The fourteenth century in Europe has been called "the age of adversity." It was a time when medieval society was racked by the Hundred Years' War, the Black Death, and peasant insurrections. The Church, which was by no means spared the turmoil of the age, saw the decline of its mendicant orders, the "Babylonian Captivity" of the papacy in Avignon, and the rise of wide-ranging heretical movements such as the Free Spirit heresy that disparaged the Church and its sacraments in favor of an immediate experience of God. In this context, John Ruusbroec lived as a monk in the duchy of Brabant and produced a corpus of works on the spiritual life that has made him the most important Flemish mystic in an age of such greats as John Tauler, Julian of Norwich, and Brigitta of Sweden.
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