Today’s “The Imitation of Christ” Book One Chapter IX Of obedience and subjection

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by
The Imitation of Christ: Book 1 Chapter 9: Of obedience and subjection

Book One Chapter IX Of obedience and subjection

It is a very great thing to be settled in obedience, to live under a superior, and not to be one’s own master.

Many are under obedience, more out of necessity than charity; and such have suffering and are apt to murmur.

Neither will they acquire liberty of mind, unless they submit themselves with their whole heart for God’s sake.

Run hither or thither, thou wilt find no rest but in humble subjection under the government of a superior.

A fancy for places and changing of residence hath deluded many.

It is true, every one is desirous of acting according to his own way of thinking, and is most inclined to such as agree with him in opinion.

But if God is amongst us, we must needs sometimes give up our own opinion for the blessing of peace.

Who is so wise, as to be able fully to know all things?

Be not over-confident therefore in thine own sentiments, but be ready also with pleasure to hear the sentiments of others.

Although thine own opinion be right, yet of for God’s sake thou leavest it and followest another man’s, thou wilt profit the more by it.

For I have often heard that it is safer to listen and take advice than to give it.

IT may also happen that each one’s opinion may be right; but to be unwilling to acquiesce in other men’s, when reason or occasion requires it, is a sign of pride and obstinacy.

Practical Reflections

How delightful to depend solely on God in the persons of our superiors, who hold his place, and how very meritorious is the constant practice of obedience, which is a perpetual exercise of abnegation, of self-runciation, and of the most perfect love of God!

Obedience constitutes the excellence, the happiness, and the merit of a Christian and religious life, and makes God the absolute master and proprietor of our hearts.

But for this, our minds, our hearts, and all our actions must combine in the practice of obedience: the mind by approving it, the heart by loving it, and our actions by exercising it promptly, generously, and constantly.


Is it possible, O my Saviour, to behold Thee sacrifice the independence of a God to obedience, and I not love and practise it? Can I behold Thee, for thirty years, punctually obedient to Thy blessed Mother and St Joseph, and not endeavour faithfully to observe what Thou ordainest me by Thy inspiration, by my rules, and by my superiors? How can I listen to the repugnance and difficulty which I experience in obedience, when I behold Thee obedient even to the very executioners who nailed Thee to the cross?

Grant, O Jesus, that in imitation of Thee, I may subject myself to obedience, and thus evince my desire of pleasing Thee, and of doing in all things, and at all times, Thy holy will. Amen

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

Thomas Kempis

​Thomas à 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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