787) The Imitation of Christ (a)

The meditations for the next few days will be from The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis.

     Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) was a priest, monk, and writer.  His family name was Hammercken, and he was born in the town of Kempen near Düsseldorf in Germany.  He attended a school at nearby Deventer in Holland, and was taught by the ‘Brothers of the Common Life.’  These were men devoted to prayer, simplicity, and union with God.  Thomas ‘of Kempen,’ as he was known at school, was so impressed by his teachers that he decided to live his life according to their ideals.  When he was 19, he entered the monastery of Mount St. Agnes in Holland, and spent the rest of his long life behind the walls of that monastery.

     The pattern of Thomas’s life remained the same over the years.  He devoted his time to prayer, study, copying manuscripts, teaching novices, offering Mass, and hearing the confessions of people who came to the monastery church.  From time to time Thomas was given a position of authority in the community of monks, but he consistently preferred the quiet of his cell to the challenge of administration.  The other monks eventually recognized Thomas’s talent for deep thought and stopped troubling him with practical affairs.

     Thomas wrote a number of sermons, letters, and hymns.  The most famous of his works by far is The Imitation of Christ.  This small book, free from intellectual pretensions, has had great appeal to anyone interested in probing beneath the surface of life.  Thomas died in the same monastic obscurity in which he had lived on August 8, 1471.

     The Imitation of Christ has been for five hundred years the most widely read book of Christian devotion in the world.  Many regard it as second only to the Bible in its simplicity of expression and the depth of its meaning.  Thomas’s approach to the Christian life is challenging and his admonitions are often severe.  But Thomas would probably tell us that it is a lack of such firmness with ourselves that results in our fragile spirits, and such weakness leads to much of our misery.  “You must be hard on yourself,” he wrote, ” or you will never gain the victory over wickedness and unbelief.”



“He who follows Me, shall not walk 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 endeavor, therefore, be to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ…  Whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his life on that of Christ.  

The greatest wisdom is to seek the kingdom of heaven.  It is useless to seek and trust in riches that perish.  It is useless to follow the desires of the flesh, and to long after that for which you must afterward suffer grievous punishment.  It is useless to wish for a long life and to care little about a well-spent life.  It is useless to be concerned with the present life only, and to not make provision for things to come.  It is useless to love what passes quickly and to not look ahead where eternal joy abides.

A humble laborer who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars.

If you see another sin openly or commit a serious offense, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good standing.  All of us are frail, and you ought not think anyone more frail than yourself.

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

First keep peace with yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.

How quickly passes away the glory of this world.

How seldom we weigh our neighbor in the same balance with ourselves.

The cross is always ready and waits for you everywhere.  You cannot escape it no matter where you run, for wherever you go you are burdened with yourself.  Wherever you go, there you are.

All men commend patience, although few are willing to practice it.

Who has a harder fight than he who is striving to overcome himself?

So fixed are our spirits in slothfulness and cold indifference that we seldom overcome so much as one evil habit.

Constantly choose to want less, rather than to have more.

He that does not avoid small faults, little by little falls into greater ones.

Let not your peace rest in the utterances of men, for whether they speak good or bad of your conduct does not make you other than you are.


Proverbs 28:6  —  Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.

Job 16:22  —  (Job said), “Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return.”
Proverbs 3:11-12 — My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

Hebrews 12:11 — No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.


Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.
–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children