A question about "The Imitation of Christ"

I noticed some people posting on another thread about Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ” being a comforting and anxiety-reducing book. I had a question about that, so I am starting this new thread so I don’t hijack the other person’s thread about an unrelated topic.

I have spent some time reading “The Imitation of Christ”, primarily as part of renewing my Marian consecration. I also had a copy of it at one point years ago and tried to read it, but I did not get very far.

While I see it as a spiritually valuable and worthwhile book, I do not see it as particularly comforting or helpful for reducing anxiety, because large parts of it are about how lousy we are and how we should strive to do better spiritually. It is not something I pick up and read when I want to feel reassured of Jesus’ love for me. Rather, I come away from it feeling like a very lowly creature who can never do enough and who God just sort of lets exist on this earth. Now that can be a very useful feeling for humility or just as a reminder that thou art dust, but like I said, it’s not loving or reassuring stuff.

What do you guys find so nice or comforting or pleasant about that book? Did I read the wrong parts and it gets all happy later?

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It’s a very practical book for people who want to focus on trying to move forward, just a little bit, on something. It’s not the sort of book you read straight through— it’s the sort of book where you chew on a paragraph for a week or a month at a time. There’s a lot that’s written for other people whose situations don’t necessarily directly translate to your state of life, but there’s plenty to find some good direction that does apply.

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I tend to agree with you on the book. I find a lot of wisdom in it and each paragraph is like days of meditation the perspective is just wonderful. But it is not a feel-good warm-fuzzy feeling type of book, for sure. However I can see how the emphasis on the narrow path and humility can be comforting to some people.


That was sort of my impression of it. It was like a training manual. Training is not always pleasant - no pain, no gain.
So that is why I was a little surprised to see people saying it was a comforting book that would make a person who was having anxiety attacks feel better.

I have some struggles with anxiety, and when I am struggling, that book isn’t the one I’d grab. It’s challenging reading as it is challenging you to “move forward” as you said.

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Re “humility,” I wonder if it’s like how some people really love the Litany of Humility and find it so helpful.
I would like to one day pray that prayer, but I have trouble with some versions of it because they are not good things to read if you have low self-esteem to begin with. I feel the same way about Imitation of Christ. Maybe if you start out from a prideful POV it takes you down an appropriate number of notches, but if you already don’t have a great opinion of yourself, it can really bring you down.

Very true. Low self-esteem has never been my problem rather I used to be harsh and dismissive of others and what I needed and still need is humility/self-restraint/wisdom.

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It certainly doesn’t sugar-coat things. And I think that’s one of the things that is appealing-- it’s not a light-and-fluffy sort of “you’re good enough!” kind of book. It’s a book that’s more, “you’ll never be perfect in this lifetime— but it makes God happy to see you try your darnedest.” And then it goes on to point out different areas for improvement, but ultimately, we have to rely on God’s grace, we have to be humble in the knowledge of our own smallness, and we need to be charitable in the face of how to expect perfection from others when we can’t find it within ourselves?

But the good part is that it’s obviously written by someone who’s Been There and Done That. It’s not some armchair philosopher, but it’s someone who obviously overcame so many things that we all struggle with, even if he’s never been officially canonized.

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it written during the Middle Ages for people in a monastic setting? Not that it isn’t still applicable to us lay folk. Just that some stuff isn’t directly applicable to all of us in the same way it’s written. That being said; I find it enjoyable in that, it has so much meat to really chew on and ruminate on, that I have to really stay focused on it throughout the day to take something away from it. The less I’m wrapped up in the nonsense of this world and more on the spiritual side, the more full of peaceI usually am. Plus when you’ve successfully applied some of it to your daily life it’s uplifting to know your not a total failure all the time. At least in my case. Haha.

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I have a copy in my car that I can take to read while waiting for doctor appts, etc. Just a few paragraphs at a time.

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I am one of those who has written of the solace and comfort I get from this book. Perhaps I define those words differently than other people do, but I certainly wouldn’t draw spiritual sustenance from a source that reassured me that God loves me no matter how I am, or that things are going to be OK no matter what. I have what I consider to be an objectively accurate self-image as a wretched and miserable sinner, one who has merited Hell a thousand times over. To read the sections of this book in which Christ speaks directly to me and informs me what I must do to become pleasing to Him, is solace of the highest order. That the second Person of the Trinity should deign, even in a fictional context, to concern Himself with my growth and ultimate salvation, is overwhelming to me, like a wave of warmth and love washing over me. I hesitate to say this, but on a purely personal level I sometimes relate to this book even more readily than I do to Scripture. I want only to love Christ and to please Him, and this book helps me see what I must do to accomplish that, and thus to achieve my own ultimate happiness.

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I read the Imitation of Christ years ago, also a few pages every morning, in my car before starting work. It was a time of great busyness and distraction for me, running construction jobs and raising my son, and I was attracted to the single-minded devotion of the author. What I found comforting was the way Kempis portrayed himself as a struggling sinner, but at the same time hopeful and trusting in Our Lord, as I very much was at that time (and still am!)

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I thing its a wonderful book,as St Teresa of Child Jesus always had a copy of the small holy Bible and a copy of the “The Imitation of Christ” in her habit (dress) most of the time. i felt it’s very comforting especial when at times i feel low or faced with hostility or an argument with anyone,this is a great help,we have to do it with faith that Jesus is speaking to us,the way i do it, is i don’t read it as a book per-say chapter wise or cover to cover.i say 3 hail Mary’s ,and ask Jesus to speak to me and open the little book randomly and i get the message for the day and try to live it, just as we do it with the Bible normally.believe me i always get the right message for the day,and felt loved, comforted ,corrected at times. “St. Ignatius of Loyola was one of the many saints who loved to read the “Imitation of Christ.” And that He read it everyday and encouraged others to read it too.

this book is all about you, Jesus the devil and the world,and how to grow spiritually, 3 ways sin enters us, as in 1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; 16 for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world and its desire passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. Spiritual virtues ,vanities etc.

i read some where Thomas a Kempis is blessed or venerable, someone correct me here.

While reading the book, do remember, one should always keep in mind, is that Jesus Love us so much even though we a great sinner,and yes though we have to humble our-self we should realize that we all are children of god and heirs to the kingdom of god, so we don’t feel low self esteem in this way. Romans 5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

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As far as I know he’s not officially recognized by the Church as blessed or venerable. I was taught that he had a sainthood cause centuries ago, but it was abandoned after they found evidence that he may have been buried alive and woke up in his coffin, and they couldn’t be sure he didn’t commit a mortal sin or renounce God in those final moments so his cause was abandoned. I have since read that may be an urban legend. However, his sainthood cause was never resumed.

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oh never knew it,i think he must have spoken after he died in a coffin as prophet Samuel spoke.well in that century where widespread superstition was prevalent.Don’t you think many saints had spiritual attacks at the moment of death,like Mother Theresa of Calcutta the Priest or Bishop had an exorcism prayer done on her,anyway his books have inspired many saints throughout the centuries as well as we people.

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I really like the Pauline Press version. It has a reflection at the end of each chapter that is very insightful.

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