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Thomas à Kempis

Thomas à Kempis

The spiritual writer Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380-1471) was a Roman Catholic monk in Holland whose "The Imitation of Christ" became a classic in religious literature.

Thomas à Kempis, whose family name was Hammercken, was born in the Rhineland town of Kempen near Düsseldorf in Germany. The school he attended at nearby Deventer in Holland had been started by Gerard Groote, founder of the Brothers of the Common Life. These were men devoted to prayer, simplicity, and union with God. Thomas of Kempen, as he was known at school, was so impressed by his teachers that he decided to live his own life according to their ideals. When he was 19, he entered the monastery of Mount St. Agnes, which the Brothers had recently started near Zwolle in Holland and which was then being administered by his older brother John. He spent the rest of his long life behind the walls of that monastery.

The pattern of Thomas's life remained the same over the years. He devoted his time to prayer, study, copying manuscripts, teaching novices, offering Mass, and hearing the confessions of people who came to the monastery church. From time to time Thomas was given a position of authority in the community of monks, but he consistently preferred the quiet of his cell to the challenge of administration. He was pleasant but retiring. The other monks eventually recognized Thomas's talent for deep thought and stopped troubling him with practical affairs.

Thomas wrote a number of sermons, letters, hymns, and lives of the saints. He reflected the mystical spirituality of his times, the sense of being absorbed in God. The most famous of his works by far is The Imitation of Christ, a charming instruction on how to love God. This small book, free from intellectual pretensions, has had great appeal to anyone interested in probing beneath the surface of life. "A poor peasant who serves God," Thomas wrote in it, "is better than a proud philosopher who … ponders the courses of the stars." The book advised the ordering of one's priorities along religious lines. "Vain and brief is all human comfort. Blessed and true is that comfort which is derived inwardly from the Truth." Thomas advised where to look for happiness. "The glory of the good is in their own consciences, and not in the mouths of men." The Imitation of Christ has come to be, after the Bible, the most widely translated book in Christian literature. Thomas died in the same monastic obscurity in which he had lived, on Aug. 8, 1471.

Further Reading

The most convenient modern edition of The Imitation of Christ is the translation by Justin McCann (1952). There are no modern works on the life of Thomas à Kempis, but several older books are still valuable: Francis R. Cruise, Thomas à Kempis (1887), and J. E. G. De Montmorency, Thomas à Kempis: His Age and Book (1906). □

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Thomas à Kempis

Thomas à Kempis (kĕm´pĬs), b. 1379 or 1380, d. 1471, German monk, traditional author of The Imitation of Christ, b. Kempen, Germany. He was schooled at Deventer, in the Netherlands, the center of the Brothers of the Common Life founded by Gerard Groote. He joined the Augustinian canons (1399) and was ordained a priest (c.1413). His convent was Mt. St. Agnes, near Zwolle, in the Netherlands. Thomas worked principally at copying and writing. A number of his treatises on the monastic life and little devotional essays have been translated into English. The great devotional work The Imitation of Christ (c.1427) has traditionally been ascribed to him, although some scholars have contested his authorship. See Imitation of Christ, The.

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Kempis, Thomas à

Kempis, Thomas à (1380–1471) German Augustinian monk and spiritual writer. Ordained in 1413, he remained in the Monastery of the Brethren of the Common Life, near Zwolle, for most of his life. He wrote or edited numerous treatises on the life of the soul. The most famous work often attributed to him is Imitation of Christ. Other works include Soliloquium Animae and De Tribus Tabernaculis.

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Thomas àG Kempis

Thomas àG Kempis (c.1380–1471). Christian ascetical writer. His teaching, which was deeply influenced by the devotio moderna (see GROOTE, GEERT), stresses the importance of an inward devotion of love and obedience to Christ, which finds classic expression in the Imitation of Christ, of which he is probably the author.

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Kempis, Thomas à

Thomas à Kempis: see Thomas à Kempis.

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Thomas à Kempis

Thomas à Kempis See Kempis

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