Imitation of Christ


The Imitation of Christ
by Thomas À Kempis

Theories most popular at the moment ascribe the Imitation of Christ to two or three men, members of the Brethren of the Common Life, an association of Catholic priests organized in the Netherlands in the latter half of the 14th century.

That Thomas Hemerken of Kempen, or Thomas À Kempis as he is now known, later translated a composite of their writings, essentially a spiritual diary and a handbook of Christian spiritual life, from the original Dutch into Latin is generally admitted by scholars.

Thomas A Kempis

Thomas A Kempis

This Thomas (c. 1380 – 25 July 1471), born about the year 1380, was educated by the Brethren of the Common Life, was moved to join their community, and was ordained priest.

His career thereafter was devoted to practicing the counsels of spiritual perfection and to copying books for the schools. From both pursuits evolved The Imitation of Christ.

The Imitation of Christ was first composed in Latin ca 1418–1427 and soon became very popular. It was printed 745 times before 1650 and became perhaps the most widely read devotional text next to the Bible.

It consists of 4 books, which provide detailed spiritual instructions:

1. Thoughts Helpful In the Life of the Soul.
2. Directives for the Interior Life.
3. On Internal Consolation.
4. An Invitation to Holy Communion

In Christian theology, the Imitation of Christ is the practice of following the example of Jesus. In Eastern Christianity the term Life in Christ is sometimes used for the same concept.

The ideal of the Imitation of Christ has been an important element of both Christian ethics and spirituality. References to this concept and its practice are found in the earliest Christian documents, e.g. the Pauline Epistles.

Saint Augustine viewed the imitation of Christ as the fundamental purpose of Christian life, and as a remedy for the imitation of the sins of Adam.

The theme of imitation of Christ existed also in all phases of Byzantine Orthodox theology.

Saint Francis of Assisi believed in the physical as well as the spiritual imitation of Christ, and advocated a path of poverty and preaching like Jesus who was poor at birth in the manger and died naked on the cross.

Thomas à Kempis, on the other hand, presented a path to The Imitation of Christ based on a focus on the interior life and withdrawal from the world.

As reminds us the book The Imitation of Christ itself:

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.

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.

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.



Thoughts Helpful In the Life of the Soul

Part 1 - 1

1. Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth
2. Having A Humble Opinion of Self
3. The Doctrine of Truth
4. Prudence in Action
5. Reading the Holy Scripture

Part 1 - 2

6. Unbridled Affections
7. Avoiding False Hope and Pride
8. Shunning Over-Familiarity
9. Obedience and Subjection
10. Avoiding Idle Talk

Part 1 - 3

11. Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection
12. The Value of Adversity
13. Resisting Temptation
14. Avoiding Rash Judgment
15. Works Done in Charity

Part 1 - 4

16. Bearing With the Faults of Others
17. Monastic Life
18. The Example Set Us by the Holy Fathers
19. The Practices of a Good Religious
20. The Love of Solitude and Silence

Part 1 - 5

21. Sorrow of Heart
22. Thoughts on the Misery of Man
23. Thoughts on Death

Part 1 - 6

24. Judgment and the Punishment of Sin
25. Zeal in Amending Our Lives


The Interior Life

Part 2 - 1

1. Meditation
2. Humility
3. Goodness and Peace in Man
4. Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose
5. Ourselves
6. The Joy of a Good Conscience

Part 2 - 2

7. Loving Jesus Above All Things
8. The Intimate Friendship of Jesus
9. Wanting No Share in Comfort

Part 2 - 3

10. Appreciating God's Grace
11. Few Love the Cross of Jesus
12. The Royal Road of the Holy Cross


Internal Consolation

Part 3 - 1

1. The Inward Conversation of Christ with the Faithful Soul
2. Truth Speaks Inwardly without the Sound of Words
3. Listen Humbly to the Words of God. Many Do Not Heed Them
4. We Must Walk Before God in Humility and Truth

Part 3 - 2

5. The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love
6. The Proving of a True Lover
7. Grace Must Be Hidden Under the Mantle of Humility
8. Self-Abasement in the Sight of God

Part 3 - 3

9. All Things Should be Referred to God as their Last End
10. To Despise the World and Serve God is Sweet
11. The Longings of Our Hearts Must Be Examined and Moderated
12. Acquiring Patience in the Fight against Concupiscence

Part 3 - 4

13. The Obedience of One Humbly Subject to the Example of Jesus Christ
14. Consider the Hidden Judgments of God Lest You Become Proud of Your Own Good Deeds
15. How One Should Feel and Speak on Every Desirable Thing
16. True Comfort is to be Sought in God Alone

Part 3 - 5

17. All Our Care is to be Placed in God
18. Temporal Sufferings Should be Borne Patiently, After the Example of Christ
19. True Patience in Suffering
20. Confessing Our Weakness in the Miseries of Life

Part 3 - 6

21. Above All Goods and All Gifts We Must Rest in God
22. Remember the Innumerable Gifts of God
23. Four Things Which Bring Great Peace
24. Avoiding Curious Inquiry About the Lives of Others

Part 3 - 7

25. The Basis of Firm Peace of Heart and True Progress
26. The Excellence of a Free Mind, Gained Through Prayer Rather Than by Study
27. Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good
28. Strength Against Slander

Part 3 - 8

29. How We Must Call Upon and Bless the Lord When Trouble Presses
30. The Quest of Divine Help and Confidence in Regaining Grace
31. To Find the Creator, Forsake All Creatures
32. Self-Denial and the Renunciation of Evil Appetites

Part 3 - 9

33. Restlessness of Soul -- Directing Our Final Intention Toward God
34. God is Sweet Above All Things and in All Things to Those Who Love Him
35. There is No Security from Temptation in This Life
36. The Vain Judgments of Men

Part 3 - 10

37. Pure and Entire Resignation of Self to Obtain Freedom of Heart
38. The Right Ordering of External Affairs; Recourse to God in Dangers
39. A Man Should Not be Unduly Solicitous about his Affairs
40. Man Has No Good in Himself and Can Glory in Nothing

Part 3 - 11

41. Contempt for All Earthly Honor
42. Peace is not to be Placed in Men
43. Beware Vain and Worldly Knowledge
44. Do Not be Concerned About Outward Things
45. All Men Are Not To Be Believed, For It is Easy To Err in Speech

Part 3 - 12

46. Trust in God Against Slander
47. Every Trial Must Be Borne for the Sake of Eternal Life
48. The Day of Eternity and the Distresses of this Life
49. The Desire of Eternal Life; The Great Rewards Promised to Those Who Struggle

Part 3 - 13

50. How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God
51. When We Cannot Attain to the Highest, We Must Practice the Humble Works
52. A Man Ought Not to Consider Himself Worthy of Consolation, But Rather Deserving of Chastisement
53. God's Grace Is Not Given to the Earthly Minded

Part 3 - 14

54. The Different Motions of Nature and Grace
55. The Corruption of Nature and the Efficacy of Divine Grace
56. We Ought to Deny Ourselves and Imitate Christ Through Bearing the Cross

Part 3 - 15

57. A Man Should Not Be Too Downcast When He Falls Into Defects
58. High Matters and the Hidden Judgments of God Are Not To Be Scrutinized
59. All Hope and Trust Are To Be Fixed in God Alone


An Invitation to Holy Communion

Part 4 - 1

1. The Great Reverence With Which We Should Receive Christ
2. God's Great Goodness and Love is Shown to Man in This Sacrament
3. It Is Profitable To Receive Communion Often

Part 4 - 2

4. Many Blessings Are Given Those Who Receive Communion Worthily
5. The Dignity of the Sacrament and of the Priesthood
6. An Inquiry on the Proper Thing to do Before Communion
7. The Examination of Conscience and the Resolution to Amend

Part 4 - 3

8. The Offering of Christ on the Cross; Our Offering
9. We Should Offer Ourselves and All That We Have to God, Praying for All
10. Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

Part 4 - 4

11. The Body of Christ and Sacred Scripture Are Most Necessary to a Faithful Soul
12. The Communicant Should Prepare Himself for Christ with Great Care
13. With All Her Heart the Devout Soul Should Desire Union with Christ in the Sacrament
14. The Ardent Longing of Devout Men for the Body of Christ

Part 4 - 5

15. The Grace of Devotion is Acquired Through Humility and Self-Denial
16. We Should Show Our Needs to Christ and Ask His Grace
17. The Burning Love and Strong Desire to Receive Christ
18. Man Should Not Scrutinize This Sacrament in Curiosity, But Humbly Imitate Christ and Submit Reason to Holy Faith