A Fresh Translation That Is the Real Thing
"Embrace me as a seeker of the Truth!" This prayer in The Imitation of Christ continues to be echoed today in the thoughts of travelers on the spiritual path. After the Bible, it is the second most popular Christian writing, and in this rejuvenated translation by William Griffin, the 500-year-old classic attributed to Thomas à Kempis (A.D. 1380-1471) comes alive in sometimes ribald language. Griffin polishes the wry gloss dulled by previous translators' images of piety that precluded the possibility that religious thought could include humor. Restored is the attitude of thoughtful encouragement, showing how a clever wit proves more successful than badgering or a rap on the knuckles. What shines in this marvelous translation is an ageless text of humility, faith, devotion, and surrender.
This "how-to" for following the pilgrim's way reminds us to focus on spiritual matters rather than materialistic goals, affirming that the solace that results from putting God in the center of one's life is the richest reward one can find. Quoting freely from the Bible, including the Apocryphal books of Tobit, Wisdom, and Sirach, the essential message of the Imitation is representative of the Devotio Moderna, a movement of spiritual reform centered in the Netherlands that stressed the moral example of how to live, as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. "If you want to rule with Christ, then you're going to have to suck it in and wade through the same muck as Christ," Kempis tells us.
At its core, The Imitation of Christ is an example of sober piety and love of the divine. However, Griffin's new translation is anything but a model of solemnity and somber mood where laughter is forbidden. This new version puts perennial ideas into new clothes, using a tone that reflects the author's intelligence, wit, and understanding. Thomas à Kempis urges the reader to follow the example of surrendering to the will of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ. By uncovering a monk's sense of humor that had been lost in previous translations, Griffin renders the message in a rich and ironic voice that is right for our time and good for our souls. Although Kempis tells us to "look for Truth, not style," Griffin makes the search easier by providing a refreshing and satisfying read of this wonderful classic of spiritual thought. It will be a delight and reward for anyone who encounters it along the Way.
Read an Excerpt
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 that wretched 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 andthe 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.