The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

According to Wikipedia Thomas a Kempis wrote The Imitation of Christ in the years 1481-1427. So it’s been around for a while.

I came across it four years ago in a second hand bookshop and bought it on a whim.It’s made a profound impression on me. In fact it changed the way I look at the world.

I think it’s as relevant today as it was 600 years ago. It helped me understand parts of the New Testament - especially the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Romans.

Turns out the whole of the Imitation of Christ, all four books, is available online.

Click here for Imitation of Christ

Anyone interested in a thread devoted to discussing this amazing work?

He says that the greatest saints chose to serve God in solitude. But what about Mother Theresa? She went out in the world and helped the underprivileged in her orphanages. Would it have been better if she had stayed in solitude?

I agree…It’s timeless! The Imitation of Christ has always been a favorite of mine. However, I didn’t realize that it’s four volumes! My copy is a small red hardcover that I can easily fit in my purse and read on the go. I guess I need to check that out!

Did you know that Thomas a Kempis also wrote a book called The Imitation of Mary? There are actually two books that look almost identical by the same name: they’re both the same size, hard cover, blue, same font with a similar image of the Blessed Mother on the cover except one is written by Kempis and the other is authored by an Alexander de Rouville. I have the Rouville one and it’s very good, but one day I hope to read the Kempis version.:slight_smile:

Pics of the books.

I didn’t realize there were 4 books either.
I thought it was only one.

I have heard of The Imitation of Mary, but I have not read it.

I don’t have a copy handy currently, but remember each chapter being really short. So each book might be 30 to 50 pages. Most modern versions will have all 4 books in a single volume. This is similar to how the Lord of the Rings trilogy has 6 books in 3 volumes. Originally Tolkien had wanted to publish all 6 books in a single volume.

In “The Love of Solitude and Silence” he writes:

*SEEK a suitable time for leisure and meditate often on the favors of God. Leave curiosities alone.Read such matters as bring sorrow to the heart rather than occupation to the mind. If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about, from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time that is suitable for holy meditation.

Very many great saints avoided the company of men wherever possible and chose to serve God in retirement. “As often as I have been among men,” said one writer, “I have returned less a man.” We often find this to be true when we take part in long conversations. It is easier to be silent altogether than not to speak too much. To stay at home is easier than to be sufficiently on guard while away. Anyone, then, who aims to live the inner and spiritual life must go apart, with Jesus,from the crowd*

(My emphasis)

I don’t think he’s saying that everyone should live in solitude at all times. He’s only saying that many did.

Remember that the books are known collectively as “The Imitation of Christ”. Jesus had solitary times - notable in the Garden of Gethsemane - but was often surrounded by crowds.

But really I don’t think there’s one size fits all. We all need to serve God in our own ways and according to our own abilities.

I didn’t. Thanks for that.

You’re right. My copy has all four books in a single volume of around 120 pages.

Mother Teresa was in solitude with the Lord as she was in the world but not of the world. All the good she did came from her deep prayer life in solitude with our Lord Jesus Christ.


I think you put it very well.

This book was a lifeline for me. I read it so much my dog got jealous and chewed it up. (Hehe she also chewed up my Voyager DVDs when I got into that too).

Honestly though, I agree, it is extremely relevant to the world we live in. I also found it in a second hand shop and started reading it on the train every day to a particularly awful job where I was at the butt end of a lot of dishonesty and bullying. It really helped me survive with my sanity intact, and taught me to respond with acceptance and humility to the bullying instead of outrage (as much as I could in my weak state - it is hard to fight my own will to be self righteous). This book taught me that humility is a bitter pill with a perfectly sweet aftertaste.

Thank you for that great post!

I’m sorry that you had to undergo bullying at your workplace. I can see how the Imitation of Christ would be a lifeline in a situation like that. After all, even Christ wasn’t immune to bullies. In a way, your “Imitation of Christ” was in a sense, on the job training.
I hope things are better for you now!
I had to giggle at the visual picture of your jealous dog though!:stuck_out_tongue:


It’s definitely one of the books I turn to when I’m feeling in a bad mood.

It also contains surprisingly practical advice. Consider this from the chapter on Resisting Temptation:

Many people try to escape temptations, only to fall more deeply…The man who only shuns temptations outwardly and does not uproot them will make little progress; indeed they will quickly return, more violent than before

How true that is. Most twenty-first century psychologists would agree.

But then he goes on:

Little by little, in patience and long-suffering you will overcome them, by the help of God rather than by severity and your own rash ways. Often take counsel when tempted; and do not be harsh with others who are tempted, but console them as you yourself would wish to be consoled.

I read this out to a friend who desperately needed to lose weight for health reasons. She lost 16 kilos (about 35 lbs) and attributes it all to the wisdom of Thomas a Kempis.

I think it fair to say that this is the Alcoholics Anonymous model. If Thomas were around today maybe he would have founded AA!

I have both of the Imitations of Mary and they are both excellent. They, along with Imitation of Christ, are my favorite spiritual classics. I just discovered another good one recently, called My Way of Life, and it is a condensed and edited version of the Summa Theologica for the layperson. It is a tiny, purse sized volume, and it has tiny print and something like 400 pages. It is wonderful. An easier way to learn from St. Thomas Aquinas without poring through the volumes of the Summa.

Another good one I would recommend is The Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales.

I have My Way of Life also by St. Thomas Aquinas and it is very good. I carry that with me as well as Imitation of Christ wherever I go.

I was reading a biography of St. Therese of Lisieux a few days ago, and this book was mentioned, as it was a great influence on her, so I bought it immediately and started reading it last night. I am really looking forward to reading more of it.

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