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The Imitation of Christ

By: Thomas a Kempis

The Imitation of Christ is a Christian devotional book by Thomas à Kempis, first composed in Latin (as De Imitatione Christi) c. 1418–1427. It is a handbook for spiritual life arising from the Devotio Moderna movement, of which Kempis was a member. The Imitation is perhaps the most widely read Christian devotional work next to the Bible, and is regarded as a devotional and religious classic. Its popularity was immediate, and it was printed 745 times before 1650. Apart from the Bible, no book had been translated into more languages than the Imitation of Christ at the time. The text is divided into four books, which provide detailed spiritual instructions: "Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life", "Directives for the Interior Life", "On Interior Consolation" and "On the Blessed Sacrament". The approach taken in the Imitation is characterized by its emphasis on the interior life and withdrawal from the world, as opposed to an active imitation of Christ by other friars. The book places a high level of emphasis on the devotion to the Eucharist as a key element of spiritual life.

Book One of the Imitation is titled "Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life". The Imitation derives its title from the first chapter of Book I, "The Imitation of Christ and contempt for the vanities of the world" (Latin: "De Imitatione Christi et contemptu omnium vanitatum mundi"). The Imitation is sometimes referred to as Following of the Christ, which comes from the opening words of the first chapter—"Whoever follows Me will not walk into darkness."  Book One deals with the withdrawal of the outward life—so far as positive duty allows and emphasizes an interior life by renouncing all that is vain and illusory, resisting temptations and distractions of life, giving up the pride of learning and to be humble, forsaking the disputations of theologians and patiently enduring the world's contempt and contradiction.

 

Kempis stresses the importance of solitude and silence, "how undisturbed a conscience we would have if we never went searching after ephemeral joys nor concerned ourselves with affairs of the world..." Kempis writes that the "World and all its allurements pass away" and following sensual desires leads to a "dissipated conscience" and a "distracted heart" (Chap. 20). Kempis writes that one should meditate on death and "live as becomes a pilgrim and a stranger on earth...for this earth of ours is no lasting city" (Chap. 23). On the Day of Judgement, Kempis writes that a good and pure conscience will give more joy than all the philosophy one has ever learned, fervent prayer will bring more happiness than a "multi-course banquet", the silence will be more "exhilarating" than long tales, holy deeds will be of greater value than nice-sounding words (Chap. 24).

 

Kempis writes one must remain faithful and fervent to God, and keep good hope of attaining victory and salvation, but avoid overconfidence. Kempis gives the example of an anxious man who, oscillating between fear and hope and with grief went to the altar and said: "Oh, if only I knew that I shall persevere to the end." Immediately he heard the divine answer, "What if you knew this? What would you do? Do now what you would do then, and you will be very safe." After this the man gave himself to God's will, and his anxiety and fear of future disappeared (Chap. 25).

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

Latin

Published In

1427

Author

Thomas a Kempis

Holy Roman Empire

Thomas à Kempis was a German-Dutch canon regular of the late medieval period and the author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the most popular and best known Christian devotional books. His na...

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