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It remains remarkable that the education which Erasmus received in the schools of the devotio moderna with their ultra-puritanical object, their rigid discipline intent on breaking the personality, could produce such a mind as he manifests in his monastic period the mind of an accomplished humanist. He is only interested in writing Latin verses and in the purity of his Latin style.
The Church of Milan certainly had hymns in its Office and in its Office books then, for St. Paulinus in his life of St. Augustine wrote: "Hoc in tempore, primum antiphonae, hymni ac vigilae in Ecclesia Mediolanensi celebrari coeperunt; cujus celebritatis devotio usque in hodiernam diem, non solum, in Ecclesia Mediolanensi verum per omnes pene Occidentis provincias manet."
In that spirit of reformation of spiritual life the Dutch movement of the devotio moderna had recently begun to make itself felt, also, at Paris. The chief of its promoters was John Standonck of Mechlin, educated by the brethren of the Common Life at Gouda and imbued with their spirit in its most rigorous form.
The movement was spoken of as 'modern devotion', devotio moderna. It was rather a matter of sentiment and practice than of definite doctrine. The truly Catholic character of the movement had early been acknowledged by the church authorities. Sincerity and modesty, simplicity and industry, and, above all, constant ardour of religious emotion and thought, were its objects.
"Or, again, take the substances used by the Church in certain ceremonies: water, wine, ashes, salt, oil, balsam, incense. Incense, besides representing the divinity of the Son, is likewise the symbol of prayer, 'thus devotio orationis' as it is described by Raban Maur, Archbishop of Mayence in the ninth century. I happen to remember also,
To observe one another with sympathy, to watch and note each other's inner life, was a customary and approved occupation among the brethren of the Common Life and the Windesheim monks. And though Steyn and Sion were not of the Windesheim congregation, the spirit of the devotio moderna was prevalent there.
Each court had its pairs of friends, who dressed alike, and shared room, bed, and heart. Nor was this cult of fervent friendship restricted to the sphere of aristocratic life. It was among the specific characteristics of the devotio moderna, as, for the rest, it seems from its very nature to be inseparably bound up with pietism.