddenly burst forth with these words: "Ah, if I were a man, and mine own master, no one should hinder me from going to such a community." And I verily believe that until this man told his tale I myself had never heard mention of Windesem.

XXVIII. Of the privileges obtained for the binding together of the Chapters.

After a short while it came to pass that three daughters were born to the House at Windesem, namely Eemsteyn, the House of the Blessed Virgin, and the House of the New Light near Horn. And when in this manner the number of the monasteries had grown to four, by the advice of Florentius and the other Fathers aforenamed, they sent to the Curia at Rome in the time of Boniface the Pope, who granted them leave to gather together a General Chapter together with authority and fitting privileges and so forth; for up to this time they had agreed to remain directly under the rule of the Bishop. Gherard of Bronchorst, who hath been named above, did take upon him this mission with all devotion, but Reyner Minnenbode, the founder of the monastery at Eemsteyn paid, as it is said, all the expenses thereof in most liberal wise.

XXIX. Of their manner of holding the Chapter.

But when the Fathers and Brothers of these four Houses held a Chapter in their humble fashion, the Fathers of the congregations whose names are given above would come together, or at least some of them, and sit them down to deal with matters concerning not the acquiring of worldly wealth, but the conversion of souls and the maintenance of the common good. And at that time all were as it were one fold and one flock, and in very deed one body in Christ.

XXX. The Conclusion.

What sayest thou to these things now, Brother most beloved, remembering that thou wast a wild olive, and meet for eternal fire, and seeing that thou art now grafted, in despite of nature, on this fair and fruitful olive tree, and art become a partaker in its fatness? Canst thou do aught save proclaim with the whole inward love of thine heart, "Great is thy mercy to me, O Lord, and Thou hast snatched my soul from the nethermost Hell"? For it is written of Catho that he would praise his gods mightily—he being but an heathen—and extol his own good fortune, in that it had been permitted to him to be born in that land, and at that time when he could see Rome and her Empire flourishing in the height of their prosperity; and if this is true, Brother most beloved, what return wilt thou make to the Lord thy God for that it was given thee to be born and to live in this time of His Most abundant Goodness, and in a land which He, the Lord, hath blessed? Hadst thou lived in the days of thy fathers, before our land was illumined by the light of Grace of which so much hath been said already, what else could have befallen but that thou shouldest have done even as they did? From which it doth follow that thou also wouldest have gone even whither they went, there to abide for ever.

O happy days in which were born the leaders and chiefs of this new army of ours, I mean Gherard Groet and Florentius, and their son's sons also, and they that are born from them continually! and so it shall continue to the end of time. Amen. May the Mother of Grace grant thee to follow their footsteps and to hold fast their doctrine.

* * * * *

Here endeth the letter concerning the first institutors of the monastery at Windesem, which letter was written by the venerable Father William Voern.

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