The Imitation of Christ
with a Commentary and Audio Files
by Father Thomas á Kempis
of the Canons Regular of Mount
(1380 - 1471)
“The life of faith
is the untiring pursuit of God through all that disguises and disfigures
following pages are dedicated to the Little Hearts entrusted by God
to Cloistered Poor Clare Colettine Nuns
Imitation of Christ is considered by many to be the second
most read book in the world, following the Bible; This is certainly
so in the annals of Christianity. Its influence on subsequent religious
literature, to the present, cannot be overstated.
Father Thomas à Kempis was a monk
of The Canons Regular of Mount St. Agnes at Windesheim in Germany (about
20 miles southwest of Mainz) who was ordained a priest in 1413. He was
born at Kempen in the Diocese of Cologne, in 1380 and is described as
“a man of middle height, dark complexion and vivid colouring, with a
broad forehead and piercing eyes; kind and affable towards all, especially
the sorrowful and the afflicted; constantly engaged in his favourite
occupations of reading, writing, or prayer; in time of recreation for
the most part silent and recollected, finding it difficult even to express
an opinion on matters of mundane interest, but pouring out a ready torrent
of eloquence when the conversation turned on God or the concerns of
the soul. At such times often he would excuse himself, “My brethren”,
he would say, “I must go: Someone is waiting to converse with me in
The translation used is public domain
and maintained by
where the individual chapters appear and from which they can be freely
printed. We wish to express our gratitude to
Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
The Imitation of Christ
with a Commentary and Audio Files
Imitating Christ and Despising All
Vanities on Earth
WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,”
says the Lord (St. 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 effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.
The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the
saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now,
there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because
they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand
fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking
humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that
makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to
God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For
what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles
of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?
Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him
This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of Heaven through contempt
of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that
perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride.
It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for
which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long
life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be
concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things
to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead
where eternal joy abides.
Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor
the ear filled with hearing.”(11 Eccles. 1:8). Try, moreover, to turn
your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things
invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences
and lose the grace of God.
here to listen to this chapter
Dear Little Hearts,
We are all called, regardless of our state in life, whether we be married,
consecrated, or single, to be “other Christ's”, “other Marys” in this
world. It is not what we do or do not achieve on a temporal level, but
the quality of our love, service and being that is, so often, seen by
God alone. Nevertheless, on this tempestuous sea of life we need the
example of witnesses to whom we can look and upon whom we can pattern
our own choices. Some witnesses may have a great appeal others less,
but God can make all speak to us if we do but pray and endeavour to
Scripture and the teachings of Holy Mother the Church should be our
prime spiritual food, but also very praiseworthy are those writings
and treatises passed down to us from generation to generation for our
edification. It is a part of what we call Sacred Tradition in
One such book if The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.
Many of you probably have a copy. For those who do not , we have access
to it through the Christian Ethereal Library at
We will be using this translation here, online, but any copy that you
possess will suffice and vary only in minor ways that will not impede
our prayerful study.
My own approach, as a Consecrated Nun, to this is to see it through
the eyes and heart of Mary.....would she not, does she not, draw us
constantly to her Son, Jesus Christ Whom we encounter so intimately
in the Gospels, we become whom we focus upon. It is not enough to assent
to what Christ has said, it is also a call to put His words into choices
and actions. The words of the extract above are profoundly true. In
Christ's teaching we find hidden manna, food for our souls, our lives
and our journey from wandering in the Desert of this world to the very
Throne of the Most High God Himself!
At the outset let us pray that we
may be consumed in love with the spirit of Christ, the spirit of Mary
... and here, now, in this place, at this time, begin ... for as St.
Francis reminded us, “It is time for us to begin anew because in reality
we have not yet begun.”
Your Little Sisters
Sister’s Commentary on The Imitation of Christ:
"What good does it do to speak
learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease
the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man
holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to
God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define
it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible
by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we
live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities
and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.”
clearly has an important place in our lives. Indeed, God gave us an
intellect to use for His glory. Unfortunately, so much of our
learning is both abused and misused. We look at the world about us and
see the evil ends to which learning has been twisted and manipulated
... and with what tragic consequences! Such brilliance culminating in
such tragedy! Learning has become a commodity that is sold for profit
by our universities to the few who can afford it... and then by the
graduates to the highest bidder, whatever the product, whatever the
service, whatever the end. Our stores abound with books on religion
for “spiritual knowledge” ... at a price ... and however questionable
the knowledge acquired — and once acquired, how often misused! For many
people “knowledge” itself is an instrument of power and self aggrandizement.
They can quote chapter and verse in the Bible, even teach the
Bible (for a price) — but are totally unwilling to put God's word into
Not everyone can be “learned”. God knows this. He apportions His gifts
as He wills. But everyone can be humble. And it is the
humble who are heard by God. With humility comes the deeper realization
of our need of God and His grace. The “learned”, the proud, and the
arrogant have ever been at odds with God. “I thank
you, Father, that you have kept these things from the wise and the learned
and revealed them to the little ones.” (St. Mat. 11.25).
It is not in virtue of our “knowing" but in virtue of our loving
that God reveals His secrets.
Does not Scripture say that “Mary kept all these
things in her heart” ... not in her head?
Empty your head and open your heart if
you would know God.
Your Little Sisters
“This is the greatest
wisdom — to seek the kingdom of Heaven through contempt
of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust
in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor
and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the
lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe
punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long
life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity
to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision
for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly
and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. Often recall
the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied
with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.”(11
Eccles. 1:8). Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the
love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible.
For they who follow their own evil passions stain their
consciences and lose the grace of God.”
God has made all things good. All
things flow out and from His goodness. The contempt of the world expressed
here is to be understood in the spirit of Saint Paul, who tells us that,
by comparison to the things of God, everything else is so much
rubbish, debris only. The things of God and the things of this world
are incomparable. In light of this immense disparity, we must
to set the priority of our heart upon God and His kingdom. Everything
else is destined to ruin. All things will pass.
We see this so clearly when we begin to grasp how quickly our own lives
are passing. Vanity is the state of pointlessness or futility
— and so it is vanity to set all our hopes, to invest all our trust
upon the things of this present world. It is a sobering reality that
we can virtually lose all our worldly goods overnight (as many recently
have ...), and even our health ... And how much energy is futilely spent
on trying to prolong life or the semblance of youth by the most extraordinary
means — as though by sheer will and a sufficient amount of money, we
can stave off the inevitable! Our benchmark as Christians cannot, must
not, be so vain and so crass. We must come to understand that
it is the quality of our love that matters, how we love and
serve others. In focusing upon God and others we lose focus on ourselves.
We are told in the citation above that the human senses are never satisfied.
Nor can they ever be. Even if we satiate ourselves we inevitably regurgitate.
Like pagans at the Roman vomitoriums, we attempt to satisfy all our
desires until we are surfeit, disgorge them, and attempt to replenish
them anew. We never learn the vanity of it all, the inherent futility
... because we are too busy squandering our lives on ourselves.
For the Christian — then, as now — it is quite otherwise. We come
to realize that all that God created is intended as a Sacrament that
will lead us to Him ... and not to ourselves.
In the words of Saint Clare, O wondrous
exchange to exchange the things of time for those of eternity.
Your Little Sisters in Christ
Continue to Chapter 2
of the Imitation of Christ
PDF Version of
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Totally Faithful to the Sacred Deposit
of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in Rome
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti verbum
Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have but little power, and
yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
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