The Imitation of Christ

The Imitation of Christ

by Thomas à Kempis (15th cent.)

This book ranks only behind the bible itself historically in terms of readership and influence. Even closer to our own times, it is said that Pope John Paul I was found on his deathbed with this book upon his chest, suggesting he was reading it right before he died.

Written by a monk for monks, it soon became wildly popular with the masses, and even more so with the development of the printing press. Originally written in Latin by a German (in an area that is present-day Netherlands),  the first English translation appeared in the following century.

I must confess that I used to read this book a lot when I was young, but not as much lately. On the occasions that I do pick it up, I am quickly reminded why I liked it so much in the first place. And with the increased reading of mystical writers I have been doing lately (as opposed to more theological, catechetical, or apologetic writings), it has been dawning on me that The Imitation has had a wider influence than I ever realized.

From Book I (of four), “Admonitions Useful for a Spiritual Life”, which has 25 sections:

16. Of Bearing Other Men’s Faults

Such faults as we cannot amend in ourselves or in others we must patiently suffer until our Lord of His goodness will dispose otherwise. And we shall think that perhaps it is best for the testing of our patience, without which our merits are but little to be considered. Nevertheless, you shall pray heartily that our Lord, of His great mercy and goodness, may vouchsafe to help us to bear such burdens patiently.

If you admonish any person once or twice, and he will not accept it, do not strive too much with him, but commit all to God, that His will may be done, and His honor acknowledged in all His servants, for by His goodness He can well turn evil into good. Study always to be patient in bearing other men’s defects, for you have many in yourself that others suffer from you, and if you cannot make yourself be as you would, how may you then look to have another regulated in all things to suit your will?

We would gladly have others perfect, yet we will not amend our own faults. We desire others to be strictly corrected for their offenses, yet we will not be corrected. We dislike it that others have liberty, yet we will not be denied what we ask. We desire that others should be restrained according to the laws, yet we will in no way be restrained. And so it appears evident that we seldom judge our neighbors as we do ourselves.

If all men were perfect, what would we then have to put up with in our neighbors, for God’s sake? Therefore, God has so ordained that each one of us shall learn to bear another’s burden, for in this world no man is without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself, and no man wise enough of himself. And so it behooves each one of us to bear the burden of others, to comfort others, to help others, to counsel others, and to instruct and admonish others in all charity. The time of adversity shows who is of most virtue. Occasions do not make a man frail, but they do show openly what he is.

– pp. 49-50

A word of caution: extensive reading of this work will expand your vocabulary to include words like “vouchsafe” and”behoove”, which might be “superfluous” additions.  What you make of that is up to you.

 

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