Recently during some time off and a personal retreat I took, I was able to read through a classic work of much renown. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. Kempis was a German medieval Christian monk who was born in the late 14th century. His work “The Imitation of Christ” is one of the most widely read Christian spiritual books ever written and 2nd only to the Bible. The book presents the idea that the study of Christ’s life and the emulation of his example is the highest pursuit that man can achieve. Kempis’s “The Imitation of Christ” is a spiritual classic and considered by many to be a must read for any follower of Christ.
There are many variations of this book so choosing a translation that reads well can be challenging. Personally I used the edition that went along with the audible edition. This way I could read and/or listen while reflecting. (See Featured Image for audio edition used).
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis itself is a work of meditation; it could take a many years to process fully through and is a resource to which returning thoughtfully and prayerfully makes more sense of the author’s intention in writing it. It has, however, an internal logic of its own; it comprises 114 chapters in four books. In it we are called to imitate the way of Christ, to learn from his life and virtues so that we in turn might reflect them to others. ‘Let us make it, then, our constant practice to meditate upon the life of Christ’
As Kemsis himself once wrote; ‘Do not be influenced by the importance of the writer, and whether his learning be great or small; but let love of pure truth draw you to read. Do not inquire, “Who said this?” but pay attention to what is said’.
The Imitation of Christ is not just one book; it is a collection of resources now compiled into one book. The Imitation includes four books that vary in both length (book two has only 12 chapters, and book three has 59) and themes. Book one contains “useful reminders for the spiritual life.” Book two contains “suggestions drawing one toward the inner life.” Book three includes advice “of inner comfort.” And book four is “the book on the sacrament.”
Books one and two are full of practical and straightforward advice for spiritual growth. For example, Thomas has no patience with the vanities of this world (including things as simple as self-praise), and asserts that spiritual progress is possible here on earth. Thomas admonishes, “by working a little now, you will find great rest later” (p. 30). Such work includes patiently enduring suffering, which is crucial to spiritual progress. That patience includes putting up with others’ faults — a practice equally appropriate in a medieval monastery or a modern business office.
Books three and four take a new tone. Instead of practical advice, these books offer an exchange of intimate words between Jesus and an unnamed disciple. Sometimes these exchanges read like a worshipful prayer and response, and other times the content reads like a simple dialogue. It is believed that the unnamed disciple in this dialogue is Kempis himself and that this dialogue is his own conversation with God. Sometimes called the Devotio Moderno, the adepts of the movement stressed the inner life of the individual, an emphasis which the Church has not always encouraged.
For context here are a few quotes that stood out to me:
If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble.For all men praise patience though there are few who wish to practice it.For a man’s merits are not measured by many visions or consolations, or by knowledge of the Scriptures, or by his being in a higher position than others, but by the truth of his humility, by his capacity for divine charity, by his constancy in seeking purely and entirely the honor of God, by his disregard and positive contempt of self, and more, by preferring to be despised and humiliated rather than honored by others.
Let Your name, not mine, be praised. Let Your work, not mine, be magnified. Let Your holy name be blessed, but let no human praise be given to me. You are my glory. You are the joy of my heart. In You I will glory and rejoice all the day, and for myself I will glory in nothing.All seek their own interests. You, however, place my salvation and my profit first, and turn all things to my good.