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Thomas a Kempis
Thomas à Kempis on Mount Saint Agnes (1569)
Thomas à Kempis (orig. Thomas Haemerkken; Thomas Hammerlein; also Thomas Hemerken, Thomas Hämerken, Thomas von Kempen, Tomás de Kempis) (ca.138025 July 1471) was a late Medieval Catholic monk and probable author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the best known Christian books on devotion.

He was born at the Lower Rhinemarker region in Kempen marker, County of Clevesmarker in 1380 and died in 1471 near Zwollemarker in the Prince-Bishopric of Utrechtmarker, 75 miles north of his birthplace. His paternal name was Hemerken, Kleverlandish for "little hammer."

In 1392 he followed his brother John to Deventermarker in order to attend the city school. While attending school in Deventermarker, Thomas encountered the Brethren of the Common Life, followers of Gerard Groote's Modern Devotion. He attended school in Deventermarker from 1392 to 1399. After leaving school, Thomas traveled to Zwolle to visit his brother John who was at that time prior of the Mount St. Agnes monastery. Thomas was invested at the Mount St. Agnes monastery in 1406. He did not become ordained as a priest however, until 1413 or 1414.He became a prolific copyist and writer. Thomas received priest's orders in 1413 and was made subprior in 1429.

The house was disturbed for a time in consequence of the pope's rejection of the bishop-elect of Utrecht, Rudolf van Diepholt; otherwise, Thomas' life was a quiet one, his time being spent between devotional exercises, composition, and copying. He copied the Bible no less than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt in five volumes. In its teachings he was widely read, and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.

His life is no doubt fittingly characterized by the words under an old picture first referred to by Francescus Tolensis: "In all things I sought quiet and found it not save in retirement and in books."A monument was dedicated to his memory in the presence of the archbishop of Utrecht in St. Michael's Church, Zwolle, on 11 November 1897. Because of the closing of the church, his shrine was moved in 2006 to an historical church in the centre of Zwolle.

Thomas à Kempis belonged to the school of mystics who were scattered along the Rhine from Switzerland to Strasburg and Cologne and in the Netherlands. He was a follower of Geert Groote and Florentius Radewijns, the founders of the Brethren of the Common Life.

His writings are all of a devotional character and include tracts and meditations, letters, sermons, a life of Saint Lydewigis, a Christian woman who remained steadfast under a great stress of afflictions, and biographies of Groote, Radewijns, and nine of their companions.Works similar in content to the Imitation of Christ, and pervaded by the same spirit, are his prolonged meditation on the life and blessings of the Savior and another on the Incarnation. Both of these works overflow with adoration for Christ.

The following quotes are attributed to him:

"Without the Way,
there is no going,
Without the Truth,
there is no knowing,
Without the Life,
there is no living."

"If thou wilt receive profit, read with humility, simplicity and faith, and seek not at any time the fame of being learned."

"At the Day of Judgement we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done."
:— The Imitation of Christ, Book I, ch. 3

"For man proposeth, but God disposeth"
:— The Imitation of Christ, Book I, ch. 19

"If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him. "
:— The Imitation of Christ, Book II, ch. 7

Books written by Thomas à Kempis



  • This article incorporates Public Domain material from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. VI: Innocents — Liudger, Schaff, Philip.

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