by Thomas a Kempis

Translated by Rev. William Benham

London: J. C. Nimmo


The treatise “Of the Imitation of Christ” appears to have been originally written in Latin early in the fifteenth century. Its exact date and its authorship are still a matter of debate. Manuscripts of the Latin version survive in considerable numbers all over Western Europe, and they, with the vast list of translations and of printed editions, testify to its almost unparalleled popularity. One scribe attributes it to St. Bernard of Clairvaux; but the fact that it contains a quotation from St. Francis of Assisi, who was born thirty years after the death of St. Bernard, disposes of this theory. In England there exist many manuscripts of the first three books, called “Musica Ecclesiastica,” frequently ascribed to the English mystic Walter Hilton. But Hilton seems to have died in 1395, and there is no evidence of the existence of the work before 1400. Many manuscripts scattered throughout Europe ascribe the book to Jean le Charlier de Gerson, the great Chancellor of the University of Paris, who was a leading figure in the Church in the earlier part of the fifteenth century. The most probable author, however, especially when the internal evidence is considered, is Thomas Haemmerlein, known also as Thomas a Kempis, from his native town of Kempen, near the Rhine, about forty miles north of Cologne. Haemmerlein, who was born in 1379 or 1380, was a member of the order of the Brothers of Common Life, and spent the last seventy years of his life at Mount St. Agnes, a monastery of Augustinian canons in the diocese of Utrecht. Here he died on July 26, 1471, after an uneventful life spent in copying manuscripts, reading, and composing, and in the peaceful routine of monastic piety.

With the exception of the Bible, no Christian writing has had so wide a vogue or so sustained a popularity as this. And yet, in one sense, it is hardly an original work at all. Its structure it owes largely to the writings of the medieval mystics, and its ideas and phrases are a mosaic from the Bible and the Fathers of the early Church. But these elements are interwoven with such delicate skill and a religious feeling at once so ardent and so sound, that it promises to remain, what it has been for five hundred years, the supreme call and guide to spiritual aspiration.

First Book

Chapter I. Of the Imitation of Christ, and of Contempt of the World and All Its Vanities
Chapter II. Of Thinking Humbly of Oneself
Chapter III. Of the Knowledge of Truth
Chapter IV. Of Prudence in Action
Chapter V. Of the Reading of Holy Scriptures
Chapter VI. Of Inordinate Affections
Chapter VII. Of Fleeing From Vain Hope And Pride
Chapter VIII. Of The Danger Of Too Much Familiarity
Chapter IX. Of Obedience And Subjection
Chapter X. Of The Danger Of Superfluity Of Words
Chapter XI. Of Seeking Peace Of Mind And Of Spiritual Progress
Chapter XII. Of The Uses Of Adversity
Chapter XIII. Of Resisting Temptation
Chapter XIV. On Avoiding Rash Judgment
Chapter XV. Of Works Of Charity
Chapter XVI. Of Bearing With The Faults Of Others
Chapter XVII. Of A Religious Life
Chapter XVIII. Of The Example Of The Holy Fathers
Chapter XIX. Of The Exercises Of A Religious Man
Chapter XX. Of The Love Of Solitude And Silence
Chapter XXI. Of Compunction Of Heart
Chapter XXII. On The Contemplation Of Human Misery
Chapter XXIII. Of Meditation Upon Death
Chapter XXIV. Of The Judgment And Punishment Of The Wicked
Chapter XXV. Of The Zealous Amendment Of Our Whole Life


Second Book

Chapter I. Of The Inward Life
Chapter II. Of Lowly Submission
Chapter III. Of The Good, Peaceable Man
Chapter IV. Of A Pure Mind And Simple Intention
Chapter V. Of Self-Esteem
Chapter VI. Of The Joy Of A Good Conscience
Chapter VII. Of Loving Jesus Above All Things
Chapter VIII. Of The Intimate Love Of Jesus
Chapter IX. Of The Lack Of All Comfort
Chapter X. Of Gratitude For The Grace Of God
Chapter XI. Of The Fewness Of Those Who Love The Cross Of Jesus
Chapter XII. Of The Royal Way Of The Holy Cross


Third Book

Chapter I. Of The Inward Voice Of Christ To The Faithful Soul
Chapter II. What The Truth Saith Inwardly Without Noise Of Words
Chapter III. How All The Words Of God Are To Be Heard With Humility, And How Many Consider Them Not
Chapter IV. How We Must Walk In Truth And Humility Before God
Chapter V. Of The Wonderful Power Of The Divine Love
Chapter VI. Of The Proving Of The True Lover
Chapter VII. Of Hiding Our Grace Under The Guard Of Humility
Chapter VIII. Of A Low Estimation Of Self In The Sight Of God
Chapter IX. That All Things Are To Be Referred To God, As The Final End
Chapter X. That It Is Sweet To Despise The World And To Serve God
Chapter XI. That The Desires Of The Heart Are To Be Examined And Governed
Chapter XII. Of The Inward Growth Of Patience, And Of The Struggle Against Evil Desires
Chapter XIII. Of The Obedience Of One In Lowly Subjection After The Example Of Jesus Christ
Chapter XIV. Of Meditation Upon The Hidden Judgments Of God, That We May Not Be Lifted Up Because Of Our Well-Doing
Chapter XV. How We Must Stand And Speak, In Everything That We Desire
Chapter XVI. That True Solace Is To Be Sought In God Alone
Chapter XVII. That All Care Is To Be Cast Upon God
Chapter XVIII. That Temporal Miseries Are To Be Borne Patiently After The Example Of Christ
Chapter XIX. Of Bearing Injuries, And Who Shall Be Approved As Truly Patient
Chapter XX. Of Confession Of Our Infirmity And Of The Miseries Of This Life
Chapter XXI. That We Must Rest In God Above All Goods And Gifts
Chapter XXII. Of The Recollection Of God’s Manifold Benefits
Chapter XXIII. Of Four Things Which Bring Great Peace
Chapter XXIV. Of Avoiding Of Curious Inquiry Into The Life Of Another
Chapter XXV. Wherein Firm Peace Of Heart And True Profit Consist
Chapter XXVI. Of The Exaltation Of A Free Spirit, Which Humble Prayer More Deserveth Than Doth Frequent Reading
Chapter XXVII. That Personal Love Greatly Hindereth From The Highest Good
Chapter XXVIII. Against The Tongues Of Detractors
Chapter XXIX. How When Tribulation Cometh We Must Call Upon And Bless God
Chapter XXX. Of Seeking Divine Help, And The Confidence Of Obtaining Grace
Chapter XXXI. Of The Neglect Of Every Creature, That The Creator May Be Found
Chapter XXXII. Of Self-Denial And The Casting Away All Selfishness
Chapter XXXIII. Of Instability Of The Heart, And Of Directing The Aim Towards God
Chapter XXXIV. That To Him Who Loveth God Is Sweet Above All Things And In All Things
Chapter XXXV. That There Is No Security Against Temptation In This Life
Chapter XXXVI. Against Vain Judgments Of Men
Chapter XXXVII. Of Pure And Entire Resignation Of Self, For The Obtaining Liberty Of Heart
Chapter XXXVIII. Of A Good Government In External Things, And Of Having Recourse To God In Dangers
Chapter XXXIX. That Man Must Not Be Immersed In Business
Chapter XL. That Man Hath No Good In Himself, And Nothing Whereof To Glory
Chapter XLI. Of Contempt Of All Temporal Honour
Chapter XLII. That Our Peace Is Not To Be Placed In Men
Chapter XLIII. Against Vain And Worldly Knowledge
Chapter XLIV. Of Not Troubling Ourselves About Outward Things
Chapter XLV. That We Must Not Believe Everyone, And That We Are Prone To Fall In Our Words
Chapter XLVI. Of Having Confidence In God When Evil Words Are Cast At Us
Chapter XLVII. That All Troubles Are To Be Endured For The Sake Of Eternal Life
Chapter XLVIII. Of The Day Of Eternity And Of The Straitnesses Of This Life
Chapter XLIX. Of The Desire After Eternal Life, And How Great Blessings Are Promised To Those Who Strive
Chapter L. How A Desolate Man Ought To Commit Himself Into The Hands Of God
Chapter LI. That We Must Give Ourselves To Humble Works When We Are Unequal To Those That Are Lofty
Chapter LII. That A Man Ought Not To Reckon Himself Worthy Of Consolation, But More Worthy Of Chastisement
Chapter LIII. That The Grace Of God Doth Not Join Itself To Those Who Mind Earthly Things
Chapter LIV. Of The Diverse Motions Of Nature And Of Grace
Chapter LV. Of The Corruption Of Nature And The Efficacy Of Divine Grace
Chapter LVI. That We Ought To Deny Ourselves, And To Imitate Christ By Means Of The Cross
Chapter LVII. That A Man Must Not Be Too Much Cast Down When He Falleth Into Some Faults
Chapter LVIII. Of Deeper Matters, And God’s Hidden Judgments Which Are Not To Be Inquired Into
Chapter LIX. That All Hope And Trust Is To Be Fixed In God Alone


Fourth Book

A Devout Exhortation To The Holy Communion


The Voice of Christ

Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,(1) saith the Lord. The bread that I will give is My flesh which I give for the life of the world.(2) Take, eat: this is My Body, which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.(3) He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me and I in him. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.(4)

(1) Matthew xi. 28 (2) John vi. 51. (3) Matthew xxi. 26; Luke xxii. 19. (4) John vi. 51, 63.

Chapter I. With How Great Reverence Christ Must Be Received
Chapter II. That The Greatness And Charity Of God Is Shown To Men In The Sacrament
Chapter III. That It Is Profitable To Communicate Often
Chapter IV. That Many Good Gifts Are Bestowed Upon Those Who Communicate Devoutly
Chapter V. Of The Dignity Of This Sacrament, And Of The Office Of The Priest
Chapter VI. An Inquiry Concerning Preparation For Communion
Chapter VII. Of The Examination Of Conscience, And Purpose Of Amendment
Chapter VIII. Of The Oblation Of Christ Upon The Cross, And Of Resignation Of Self
Chapter IX. That We Ought To Offer Ourselves And All That Is Ours To God, And To Pray For All
Chapter X. That Holy Communion Is Not Lightly To Be Omitted
Chapter XI. That The Body And Blood Of Christ And The Holy Scriptures Are Most Necessary To A Faithful Soul
Chapter XII. That He Who Is About To Communicate With Christ Ought To Prepare Himself With Great Diligence
Chapter XIII. That The Devout Soul Ought With The Whole Heart To Yearn After Union With Christ In The Sacrament
Chapter XIV. Of The Fervent Desire Of Certain Devout Persons To Receive The Body And Blood Of Christ
Chapter XV. That The Grace Of Devotion Is Acquired By Humility And Self-Denial
Chapter XVI. That We Ought To Lay Open Our Necessities To Christ And To Require His Grace
Chapter XVII. Of Fervent Love And Vehement Desire Of Receiving Christ
Chapter XVIII. That A Man Should Not Be A Curious Searcher Of The Sacrament, But A Humble Imitator Of Christ, Submitting His Sense To Holy Faith