Today’s “The Imitation of Christ” Book One Chapter III Of the doctrine of Truth

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Book One Chapter III Of the doctrine of Truth

“Turn to the Lord with all your heart, forsake this sorry world, and your soul will find rest.”

Thomas Kempis

​’That gentle and anxious Augustian’ as one of his translators called him [1]

Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) was born in the town of Kempen along the Rhine, within the Holy Roman Empire, now part of modern Germany. His family name, Hemerken (meaning little hammer), reflected his father’s trade as a blacksmith. His mother was a school mistress.

At the age of twelve, while learning Latin in Deventer, Thomas became familiar with the Brethren of the Common Life, a lay monastic community founded eighteen years earlier by Geert Groote and Floris Radewyns. The pair had been the catalyst for a widespread spiritual renewal, known as the Devotio Moderna (Modern-Day Devout), calling for a rediscovery of the simple apostolic faith. In 1406, after leaving school, Thomas followed his brother Jan into the Augustinian monastery of Mount St. Agnes, a Brethren congregation in the nearby city of Zwolle. Except for a brief exile, Thomas spent the remainder of his long life there.

In an age of clerical corruption, the Brethren devoted themselves to holiness, challenging laity and priests alike with their authentic piety. They founded schools, served the poor, taught the Scriptures and copied manuscripts. As Thomas was educated, he spent most of his time in the latter exercises and personally copied the Bible no fewer than four times.[2]

 In the course of instructing novices, he wrote four booklets which were later combined and published anonymously in 1418 under the title of the first: On the Imitation of Christ. Its central themes are devotion to God, humility, contempt of the world, and meditation on the sufferings of Christ. The work also serves as a brief manual on the monastic life—especially a kind of interior monasticism, unconcerned with outward appearances, but rather with ‘the transformation of one’s way of life’. [3]

The success of the Imitation was both immediate and enduring so that by the 18th century no book, apart from the Bible, had been translated into more languages. [4]

 It remains to this day perhaps the most widely read Christian devotional and a classic expression of the Devotio Moderna. Thomas authored many other works including biographies on de Groote and Radewijns (who was his spiritual father).

As Thomas’ reputation grew many sought him for spiritual guidance, but he avoided all visitors as far as courtesy would allow. The conversation for which he longed best is described in the 2nd chapter of book three of the Imitation. Toward the close of his life, he wrote, ‘I have sought rest everywhere, but I have found it nowhere except in a little corner with a little book.'[5]

Thomas died at the venerable age of 92. The Brethren remembered him as a ‘kind man, in love with Christ, a comforter to those in temptation and trouble’.[6]

A statue of Thomas à Kempis at his home town of Kempen. An ironic tribute to a man who ‘loved to be unknown’


1. E. M. Blaiklock, Introduction to The Imitation of Christ (1979), Hodder and Stoughton, p102. Vincent Sculley, Thomas à Kempis, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14 (1912) Robert Appleton Company.
3. Greg Peters, Imitating Christ, Christian History: Medieval lay mystics, Issue 127, p27.4. von Habsburg, Catholic and Protestant Translations of the Imitatio Christi, 1425-1650 (2011), Ashgate.
5. The Imitation of Christ, (1974) J. M. Dent & Sons, London, p12.
6. Chronicle of Mount St Agnes, ch. 30.

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