Surnamed the Admirable Doctor, and the Divine Doctor, undoubtedly the foremost of the Flemish mystics, b. at Ruysbroeck, near Brussels, 1293; d. at Groenendael, 2 Dec., 1381. He was blessed with a devout mother, who trained him from infancy in the ways of piety and holiness. Of his father we know nothing; John's only family name, van Ruysbroeck, is taken from his native hamlet. At the age of eleven he forsook his mother, departing without leave or warning, to place himself under the guidance and tuition of his uncle, John Hinckaert, a saintly priest and a canon of St. Gudule's, Brussels, who with a fellow-canon of like mind, Francis van Coudenberg, was following a manner of life modelled on the simplicity and fervour of Apostolic days. This uncle provided for Ruysbroeck's education with a view to the priesthood. In due course, Blessed John was presented with a prebend in St. Gudule's, and ordained in 1317. His mother had followed him to Brussels, entered a Béguinage there, and made a happy end shortly before his ordination. For twenty-six years Ruysbroeck continued to lead, together with his uncle Hinckaert and van Coudenberg, a life of extreme austerity and retirement. At that time the Brethren of the Free Spirit were causing considerable trouble in the Netherlands, and one of them, a woman named Bloemardinne, was particularly active in Brussels, propagating her false tenets chiefly by means of popular pamphlets. In defence of the Faith Ruysbroeck responded with pamphlets also written in the native tongue. Nothing of these treatises remains; but the effect of the controversy was so far permanent with Ruysbroeck that his later writings bear constant reference, direct and indirect, to the heresies, especially the false mysticism, of the day, and he composed always in the idiom of the country, chiefly with a view to counteracting the mischief of the heretical writings scattered broadcast among the people in their own tongue.
The desire for a more retired life, and possibly also the persecution which followed Ruysbroeck's attack on Bloemardinne, induced the three friends to quit Brussels in 1343, for the hermitage of Groenendael, in the neighbouring forest of Soignes, which was made over to them by John III, Duke of Brabant. But here so many disciples joined the little company that it was found expedient to organize into a duly-authorized religious body. The hermitage was erected into a community of canons regular, 13 March, 1349, and eventually it became the motherhouse of a congregation, which bore its name of Groenendael. Francis van Coudenberg was appointed first provost, and Blessed John Ruysbroeck prior. John Hinckaert refrained from making the canonical profession lest the discipline of the house should suffer from the exemptions required by the infirmities of his old age; he dwelt, therefore, in a cell outside the cloister, and there a few years later happily passed away. This period, from his religious profession (1349) to his death (1381), was the most active and fruitful of Ruysbroeck's career.
1 -[John Ruusbroec]
2 -[John Ruusbroec : Life and Works]