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Recurring Classic of Western Christian Mysticism
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Thomas Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ

Edition I read:
New Kensington, Pennsylvania:  Whitaker House, 1981. 256p. (Apparently no longer in publication)

Similar Edition Now Available:
(Image (An Image Classic):  Reissue edition August 12, 1955. 240p.)

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I have seen several editions of this ancient classic (ca. AD 1440).  The exact one I read (New Kensington, Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, 1981) does not seem to be currently available on Amazon.  This Image Classic is a very similar translation to the one I read.  This form of language is somewhat old, in the early 20th Century, but it is much more like our language now, so can be understood and assimilated without effort.

I noticed that the Moody edition and some others are a reprint of a much older translation, still using confusing and stodgy Elizabethan phrasing, verbs and vocabulary, which makes for halting and laborious reading for most people.  Even for me and those who grew up reading that style of Bible, the language form gets in the way and limits concentration on the meaning.

Most people in this generation are unfamiliar with Mystical thought, and Medieval thought in general.  It is helpful to have this more genial introduction to Kempis' classic.

This is a classic of Christian Contemplation for the Middle Ages.  Thomas " Kempis" was born Thomas Haemerken in 1379 or 1380, in the German town of Kempen.  His name as commonly passed down is based on the Latin-French version of the name of his birthplace, meaning "Thomas from Kempen."

Kempis was a mystic, who served a monk and priest in the Netherlands and Germany.  This is one of the best-loved classics of Christian literature.  Just as in the edition I read, no information was provided in this edition of the book about the author or his times and situations.

The publisher's jacket notes that this book has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible.  But no information is given in this publication about the translator or the translation.  Perhaps this translation is so old that it is in the public domain.  Perhaps the translator is also unknown now.

This book provides a unique insight in to the mystical age of the 1400s, when the world was still seen in terms of a dynamic spirit-filled world, and the powers of evil were sensed as a real part of the forces of nature.  His writing and devotional approach further express a great concern for personal life holiness, not just a "spiritual" sense of awareness of God.

In addition, A Kempis and others called "mystics" were concerned with the spiritual union of the believer with Christ in a sense of merged identity, an ecstatic dimension often left out in the modern rationalist, empirical era.

It seems to me, however, that A Kempis has more of a practical life orientation and service concept of union with Christ than, for instance, John of the Cross, who was concerned with losing himself into the identity of God as an escape form the captivity of this world and the body, with its temporal, material concerns and distractions from what was considered "higher" and more "spiritual."

Every person serious about understanding the variety of Western Christian thought and experience needs to be aware of Kempis, and perhaps John of the Cross, to have a full appreciation for the variation of approach.  Today we see too much radical rejection of all varieties too unlike that preferred by fundamentalist, rationalistic orientation to faith as objective propositional knowledge.

Kempis, among others, helps us realize that the basic stream of Christian faith has been concerned with truth as the experience of deep relationship of Love and spiritual Union with God.  The mind is involved, but the will and attitude seem much more central to the New Testament, the various Theologies of mystical and practical Love, and Kempis' challenge to implement Love as a Holiness of life that brings God to reality in your daily encounters with the mass of humanity needing a touch of Grace!

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[TXT] Julian of Norwich, Medieval English Mystic
[TXT] Mysticism and Christian Unity
[Review] The Ministry of Presence
[Review] Mysticism, the Wound of Knowledge
[Review] Practicing the Presence of God

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First written and posted on Amazon.com 25 August 2006
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 12 September 2006
Revised 7 March 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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