The Imitation Of Christby Thomas à Kempis
Through its realistic delineation of the complexities of human existence, and in its soul-building optimism about the benefits of aspiring to a Christ-shaped life, The Imitation of Christ/i>
"Religion's second-best seller." -- Walter Elwell, describing The Imitation of Christ as second only to the Bible in sales and popularity among religious readers.
Through its realistic delineation of the complexities of human existence, and in its soul-building optimism about the benefits of aspiring to a Christ-shaped life, The Imitation of Christ clearly deserves the accolade of "Spiritual Classic." Although they were written early in the fifteenth century, the number of short meditations that comprise this work remain strikingly fresh and relevant for modern readers.
About the Author
Thomas a' Kempis (1380-1471), or Thomas Hammerken, was born in Kempen, near Dusseldorf, Germany. He left home at the age of thirteen and traveled to Deventer, in the Netherlands, where his service among the Brethren of the Common Life provided both the impetus and the shape for this, his most famous work. In 1406 Thomas professed a call to religious life, and at the age of thirty-three he entered the priesthood. He spent the balance of his life as a Canon of St. Augustine, at the monastery of St. Agnes in Zwolle.
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Imitation of Christ
By Thomas A. Kempis
Nuvision PublicationsCopyright © 2006 Thomas A. Kempis
All right reserved.
Imitating Christ & Condemning the World
"Whoever shadows my every move won't lose me in the dark." At least that's what Christ says, or what the Evangelist John heard Him say (8:12). He tells us to walk on, through the darkness, with Christ as our only torch. That way, when morning comes, we mayn't have gained a step, but we won't have lost one either. And on into the day we must pursue with doggéd tread the life of Jesus Christ.
We Devouts know more about Christ than we do about the Saints. For example, whoever finds the spirit of Christ discovers in the process many "unexpected delights," if I may use an expression of the Apostle John's from the Last Book of the New Testament (2:17).
But that isn't often the case. Many who've heard the Gospel over and over again think they know it all. They've little desire to discover if there's more to the story. That's because, as the Apostle Paul diagnosed it in his Letter to the Romans (8:9), "they don't have the spirit of Christ."
On the other hand, whoever wants to understand the words of Christ and fully and slowly savor their sweetness has to work hard at making himself another Christ.
If you're not humble, you make the Trinity nervous, and in thatwretched state what possible good do you get out of standing up in public and disputing to high heaven about the Trinity as an intellectual entity? The real truth, if only you'd learn it, is that highfalutin words don't make us Saints. Only a virtuous life can do that, and only that can make God care for us.
"Compunction" is a good example. The Schoolmen at the University -- that's to say, the Philosophers and the Theologians -- could produce lengthy, perhaps even lacy, definitions of this holy word, but that wouldn't move them one inch closer to the Gate of Heaven. The humble Devout, on the other hand, who can neither read nor write, might very well have experienced compunction every day of his life; he's the one, whether he knows it or not, who'll find himself already waiting at that very gate when the Final Day comes.
By the way, I do know what compunction means, and so should you: a prickling or stinging of the conscience.
Are you any the richer, if I may put it the way Paul did in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:3), for knowing all the proverbs of the Bible and all the axioms of the Philosophers, when you're really all the poorer for not knowing the charity and the grace of God?
"Vanity of vanities, and everything is vanity," says the Ancient Hebrew Preacher in Ecclesiastes (1:2). The only thing that isn't vanity is loving God and, as Moses preached to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, serving him alone (6:13). That's the highest wisdom, to navigate one's course, using the contempt of the World as a chart, toward that Heavenly Port.
Just what is vanity? Well, it's many things. A portfolio of assets that are bound to crash. A bird breast of medals and decorations. A brassy solo before an unhearing crowd. Alley-catting one's "carnal desires," as Paul so lustily put it to the Galatians (5:16), only to discover that punishment awaits further up and farther in. Pining for a long life and at the same time paying no attention to the good life. Focusing both eyes on the present without casting an eye toward the future. Marching smartly in the passing parade instead of falling all over oneself trying to get back to that reviewing stand where Eternal Joy is queen.
Don't forget the hoary wisdom of the Ancient Hebrew Preacher: "The eye is never satisfied by what it sees; nor the ears, by what they hear" (1:8). With that in mind, try to transfer your holdings from the visible market into the invisible one. The reason? Those who trade intheir own sensualities only muck up their own account and in the process muddy up God's Final Account.
Excerpted from Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis Copyright © 2006 by Thomas A. Kempis. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471) was a medieval monk and priest who served as chronicler of the monastery at Mt. St. Agnes.
Robert Jeffery was ordained in 1959 and has written on matters of Church history, spirituality, mission, and ecumenism. An Honorary Doctor of Divinity of Birmingham University, he retired from his post as Canon and Sub-Dean of Christ Church in 2002. He lives in Oxford, England.
Max von Habsburg is the author of Catholic and Protestant Translations of the Imitatio Christi 1425–1650. He lives and teaches in Northamptonshire, England.
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