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Of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas

Of the Imitation of Christ (1418)

by Thomas

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The world's most widely read devotional book which is described as the chief companion piece of the Bible.
Title:Of the Imitation of Christ
Info:Whitaker House, book
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The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (1418)



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Is a Christian devotional book, first composed in Latin c. 1418–1427. It is a handbook for spiritual life arising from the Devotio Moderna movement, of which the autor was a member.

The text is divided into four books, which provide detailed spiritual instructions: "Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life", "Directives for the Interior Life", "On Interior Consolation" and "On the Blessed Sacrament". The approach taken in the Imitation is characterized by its emphasis on the interior life and withdrawal from the world, as opposed to an active imitation of Christ by other friars. The book places a high level of emphasis on the devotion to the Eucharist as key element of spiritual life. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Feb 26, 2021 |
The text is divided into four books, which provide detailed spiritual instructions: "Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life", "Directives for the Interior Life", "On Interior Consolation" and "On the Blessed Sacrament". The approach taken in the Imitation is characterized by its emphasis on the interior life and withdrawal from the world, as opposed to an active imitation of Christ by other friars.[1] The book places a high level of emphasis on the devotion to the Eucharist as key element of spiritual life
  StFrancisofAssisi | Nov 21, 2020 |
One of my parents' closest friends, who has remained one of my close friends even after watching me grow up (she's a saint), has recently started posting memes on facebook of the "religion is what you have when you fear the world; spirituality is what you have when you love life" variety. Now, there is something to be said for skepticism about organized religion. But this book accidentally makes an argument for skepticism about disorganized religion.

The Imitatio has been very influential, so I thought I'd give it a read, more or less for its historical interest. I have no idea how this might work as actual spiritual food, but I do know what it looks like intellectually: massive, disturbing, self-righteous selfishness. The focus of the books' authors (there are four books in here, and I'm pretty sure they're by different people, just due to the shifts in tone and form) is on *you*, dear reader, and how *you* can get through the veil of tears and enter the kingdom of heaven. A large part of doing so, it turns out, is ignoring everyone else and looking into yourself. There is literally *nothing* in here about helping others. No doubt the authors didn't intend to make such a statement--my second suspicion is that the book really was meant to be more like 'tips for how to get along in a religious community' than 'groundwork for spiritual practices.' But whether they intended it or not, the Imitatio mainly counsels a rejection of all other human beings, since they are just stumbling blocks in your way to paradise.

This edition is very well done; it reads clearly, the notes are exhaustive and even if you know literally nothing about the middle ages, bible or Christianity you will rarely be lost.

But I think I'd rather read an Imitation of St. Martin. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
At the very beginning are a few pieces of sound advice, but the text quickly turns into a treatise whose argument is based on some of the more obnoxious notions in the Christian faith, such as that of the original sin, the axiom that whatever is done by God is intrinsically good and whatever is done by Man intrinsically bad, the principle that the more one suffers in this life the better for him, and so on. ( )
  Stravaiger64 | Sep 19, 2020 |
In his Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton tells how a friend advised him to read this work, when Merton was contemplating becoming a Catholic priest, and since I had the book in my library (dated 1903 and inherited from my maternal grandfather), I decided to read it.

The book was written in Latin in 1470 and translated to English in 1677; this accounts for the old-fashioned language in which it is penned.

It tells us how we should imitate Christ if we are to be enlightened:

“’He that followeth Me, walketh not in darkness’, saith the Lord. The author states that learning is not to be blamed, it being good in itself, and ordained by God, “but a good conscience and a virtuous life is always to be preferred before it”.

“Truly, at the day of judgment we shall not be examined what we have read, but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how religiously we have lived.”

The book is filled with wisdom. There are edifying chapters on the profit of adversity, resisting temptation, bearing with the defects of others, the examples of the holy Fathers, spiritual exercises, the love of solitude and silence, meditation on death, etc, etc.

We learn:

“He that seeketh anything else but merely God, and the salvation of his soul, shall find nothing but tribulation and sorrow. … Thou camest to serve, not to rule (good to remember). Know that thou wast called to suffer and to labour, not to be idle, or to spend thy time in talk.”

Regarding death, “To-day the man is here, tomorrow he is gone. And when he is out of sight, quickly also is he out of mind. … Think on nothing but the salvation of thy soul, care for nothing but the things of God.”

However, I have no wish to become a Catholic priest, like Thomas Merton did, and I did not feel I got enough out of the book to read it in its entirety, though it is indeed a classic. Though perfectly comprehensible, it is also slightly hard reading. ( )
  IonaS | Aug 21, 2020 |
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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
Bouman, RutgerusPrefacesecondary 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
Gorp, Joseph vanContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hallez, L.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kepler, Thomas S.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klein, Edward J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knox, Ronald ArbuthnottTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamennais, F. deTranslatorsecondary 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
Mulder, Lucas BernardusForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oakley, Michaelsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pavert, R. A. van deIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Payne, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sherley-Price, LeoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ullman, C.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitford, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zolla, ElemireIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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'He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,' says Our Lord.
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The world's most widely read devotional book which is described as the chief companion piece of the Bible.

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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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