Walking with the Saints

Thomas á Kempis

Thomas á Kempis (or Thomas “of Kempis”) was a German and Dutch “Canon Regular” that lived in the Netherlands in the late 1300’s. A “Canon Regular” was a type of ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church that lived under a “rule”, much like “The Rule of St. Augustine”. Kempis was a member of “Brethren of the Common Life” a community and movement founded by Gerard Groote that focused on living in obedience, humility and a simple life. Kempis entered the Monastery of Mount St. Agnes in 1406 but was not immediately ordained until given Holy Orders in 1413. St. Agnes was a place founded on the ideals of the followers of Groote, and a place that they could fully realize their calling. His time at the Monastery was spent as a copyist and writer, until he eventually served as Sub-Prior.

Not much else is known about the life of Kempis, however he is the author of one of the most famous (if not the most famous) devotionals called “The Imitation of Christ”. As Sub-Prior at the Monastery of Mount St. Agnes and one of his responsibilities was to train all the Novices. Therefore, between 1420 and 1427, Kempis wrote 4 booklets, the first one being called “The Imitation of Christ” (which is where the full devotional gets its name).

Groote’s movement “Devotio Moderna” was brought out of frustration with the state of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1400’s. The movement called for a reformation and apostolic renewal of the Church, and stressed a return to simple life, focused on Jesus. This movement would end during The Protestant Reformation; however, Kempis’ book would continue to influence people for centuries.

Kempis wrote anonymously to not distract the reader by who the writer was, and allow the person using the devotional to focus fully on Jesus. The 4 sections of the book laid out a life that “imitated Christ”. Section 1 lays out a life that is a retreat inward as much as possible. Leaving behind distractions and imbuing the importance of silence and solitude. Section 2 continues guiding the reader on finding inward peace and cultivating a pure conscience. Kempis writes “moderating our longings and desires, for patience, for submission to the will of God, for the love of Jesus, for enduring the loss of comfort, and for taking up the Cross.” Section 3 begins a form of dialogue between us and Jesus and focuses on leaving the world of desires and flesh behind to enter in to Jesus more fully. Section 4 continues that dialogue around the Blessed Sacrament where “spiritual grace is conferred, and the soul’s strength is replenished”

To date “The Imitation of Christ” has had over 2000 editions and as influenced many many people. Thomas Moore claimed that this was the most important book on the Christian life. This book was a way to move people out of the everyday “lukewarm” way they journeyed in their faith, and inspire people to leave the life of this world, and seek Jesus in an all consuming way.