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The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
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The Imitation of Christ (1418)

by Thomas à Kempis

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English (38)  Dutch (4)  French (1)  Danish (1)  All (44)
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Benjamin Franklin's Virtues Journal lists "humility" as the thirteenth virtue, with the catchphrase "Imitate Jesus and Socrates" as guidance for practising humility. But what does this mean? It is easy to shrug this off with assumptions about the "What would Jesus do?" heuristic, but to specify what Franklin meant by imitating Jesus or Socrates led me to this classic text of Christian devotion from the early fifteenth century. Franklin was, at least towards the end of his life, a monotheist, and he doubted the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. I read Kempis' work in a similar spirit. Kempis advises us to ...imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart."Book Two: The Interior Life" was especially enlightening, in that it echoes Epictetus. Epictetus would have us "indifferent" to externals, and while his assumptions about God or "the gods" echoes Heraclitus, Kempis is more to the point: If you attend to God and yourself, you will little be disturbed by what you see about you.Instances of Stoic philosophy are scattered through Book Two, less so in Book Four which looks at the taking of Holy Communion. The ongoing dialogue between "The Voice of Christ" and "The Disciple" clearly links Jesus with God (as in the Trinity), and there is clearly a Christian focus. Of course, this is a translation, and while I looked at another translation online, the differences were mostly in readability, as opposed to differences of opinion (as far as I can see). There are frequent references to what is "manly": love, self-conquest, not complaining. But also, an appreciation for the ups and downs of life. God grants His grace one moment, then withdraws it another. This is a normal thing. We should be grateful for when we experience God's grace, and patient when God withdraws His grace. Further, we should be aware that nature is about the self (as in survival), whereas grace is about the community (the social). So, "nature" would have us proud, whereas grace would have us humble. Yet, I did not have this sense of simply buckling oneself to everyone else's will - it was about self-conquest in the spiritual realm, rather than self-flagellation. I could relate this to Epictetus's and Seneca's ideas about managing our impressions - being "indifferent" to them - and James Allen's As A Man Thinketh amplifies Kempis' themes (indeed, Allen now reads as a diary-version of Kempis' Book Two). Most importantly, Kempis reminds us that "all is not lost" as we can never get it right:You are a man, not God. You are flesh, not an angel.I found this work mesmerising, enlightening, beautiful. Have I found the answer to Benjamin Franklin's riddle? Well, not quite. Franklin has a number of other riddles that will require a reading of Aristotle's Ethics, and there is more to be gleaned from St. Teresa of Ávila's Interior Castle. Yet I can feel that I am nearing an understanding. Of course, Mortimer Adler would say that if I cannot explain it, then I do not understand. Thankfully, Kempis tells me that I am a man, not God, so I can give myself a break. But I am glad that I took Alder's advice and I have started making notes in the margins of my books (in pencil only!), for I shall be returning to this book again and again and it will sit with my copy of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography for ready reference. ( )
  madepercy | Feb 28, 2018 |
ՏԻՏՂԹ.՝ ԹՈՎՄԱՅԻ/ ԳԵՄԲԱՑՒՈՅ/ Կանոնիկոս աբեղայի ի կար/գէ ս[ր]բ[ո]յն օգոստինոսի./ ՅԱՂԱԳՍ ՆՄԱՆՕՂ ԼԻ/ՆԵԼՈՅ ՔՐԻՍՏՈՍԻ./ ԳԻՐՔ ՉՈՐՔ./ Նորոգ թարգման[ութեամ]բ ի լոյս ըն/ծայեալ ի հ. վրթանէս վ[ար]դ[ա]պ[ետ]է/ յաշակերտէ մխիթարայ/ մեծի աբբայի։/ Յամի տ[եառ]ն 1786. ի Հոկտեմ. 3./ Ի հայրապետու[թ]ե[ան] տ[եառ]ն Ղուկա/սու հայոց կաթուղիկոսի./ ի ՎէՆԷՏԻԿ./ Ի տպարանի յովհաննու փիացեան։/ Հրամանաւ մեծաւորաց։/
356 էջ: Տասներկուծալ և վեցածալ, մամուլանիշերը հայատառ և լատինատառ։ Շարվ. չափը՝ 10.3x6 սմ։ Տիտղթ. զարդափակ, հրատարակության վայրի նշումից առաջ զարդ։ Էջախորագրերով։ 4 փորագիր պատկեր։ Գլխազարդեր, վերջազարդեր և զարդագրեր։ Բնագիրը 10 կետաչափի բոլորագրով, օգտագործված է նաև նոտրգիր։

The Imitation of Christ
  trithemius | Oct 6, 2016 |
Read this for a class and was pleasantly surprised. It's both an unmistakable product of its time (denouncing the secular entanglements of the medieval Church--I can't help but feel the Avignon Exile was at the back of his mind) and a surprisingly relevant devotional. A Kempis explores the ideas of Augustine and Plato and produces a simple exegesis that emphasizes faith and grace. ( )
2 vote 9inchsnails | Mar 7, 2016 |
There is always something fresh and inspiring to contemplate, no matter where I open this book to! I didn't read this cover to cover, but picked it up now and then. CLASSIC Christianity. ( )
2 vote alrtree | Jun 17, 2014 |
After the Bible, The Imitation of Christ is probably the best known and best loved book in Christendom. Its author, Thomas a Kempis (1380 - 1471) had a wide knowledge of the Scriptures and classical philosophy, and although most of his life was spent in a Dutch monastery, he also possessed a deep understanding of human nature. His acquired wisdom convinced him of man's complete dependence on God's love and the empty futility of life without it. The book has exercised a profound influence for over 500 years, and Thomas More, Ignatius Loyola and John Wesley are among the many who have acknowledged their debt to it.
2 vote RubislawLibrary | Feb 1, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (135 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas à Kempisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beeching, H. C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bigg, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Challoner, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chalmers, ThomasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Croft, AloysiusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gardiner, Harold C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gonnelieu, R.P. deContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kepler, Thomas S.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klein, Edward J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knox, Ronald ArbuthnottTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lelen, J. M.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Little, W. J. Knoxsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malcolm, HowardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merkx, P.A.H.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oakley, Michaelsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Payne, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sherley-Price, LeoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ullman, C.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitford, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,' says Our Lord.
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‘The Imitation of Christ’ first appeared 1418. It was published anonymously but spread quickly around Europe. A Latin manuscript from 1441 exists, but there was a German translation as early as 1434. A French translation appeared in 1447, a Spanish edition in 1482, and an Italian one in 1488. The first English translation appeared in 1503, which was just Book 4, but the other three books followed in the same year and a complete translation appeared in 1556. In 1663, an Arabic edition was printed in Rome, and in 1837, a Hebrew version printed in Frankfurt. 

It has since been translated into many languages, and has won for itself a variety of celebrity admirers. John Wesley and John Newton were men of the Evangelical wing of the Church yet both named this Catholic manual as important in their conversion, while General Gordon took it into battle with him. Thomas More, St Francis Xavier and Dr Johnson were other famous devotees.
 The work is comprised of four books, though they are not all found in all manuscripts, and neither are they always in the same order. This makes little practical difference to the reader, however. This manual of devotion is pitched at a challenging level of Christian experience, but does not offer an ordered journey. Like a merry-go-round, the same themes are visited again and again throughout the books; Thomas is a teacher who believes in repetition. Book 4 is unique in that it has a specific subject, the Eucharist, and explores our attitudes towards the bread and wine. But even here, the author weaves in themes familiar from the other three books: human worthlessness, the need for humility, advice on temptation and adversity, disdain for the attractions of the world, contempt for scholarship, sorrow for sin, forgiveness of perceived injustice, submission to God in all things and ardour for union with the life of Jesus in his death and resurrection.

There is a manic-depressive feel to much of the writing, which can be disturbing for the modern reader. Although Thomas calls Christians to an equanimity that is neither too happy when things go well or too sad when things go badly, the author’s own mood tends to be either one of extreme despair and self-hate or an ecstatic happiness at the sweetness of God and the joy to be found in him. To an extent, this mirrors the character of the God he describes who both loves us unendingly whilst also preparing eternal punishment for the unfaithful. Kempis offers no resolution to this paradox; but sensed in all he writes is the fire of personal dismantlement through which humans must walk in the cause of their spiritual development. Here is a radical and disturbing self-help book, penned for the 14th century monk.

Thomas writes as a monk for monks, but clearly his passion and insights spill well beyond the cloistered world of the monastery. One writer called it ‘The diary of a soul on its way to perfection,’ which captures well the author’s spiritual ambition both for himself and others. As he himself says in the second book, ‘Disdain that which is superficial, dedicate yourself to your inner being and you shall see that the Kingdom of God grows inside you.’ St Augustine was patron of Thomas’ monastery and it was he who famously said, ‘Oh God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their place in you.’ The restless Thomas a Kempis could not have agreed more.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140440275, Paperback)

One of the best-loved books of Christianity after the Bible, The Imitation of Christ is a passionate celebration of God and His love, mercy and holiness, which has inspired conversion and stimulated religious devotion for over five hundred years. With great personal conviction, Thomas a Kempis (1380 1471) demonstrates the individual's reliance on God and on the words of Christ, and the futility of life without faith. Thomas spent some seventy years of his life in the reclusive environment of monasteries, yet in this astonishing work he demonstrates an encompassing understanding of human nature and his writing speaks to readers of every age and every nation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:05 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

This is a passionate celebration of God and his love, mercy and holiness, which has inspired conversion and stimulated religious devotion for over 500 years. With great personal conviction, Thomas a Kempis demonstrates the individual's reliance on God and on the words of Christ, and the futility of life without faith.… (more)

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