‘Modern Devotion still relevant’


ZUTPHEN – The Modern Devotion, a religious movement founded by Geert Groote in Deventer at the end of the fourteenth century, exerted a not to be underestimated influence on Dutch culture, which continues to this day. Other Hanseatic cities, not least Zutphen, played an important role in it.

But the importance of Modern Devotion is hugely underrated. This is argued by Zwollenaar Mink de Vries, author of the book Prayer for postmodern devotion, for years. As the book’s title indicates, he believes that the Deventer initiative back then can still serve as a guideline in the twenty-first century. De Vries will soon be one of the speakers in a lecture series on Modern Devotion from Zutphen.

Geert Groote (also spelled with an o) argued that the Catholic Church, in its increasing splendor, had lost sight of the connection with the faithful and with the true meaning of faith. He brought that faith down so to speak, involved non-ordained women and men in the daily practice, everything was – to quote Henk Westbroek of Het Goede Doel – about simplicity. The institutions were called houses for the common life, that is, the ordinary life. Reading and writing were assigned an important role, so Groote and his companions made a powerful contribution to Holland’s literacy: that influence on history alone is of decisive importance.

A city walk linked to the lectures leads, among other things, to the Adamanshuis (Agnietenhof/Oudewand). In the heyday of the modern devotee, there lived upwards of forty women (sisters). On the street side (Oudewand) there are now windows, but they were not installed until the nineteenth century. The sisters only had a view of the inner courtyard, which now contains a work of art by Maité Duval: By immortalizing one sister of the common life, the Zutphen sculptor immortalized them all. For the sisters, it was important to be ‘believing’: devoted to religious thoughts and actions. Distraction on the street side had to be avoided. In ‘postmodern’ times, it might be compared to the obligation of students to leave their smartphones in a locker during class.

Zutphen’s Maud Arkesteijn, who is active in various areas promoting her city – including the Beethoven Festival – as Mink de Vries strives for more attention for Modern Devotion. She is a co-initiator of the city walk. “Modern devotion, that is: dedicating oneself to fellow human beings, good education for all, sober living, care for the sick and poor. A source of inspiration for today’s people.” Arkesteijn recommends a visit to the lecture series to anyone interested in history and/or significance: “The lectures give a really good insight into backgrounds and influences. You’ll find out what Modern Devotion has to offer then and now.”

She points to one of the many contexts that will be discussed: “In October is the memorial service for Pope Adrian, the only Dutchman who was elected pope five hundred years ago. An exhibition about him can be seen in his hometown of Utrecht. We deliberately planned these talks before the official marking.”

Okay, interesting information, but what about it? Answer: Adrianus was educated by the ‘Brothers of Community Life’. Thus the modern devotion, the new conception of what ‘faith’ entails, re-entered the highest echelons of the Catholic world at that time.

The lectures
– 23 August: Dr. Rijcklof Hofmans talks about the founder of Modern Devotion: Geert Grote.

– 30 August: Dr. Suzan Folkerts discusses the movement’s early years with a focus on, among others, Gerard Zerbolt van Zutphen.

– September 6: Dr. Ad Poirters considers the famous writing “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis.

– 13 and 20 September: Professor Dr. Peter Nissen gives two lectures: one on Erasmus and one on Pope Adrian VI.

– September 27: Mink de Vries lectures on “the value of modern devotion in the present”.

All lectures take place in the Stedelijk Museum. Start at 2:30 p.m. End (incl. asking questions/discussion) approx. 16.45. Costs 175 euros or 30 euros per lecture. For information and tickets, see the website.


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