Sermon: Thomas à Kempis

Information regarding the image: Title – Thomas à Kempis on Mount Saint Agnes – (1569). In the Our Lady’s Basilica in Zwolle there is a painting on which Thomas van Kempen is pictured, with in the background the building complex of the Agnietenberg monastery. Also on the painting Arnold Waeyer (1606-1692), the archipelago of Salland can be seen. He led an important part of the church life of the Zwolle Catholics in the shelter period. The painting contains a comprehensive Latin text.

If the text is reliable, the painting would date from 1569 and be painted on behalf of Johannes Cuperinus, the last prior of the Agnietenberg monastery. He said, adding the text and self-portrait in 1654. In the Stedelijk Museum Zwolle, a virtually identical painting hangs. (source)  I’ve tried to locate the Latin text, but have not been successful.

The library at Nashotah House is something to behold. Two stories and a basement, wall-to-wall books and periodicals, almost all of which pertain to God and the Church. In addition, in the basement along one wall is a must visit at least once per week section. This is where they have the books that they are giving away. Duplicates, out of date, a bit to worn, etc. copies. It wasn’t every week that you will find one, but occasionally you will come across a gem. And I believe it was in my Junior year that I came across this one: My Imitation of Christ, published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. It is The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.

I’ve probably told you that for many years I read various daily devotional books, but I would get tired of them after only a month or so. They didn’t really speak to me at all, but since I came across this one in – I think in 2002 – I haven’t needed any others. I read and re-read it. I’m not the only one. This small volume has been translated into more languages than any other except Holy Scripture. It was written in the mid-15th century, yet by 1779 there were over 1,800 editions. I don’t know how many there are today.

Thomas was a member of the Bretheren of the Common Life, a religious order. He served as a monk, but was also ordained a priest and became the sub-prior of the abbey of Mount St. Agnes in Zwolle located in the Netherlands. He died on July 24, 1471.

His writings are informative, inspiring, direct and practical. Some find him to be a bit too depressing, even morbid, but in the midst of his teachings a person can learn deep things about the love of God and grace. Thomas will unwaveringly tell you that a life with Christ will be difficult, that you should consider yourself of lesser value than every other person and also a far greater sinner than any, but he will also tell you of the reward prepared for those who imitate Christ and the love God has for them.

Consider these words: Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth; for love is born of God, and can rest only in God above all created things. Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good. Love alone lightens every burden, and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing, and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble, and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection. Love aspires to high things, and is held back by nothing base. Love longs to be free, a stranger to every worldly desire, lest its inner vision become dimmed, and lest worldly self-interest hinder it or ill-fortune cast it down.

I don’t know how many books I’ve told you to read over the past few years, but of this one, “Sir Thomas More, the lord chancellor under Henry VIII said it was one of the three books everybody ought to own. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, read a chapter a day from it and regularly gave away copies as gifts and it is reported that the Imitation of Christ was the only book he had in his room at the time of his death. Methodist founder John Wesley said it was the best summary of the Christian life he had ever read.” (Christianity Today)

The Apostle Paul said to us, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” There are many who can direct us on the path to becoming imitators of Christ, but I will highly recommend this one to you. Find yourself a copy of this little book, it comes in older and modern translations, and allow the Lord to give you spiritual direction through this remarkable 15th century monk in whom God poured much wisdom.

Thomas à Kempis. Today we celebrate his life and his writings that have transformed generations of Christians for over five centuries.


3 Replies to “Sermon: Thomas à Kempis”

  1. This was a great post as always. I can tell that you are passionate about him and his teachings. I purchased a copy of The Imitation of Christ last month and am currently on chapter five. I am taking my time in reading it to get the most out of it. Sometimes it is difficult for me to digest. Thank you for sharing Thomas A’ Kempis with us. He is definitely one to learn from. Can you tell me what chapter the information is in that you quoted from him on love?

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