Friday, November 14, 2008

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis

It took two months to get through The Imitation of Christ not because it was difficult reading, but because it was so meaty that I had to spend lots of time “chewing”. Two or three pages a day was my goal, which was enough of a nibble to keep me satisfied till the next reading. There is no question as to why this book has endured for six hundred years as a Christian classic.

Some might be tempted to think of the book as just for “Catholics” since á Kempis was a monk, but to assume that would be to miss the point of the book: Everyone who calls himself a follower of Christ must be willing to do and endure whatever God has called him to do. With joy.

An example from book four, chapter 10: What shall I give thee [Lord] for all these thousands of benefits? I would I could serve thee all the days of my life…Truly thou art worthy of all service, of all honor and everlasting praise. Truly thou art my Lord and I thy poor servant who am bound to serve thee with all of my might; neither ought I ever to be weary of praising thee…They who for thy love have renounced all carnal delights shall find the sweetest consolations of the Holy Ghost…Oh sweet and delightful service of God by which a man is made truly free and holy!

The introduction to my 1937 copy of Imitation said that book three (about Holy Communion) is left out of some versions of the book, possibly because of its “catholic” emphasis on the doctrine of transubstantiation. While I disagree with this particular doctrine I feel that we Protestants often go to the other extreme, removing all mystery from the act of coming to the Lord’s Table. For that reason I would encourage you to find a book that includes the communion chapters. You will envy á Kempis as you read of his deep love for this sacrament as a means of grace.

Finally, I want to add a note about a strong thread in the book regarding mortification of the flesh. I wholeheartedly agree that no price is too high to pay for following the Lord and that the Bible promotes a selfless way of living. But to imply that everything material is bad and that everything spiritual is good is gnosticism. While it is true that Christians must learn to love God more than earthly pleasures, the irony is that because we know and love Him we are able to enjoy life’s pleasures at a deeper level. The gifts have greater value because we love the Giver. But don’t let that caveat keep you from reading an extremely worthwhile book. Just as Adler’s book (reviewed here) sets out to build reading muscles, this one sets out to whip flabby believers into shape. I loved it!


Anonymous said...

This is such a familiar title, but I confess I've never read it. I think my response would be very similar to yours. I'm not a Catholic doctrinally, but I agree that Catholicism can have a deeper respect for the mystery of our faith.

I've read through some of 'Dark Night of the Soul' and had a similar response.

Carrie said...

I totally agree with your take on Protestants removing the mystery of communion.

I haven't read this particular book (but haven't been opposed to it) and appreciated your review very much.


Carol in Oregon said...

Hope, I loved your review of this book. I read Imitation two years ago and had many of the same responses.

Much was excellent and other stuff seemed to dwell on the wrong things. It is a book I will revisit over my lifetime.