The Imitation of Christ
Written by: a Kempis, Thomas Posted on: 03/31/2003
Category: Classic Christian Library
THE IMITATION OF CHRIST
Thomas a Kempis
THE LATIN INTO
Digitized by Harry Plantinga, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1994.
This etext is in the public domain.
IN PREPARING this edition of The Imitation of Christ, the aim was
to achieve a simple, readable text which would ring true to those
who are already lovers of this incomparable book and would attract
others to it. For this reason we have attempted to render the text
into English as it is spoken today rather than the cloudy, archaic
terminology that encumbers so many translations of Christian
classics. The result, we feel, has achieved a directness and
conciseness which will meet the approval of modern readers. In the
second place, we have made use of the familiar paragraph form,
doing away with the simple statement or verse form of the original
and of many translations. This was done in the interest of easier
reading, and in order to bring out more clearly the connection
between the single statements.
No claim of literary excellence over the many English
versions now extant is here advanced, nor any attempt to solve in
further confusion the problem of the book's authorship.
Theories most popular at the moment ascribe the Imitation to
two or three men, members of the Brethren of the Common Life, an
association of priests organized in the Netherlands in the latter
half of the fourteenth century. That Thomas Hemerken of Kempen, or
Thomas Ë Kempis as he is now known, later translated a composite
of their writings, essentially a spiritual diary, from the
original Netherlandish into Latin is generally admitted by
scholars. This Thomas, born about the year 1380, was educated by
the Brethren of the Common Life, was moved to join their
community, and was ordained priest. His career thereafter was
devoted to practicing the counsels of spiritual perfection and to
copying books for the schools. From both pursuits evolved The
Imitation of Christ. As editor and translator he was not without
faults, but thanks to him the Imitation became and has remained,
after the Bible, the most widely read book in the world. It is his
edition that is here rendered into English, without deletion of
chapters or parts of them because doubts exist as to their
authorship, or because of variants in style, or for any of the
other more or less valid reasons.
There is but one major change. The treatise on Holy
Communion, which Ë Kempis places as Book Three, is here titled
Book Four. The move makes the order of the whole more logical and
agrees with the thought of most editors.
BOOK ONE. THOUGHTS HELPFUL IN THE LIFE OF THE SOUL
1 Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth
2 Having A Humble Opinion of Self
3 The Doctrine of Truth
4 Prudence in Action
5 Reading the Holy Scripture
6 Unbridled Affections
7 Avoiding False Hope and Pride
8 Shunning Over-Familiarity
9 Obedience and Subjection
10 Avoiding Idle Talk
11 Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection
12 The Value of Adversity
13 Resisting Temptation
14 Avoiding Rash Judgment
15 Works Done in Charity
16 Bearing With the Faults of Others
17 Monastic Life
18 The Example Set Us by the Holy Fathers
19 The Practices of a Good Religious
20 The Love of Solitude and Silence
21 Sorrow of Heart
22 Thoughts on the Misery of Man
23 Thoughts on Death
24 Judgment and the Punishment of Sin
25 Zeal in Amending Our Lives
BOOK TWO. THE INTERIOR LIFE
3 Goodness and Peace in Man
4 Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose
6 The Joy of a Good Conscience
7 Loving Jesus Above All Things
8 The Intimate Friendship of Jesus
9 Wanting No Share in Comfort
10 Appreciating God's Grace
11 Few Love the Cross of Jesus
12 The Royal Road of the Holy Cross
BOOK THREE. INTERNAL CONSOLATION
1 The Inward Conversation of Christ with the Faithful Soul
2 Truth Speaks Inwardly without the Sound of Words
3 Listen Humbly to the Words of God. Many Do Not Heed Them
4 We Must Walk Before God in Humility and Truth
5 The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love
6 The Proving of a True Lover
7 Grace Must Be Hidden Under the Mantle of Humility
8 Self-Abasement in the Sight of God
9 All Things Should be Referred to God as their Last End
10 To Despise the World and Serve God is Sweet
11 The Longings of Our Hearts Must Be Examined and Moderated
12 Acquiring Patience in the Fight against Concupiscence
13 The Obedience of One Humbly Subject to the Example of Jesus
14 Consider the Hidden Judgments of God Lest You Become Proud
of Your Own Good Deeds
15 How One Should Feel and Speak on Every Desirable Thing
16 True Comfort is to be Sought in God Alone
17 All Our Care is to be Placed in God
18 Temporal Sufferings Should be Borne Patiently, After the
Example of Christ
19 True Patience in Suffering
20 Confessing Our Weakness in the Miseries of Life
21 Above All Goods and All Gifts We Must Rest in God
22 Remember the Innumerable Gifts of God
23 Four Things Which Bring Great Peace
24 Avoiding Curious Inquiry About the Lives of Others
25 The Basis of Firm Peace of Heart and True Progress
26 The Excellence of a Free Mind, Gained Through Prayer Rather
Than by Study
27 Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good
28 Strength Against Slander
29 How We Must Call Upon and Bless the Lord When Trouble Presses
30 The Quest of Divine Help and Confidence in Regaining Grace
31 To Find the Creator, Forsake All Creatures
32 Self-Denial and the Renunciation of Evil Appetites
33 Restlessness of Soul -- Directing Our Final Intention Toward
34 God is Sweet Above All Things and in All Things to Those Who
35 There is No Security from Temptation in This Life
36 The Vain Judgments of Men
37 Pure and Entire Resignation of Self to Obtain Freedom of Heart
38 The Right Ordering of External Affairs; Recourse to God in
39 A Man Should Not be Unduly Solicitous about his Affairs
40 Man Has No Good in Himself and Can Glory in Nothing
41 Contempt for All Earthly Honor
42 Peace is not to be Placed in Men
43 Beware Vain and Worldly Knowledge
44 Do Not be Concerned About Outward Things
45 All Men Are Not To Be Believed, For It is Easy To Err in
46 Trust in God Against Slander
47 Every Trial Must Be Borne for the Sake of Eternal Life
48 The Day of Eternity and the Distresses of this Life
49 The Desire of Eternal Life; The Great Rewards Promised to
Those Who Struggle
50 How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands
51 When We Cannot Attain to the Highest, We Must Practice the
52 A Man Ought Not to Consider Himself Worthy of Consolation, But
Rather Deserving of Chastisement
53 God's Grace Is Not Given to the Earthly Minded
54 The Different Motions of Nature and Grace
55 The Corruption of Nature and the Efficacy of Divine Grace
56 We Ought to Deny Ourselves and Imitate Christ Through Bearing
57 A Man Should Not Be Too Downcast When He Falls Into Defects
58 High Matters and the Hidden Judgments of God Are Not To Be
59 All Hope and Trust Are To Be Fixed in God Alone
BOOK FOUR. AN INVITATION TO HOLY COMMUNION
1 The Great Reverence With Which We Should Receive Christ
2 God's Great Goodness and Love is Shown to Man in This
3 It Is Profitable To Receive Communion Often
4 Many Blessings Are Given Those Who Receive Communion Worthily
5 The Dignity of the Sacrament and of the Priesthood
6 An Inquiry on the Proper Thing to do Before Communion
7 The Examination of Conscience and the Resolution to Amend
8 The Offering of Christ on the Cross; Our Offering
9 We Should Offer Ourselves and All That We Have to God, Praying
10 Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion
11 The Body of Christ and Sacred Scripture Are Most Necessary to
a Faithful Soul
12 The Communicant Should Prepare Himself for Christ with Great
13 With All Her Heart the Devout Soul Should Desire Union with
Christ in the Sacrament
14 The Ardent Longing of Devout Men for the Body of Christ
15 The Grace of Devotion is Acquired Through Humility and Self-
16 We Should Show Our Needs to Christ and Ask His Grace
17 The Burning Love and Strong Desire to Receive Christ
18 Man Should Not Scrutinize This Sacrament in Curiosity, But
Humbly Imitate Christ and Submit Reason to Holy Faith
IN THE LIFE OF THE SOUL
The First Chapter
Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth
HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness," says the Lord. 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 Jesus Christ.
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 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.
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." 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.
 John 8:12.
 Eccles. 1:8.
The Second Chapter
Having a Humble Opinion of Self
EVERY man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge
without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is
better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study
the course of the stars. He who knows himself well becomes mean in
his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.
If I knew all things in the world and had not charity, what
would it profit me before God Who will judge me by my deeds?
Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is
much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned
and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of
which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns
himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is
Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the
mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.
The more you know and the better you understand, the more
severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more
holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or
skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. If you think
you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at
the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not
affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance. Why prefer yourself to
anyone else when many are more learned, more cultured than you?
If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while,
then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know
and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel. To think of
oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others
is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another
sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself
better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good
estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more
frail than yourself.
The Third Chapter
The Doctrine of Truth
HAPPY is he to whom truth manifests itself, not in signs and words
that fade, but as it actually is. Our opinions, our senses often
deceive us and we discern very little.
What good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters
when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment
Day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and
undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are
We have eyes and do not see.
What, therefore, have we to do with questions of philosophy?
He to whom the Eternal Word speaks is free from theorizing. For
from this Word are all things and of Him all things speak -- the
Beginning Who also speaks to us. Without this Word no man
understands or judges aright. He to whom it becomes everything,
who traces all things to it and who sees all things in it, may
ease his heart and remain at peace with God.
O God, You Who are the truth, make me one with You in love
everlasting. I am often wearied by the many things I hear and
read, but in You is all that I long for. Let the learned be still,
let all creatures be silent before You; You alone speak to me.
The more recollected a man is, and the more simple of heart
he becomes, the easier he understands sublime things, for he
receives the light of knowledge from above. The pure, simple, and
steadfast spirit is not distracted by many labors, for he does
them all for the honor of God. And since he enjoys interior peace
he seeks no selfish end in anything. What, indeed, gives more
trouble and affliction than uncontrolled desires of the heart?
A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has
to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but
according to the dictates of right reason. Who is forced to
struggle more than he who tries to master himself? This ought to
be our purpose, then: to conquer self, to become stronger each
day, to advance in virtue.
Every perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed
with it and no learning of ours is without some darkness. Humble
knowledge of self is a surer path to God than the ardent pursuit
of learning. Not that learning is to be considered evil, or
knowledge, which is good in itself and so ordained by God; but a
clean conscience and virtuous life ought always to be preferred.
Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try
to become learned rather than to live well.
If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting
virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so
much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious
organizations. On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be
asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we
have spoken but how well we have lived.
Tell me, where now are all the masters and teachers whom you
knew so well in life and who were famous for their learning?
Others have already taken their places and I know not whether they
ever think of their predecessors. During life they seemed to be
something; now they are seldom remembered. How quickly the glory
of the world passes away! If only their lives had kept pace with
their learning, then their study and reading would have been worth
How many there are who perish because of vain worldly
knowledge and too little care for serving God. They became vain in
their own conceits because they chose to be great rather than
He is truly great who has great charity. He is truly great
who is little in his own eyes and makes nothing of the highest
honor. He is truly wise who looks upon all earthly things as folly
that he may gain Christ. He who does God's will and renounces his
own is truly very learned.
The Fourth Chapter
Prudence in Action
DO NOT yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things
carefully and patiently in the light of God's will. For very
often, sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil
of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily
believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is
prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.
Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one's opinion,
not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the
gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.
Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek the
advice of your betters in preference to following your own
A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives him
experience in many things, for the more humble he is and the more
subject to God, the wiser and the more at peace he will be in all
The Fifth Chapter
Reading the Holy Scripture
TRUTH, not eloquence, is to be sought in reading the Holy
Scriptures; and every part must be read in the spirit in which it
was written. For in the Scriptures we ought to seek profit rather
than polished diction.
Likewise we ought to read simple and devout books as
willingly as learned and profound ones. We ought not to be swayed
by the authority of the writer, whether he be a great literary
light or an insignificant person, but by the love of simple truth.
We ought not to ask who is speaking, but mark what is said. Men
pass away, but the truth of the Lord remains forever. God speaks
to us in many ways without regard for persons.
Our curiosity often impedes our reading of the Scriptures,
when we wish to understand and mull over what we ought simply to
read and pass by.
If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility,
simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being
learned. Seek willingly and listen attentively to the words of the
saints; do not be displeased with the sayings of the ancients, for
they were not made without purpose.
The Sixth Chapter
WHEN a man desires a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at
ease. A proud and avaricious man never rests, whereas he who is
poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace. An unmortified
man is quickly tempted and overcome in small, trifling evils; his
spirit is weak, in a measure carnal and inclined to sensual
things; he can hardly abstain from earthly desires. Hence it makes
him sad to forego them; he is quick to anger if reproved. Yet if
he satisfies his desires, remorse of conscience overwhelms him
because he followed his passions and they did not lead to the
peace he sought.
True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions,
not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in
the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the
fervent and spiritual man.
The Seventh Chapter
Avoiding False Hope and Pride
VAIN is the man who puts his trust in men, in created things.
Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus
Christ and to seem poor in this world. Do not be self-sufficient
but place your trust in God. Do what lies in your power and God
will aid your good will. Put no trust in your own learning nor in
the cunning of any man, but rather in the grace of God Who helps
the humble and humbles the proud.
If you have wealth, do not glory in it, nor in friends
because they are powerful, but in God Who gives all things and Who
desires above all to give Himself. Do not boast of personal
stature or of physical beauty, qualities which are marred and
destroyed by a little sickness. Do not take pride in your talent
or ability, lest you displease God to Whom belongs all the natural
gifts that you have.
Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you
be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not
take pride in your good deeds, for God's judgments differ from
those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there
is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain
humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else,
but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The
humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud
are envy and frequent anger.
The Eighth Chapter
DO NOT open your heart to every man, but discuss your affairs with
one who is wise and who fears God. Do not keep company with young
people and strangers. Do not fawn upon the rich, and do not be
fond of mingling with the great. Associate with the humble and the
simple, with the devout and virtuous, and with them speak of
edifying things. Be not intimate with any woman, but generally
commend all good women to God. Seek only the intimacy of God and
of His angels, and avoid the notice of men.
We ought to have charity for all men but familiarity with all
is not expedient. Sometimes it happens that a person enjoys a good
reputation among those who do not know him, but at the same time
is held in slight regard by those who do. Frequently we think we
are pleasing others by our presence and we begin rather to
displease them by the faults they find in us.
The Ninth Chapter
Obedience and Subjection
IT IS a very great thing to obey, to live under a superior and not
to be one's own master, for it is much safer to be subject than it
is to command. Many live in obedience more from necessity than
from love. Such become discontented and dejected on the slightest
pretext; they will never gain peace of mind unless they subject
themselves wholeheartedly for the love of God.
Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble
obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected
from change and different places have deceived many.
Everyone, it is true, wishes to do as he pleases and is
attracted to those who agree with him. But if God be among us, we
must at times give up our opinions for the blessings of peace.
Furthermore, who is so wise that he can have full knowledge
of everything? Do not trust too much in your own opinions, but be
willing to listen to those of others. If, though your own be good,
you accept another's opinion for love of God, you will gain much
more merit; for I have often heard that it is safer to listen to
advice and take it than to give it. It may happen, too, that while
one's own opinion may be good, refusal to agree with others when
reason and occasion demand it, is a sign of pride and obstinacy.
The Tenth Chapter
Avoiding Idle Talk
SHUN the gossip of men as much as possible, for discussion of
worldly affairs, even though sincere, is a great distraction
inasmuch as we are quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity.
Many a time I wish that I had held my peace and had not
associated with men. Why, indeed, do we converse and gossip among
ourselves when we so seldom part without a troubled conscience? We
do so because we seek comfort from one another's conversation and
wish to ease the mind wearied by diverse thoughts. Hence, we talk
and think quite fondly of things we like very much or of things we
dislike intensely. But, sad to say, we often talk vainly and to no
purpose; for this external pleasure effectively bars inward and
Therefore we must watch and pray lest time pass idly.
When the right and opportune moment comes for speaking, say
something that will edify.
Bad habits and indifference to spiritual progress do much to
remove the guard from the tongue. Devout conversation on spiritual
matters, on the contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress,
especially when persons of the same mind and spirit associate
together in God.
The Eleventh Chapter
Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection
WE SHOULD enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with
what others say and do, for these are no concern of ours. How can
a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange
distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected,
live long in peace?
Blessed are the simple of heart for they shall enjoy peace in
Why were some of the saints so perfect and so given to
contemplation? Because they tried to mortify entirely in
themselves all earthly desires, and thus they were able to attach
themselves to God with all their heart and freely to concentrate
their innermost thoughts.
We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken
up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one
vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves
day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent. If we mortified
our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our
minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something
of heavenly contemplation.
The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we
are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow
the perfect way of the saints. Thus when we encounter some slight
difficulty, we are too easily dejected and turn to human
consolations. If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in
battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us.
For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is
ready to help those who carry on and trust in His grace.
If we let our progress in religious life depend on the
observance of its externals alone, our devotion will quickly come
to an end. Let us, then, lay the ax to the root that we may be
freed from our passions and thus have peace of mind.
If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon
become perfect. The contrary, however, is often the case -- we
feel that we were better and purer in the first fervor of our
conversion than we are after many years in the practice of our
faith. Our fervor and progress ought to increase day by day; yet
it is now considered noteworthy if a man can retain even a part of
his first fervor.
If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we
should afterwards be able to do all things with ease and joy.
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