Learn Your Faith: The Imitation of Christ

The Summer is the season during which we may have the opportunity to spend more time out of doors; at the park, or at the beach, for example. Oftentimes we search for “just the right book” with which to while away the hours at the park or the shore. Through the course of the next few weeks we would like to recommend some “spiritual classics” to help our readers to select “just the right book” for their summer reading pleasure. Our first selection is a spiritual “classic” which frequently has been referred to as the most popular and best-selling book of Christianity after the Bible itself. "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) was written by a monk, for fellow monks, more than five hundred years ago. However, because of the author’s skill as a writer, and because of the eternal truth and “timeliness” of the subject matter, the work continues to enjoy an immense popularity. Another “plus” on the side of the “Imitation” is the fact that, while the work was written as an integral whole, one can easily benefit from a cursory skimming or “skipping around” within it, i.e. it need not be read in its entirety. The work is divided into short “chapters” of little more than a page or two, each of which deals with a particular aspect of living the Christian life, for example: “On Resisting Temptations (I,13); On Knowing Ourselves (II, 5); On Learning Patience (III, 12); On Four Things that Bring Peace (III, 23), to name only a few.

In the “Imitation” Thomas a Kempis, basing himself firmly on the Scriptures, isolates fundamental truths of the faith and expresses them in a clear and succinct way applicable to anyone, in any walk of life. The goal of the book, like that of all spiritual classics, is to help the reader allow himself to be moved toward union, or communion, with God through three broadly defined “ways” or stages of the spiritual life: the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. In the first “book” Thomas seeks to wean the soul from preoccupations with material concerns, successes, and failures. Self-knowledge and self-denial are the first steps to union with God (the purgative way). The second “book” sets forth the “illuminative way” in which the disciple, having made some progress in self-conquest, is gradually “illumined” by the divine light of the knowledge of God. The third “book” prepares the disciple for union/communion with God by means of the life of grace (the unitive way). The fourth and final book, “On the Blessed Sacrament” is both a small treatise on the Eucharist and an exhortation to encourage the faithful to devout and regular reception of Holy Communion. After all, if it is by means of the Sacrament of Holy Communion that we are most closely united to God in this world, it stands to reason that the stage of the spiritual life called the “unitive way” and the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Communion would constitute together the apex of life with God in this world.

“The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis is available in most large bookstores and is published in a “Penguin Classics” edition, among others.

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