Now that I finished reading the Bible (see previous post) I have turned to the devotional reading of some Christian classics in the morning. This week I read “Of the Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis.
“Of the Imitation of Christ” is a small volume written originally in Latin around 1420. It was one of the first books to be published, just after the invention of the printing press. Immediately popular, it went through more than 100 printings in its first 200 years. It has been translated into more languages than any other book.
Thomas a Kempis joined a monastic order when he was 13 and spent much of his time copying manuscripts, as did most of the monks of his day. I find it ironic that his book helped put the monks out of the manuscript copying business.
The book centers on how to imitate Christ in our lives, usually through a dialogue between God and the author. There are four sections to the book that describe ways to imitate Christ: the spiritual life, the interior life, consolation, and the sacraments.
The emphasis, as one would expect from a monk in a monastery, is on withdrawal from the world in order to draw closer to Christ. When we have to live in the world because of the choices we have made, we tend to romanticize this withdrawal. But we can take time each day to withdraw from the world and draw closer to Christ through times of devotion that strengthen us for service in the world.
One of the most quoted phrases in the book is also one of the shortest, “Man proposes but God disposes.” We make plans but sometimes God has other ideas about the way he wants us to live.
In the first section of the book, on the spiritual life, Thomas warns about letting our faith grow cold – losing our love and passion for Christ. Instead of working on our spiritual life and growing in it, Thomas warns that too many of us are unsuccessful at even keeping the fervor we had when we first began to follow Christ.
“Of the Imitation of Christ” is as relevant today as it was when it was first written almost 600 years ago. Every Christian who desires to imitate the Christ we say we follow should take time to read this book.