The Imitation Of Christ

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Overview

"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 ...
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Overview

"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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thomas A Kempis's four-part treatise The Imitation of Christ is presented in a lovely illustrated edition in The Imitation of Christ: Illustrated with Illuminated Manuscripts. This full-color gift book pairs 40 passages from the 15th-century text with details from one of the British Library's illuminated manuscripts, including the Sherborne Missal, the Luttrell Psalter and the Bedford Hours. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Booknews
This classic of theology, written in 1441 is cited in BCL3. William C. Creasy has newly translated the work from the Latin autograph manuscript. He has crafted the language and style of his translation for modern readers, while retaining the fervor and power of the original text; his work will undoubtedly attract a new generation of readers who will appreciate the access he has provided. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From Barnes & Noble
An influence on Thomas More, Ignatius Loyola, John Wesley, and Dr. Johnson, the 15th-century priest & writer Thomas   Kempis wrote many devotional works, culminating in this masterpiece celebrating man's dependence on God's boundless love.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605120409
  • Publisher: Akasha Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/12/2008
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.63 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

Imitation of Christ


By Thomas A. Kempis

Nuvision Publications

Copyright © 2006 Thomas A. Kempis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781595479624

Chapter One

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.



Continues...

Excerpted from Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis Copyright © 2006 by Thomas A. Kempis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 11
The Chapters of the First Book: Counsels on the Spiritual Life
1 On the Imitation of Christ 27
2 On Personal Humility 28
3 On the Teaching of Truth 30
4 On Prudence in Action 32
5 On Reading the Holy Scriptures 33
6 On Control of the Desires 33
7 On Avoiding Vain Hope and Conceit 34
8 On Guarding against Familiarity 35
9 On Obedience and Discipline 36
10 On Avoiding Talkativeness 36
11 On Peace, and Spiritual Progress 37
12 On the Uses of Adversity 39
13 On Resisting Temptations 40
14 On Avoiding Rash Judgements 42
15 On Deeds Inspired by Love 43
16 On Bearing with the Faults of Others 44
17 On the Monastic Life 45
18 On the Examples of the Holy Fathers 46
19 On the Practices of a Good Religious 48
20 On the Love of Solitude and Silence 50
21 On Contrition of Heart 53
22 On Human Misery 55
23 A Meditation on Death 57
24 On Judgement, and the Punishment of Sinners 60
25 On the Zealous Amendment of our Life 63
The Chapters of the Second Book: Counsels on the Inner Life
1 On the Inner Life 67
2 On Humble Submission to God 70
3 On the Good and Peaceful Man 70
4 On Purity of Mind and Simplicity of Purpose 72
5 On Knowing Ourselves 73
6 On the Joys of a Good Conscience 74
7 On Loving Jesus above all Things 75
8 On Close Friendship with Jesus 76
9 On the Lack of all Comfort 78
10 On Gratitude for God's Grace 81
11 On the Few Lovers of the Cross of Jesus 83
12 On the Royal Road of the Holy Cross 84
The Chapters of the Third Book: On Inward Consolation
1 How Christ Speaks Inwardly to the Soul 91
2 How Truth Instructs us in Silence 92
3 On Humble Attention to God's Word 93
4 On Truth and Humility 95
5 On the Wonderful Effect of Divine Love 97
6 On the Proof of a True Lover 99
7 On Concealing Grace under Humility 101
8 On Humility in the Sight of God 103
9 How God Alone is our True End 104
10 On the Joy of God's Service 105
11 On Control of the Heart 107
12 On Learning Patience 108
13 On Obedience, after the Example of Christ 110
14 On the Secret Judgements of God 111
15 On the Ordering of our Desires 112
16 How True Comfort is to be Sought in God Alone 114
17 How we must put our Whole Trust in God 115
18 How Sorrows are to be Borne Patiently 116
19 On Enduring Injuries, and the Proof of Patience 117
20 On our own Weakness, and the Trials of This Life 118
21 How we must Rest in God Alone above all Things 120
22 On Being Mindful of God's Blessings 122
23 On Four Things that Bring Peace 124
24 On the Evils of Curiosity 126
25 On Lasting Peace and True Progress 127
26 On the Excellence of a Free Mind 128
27 How Self-Love Hinders our Search for God 130
28 Against Slander 131
29 How we should Bless God in all Trouble 132
30 On Asking God's Help, and the Certainty of his Grace 133
31 On Forsaking Creatures to Find the Creator 135
32 On Self-Denial, and Renunciation of our Desires 137
33 On Inconstancy of Heart 138
34 On God's Graciousness to Those who Love Him 139
35 How There is no Security from Temptation 140
36 Against the Vain Judgements of Men 142
37 How Surrender of Self Brings Freedom of Heart 143
38 On the Right Ordering of our Affairs 144
39 How we should not be Over Anxious 145
40 How Man has no Personal Goodness of which to Boast 146
41 On Contempt for Worldly Honours 147
42 That our Peace cannot Depend on Man 148
43 A Warning against Vain and Worldly Learning 149
44 On Avoiding Distractions 150
45 How we should not Believe all we Hear 151
46 On Putting our Entire Trust in God 153
47 How Burdens must be Borne to win Eternal Life 155
48 On Eternity, and the Limitations of This Life 156
49 On the Desire for Eternal Life, and the Wonder of God's Promises 159
50 On Trust in God in all Trouble 162
51 How when we Lack Strength for Higher Work we should Undertake Humble Tasks 165
52 How no Man is Worthy of God's Comfort 165
53 How God's Grace is not Granted to the Worldly-Minded 167
54 On the Contrary Workings of Nature and Grace 168
55 On the Corruption of Nature, and the Power of Grace 171
56 How we must Follow Christ's Way of the Cross in Self-Denial 174
57 That we should never Despair 175
58 How we may not Inquire into the Unsearchable Judgements of God 177
59 That we should Hope and Trust in God Alone 180
The Chapters of the Fourth Book: On the Blessed Sacrament
1 On the Deep Reverence with which Christ should be Received 183
2 On the Great Goodness and Love of God in this Sacrament 187
3 On the Value of Frequent Communion 190
4 On the Many Blessings Granted to the Devout Communicant 192
5 On the Dignity of the Sacrament, and of the Priestly Office 194
6 On Preparation for Communion 196
7 On Self-Examination, and the Purpose of Amendment 196
8 On the Offering of Christ on the Cross 198
9 How we must Offer Ourselves wholly to God, and Pray for all Men 199
10 That Holy Communion is not to be Lightly Foregone 201
11 How the Body of Christ and the Holy Scriptures are most Necessary to the Faithful Soul 204
12 On the Need for Careful Preparation to Receive Christ in Holy Communion 207
13 How the Devout Soul should Sincerely Desire Union with Christ in his Sacrament 209
14 On Ardent Desire for the Body of Christ 210
15 How Devotion is Won by Humility and Self-Denial 211
16 How we should Declare our Needs to Christ, and Ask his Grace 213
17 On Ardent Love and Eager Desire to Receive Christ 214
18 How we should Approach Christ's Sacrament Humbly, Submitting Reason to Holy Faith 216
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Introduction

Walter Elwell recently described The Imitation of Christ as "Religion’ssecond-best seller;" it is 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 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. Hence, Olive Wyon rightly asserted that, "The Imitation is unique. Its appeal is universal and it is never out of date."

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) or Thomas Hammerken was born at a place called Kempen, near Dusseldorf, Germany. His parents were people from the artisan class; their family name Haemerken (or Haemerlein) is derived from "little hammer." Thomas left home at the age of thirteen and traveled to Deventer, in the Netherlands, where Geert Groote had established the schools of the Brethren of the Common Life (1376). His service among the Brethren provided both the impetus and the shape for this, his most famous work. It was penned or compiled as a result of the years Thomas spent as a teacher and "Master of Novices" among the Brethren. For this reason, then, The Imitation of Christ, which was born in the practical piety of its author and his movement, breathes that same spirit into the reader. Surviving personal recollections of Thomas à Kempis are few indeed; but those that are extant demonstrate this deep inner connection between the man and his work. The Carthusian Prior at N&uulm;rnberg, for example, remembered Thomas as a "most wise, most sweet and most religious man." Thomas’s earliest biographer could detect no gap or distinction between his writing and à Kempis’ living witness: "As he taught others, so he lived; he fulfilled in very deed, or verified in himself what he recommended in his discourses should be done."

In 1406 Thomas professed a call to religious life, and in 1413 he entered the priesthood, at the age of thirty-three. He spent the balance of his life as a Canon of St. Augustine (member of the Augustinian Order), at the monastery of St. Agnes in Zwolle. À Kempis seems to reflect upon his monastic life in the Imitation; for example, addressing God, he wrote: "You have given grace and friendship beyond all my deserts. What return can I make to You for this grace? For it is not granted to all men to forsake everything, to renounce the world, and to enter the life of religion."(Bk. III: 10). Among Thomas’ duties were those typical of a monastic priest: preaching, study, writing, giving spiritual counsel, and copying manuscripts. Primary among his responsibilities, however, was the cultivation of his own spiritual life and Christian discipleship and if we were are to judge the success of this later responsibility by the power and popularity of his literary work Imitation of Christ we would be forced to conclude that à Kempis wrote from a deep well spring of spiritual practice and practical insight.

In the late-medieval period popular spirituality seemed to be at low ebb. For much of the populace Christianity had degenerated into a sort of "arithmetical piety" that sought to add up enough "good deeds" to counter balance one’s sins; it attached greater significance to rote repetition of prayers and sacraments than to introspection or personal reflection. In his classic text, R.W. Southern observed: "The vast majority of people remained firmly attached to the religious aids offered by the institutional church. To put it bluntly, Europe had sunk too much intellectual, emotional, and material capital in these aids to resign them lightly. Masses and prayers for the dead, indulgences, good works, and pious donations for the remission of purgatorial pains, have never been so widely and even wildly popular as they were in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries." Yet there was also a sparkling resurgence of lay-spirituality towards the end of the fifteenth century that was linked to the emergence of lay brother and sisterhoods (confraternities) as well as with the popularity of lay devotional aids like The Imitation of Christ.

Springing from the efforts of Master Geert Groote (1340-84) of Deventer, Holland, the Brethren or "the New Devout" formed themselves into "houses" or communities of priests and laymen who resolved to renounce worldliness to live in the world by the power of God. The congregations of the New Devout were formed, in part, in reaction against the growing wealth and power of the established religious orders. Unlike their contemporaries they neither begged for alms nor collected rents; rather, like the tent-maker Saint Paul and ancient monks of the desert, the Brethren sustained themselves by working with their hands. Since they did not intend to found a new religious order, the Brethren took no formal vows that bound them to the movement. They sought to live, as described by the title of one of Master Groote’s founding documents, by Resolutions and Intentions, But Not Vows. In it he wrote: "I intend to order my life to the glory, honor, and service of God and to the salvation of my soul; to put no temporal good of body, position, fortune, or learning ahead of my soul’s salvation; and to pursue the imitation of God in every way consonant with learning and discernment and with my own body, and estate, which predispose certain forms of imitation." They intended to be devout, but not "religious" in the technical sense in which the late Middle Ages reserved that term for members of the established religious orders.

The spirituality of the Brethren of the Common Life was strongly Christocentric. It intended, as suggested by the title of this -- the most significant work that comes from this movement -- to imitate Jesus Christ; that is to say, they intended to live according to the injunctions and examples of Christ, and in so doing they intended to live "in Christ" and to have Christ live in them. To this end, the reverent reading of Holy Scripture especially the gospels -- formed a critical portion of their pious regimen. Their interest in the Bible had an ethical edge to it, since the Brethren were studying it to cultivate moral sanctity. And, finally, the imitation of Christ affected the inner person, and the New Devout were concerned about the "training of the heart" so that one’s fallen nature might be subdued and purged out and replaced by a renewing, affectionate devotion to Christ.

Scholars have debated whether Thomas à Kempis actually wrote The Imitation of Christ, though there is ample evidence to suggest that he did. But Thomas probably did not create the teaching contained in the book; it is more likely that he complied, organized, and set the Deventer devotional tradition into a fixed form. There seems to be a strong correlation between the authorship of the book and Thomas’ work as "Master of the Novices," a post he held from 1425 until his death in 1471.

The Imitation comprises four subsections, or "Books:" (1) Counsels on the Spiritual Life, (2) Counsel on the Inner Life, (3) On Inward Consolation, and (4) On the Blessed Sacrament. Each section is made up of a series of short meditations that lead the novice deeper and deeper into union with Christ. Unity with Christ was to be realized not only through contemplation, but also through inward and outward imitation of Christ, as well as sacramental oneness with him. These four books circulated separately prior to being circulated as a unified work. The sequela Christi (following, imitating Christ) is the unifying theme of the entire work; but this is not a merely external or ethical modeling reminiscent of the recent "What Would Jesus Do?" slogan and jewelry. À Kempis aims at utter transformation of the reader’s inner person. By meditating upon Christ’s life and teaching, the author intends that we would make Christ’s virtues our own and that we would conform our inner attitudes to His.

The aims of this work strongly dictated its shape and the resources used to develop it. The chapters amount to short meditations offered in a length entirely suitable for a morning or evening devotional reading; yet, the meditations are seasoned with nuggets of spiritual wisdom that are worth pondering over the course of a long life. While there is an occasional quote from classical Greek or Roman writers, or a passing allusion to a familiar saying from one of the Church Fathers, the preponderance of sources applied by our author are — by far — drawn from the Bible. Fr. Bernard Sappen has given this matter careful study and concluded: "The books most often quoted are the Psalms (140 times, notably the Penitential Psalms), the Wisdom books (60 times), the Prophets (42 times), Job (24 times), and etc. In the New Testament Saint Paul is utilized more than the four Evangelists (120 times against 100). Hence, Walter Elwell rightly observed: "the power of the Scripture surges through its pages."

The work does not fall neatly into any of the categories of classical Christian Spirituality, rather it represents a composite approach that includes the purgative (purging out), illuminative (receiving wisdom) and unitive ways (union with God through Christ). These three approaches receive successive emphasis in the first three books of the Imitation.

Numerous themes drawn from classical Christian Spirituality are intertwined in the book. Among these are: (1) Union with Christ: "Christ will come to you, and impart his consolations to you, if you prepare a worthy dwelling for Him in your heart. All true glory and beauty is within, and there He delights to dwell. He often visits the spiritual man, and holds sweet discourse with him, granting him refreshing grace, great peace, and friendship exceeding all expectation" (Bk. II: 1). Hence, "...you will never know peace until you become inwardly united to Christ." (2) Self-negation and humility: "Had you but once entered perfectly into the Heart of Jesus, and tasted something of His burning love, you would care nothing for your own gain or loss; for the love of Jesus causes a man to regard himself very humbly" (Bk. II: 1). (3) Purity or simplicity of heart: "There are two wings that raise a man above earthly things — simplicity and purity. Simplicity must inspire his purpose, and purity his affection. Simplicity reaches out after God; purity discovers and enjoys Him" (Bk. II: 4). (4) Divine Illumination and consolation through Christian wisdom: "Were you inwardly good and pure, you would see and understand all things clearly and without difficulty. A pure heart penetrates both heaven and hell. As each man is in himself, so does he judge outward things. If there is any joy to be had in this world, the pure in heart most surely possess it; and if there is trouble and distress anywhere, the evil conscience most readily experiences it. Just as iron, when plunged into fire, loses its rust and becomes bright and glowing, so the man who turns himself wholly to God loses his sloth and becomes transformed into a new creature" (Bk. II: 4). (5) Liberation through Detachment: "Keep yourself free from all worldly entanglement, and you will make good progress; but if you set great value on any worldly things, it will prove a great obstacle. Let nothing be great, pleasant, or desirable to you save God alone, and whatever comes from God" (Bk. II: 5). (6) Cultivation of true humility: "Set yourself always in the lowest place, and you shall be awarded the highest, for the highest cannot stand without the lowest. The Saints stand highest in God’s eyes who are lowest in their own; and the more glorious they are, the more humble is their spirit" (Bk. II: 10). (7) The Way of the Cross: "Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake" (Bk. II: 11).

The piety of the New Devout paved the way for the Sixteenth Century Reformations; Protestant and Roman Catholic alike. Martin Luther encountered it in the Brethren’s school at Magdeberg and through his acquaintance with the Theologica Germanica. John Calvin, Desiderius Erasmus, and Ignatius of Loyola each lived in the Brethren’s house in Paris, though at different times, and each bore the imprint of the practical piety found in the Imitation of Christ. The Anabaptists embraced the theme of imitation of Christ, whether or not they embraced à Kempis’ book. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was deeply affected by the book; both before and after his "Aldersgate experience," of May 1738, he read the work of "pious Kempis" with great appreciation. Wesley wrote: "one day I light on Thomas à Kempis. The more I read, the more I liked it. I bought one of the books, and read it over and over. I was more convinced of sin that ever, and had more power against it."

The artist Vincent van Gogh was also influenced by reading The Imitation. As Kathleen Erickson noted: "Vincent took from the Imitation of Christ the notion that the earthly life is one of trial and ordeal, a kind of journey through perils and pitfalls of earthy existence to the ultimate of glorious reunion with the Lord in heaven." This influence is discernable in van Gogh’s masterpiece entitled "Starry Night."

Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, was known the world over as a just, fair, and deeply spiritual man. What was less well known about Hammar-skjold was the significant role that Imitation of Christ played in his own spiritual pilgrimage. Henry P. Van Dusen recalls seeing a French language copy of the Imitation at the bedside of the General Secretary’s New York apartment; the same book was found next to his bed, in Leopoldville, Congo, where Hammarskjold spent his last fateful night in 1963. Tucked inside the Imitation, written on an index card, was the General Secretary’s oath of office. The Imitation of Christ and the opportunity to serve the world merged to form an indissoluble whole in the life of the man who cherished them both. Hammarskjold’s devotional journal was published under the title V&aulm;gm&aulm;rken (Markings, 1964) soon after his death. It is clear from Markings that Hammarskjold turned to The Imitation of Christ at crucial periods of his life for spiritual reflection and direction. One such entry appeared in 1953 when, at the peak of his career as a Swedish diplomat, he had just been elected General Secretary of the U.N. Amidst phone calls, telegrams, and cables of congratulations Hammarskjold turned to the words of Thomas à Kempis as he wrote in his journal: "‘Not I, but God in me. ... I am the vessel.’ The drink is God’s. And God is the thirsty One."

John R. Tyson is professor of Theology at Houghton College in Houghton, NY, and professor of Church History at United Theological Seminary in West Seneca, NY. He earned a Ph.D. in Theological and Religious Studies at Drew University and is the author and editor of several books and numerous articles on topics in Church History and Christian Spirituality.
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Reading Group Guide

"God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land. The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides--may we follow their directions home."--Archbishop Desmond TutuThe Vintage Spiritual Classics present the testimony of writers across the centuries who have pondered the mysterious ways, unfathomable mercies, and deep consolations afforded by God to those who call upon Him from out of the depths of their lives. These writers are our companions, even our champions, in a common effort to discern the meaning of God in personal experience.The questions, discussion topics, and background information that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of the six works that make up the first series in Vintage Spiritual Classics. We hope they will provide you with a variety of ways of thinking and talking about these ancient and important texts.We offer this word about the act of reading these spiritual classics. From the very earliest accounts of monastic practice--dating back to the fourth century--it is evident that a form of reading called lectio divina ("divine" or "spiritual" reading) was essential to any deliberate spiritual life. This kind of reading is quite different from that of scanning a text for useful facts and bits of information, or advancing along an exciting plot line to a climax in the action. It is, rather, a meditative approach, by which the reader seeks to taste and savor the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. There are four steps in lectio divina: first, to read, next to meditate, then to rest in the sense of God's nearness, and, ultimately, to resolve to govern one's actions in the light of new understanding. This kindof reading is itself an act of prayer. And, indeed, it is in prayer that God manifests His Presence to us.

1. Like the three previous classics of monastic literature, The Imitation of Christ is a guide to changing our lives and learning to grow closer to Christ in spirit and in deeds. The book opens with a quote and an exhortation: "'Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness'--.These are Christ's own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways" [p. 3]. What does it mean to "follow" Christ in your life? How does Thomas à Kempis approach this task differently from the Desert Fathers, Benedict, and Saint Francis?

2. The injunction that one should "have a humble opinion of one's self" and "love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing" [pp. 4-5] is quite at odds with the culture of ambition, striving, and success in which we live. What mental and practical conflicts arise when we attempt to live according to this rule? What does Thomas mean when he writes, "He is truly great who is unimportant in his own eyes and considers the greatest of honors a mere nothing"? Is it at all possible to reconcile such teachings with worldly success?

3. Thomas wrote his Imitation for his fellow monks and it is based on the monastic life. How can we who are not living in monasteries, but rather very much in the world, use his precepts to grow closer to God and to attain inner peace? Which of the principles here are easiest to adapt to the busy lives we lead at the end of the 20th century, which most difficult?

4. Like Benedict, Thomas encourages the practice of silence and the setting aside of time for prayer and deep personal reflection [pp. 26-29]. What are the parallels in our contemporary lives to "listening to idle news and gossip" [p. 27]? What time-wasting activities can we learn to do without, in order to make time for solitude and meditation? How does the Christian monastic practice of silence and meditation compare with that of Eastern religions like Buddhism? If you are familiar with "mindfulness meditation" or meditation as practiced by Buddhists, what is similar and what is different between these Asian-based approaches and the Christian monastic approach?

5. Thomas addresses the most difficult question of all, perhaps: that of having the resolve and making the commitment to change our lives: "Come now, and begin this very moment and say to yourself: 'Now is the time to do it--.Now is the right time to amend my life'" [p. 32]. How do you respond to such a radical challenge? Do you feel, like Augustine, the desire to be changed, but "not yet" [Confessions, Book VIII]?

6. How can Thomas's advice on living in community and "Bearing with One Another's Failings" [pp. 20-21] be used to better our relationships with those with whom we live and work? What particular insights into human intimacy did you find most useful?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 18, 2010

    Wonderful book, but not this e-edition

    This book has over a hundred chapters by topic but this particular edition doesn't include the table of contents! Your nook will only list the "go to" chapters by number and you'll have no idea what the topics are. I'm sharing this so that others don't waste their money. It's unfortunate this information isn't available until you purchase a non-refundable ebook.

    24 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2008

    ' Incredible treatise of a Christians journey in faith.'

    'This book is one of the great classics of Christian faith. Thomas A. Kempis is one of those philosphical greats who, like so many in his day believed that faith was best renedered through sacrifice. 'A monk who believed in solitude, solidarity, and that the inner life was what neccesitated a Christian's development to the full potential that Christ offered,' Thomas A. Kempis challenges the reader to get out of themselves by inner offerings of sacrifice to Christ by dying daily to themselves through fasting,prayer, and humility of oneslf....(through which we can experience an intimate relationship with Christ,) and thereby proffer from the richness of life that only He can offer. This book is a classic, to say the least!

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    Timeless Classic

    This timeless classic is revelant today as it was when Thomas A' Kempis wrote.
    I find that it is a great companion to the Liturgy of the Hours. I have included the reading of a chapter at the end of my day with evening prayers.
    I highly recommend this as an essential book in your spiritual library.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2007

    The gift of the cross

    This is the only book I can truly say changed my life. I have bought multiple copies and given this best of gifts--understanding of the sufferings of life, thereby eliminating not the actual suffering, but the RESENTMENT of the suffering. The trials and tribulations we all endure are the 'way of the cross'-the true imitation of Christ. Thomas-a-Kempis makes clear the distinction between Christianity that seeks only after the GLORY of Christ vs. the loving acceptance of the CROSS of Christ. He points out real circumstances of suffering that the true Christian is likely to experience as he/she follows the 'royal road'. What a wonderful comfort his words bring during tribulations--it makes all the difference in living through those hard times that may turn out to be the holiest of opportunities--the opportunity to imitate Christ.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2000

    The Immitation of Christ- an underappreciated work

    I received the Immitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis about 20 years ago, while converting to Catholicism. The book basically gathered dust for 15 years until, strangely enough, I became a Methodist. For many years I dismissed it as a 'Catholic' book, and in a sense it is. Not 'Catholic' pertaining to the denomination, but 'catholic' in the sense that it is universal. The basic truths found page after page are like little jewels. I would highly recommend this book to any Christian, or to those who would like to be.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2002

    In Search of Spiritual Growth

    A must for daily reflection and spiritual growth. Creasy divides A'Kempis 13th century guide into sections dealing with contemporary issues. Most unique is the dialogue between Jesus and the reader. It is the type of book one picks up, reads a passage, closes the book and reflects on the contents of the passage. I highly recommend it.

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