2016-51 Thomas A Kempis and "The Imitation of Christ"
Thomas A Kempis [1380-1471] , a medieval monk, priest and writer, was born at the Lower Rhine town of Kempen, Germany, about A.D. 1380. His surname was Hemerken, Kleverlandish for little hammer. His father John was a blacksmith and his mother Gertrude was a schoolmistress.
In 1392, Thomas followed his brother, Jan, to Deventer, in order to attend the noted Latin school there. While attending this school, Thomas encountered the Brethren of the Common Life, followers of Gerard Groote's Modern Devotion. He attended school in Deventer from 1392 to 1399.
After leaving school, Thomas went to the nearby town of Zwolle to visit his brother again, after Jan had become the prior of the Monastery of Mount St. Agnes there. Thomas himself entered Mount St. Agnes in 1406. He was not ordained a priest, however, until almost a decade later. He became a prolific copyist and writer. Thomas received Holy Orders in 1413 and was made sub-prior of the monastery in 1429.
Thomas spent his time between devotional exercises, composition, and copying. He copied the Bible no fewer than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt, Germany in five volumes. In its teachings he was widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.
As subprior he was charged with instructing novices, and in that capacity wrote four booklets between 1420 and 1427, later collected and named after the title of the first chapter of the first booklet: The Imitation of Christ. Thomas More said it was one of the three books everybody ought to own.
Imitatio Christi (Imitation of Christ), a devotional book that, with the exception of the Bible, has been considered the most influential work in Christian literature.
Remarkable for its simple language and style, it emphasizes the spiritual rather than the materialistic life, affirms the rewards of being Christ-centred, and supports Communion as a means to strengthen faith.
The writings of Thomas À Kempis offer possibly the best representation of the devotio moderna (a religious movement created by Gerhard Groote, founder of the Brethren of the Common Life) that made religion intelligible and practicable for the “modern” attitude arising in the Netherlands at the end of the 14th century. Thomas stresses asceticism rather than mysticism, and moderate—not extreme—austerity.
What follows is the first chapter of the I Book The Imitation of Christ:
The Imitation of Christ and the Contempt of All Vanities on Earth
“He who follows Me, walks not in darkness,” says the Lord.[John 8:12] By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ. The teaching of Christ surpasses all the teachings of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna.
Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?
Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone. This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come.
It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. Often recall the proverb: "The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing."[Eccles. 1:8]
Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God.
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