The Imitation of Christ

My first impression of the book is that it was very aesthetically pleasing. Its intricate designs were saturated with immense detail and substance that was complex enough to convey meaning in a way that draws people in rather than appearing overwhelming. They included multiple recurring motifs, mainly religious symbols, such as fish, unicorns, doves, vines, and religious buildings. The text was displayed in a bold, gothic style, with the first letter of each paragraph heavily styled, utilizing an archaic style befitting of a classic religious text. The pattern on the cover gave it an interesting texture, sporting a neutral color so as to allow the pattern to stand out both a visual and tactile manner. It is a very large book, written entirely on canvas, held together in a typical binding that you might find in a more modern book. I found extra pages at the end of the book, which could have many different implications. It could mean that the author was simply giving himself more room to add onto the book, or it could indicate that the author expected the book to stand the test of time, and added the extra pages as padding in order to aid in the preservation of the work. For its age, the book is very well preserved; the pages are tinted beige and frayed at the edges, but the content written on them is perfectly clear. The pages felt soft and fuzzy, a result of the pages being worn down and expanding unevenly. Turning the pages produced a soft crackling noise, as a reminder of how fragile the book is despite its excellent condition. The texture of the pages indicates that the molecules have expanded slightly, and the wrinkling of the pages has pushed the pieces of paper apart, adding to the thickness of the book. The smell of the book was reminiscent of an old antique shop, a place in which this book would not seem out of place.

Imitation of Christ, Thomas von Kempen, Thomas a Kempis

The Imitation of Christ is a historic classic widely regarded as the second most important religious text behind the Bible. It was written during the Devotio Moderna, or Modern Devotion, a religious movement which took place from the late 14th century to the 16th century. This movement, started by Deacon Geert Groote, arose from discontent with the way the Church was being run, namely a slipping of moral values within the clergy and the fading of sacred traditions. It called for the return of practices that were considered pious and holy and reform within the clergy. This book was written anonymously by members of the movement, but many sources point toward Thomas Kempis as the true author. The reasoning behind the anonymity of the work can be found in the first book of the series, stating that the author should love to be unknown. It has also been stated that the true author did not want the reader’s view of the book to be influenced by their view of its writer. They wished for the book to stand for itself and be appreciated because of its content instead of its author. As the author hoped, the book rose in popularity without the credibility of a known source, being printed 745 times before 1650 and, during its time, translated into more languages than any other text except for the Bible.

Imitation of Christ, Thomas von Kempen, Thomas a Kempis

The book itself is one of four parts of a spiritual life handbook, a collection of advice for being a good Christian compiled into one work organized by various religious aspects. It focuses on rejection of the outside world, renunciation of materialistic values and an emphasis on interior life. The Eucharist is considered a significant role in spiritual life. The series is split into four books: Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life, Directives for the Interior Life, On Interior Consolation, and the one I am using for this assignment, On the Blessed Sacrament. The last on the list is written in the format of dialogue between a Jesus and his disciple, in which demands are made of the disciple. He is instructed to renounce all that he has and resign completely to God if he wishes to be freed of sin and accepted as one of Jesus’s disciples. The implication of this text is that the reader, in order to be a good Christian, must follow in the footsteps of the disciple and emulate his sacrifices in order to secure their spot in heaven, be forgiven of all their sins, and be embraced by God.

Imitation of Christ, Thomas von Kempen, Thomas a Kempis

This devotional work is based on the ideal of the imitation of Christ, or living by following Jesus’s example. This ideal has been widely pondered and sought after for a significant period of time, being discussed as early as the Pauline Epistles in the New Testament. This book’s take on the subject was evidently well-received and considered highly influential both on a large scale and in important figures’ personal lives. Many accredit The Imitation of Christ with contributing to their conversions, including the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley. Others were known to deem the book important enough to carry with them at all times, and at least one man is believed to have read it as his last book while awaiting execution. However, there are still critics of the book, some disapproving of its radical renunciation of the materialistic world and glorification of harsh asceticism. One critic was repulsed by its support of the concept of the Eternal-Feminine, which is the idealistic concept of a woman, emphasizing core differences between the two sexes.

 

Overall, The Imitation of Christ is important because it played a key role in the Devotio Moderna movement and the development of Christianity in general throughout the 14th to 16th Centuries. Its significance is rivaled only by the Bible, growing extremely popular and influencing many important historical figures. This book and its accomplishments stand on their own, having no certain author to aid in its rise to fame and overwhelming acceptance. The magnitude of its success is one that few books can boast, and it has earned its place as a book to be remembered in both a historic and religious sense.

 

Works Cited

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“Imitation of Christ.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 10 Feb. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07674c.htm>.

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Richardson, Alan, and John Bowden. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. Westminster Press, 2005.

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Thomas, and Joseph N. Tylenda. The Imitation of Christ: in Four Books. Vintage Books, 1998.

Thomas, and William C. Creasy. The Imitation of Christ: a New Reading of the 1441 Latin Autograph Manuscript. Mercer University Press, 2007.

Wakefield, Gordon Stevens. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Westminster Press, 1983.