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The Imitation of Christ

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EXCERPTS

by Thomas a` Kempis (1380-1471)

[ Some of the Dialogues between a Monk and his Lord ]

 


Of Pure Resignation to a Man's Self; Part 3, Chap. xlii

Son, forsake thyself and thou shalt find me.    Stand without choice and without all manner of self and thou shalt win ever; for anon, as thou hast resigned thyself and not taken thyself again, then shall be thrown to thee more grace.

Lord, how oft shall I resign myself and wherein shall I forsake myself?

Ever and in every hour, as in little, so in great, I out-take (except) nothing but in all things I will find thee made bare:  else, how canst thou be mine and I thine, unless thou be deprived outwardly and inwardly from all thine own will?    The more swiftly that thou dost this the better it shall be with thee; and the more plainly and clearly it is done, the more shalt thou please me and the more thou shalt win.

Some resign, but with some exception, for they trust not fully to God;   wherefore they labour to provide for themselves.   Some also first offer all but afterwards through a little temptation they go again to their own selves and therefore profit not in virtue.   Then folk come not to true liberty of heart, nor to the grace of my jocund familiarity except with whole resignation and daily offering of themselves first being made, without which unity of fruition (pure enjoyment) standeth not, nor shall stand.

I have said to thee full oft, and yet I say again:  Forsake thyself, resign of thyself and thou shalt enjoy great peace.   Give all for all, seek nothing, ask nothing again;  stand purely and undoubtingly in me and thou shalt have me;  thou shalt be free in heart, and darkness shall not over go (overwhelm) thee.   To this enforce thyself, this pray thou, this desire thou, that thou may be despoiled on all manner of self, and thou, bare, follow bare Jhesu (Jesus only) and die to thyself and live everlastingly to me.   Then shall end all vain fantasies, wicked conturbations and superfluous cares;  then also shall go away inordinate dread and inordinate love shall die. [ Part 3, Chapter xlii ]


Of Good Governance in Outward Things, Part 3, Chap. xliii

Son, thou oughtest diligently to attend to this, that in every place, every action, or outward occupation, thou be inwardly free and mighty in thyself, and all things be under thee and thou not under them, that thou be lord and governor of thy deeds, not servant, but rather exempt and a true Hebrew, going in to the lot and liberty of the sons of God that stand upon these present goods and behold the everlasting, that behold things transitory with the left eye and heavenly things with the right eye:  whom temporal things draw not (them) to cleave to them but they rather draw such goods to serve God well with, as they are ordained of God and instituted of the sovereign workman that leaveth nothing inordinate (unordered) in his creation.

Also if thou in every chance standest not in outward appearance nor with the fleshly eye turnest about to things seen or heard but anon, in every cause, thou enterest with Moses to ask counsel of our Lord, thou shalt hear ofttimes God's answer and thou shalt come again instructed in things present and that are to come.

Moses at all times had recourse to the tabernacle for doubts and questions to be assoiled, and fled to the help of prayer for relieving of perils and for mischiefs of men.   So thou oughtest to fly into the secret place of thine heart beseeching inwardly the help of God.   For Joshua and the children of Israel, as it is read, were deceived of the Gibeonites, for they asked no counsel first of our Lord, but giving too much credence to sweet words, were deluded with a false pity. [ Part 3, Chapter xliii ]


That Man be not too Busy in Worldly Business, Part 3, Chap. xliv

Son, at all times commit to me thy cause, for I shall dispose it well in convenient time.   Abide in mine ordinances;  thou shalt feel profit thereof.

Lord, right gladly I commit to thee all things for little may my thinking profit.   Would God that I cleaved not over much to chances that are to come that I might offer myself to thy well-pleasing without tarrying.

Son, ofttimes a man is sore moved about a thing that he desireth;  but when he is come to it, he beginneth to feel otherwise;  for affections are not abiding about one thing but they be shufted from one to another.   It is not therefore a little thing, yea, it is not among least things for a man to forsake himself;   true profit is denying of a man's self and a man so denied is full free and full sure.   But the old enemy, adversary to all good, ceaseth not from temptation, but day and night he lieth in a wait, if he may bring headily (headlong) the unware man into the snare of deceit.

Work therefore and pray, saith our Lord, that ye enter not into temptation. [ Part 3, Chapter xliv ]


That Peace is not to be Set (Put) in Men ,  Part 3, Chap. xlvii

Son, if thou set (put) thy peace in any person for thine own feeling and living together (with them) thou shalt be unstable and unpeaced (not at peace).    But if thou have recourse to the truth living and abiding, the friend that goeth from thee or dieth from thee shall not make thee sorry.   In me ought to stand the love of the friend, and whoever seemeth good to thee and dear in this life is to be beloved — for me.

Without me, friendship is not worth and may not endure:  and the love is not very true or pure that I couple not.   Thou oughtest to be so dead from such affections of men beloved, as in thee is;  thou shouldest will to be without man's fellowship.   The further that a man goeth from all earthly solace, the more he nigheth unto God.   Also the more profoundly that a man goeth down into himself and waxeth vile to himself, the higher he styeth (climbeth) up to God.

He that ascribeth any good to himself, he letteth (hindreth) the coming of the grace of God into him, for the grace of the Holy Ghost seeketh ever the meek heart.    If thou couldest perfectly make thyself naught and void (empty) thyself from all love of creatures, then should I well (up) into thee with great grace.    When thou lookest to creatures, thine affection is withdrawn from the creator.

Learn in all things to overcome thyself for thy creator, and thou shalt then be able to attain to the knowledge of God.   How little ever it be that is beheld and loved inordinately, it tarrieth (keepeth men) from the highest love and draweth (them) into wickedness. [ Part 3, Chapter xlvii ]

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Description of the Monk, Thomas a` Kempis (1380-1471)

The author is content to be God's fool, but he is no man's fool.  It is clear that he recognizes quite candidly the assaults of lust, the insistence of ambition, the corruptions of petulance, the pride of impatience.   Even in a monastery he is aware that these and subtler things are distractions from "the everlasting clearness":  private loves, for instance, self-absorption in this one object, that one person;  busyness, too and preoccupation.   We are constantly lost among things;  we are mastered by the external;  we are blinded by the immediate.   We do not see the eternal vision;  we do not hear the eternal music because we are blinded by the here and now, deafened by loud and alien noises.   And it is our lusts, our little loves, our small ambitions, our trivial irritations, our pains and our pleasures even, that prevent us from being filled with the lucidity of Heaven, that keep us from the rapture of clear union with the Divine.

Thomas a` Kempis is simply one of that long line of quietists who feel that it is external existence itself that is the great disaster.   We are but strangers here;  heaven is our home.    No improvement in temporal conditions can overcome the essential disease of time itself.   The Imitation of Christ is the little Bible of those who would go home, and find themselves in the quiet ecstasy of union with the eternal.   All this monk's comments on life and the world are simply suggestions as to how to overcome the obstacles that hold us here, that hold us back, that keep us blindfolded. [by Irwin Edman in 1943]

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[ This little book is still in print and worthy of attention from those who relate to the included excerpts ]

 

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