Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis

Has anybody ever read Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis? I can honestly say that it has influenced me more than any other religious writing. I had never heard of it and was surprised to find that it is the second most printed book after the Bible.

Free to read online at CCEL.

Imitation of Christ | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
I have, but the CCEL link is off a bit, try this one:

Here are the first two verses from Chapter One, Benham's 1886 translation:

Chapter I
Of the imitation of Christ, and of contempt of the world and all its vanities

He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness (1), saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.

2. His teaching surpasseth all teaching of holy men, and such as have His Spirit find therein the hidden manna. (2). But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel but little longing after it, because they have not the mind of Christ. He, therefore, that will fully and with true wisdom understand the words of Christ, let him strive to conform his whole life to that mind of Christ.

1. John viii. 12
2. Revelations ii. 17.
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The imitation of Christ is a profound challenge for all of us. He gave us the greatest commandments, to love all our neighbours as we love ourselves, we should love and forgive our enemies too.

But how did Jesus love all his neighbours as he loves himself? How did Jesus hold out his hands on the cross and love the man with the hammer and nails? We know that Jesus prayed, forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.

To forgive those responsible for his death is one thing, but to love them as he loves himself, takes sacrificial love to a profound level.
Perhaps aiming to imitate the divine love of Christ is not primary intent for most of us; instead to reduce our self-love greatly:

This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the
world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court
honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire
things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and
to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and
not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not
to look ahead where eternal joy abides.
Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.” [Eccles. 1:8.]

Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible.
For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God.
A little from the Knox version:


Oh to be one of those to whom truth communicates itself directly—not by means of symbols and words, whose meaning changes with time, but in its very nature! Our own estimate, our own way of looking at things, is always putting us in the wrong, by taking the short view. And here are we, splitting hairs about all sorts of mysterious problems which do not concern us—we shall not be blamed, at our judgement, for having failed to solve them. Strange creatures that we are, we forget the questions which really matter to us, matter vitally, and concentrate, of set purpose, on what is mere curiosity and waste of time. So clear-sighted we are, and so blind!”
Link to validate claim?
Appears second most is Quran...then a variety of other fiction
Yes, that needs qualification – Christian devotional book, I think.

The Imitation is perhaps the most widely read Christian devotional work next to the Bible, and is regarded as a devotional and religious classic. Its popularity was immediate, and it was printed 745 times before 1650.

Apart from the Bible, no Christian book has been translated into more languages than the Imitation of Christ.
For the sake of balance –

Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote:
"It rejects and eliminates every speculative element not only of scholasticism but also of mysticism, and yet, at the same time, it abstracts from the colourful multiplicity of the Bible and – since it is written for those who have turned from the world – disregards the world, in all its richness, as a field for Christian activity... In place of the openhearted readiness of a Catherine of Siena, a subdued and melancholy resignation runs through the book.... [T]here is an excess of warnings about the world, the illusions of egoism, the dangers of speculation and of the active apostolate. In this way, even the idea of the imitation of Christ does not become the dominant perspective. There is no mention of the mediation of the God-man, of access through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father. The mystery of the Church, therefore, does not come into view either. The individual is unaware that his love of God can only be fulfilled if it expands into love of neighbour and into the apostolate. All [that] remains is a flight from the world, a world that has not been brought home in Christ."
(Hans Urs von Balthasar The Glory of the Lord V: The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age. Cambridge University Press. pp. 103–104.)

Philosopher René Girard wrote:
"Neither does Jesus propose an ascetic rule of life in the sense of Thomas à Kempis and his celebrated Imitation of Christ, as admirable as that work may be".
(René Girard I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Cambridge University Press. p. 13.)
Definitely a ton of translations and versions...both Catholic and Protestant (I wonder.what they changed) it look like dang near every publisher has one or more versions...everyone wants to get on the capitalist gravy train of popular religious books.

@Thomas do you read a Latin version? Or what translation is your preference?

Way to many verilys in the versions I looked at for me.....maybe "My imitation... is modern enough for me to absorb without issue...
Might been a big run at the time eh?
I think the point is, it was a big deal in its day – maybe even bigger than The Shack or Harry Potter :D

Sadly, best-seller status is no real marker of the quality of a book – I mean The DaVinci Code is a best-seller, and that's tosh, Fifty Shades has probably outsold that, and from what I hear the writing is pretty hackneyed ... but then I'm a bit of a book snob. (And I have read all the HP books.)

I can think of a couple of Umberto Ecco books that could upset the Catholic status quo way more effectively than The DVC, but he's too cerebral and thus not popular ... people want the sensational.

As for my Imitation, I just looked on my shelves and it's not there. I think they (I had a couple) were old Penguin imprints and no, I do not real Latin! (I would rather be able to read Koine Greek.)

He's not up there with my dip-in books ...
More from Knox chapter 3:

3. Once a man is integrated, once his inner life becomes simplified, all of a piece, he begins to attain a richer and deeper knowledge—quite effortlessly, because the intellectual light he receives comes from above. Freedom of heart is his, and simplicity of intention, and fixity of resolve, and he finds that he is no longer distracted by a variety of occupations; he acts, now, only for God’s glory, and does his best to get rid of all self-seeking.
There is no worse enemy to your freedom and your peace of mind than the undisciplined affections of your own heart. Really good and holy people plan out beforehand in their minds how they are to behave in given circumstances; the course of their lives does not sweep them away into following their lower instincts, they shape it for themselves, according to the dictates of right reason. To be sure, the conquest of self demands the hardest struggle of all; but this has got to be our real business in life, the conquest of self—no day passed without beating our own record, without gaining fresh ground.

4. We find no absolute perfection in this world; always there is a background of imperfection behind our achievement; and so it is that our guesses at the truth can never be more than light obscured by shadow. The humble man’s knowledge of himself is a surer way to God than any deep researches into truth. No reason why we should quarrel with learning, or with any straightforward pursuit of knowledge; it is all good as far as it goes, and part of God’s plan. But always what we should prize most is a clear conscience, and holiness of life. How is it that there are so many people who put knowledge first, instead of conduct? It means that they are constantly at fault, and achieve little—sometimes next to nothing. If only these people would take as much trouble to weed out their imperfections, and to cultivate good qualities, as they take over the learned theses they propound, we should hear less about sins and scandals, less about lax behaviour in religious houses. After all, when the day of judgement comes we shall be examined about what we have done, not about what we have read; whether we have lived conscientiously, not whether we have turned fine phrases.