Love: Thomas á Kempis

​The ‘Imitation of Christ,’ published  in 1441, is said by some to be the most read Christisn book other than the Bible.  But whether or not that’s true, the assertion speaks to the incalculable influence of this devotional classic.  Thomas á Kempis was more likely the editor of an already existing text than the author of the book, but whatever the case, it became the manual of devotion which the Brethren of the Common Life used to train themselves in godliness.  It soon overflowed that community, becoming a devotional classic for everyone.

It sums up the essence of discipleship in the phrase, “the imitation of Christ.’  When John Wesley published his version of the book in 1741, he entitled it ‘The Christian’s Pattern.’  Both titles bear witness to the core of the Christian life: Christlikeness.  And as the book makes clear, the substance and spirit of Christlikeness is love.  This passage illustrates the thread of Christ’s love that runs through the book, 

“The Voice of Christ: Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good.  Love alone lightens every burden, and relieves all uneasiness…. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider , nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth.” [1]

Christ is the incarnation of Love. When we see him, we see the Father.  And through the Spirit we produce the fruit of love.  ‘The Imitation of Christ’ continues the Trinitarian nature of love, and as those made in the image of God, we become partakers of God’s love.

One of the many contributions of this book is its linking our experience of love to the Eucharist. In the sacrament we discover that “the love of Christ is never diminished and the greatness of his sacrifice is never exhausted.” [2]  In receiving holy communion, the fire of love is rekindled in us over and over, so that we offer ourselves to God saying, “Receive, my Lord God, my wishes and desires to give you infinite praise and abundant blessing”—a  prayer which we fulfill as we go from the table to love God and others through our words and deeds. [3]

[1] ‘The Imitation of Christ’ is available in many editions and formats.  The quotes in this post are from Paul Chilcote’s rendition, ‘The Imitation of Christ: Selections Annotated and Explained (Skylight Paths, 2012), 83.

[2] Ibid., 137.

[Ibid., 175

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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