The Imitation of Christ with a Commentary and
by Father Thomas à Kempis
of the Canons Regular of Mount St. Agnes
(1380 - 1471)
The following pages are dedicated to the Little
Hearts entrusted by God
to Cloistered Poor Clare Colettine Nuns
The Imitation of Christ is widely considered 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
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
The First Chapter
Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities
HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,”
says the Lord (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
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 of
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.
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
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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
Your Little Sisters in Christ
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."
Learning 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 practise.
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
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
Your Little Sisters in Christ
"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
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 loose 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
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