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The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis


The Ninth Chapter

Obedience and Subjection

IT IS a very great thing to obey, to live under a superior and not to be
one’s own master, for it is much safer to be subject than it is to command.
Many live in obedience more from necessity than from love. Such become
discontented and dejected on the slightest pretext; they will never gain
peace of mind unless they subject themselves wholeheartedly for the love of

Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the
rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different
places have deceived many.

Everyone, it is true, wishes to do as he pleases and is attracted to those
who agree with him. But if God be among us, we must at times give up our
opinions for the blessings of peace.

Furthermore, who is so wise that he can have full knowledge of everything?
Do not trust too much in your own opinions, but be willing to listen to
those of others. If, though your own be good, you accept another’s opinion
for love of God, you will gain much more merit; for I have often heard that
it is safer to listen to advice and take it than to give it. It may happen,
too, that while one’s own opinion may be good, refusal to agree with others
when reason and occasion demand it, is a sign of pride and obstinacy.


The Tenth Chapter

Avoiding Idle Talk

SHUN the gossip of men as much as possible, for discussion of worldly
affairs, even though sincere, is a great distraction inasmuch as we are
quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity.

Many a time I wish that I had held my peace and had not associated with men.
Why, indeed, do we converse and gossip among ourselves when we so seldom
part without a troubled conscience? We do so because we seek comfort from
one another’s conversation and wish to ease the mind wearied by diverse
thoughts. Hence, we talk and think quite fondly of things we like very much
or of things we dislike intensely. But, sad to say, we often talk vainly and
to no purpose; for this external pleasure effectively bars inward and divine

Therefore we must watch and pray lest time pass idly.

When the right and opportune moment comes for speaking, say something that
will edify.

Bad habits and indifference to spiritual progress do much to remove the
guard from the tongue. Devout conversation on spiritual matters, on the
contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress, especially when persons of
the same mind and spirit associate together in God.


The Eleventh Chapter

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection

WE SHOULD enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with what others
say and do, for these are no concern of ours. How can a man who meddles in
affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or
seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?

Blessed are the simple of heart for they shall enjoy peace in abundance.

Why were some of the saints so perfect and so given to contemplation?
Because they tried to mortify entirely in themselves all earthly desires,
and thus they were able to attach themselves to God with all their heart and
freely to concentrate their innermost thoughts.

We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with
passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are
not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we
remain cold and indifferent. If we mortified our bodies perfectly and
allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine
things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.

The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free
from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the
saints. Thus when we encounter some slight difficulty, we are too easily
dejected and turn to human consolations. If we tried, however, to stand as
brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain
us. For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is ready to
help those who carry on and trust in His grace.

If we let our progress in religious life depend on the observance of its
externals alone, our devotion will quickly come to an end. Let us, then, lay
the ax to the root that we may be freed from our passions and thus have
peace of mind.

If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect.
The contrary, however, is often the case—we feel that we were better and
purer in the first fervor of our conversion than we are after many years in
the practice of our faith. Our fervor and progress ought to increase day by
day; yet it is now considered noteworthy if a man can retain even a part of
his first fervor.

If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we should afterwards
be able to do all things with ease and joy. It is hard to break old habits,
but harder still to go against our will.

If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the
more difficult? Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil
habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.

If you but consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what
joy it will give to others, I think you will be more concerned about your
spiritual progress.


The Twelfth Chapter

The Value of Adversity

IT IS good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often
remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly
thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged
by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be
humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men
give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more
inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root
himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.

When a man of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil
thoughts, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without Whom he
can do no good. Saddened by his miseries and sufferings, he laments and
prays. He wearies of living longer and wishes for death that he might be
dissolved and be with Christ. Then he understands fully that perfect
security and complete peace cannot be found on earth.


The Thirteenth Chapter

Resisting Temptation

SO LONG as we live in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation.
Whence it is written in Job: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.” [4]
Everyone, therefore, must guard against temptation and must watch in prayer
lest the devil, who never sleeps but goes about seeking whom he may devour,
find occasion to deceive him. No one is so perfect or so holy but he is
sometimes tempted; man cannot be altogether free from temptation.

Yet temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man,
for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed. The saints all passed
through many temptations and trials to profit by them, while those who could
not resist became reprobate and fell away. There is no state so holy, no
place so secret that temptations and trials will not come. Man is never safe
from them as long as he lives, for they come from within us—in sin we were
born. When one temptation or trial passes, another comes; we shall always
have something to suffer because we have lost the state of original

Many people try to escape temptations, only to fall more deeply. We cannot
conquer simply by fleeing, but by patience and true humility we become
stronger than all our enemies. The man who only shuns temptations outwardly
and does not uproot them will make little progress; indeed they will quickly
return, more violent than before.

Little by little, in patience and long-suffering you will overcome them, by
the help of God rather than by severity and your own rash ways. Often take
counsel when tempted; and do not be harsh with others who are tempted, but
console them as you yourself would wish to be consoled.

The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in
God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a
careless and irresolute man is tempted in many ways. Fire tempers iron and
temptation steels the just. Often we do not know what we can stand, but
temptation shows us what we are.

Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation,
for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the
mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks.

Someone has said very aptly: “Resist the beginnings; remedies come too late,
when by long delay the evil has gained strength.” First, a mere thought
comes to mind, then strong imagination, followed by pleasure, evil delight,
and consent. Thus, because he is not resisted in the beginning, Satan gains
full entry. And the longer a man delays in resisting, so much the weaker
does he become each day, while the strength of the enemy grows against him.

Some suffer great temptations in the beginning of their conversion, others
toward the end, while some are troubled almost constantly throughout their
life. Others, again, are tempted but lightly according to the wisdom and
justice of Divine Providence Who weighs the status and merit of each and
prepares all for the salvation of His elect.

We should not despair, therefore, when we are tempted, but pray to God the
more fervently that He may see fit to help us, for according to the word of
Paul, He will make issue with temptation that we may be able to bear it. Let
us humble our souls under the hand of God in every trial and temptation for
He will save and exalt the humble in spirit.

In temptations and trials the progress of a man is measured; in them
opportunity for merit and virtue is made more manifest.

When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout,
but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great

Some, guarded against great temptations, are frequently overcome by small
ones in order that, humbled by their weakness in small trials, they may not
presume on their own strength in great ones.


[4] Job 7:1.


The Fourteenth Chapter

Avoiding Rash Judgment

TURN your attention upon yourself and beware of judging the deeds of other
men, for in judging others a man labors vainly, often makes mistakes, and
easily sins; whereas, in judging and taking stock of himself he does
something that is always profitable.

We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through
personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.

If God were the sole object of our desire, we should not be disturbed so
easily by opposition to our opinions. But often something lurks within or
happens from without to draw us along with it.

Many, unawares, seek themselves in the things they do. They seem even to
enjoy peace of mind when things happen according to their wish and liking,
but if otherwise than they desire, they are soon disturbed and saddened.
Differences of feeling and opinion often divide friends and acquaintances,
even those who are religious and devout.

An old habit is hard to break, and no one is willing to be led farther than
he can see.

If you rely more upon your intelligence or industry than upon the virtue of
submission to Jesus Christ, you will hardly, and in any case slowly, become
an enlightened man. God wants us to be completely subject to Him and,
through ardent love, to rise above all human wisdom.


The Fifteenth Chapter

Works Done in Charity

NEVER do evil for anything in the world, or for the love of any man. For one
who is in need, however, a good work may at times be purposely left undone
or changed for a better one. This is not the omission of a good deed but
rather its improvement.

Without charity external work is of no value, but anything done in charity,
be it ever so small and trivial, is entirely fruitful inasmuch as God weighs
the love with which a man acts rather than the deed itself.

He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does
well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.

Now, that which seems to be charity is oftentimes really sensuality, for
man’s own inclination, his own will, his hope of reward, and his
self-interest, are motives seldom absent. On the contrary, he who has true
and perfect charity seeks self in nothing, but searches all things for the
glory of God. Moreover, he envies no man, because he desires no personal
pleasure nor does he wish to rejoice in himself; rather he desires the
greater glory of God above all things. He ascribes to man nothing that is
good but attributes it wholly to God from Whom all things proceed as from a
fountain, and in Whom all the blessed shall rest as their last end and

If man had but a spark of true charity he would surely sense that all the
things of earth are full of vanity!


The Sixteenth Chapter

Bearing with the Faults of Others

UNTIL God ordains otherwise, a man ought to bear patiently whatever he
cannot correct in himself and in others. Consider it better thus—perhaps to
try your patience and to test you, for without such patience and trial your
merits are of little account. Nevertheless, under such difficulties you
should pray that God will consent to help you bear them calmly.

If, after being admonished once or twice, a person does not amend, do not
argue with him but commit the whole matter to God that His will and honor
may be furthered in all His servants, for God knows well how to turn evil to
good. Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others,
whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must

If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend
others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our
own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct
ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied
what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves
to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of
others as we do of ourselves.

If all were perfect, what should we have to suffer from others for God’s
sake? But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another’s
burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man
sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another,
console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of
every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity—adversity that does
not weaken a man but rather shows what he is.



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