Thomas á Kempis (1380 – 1471) entered a Christian spiritual community called the Brothers of The Common Life at the age of sixteen, was educated in that community, and, at the age of twenty-two, became a monk of the Augustinian Canons at the monastery of Mount Saint Agnes in Zwolle, near Utrecht. There he lived, totally obscured to the world, for seventy years, until his death. His daily work for many years was the artful copying of manuscripts, and his daily intent was the continual awareness of God’s presence. In the days he worked, and in the nights, he prayed and wrote. He was eventually made Director of novitiates, and in this capacity guided the novices to spiritual life through the snares and pitfalls along the path to blessedness and joy in God.
In his solitary nights, Thomas wrote down his interior meditations, prayers, and counsels, and these pure outflowings of God’s activity in him were eventually collected in the form of a small book for the spiritual benefit of those novices in his charge. As the earliest Latin manuscripts of this book were untitled, for purposes of identification it was circulated under the title, Musica Ecclesiastica, or Music of The Church. But later copiers, forming a title for it from the first few words of the opening chapter, called it, De Imitatio Christi, or Of The Imitation Of Christ.
It is by that title that his book is known to us today, and this little book of Thomas’ has been the special solace of renunciants and scholars, popes and laity, statesmen and kings, for over five centuries. To countless devout souls, this journal of a soul to the vision of God has proven itself to be an inestimable treasure, a marvelous and magical source of inspiration and joy. Here, from The Imitation Of Christ, is one of Thomas’ most exuberant and inspiring paeans in praise of God and of the divine Love which draws the soul to Him in mystical experience:
“O my Lord God, most faithful lover, when Thou comest into my heart, all that is within me doth joy! Thou art my glory and the joy of my heart, my hope and my whole refuge in all my troubles…. Love is a great and goodly thing, and alone makes heavy burdens light, and bears in the same balance things pleasing and displeasing. It bears a heavy burden and feels it not and makes bitter things to be savory and sweet. The noble love of God perfectly printed in man’s soul makes a man to do great things and stirs him always to desire perfection and to grow more and more in grace and goodness.
Love will always have his mind upward to God and will not be occupied with things of the world. Love will also be free from all worldly affections, that the inward sight of the soul may not be darkened or lost, and that his affection to heavenly things may not be diminished by an inordinate winning or losing of worldly things. Nothing, therefore, is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger, nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, and nothing better in heaven nor in earth; for love descends from God and may not rest finally in anything lower than God. Such a lover flies high, he runs swiftly, he is merry in God, he is free in soul, he gives all for All and has All in all; for he rests in one high Goodness above all things, of whom all goodness flows and proceeds. He beholds not only the gift, but the Giver, above all gifts.”
Quoted from Thomas á Kempis: On The Love of God, edited by Swami Abhayananda.
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