This classic of Christian devotional literature has brought understanding and comfort to millions for centuries. Both Protestants and Catholics — as well as mystics and historians of religious thought — have studied these meditations on the life and teachings of Jesus, finding in them a path to prayer and spiritual guidance. Written in a candid and conversational style, The Imitation of Christ discusses liberation from worldly inclinations, recollection as a preparation for prayer, the consolations of prayer, and the place of eucharistic communion in a devout life. With its simple, readable text, this translation will appeal to new readers as well as to those already familiar with this religious classic.
About the Author
Carl Anderson is the Supreme Knight and chief executive officer of the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization with more than 1.7 million members. He is the author of Called to Love, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the New York Times bestseller A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World.
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The Imitation of Christ
By THOMAS KEMPIS
MOODY PUBLISHERSCopyright © 2007 Moody Bible Institute
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOf the Imitation of Christ, and Contempt of All the Vanities of the World
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"He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness," saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ, by which we are taught, how we ought to imitate his life and manners, if we will be truly enlightened, and be delivered from all blindness of heart.
Let therefore our chief endeavor be, to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ.
2. The doctrine of Christ exceedeth all the doctrines of holy men; and he that hath the Spirit, will find therein a hidden manna.
But it falleth out, that many who often hear the gospel of Christ, are yet but little affected, because they lack the spirit of Christ.
But whosoever would fully and feelingly understand the words of Christ, must endeavor to conform his life wholly to the life of Christ.
3. What will it avail thee to dispute profoundly of the Trinity, if thou be lacking in humility, and art thereby displeasing to the Trinity?
Surely high words do not make a man holy and just; but a virtuous life makes him dear to God.
I had rather feel compunction than understand the definition thereof.
If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would all that profit thee without the love of God, and without grace?
Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity, except to love God, and to serve him only.
This is the highest wisdom, by contempt of the world to tend toward the kingdom of heaven.
4. Vanity therefore it is, to seek after perishing riches, and to trust in them.
It is also vanity to hunt after honors, and to climb to high degree.
It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh, and to labor for that for which thou must afterward suffer more grievous punishment.
Vanity it is, to wish to live long, and to be careless to live well.
It is vanity to mind only this present life, and not to foresee those things which are to come.
It is vanity to set thy love on that which speedily passes away, and not to hasten thither where everlasting joy abides.
5. Call often to mind that proverb that, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."
Endeavor therefore to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to turn thyself to the invisible.
For they that follow their lusts, do stain their own consciences, and lose the favor of God.
Chapter TwoOf Thinking Humbly of Ourselves
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All men naturally desire to know; but what does knowledge avail without the fear of God?
Surely an humble husbandman that serveth God is better than a proud philosopher that, neglecting himself, laboreth to understand the course of the heavens.
Whoso knoweth himself well, is lowly in his own sight and delighteth not in the praises of men.
If I understood all things in the world, and were not charitable, what would that help me in the sight of God, who will judge me according to my deeds?
2. Cease from an inordinate desire of knowing, for therein is much distraction and deceit.
The learned are well-pleased to seem so to others, and to be accounted wise.
There are many things, which to know is of little or no profit to the soul:
And he is very unwise, that is intent upon other things than those that may serve for his salvation.
Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life comforteth the mind, and a pure conscience giveth great assurance in the sight of God.
3. How much the more thou knowest, and how much the better thou understandest, so much the more severely shalt thou therefore be judged, unless thy life be also more holy.
Be not therefore extolled in thine own mind for any art or science which thou knowest, but rather let the knowledge given thee make thee more humble and cautious.
If thou thinkest that thou understandest and knowest much; know also that there be many things more which thou knowest not.
Do not seem to be overwise, but rather acknowledge, thine own ignorance.
Why wilt thou prefer thyself before others, since there be many more learned, and more skillful in the Scripture than thou art?
If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, desire to be unknown, and to be little esteemed by man.
4. The highest and most profitable reading is the true knowledge and consideration of ourselves.
It is great wisdom and perfection to esteem ourselves as nothing, and to think always well and highly of others.
If thou shouldest see another openly sin, or commit some heinous offence, yet oughtest thou not to esteem the better of thyself; for thou knowest not how long thou shah be able to remain in good estate.
We are all frail, but thou oughtest to hold none more frail than thyself.
Chapter ThreeOf the Doctrine of Truth
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Happy is he whom truth by itself doth teach, not by figures and words that pass away; but as it is in itself.
Our own opinion and our own sense do often deceive us, and they discern but little.
What availeth it to make a great dispute about dark and hidden things; whereas for being ignorant of them we shall not be so much as reproved at the day of judgment?
It is a great folly to neglect the things that are profitable and necessary, and give our minds to that which is curious and hurtful: we have eyes and see not.
2. And what have we to do with genus and species?
He to whom the Eternal Word speaketh, is delivered from a world of unneccessary conceptions.
From that one Word are all things, and all speak that one; and this is the beginning, which also speaketh unto us.
No man without that Word understandeth or judgeth rightly.
He to whom all things are one, he who reduceth all things to one, and seeth all things in one; may enjoy a quiet mind, and remain peaceable in God.
O God, who art the truth, make me one with thee in everlasting charity.
It is tedious to me often to read and hear many things: in thee is all that I would have and can desire.
Let all doctors hold their peace; let all creatures be silent in thy sight; speak thou alone unto me.
3. The more a man is united within himself, and becometh inwardly simple, so much the more and higher things doth he understand without labor; for that he receiveth intellectual light from above.
A pure, sincere, and stable spirit is not distracted, though it be employed in many works; because it works all to the honor of God, and inwardly being still and quiet, seeks not itself in anything it doeth.
Who hinders and troubles thee more than the unmortified affections of thine own heart?
A good and godly man arranges within himself beforehand those things which he is outwardly to act;
Neither do they draw him according to the desires of an evil inclination, but he ordereth them according to the direction of right reason.
Who hath a greater combat than he that laboreth to overcome himself?
This ought to be our endeavor, to conquer ourselves, and daily to wax stronger and to make a further growth in holiness.
4. All perfection in this life hath some imperfection mixed with it; and no knowledge of ours is without some darkness.
An humble knowledge of thyself is a surer way to God than a deep search after learning;
Yet learning is not to be blamed, nor the mere knowledge of anything whatsoever to be disliked, it being good in itself, and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a virtuous life is always to be preferred before it.
But because many endeavor rather to get knowledge than to live well; therefore they are often deceived, and reap either none, or very slender profit.
5. Oh, if men bestowed as much labor in the rooting out of vices, and planting of virtues, as they do in moving of questions, neither would there be so much hurt done, nor so great scandal be given in the world, nor so much looseness be practiced in monasteries.
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 virtuously we have lived.
Tell me now, where are all those doctors and masters, with whom thou wert well acquainted, while they lived and flourished in learning?
Now others possess their livings and perhaps do scarce ever think of them. In their lifetime they seemed something, but now they are not spoken of.
6. Oh, how quickly doth the glory of the world pass away! Oh, that their life had been answerable to their learning! then had their study and reading been to good purpose.
How many perish by reason of vain learning in this world, who take little care of the serving of God:
And because they rather choose to be great than humble, therefore they become vain in their imaginations.
He is truly great, that is great in charity.
He is truly great that is little in himself, and that maketh no account of any height of honor.
He is truly wise, that accounteth all earthly things as dung, that he may gain Christ.
And he is truly learned, that doeth the will of God, and forsaketh his own will.
Chapter FourOf Wisdom and Forethought in Our Actions
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We must not give car to every saying or suggestion, but ought with caution and patience to ponder things according to the will of God.
But alas! such is our weakness, that we often rather believe and speak evil of others than good.
Those that are perfect men do not easily give credit to everything one tells them; for they know that human frailty is prone to evil, and likely to fail in words.
2. It is great wisdom not to be rash in thy proceedings, nor to stand stiffly in throe own opinions;
As also not to believe everything which thou hearest, nor presently to relate again to others what thou hast heard or dost believe.
Consult with him that is wise and conscientious and seek to be instructed by a better than thyself, rather than to follow thine own inventions.
A good life maketh a man wise before God, and giveth him experience in many things.
The more humble a man is in himself, and the more subject unto God; so much the more prudent shall he be in all his affairs, and enjoy greater peace and quiet of heart.
Chapter FiveOf the Reading of Holy Scriptures
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Truth, not eloquence, is to be sought for in Holy Scripture.
Each part of the Scripture is to be read with the same spirit in which it was written.
We should rather search after our spiritual profit in the Scriptures, than subtilty of speech.
We ought to read plain and devout books as willingly as high sounding and profound ones.
Let not the authority of the writer offend thee, whether he be of great or small learning; but let the love of pure truth draw thee to read.
Search not who spoke this or that, but mark what is spoken.
2. Men pass away, but the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever. God speaks unto us in different ways, without respect of persons.
Our own curiosity often hindereth us in reading of the Scriptures, when as we will examine and discuss that which we should rather pass over without more attention.
If thou desire to reap profit, read with humility, simplicity, and faithfulness; nor ever desire the reputation of learning.
Inquire willingly, and hear with silence the words of holy men; dislike not the parables of the elders, for they are not recounted without cause.
Chapter SixOf Inordinate Affections
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Whensoever a man desireth anything inordinately, he becomes restless in himself.
The proud and covetous call never rest. The poor and humble in spirit live together in all peace.
The man that is not yet perfectly dead to himself, is quickly tempted and overcome in small and trifling things.
The weak in spirit, and he that is yet in a manner carnal and delights in the pleasures of the senses, can hardly withdraw himself altogether from earthly desires:
And therefore he is often afflicted, when he withdraws himself from them, and easily falleth into anger, when any opposition is made against him.
2. And if he hath followed therein his inclination, he is presently disquieted with remorse of conscience; because he yielded to his passion, which profiteth him nothing in obtaining the peace he sought for.
True quietness of heart therefore is gotten by resisting our passions, not by obeying them.
There is then no peace in the heart of a carnal man, nor in him that is addicted to outward things, but in the spiritual and devout man.
CH7[ Of Fleeing From Vain Hope and Pride
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He is vain that putteth his trust in man, or creatures.
Be not ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ; nor to be esteemed poor in this world.
Presume not upon thyself, but place thy hope in God.
Do what lieth in thy power, and God will assist thy good intention.
Trust not in thine own know edge, nor in the subtilty of any living creature; but rather in the grace of God, who helpeth the humble, and humbleth those that are proud.
2. Glory not in wealth if thou have it, nor in friends, who are powerful; but in God who giveth all things, and above all desireth to give thee himself.
Extol not thyself for the height of thy stature or beauty of thy person, which may be disfigured and destroyed with a little sickness.
Take not pleasure in thy natural gifts, or intelligence, lest thereby thou displease God, to whom belongs all the good whatsoever thou hast by nature.
3. Esteem not thyself hotter than others, lest perhaps in the sight of God, who knoweth what is in man, thou be accounted worse than they.
Be not proud of well-doing; for the judgment of God is far different from the judgment of men, and that often offendeth him which pleaseth them.
If there be any good in thee, believe that there is much more in others, that so thou mayest preserve humility within thee.
It is not harmful unto thee to debase thyself under all men; but it is very injurious to thee to prefer thyself before any one man.
The humble enjoy continual peace, but in the heart of the proud is envy, and frequent indignation. ]CH7
CH8[ That Too Much Familiarity Is to Be Shunned
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Lay not thy heart open to every one; but discuss thy affairs with the wise and such as fear God.
Converse not much with young people and strangers.
Flatter not the rich: neither do thou appear willingly before great personages.
Keep company with the humble and plain ones, with the devout and virtuous; and confer with them of those things that may edify. Be not familiar with any woman; but in general commend all good women to God.
Desire to be familiar with God alone and his angels, and avoid the acquaintance of men.
2. We must have charity toward all, but familiarity is not expedient.
Sometimes it happens, that a person unknown to us is much esteemed, from the good report given of him by others; whose presence nevertheless is not pleasing to the eyes of the beholders.
We think sometimes to please others by our company, and we rather offend them with those bad qualities which they discover in us. ]CH8
CH9[ Of Obedience and Subjection
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It is a great thing to live in obedience, to be under a superior, and not to be our own judges.
It is much safer to obey than to govern.
Many live under obedience, rather for necessity than for love; such are discontented, and do easily suffer. Neither can they attain to freedom of mind, unless they willingly and heartily put themselves under obedience for the love of God.
Go whither thou wilt, thou shalt find no rest, but in humble subjection under the government of a superior. The imagination and change of places have deceived many.
2. True it is, that every one willingly cloth that which agreeth with his own tastes; and is apt to esteem those most that are of his own mind;
But if God be among us, we must sometimes cease to adhere to our own opinion for the sake of peace.
Who is so wise that he can fully know all things?
Be not therefore too confident in thine own opinion; but be willing to hear the judgment of others.
It that which thou thinkest is good, and yet thou partest with it for God, and followest the opinion of another, it shall be better for thee.
Excerpted from The Imitation of Christ by THOMAS KEMPIS Copyright © 2007 by Moody Bible Institute. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsCONTENTS
INTRODUCTORY NOTE 3
THE FIRST BOOK 4
ADMONITIONS PROFITABLE FOR THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 4
THE SECOND BOOK 23
ADMONITIONS CONCERNING THE INNER LIFE 23
THE THIRD BOOK 34
ON INWARD CONSOLATION 34
THE FOURTH BOOK 81
OF THE SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR 81
Reading Group Guide
"God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land. The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guidesmay we follow their directions home."Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The Vintage Spiritual Classics present the testimony of writers across the centuries who have pondered the mysterious ways, unfathomable mercies, and deep consolations afforded by God to those who call upon Him from out of the depths of their lives. These writers are our companions, even our champions, in a common effort to discern the meaning of God in personal experience.
The questions, discussion topics, and background information that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of the six works that make up the first series in Vintage Spiritual Classics. We hope they will provide you with a variety of ways of thinking and talking about these ancient and important texts.
We offer this word about the act of reading these spiritual classics. From the very earliest accounts of monastic practicedating back to the fourth centuryit is evident that a form of reading called lectio divina ("divine" or "spiritual" reading) was essential to any deliberate spiritual life. This kind of reading is quite different from that of scanning a text for useful facts and bits of information, or advancing along an exciting plot line to a climax in the action. It is, rather, a meditative approach, by which the reader seeks to taste and savor the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. There are four steps in lectio divina: first, to read, next to meditate, then to rest in the sense of God's nearness, and, ultimately, to resolve to govern one's actions in the light of new understanding. This kind of reading is itself an act of prayer. And, indeed, it is in prayer that God manifests His Presence to us.
1. Like the three previous classics of monastic literature, The Imitation of Christ is a guide to changing our lives and learning to grow closer to Christ in spirit and in deeds. The book opens with a quote and an exhortation: "'Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness'.These are Christ's own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways" [p. 3]. What does it mean to "follow" Christ in your life? How does Thomas à Kempis approach this task differently from the Desert Fathers, Benedict, and Saint Francis?
2. The injunction that one should "have a humble opinion of one's self" and "love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing" [pp. 4-5] is quite at odds with the culture of ambition, striving, and success in which we live. What mental and practical conflicts arise when we attempt to live according to this rule? What does Thomas mean when he writes, "He is truly great who is unimportant in his own eyes and considers the greatest of honors a mere nothing"? Is it at all possible to reconcile such teachings with worldly success?
3. Thomas wrote his Imitation for his fellow monks and it is based on the monastic life. How can we who are not living in monasteries, but rather very much in the world, use his precepts to grow closer to God and to attain inner peace? Which of the principles here are easiest to adapt to the busy lives we lead at the end of the 20th century, which most difficult?
4. Like Benedict, Thomas encourages the practice of silence and the setting aside of time for prayer and deep personal reflection [pp. 26-29]. What are the parallels in our contemporary lives to "listening to idle news and gossip" [p. 27]? What time-wasting activities can we learn to do without, in order to make time for solitude and meditation? How does the Christian monastic practice of silence and meditation compare with that of Eastern religions like Buddhism? If you are familiar with "mindfulness meditation" or meditation as practiced by Buddhists, what is similar and what is different between these Asian-based approaches and the Christian monastic approach?
5. Thomas addresses the most difficult question of all, perhaps: that of having the resolve and making the commitment to change our lives: "Come now, and begin this very moment and say to yourself: 'Now is the time to do it.Now is the right time to amend my life'" [p. 32]. How do you respond to such a radical challenge? Do you feel, like Augustine, the desire to be changed, but "not yet" [Confessions, Book VIII]?
6. How can Thomas's advice on living in community and "Bearing with One Another's Failings" [pp. 20-21] be used to better our relationships with those with whom we live and work? What particular insights into human intimacy did you find most useful?