Thomas Kempis



Translated from the Latin into modern English, the aim was to achieve a simple, readable text which would ring true to those who are already lovers of this incomparable book and would attract others to it. For this reason we have attempted to render the text into English as it is spoken today rather than the cloudy, archaic terminology that encumbers so many translations of Christian classics. The result, we feel, has achieved a directness and conciseness which will meet the approval of modern readers. In the second place, we have made use of the familiar paragraph form, doing away with the simple statement or verse form of the original and of many translations. This was done in the interest of easier reading, and in order to bring out more clearly the connection between the single statements.

No claim of literary excellence over the many English versions now extant is here advanced, nor any attempt to solve in further confusion the problem of the book's authorship. Theories most popular at the moment ascribe  two or three men, members of the Brethren of the Common Life, an association of priests organized in the Netherlands in the latter half of the fourteenth century. That Thomas Hemerken of Kempen, or Thomas Kempis as he is now known, later translated a composite of their writings, essentially a spiritual diary, from the original Netherlandish into Latin is generally admitted by scholars. This Thomas, born about the year 1380, was educated by the Brethren of the Common Life, was moved to join their community, and was ordained priest. His career thereafter was devoted to practicing the counsels of spiritual perfection and to copying books for the schools. From both pursuits evolved the spiritual work. As editor and translator he was not without faults, but thanks to him the book  became and has remained, after the Bible, the most widely read book in the world.

It is his edition that is here rendered into English, without deletion of chapters or parts of them because doubts exist as to their authorship, or because of variants in style, or for any of the other more or less valid reasons. There is but one major change. The treatise on Holy Communion, which Kempis places as Book Three, is here titled Book Four. The move makes the order of the whole more logical and agrees with the thought of most editors. The Translators are Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton.




1 Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth

2 Having A Humble Opinion of Self

3 The Doctrine of Truth

4 Prudence in Action

5 Reading the Holy Scripture

6 Unbridled Affections

7 Avoiding False Hope and Pride

8 Shunning Over-Familiarity

9 Obedience and Subjection

10 Avoiding Idle Talk

11 Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection

12 The Value of Adversity

13 Resisting Temptation

14 Avoiding Rash Judgment

15 Works Done in Charity

16 Bearing With the Faults of Others

17 Monastic Life

18 The Example Set Us by the Holy Fathers

19 The Practices of a Good Religious

20 The Love of Solitude and Silence

21 Sorrow of Heart

22 Thoughts on the Misery of Man

23 Thoughts on Death

24 Judgment and the Punishment of Sin

25 Zeal in Amending Our Lives



1 Meditation

2 Humility

3 Goodness and Peace in Man

4 Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose

5 Ourselves

6 The Joy of a Good Conscience

7 Loving Jesus Above All Things

8 The Intimate Friendship of Jesus

9 Wanting No Share in Comfort

10 Appreciating God's Grace

11 Few Love the Cross of Jesus

12 The Royal Road of the Holy Cross



1 The Inward Conversation of   Christ with the Faithful Soul

2 Truth Speaks Inwardly without the Sound of Words

3 Listen Humbly to the Words of God. Many Do Not Heed Them

4 We Must Walk Before God in Humility and Truth

5 The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love

6 The Proving of a True Lover

7 Grace Must Be Hidden Under the Mantle of Humility

8 Self-Abasement in the Sight of God

9 All Things Should be Referred to God as their Last End

10 To Despise the World and Serve God is Sweet

11 The Longings of Our Hearts Must Be Examined and Moderated

12 Acquiring Patience in the Fight against Concupiscence

13 The Obedience of One Humbly Subject to the Example of Jesus Christ

14 Consider the Hidden Judgments of God Lest You Become Proud of Your Own Good Deeds

15 How One Should Feel and Speak on Every Desirable Thing

16 True Comfort is to be Sought in God Alone

17 All Our Care is to be Placed in God

18 Temporal Sufferings Should be Borne Patiently, After the Example of Christ

19 True Patience in Suffering

20 Confessing Our Weakness in the Miseries of Life

21 Above All Goods and All Gifts We Must Rest in God

22 Remember the Innumerable Gifts of God

23 Four Things Which Bring Great Peace

24 Avoiding Curious Inquiry About the Lives of Others

25 The Basis of Firm Peace of Heart and True Progress

26 The Excellence of a Free Mind, Gained Through Prayer Rather Than by Study

27 Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good

28 Strength Against Slander

29 How We Must Call Upon and Bless the Lord When Trouble Presses

30 The Quest of Divine Help and Confidence in Regaining Grace

31 To Find the Creator, Forsake All Creatures

32 Self-Denial and the Renunciation of Evil Appetites

33 Restlessness of Soul -- Directing Our Final Intention Toward God

34 God is Sweet Above All Things and in All Things to Those Who Love Him

35 There is No Security from Temptation in This Life

36 The Vain Judgments of Men

37 Pure and Entire Resignation of Self to Obtain Freedom of Heart

38 The Right Ordering of External Affairs; Recourse to God in Dangers

39 A Man Should Not be Unduly Solicitous about his Affairs

40 Man Has No Good in Himself and Can Glory in Nothing

41 Contempt for All Earthly Honor

42 Peace is not to be Placed in Men

43 Beware Vain and Worldly Knowledge

44 Do Not be Concerned About Outward Things

45 All Men Are Not To Be Believed, For It is Easy To Err in Speech

46 Trust in God Against Slander

47 Every Trial Must Be Borne for the Sake of Eternal Life

48 The Day of Eternity and the Distresses of this Life

49 The Desire of Eternal Life; The Great Rewards Promised to Those Who Struggle

50 How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God

51 When We Cannot Attain to the Highest, We Must Practice the Humble Works

52 A Man Ought Not to Consider Himself Worthy of Consolation, But Rather Deserving of Chastisement

53 God's Grace Is Not Given to the Earthly Minded

54 The Different Motions of Nature and Grace

55 The Corruption of Nature and the Efficacy of Divine Grace

56 We Ought to Deny Ourselves and Imitate Christ Through Bearing the Cross

57 A Man Should Not Be Too Downcast When He Falls Into Defects

58 High Matters and the Hidden Judgments of God Are Not To Be Scrutinized

59 All Hope and Trust Are To Be Fixed in God Alone


1 The Great Reverence With Which We Should Receive Christ

2 God's Great Goodness and Love is Shown to Man in This Sacrament

3 It Is Profitable To Receive Communion Often

4 Many Blessings Are Given Those Who Receive Communion Worthily

5 The Dignity of the Sacrament and of the Priesthood

6 An Inquiry on the Proper Thing to do Before Communion

7 The Examination of Conscience and the Resolution to Amend

8 The Offering of Christ on the Cross; Our Offering

9 We Should Offer Ourselves and All That We Have to God, Praying for All

10 Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

11 The Body of Christ and Sacred Scripture Are Most Necessary to a Faithful Soul

12 The Communicant Should Prepare Himself for Christ with Great Care

13 With All Her Heart the Devout Soul Should Desire Union with Christ in the Sacrament

14 The Ardent Longing of Devout Men for the Body of Christ

15 The Grace of Devotion is Acquired Through Humility and Self- Denial

16 We Should Show Our Needs to Christ and Ask His Grace

17 The Burning Love and Strong Desire to Receive Christ

18 Man Should Not Scrutinize This Sacrament in Curiosity, But Humbly Imitate Christ and Submit Reason to Holy Faith


[1] John 8:12. [2] Eccles. 1:8. [3] Job 7:1. [4] Luke 12:43, 44. [5] Ps. 79:6. [6] Ps. 24:17. [7] Ps. 36:3. [8] Luke 17:21. [9] John 14:23. [10] Isa. 48:22. [11] 2 Cor. 10:18. [12] Isa. 15:6. [13] John 11:28. [14] Ps. 29:7-12. [15] Job 7:18. [16] Apoc. 2:7. [17] Luke 17:10. [18] Ps. 24:16. [19] Matt. 16:24. [20] Matt. 25:41. [21] Luke 24:46, 26. [22] Acts 9:16. [23] Luke 9:23. [24] Ps. 84:9. [25] 1 Kings 3:9. [26] Ps. 118:125. [27] Ps. 118:36. [28] Deut. 32:2. [29] Exod. 20:19. [30] John 6:69. [31] Ps. 93:12. [32] Isa. 23:4. [33] Ps. 36:4. [34] John 14:27. [35] Ps. 54:7. [36] Apoc. 3:18. [37] Matt. 16:41. [38] St. Agatha. [39] Peter 2:11. [40] Ps. 118:137. [41] Ps. 18:10. [42] Matt. 18:3, 4. [43] Matt. 11:28. [44] John 6:52. [45] 1 Cor. 11:24. [46] John 6:57. [47] John 6:64. [48] Matt. 11:28. [49] Matt. 15:32. [50] Ezek. 33:11. [51] Luke 14:33. [52] Luke 1:38. [53] John 3:29.



How to Use This Book

Like the Bible and the missal, the Imitation of Christ is never finished.  We can never say:  "I have finished the Imitation --- what's next?"  Like a prayer, it goes on and on.  Over the years it grow richer, and new vistas of help and hope are opened with every reading.

But the Imitation must be taken in little doses.  It is so rich that gulps at a time could cause spiritual indigestion.  A page a day is sufficient to strengthen the soul each twenty-four hours.

Your "page a day" must be read slowly, to permit each word and each grace to penetrate the blood stream of the soul.  There are spiritual vitamins in each page for those who read each page very slowly.

The Imitation of Christ is the most universal of books; it is written for all and satisfies all.  For the mystics, it is mystical, and for the ascetics it is ascetical.  The learned call it a classic, and the simple call it "the grandest book I've ever read."  The Imitation satisfies every longing as water satisfies every thirst.

When it is read under the piercing light of the Holy Ghost, the Imitation of Christ receives a pwer that forces its message deeper into the soul.  The Holy Ghost should be invoked before every reading.  Just the words "Come, Holy Ghost," are sufficient.  He needs only an invitation and He comes with His light and guidance ---with a spiritual blast of penetration and realization that shocks the soul into a new and better way of living.  The Holy Ghost is the "Master Mind" behind this little book.  When called upon, He comes forth from the words with a power that stumps the worldly wise.

It is good to hear of  those who are giving the Imitation of Christ as graduation presents and goodwill gifts; those who are passing them out to employees, Catholic and non-Catholic alike; those who are checking the public libraries and offering them new and attractive editons; those who are placing them on church pamphlet racks and in the down-town book stores; and those who are willing to direct their form of Catholic Action to "talking up" this greatest of spiritual books.

Those who have never read the Imitation of Christ have a new experience awating them.  Those who have read it have a renewed experience in store--an experience that should become so much a part of their lives that death will be only the blending of the Imitaiton of Christ into the possesion of Christ for all eternity in Heaven.

                                                                    Rev. B. J. O'Brien

(Excerpt from Information Magazine)


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