Thomas à Kempis

I just bought a new copy of Thomas à Kempis' devotional The Imitation of Christ. The copy I owned previously was inherited from the pastor of the Baptist church I grew up in. But it is probably at least 50 years old, and falling apart. I now wish I'd retired it while it was in a better state of repair and bought a new copy for daily use, but it certainly shows the signs of being well-loved and well-used.

The Imitation (written in the 15th century) has more broad ecumenical appeal than almost any work I'm aware of. I was introduced to it through a Baptist minister, whose edition was published by Moody press (which felt compelled to included a disclaimer that, although the author referred to priests, the advice was equally beneficial for pastors). And Pope John Paul I was reading the book when he died. It doesn't really get any broader than that.

My new copy is published by Vintage, and I think I liked the Moody edition better. The Vintage edition is excellently bound (in fact everything they publish is. The paper is just right, and the book falls open in your hand. It just feels right), and more academic than the Moody edition. A helpful preface and introduction are included, the paragraphs are numbered, and when Thomas quotes from the Bible or classical literature the reference is italicized and footnoted. For devotional use the footnotes aren't really necessary, and the frequent italicizing feels jarring.

But what I liked best about the Moody edition was the translation. This may, of course, be just because I'm a snob and happen to prefer thees and thous over modern English. Here's a couple of my favorite passages from each edition, so you can decide:

What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it. If you knew the entire Bible inside and out and all the maxims of the philosophers, what good would it do you if you were, at the same time, without God's love and grace?
Follow Me! I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without the Way, there is no going; without the Truth, there is no knowing; without the Life, there is no living. I am the Way you are to follow; I am the Truth you are to believe; I am the Life you are to hope for.

What will it avail thee to dispute profoundly of the Trinity, if thou be lacking in humility, and art thereby displeasing to the Trinity? Surely high words do not make a man holy and just; but a virtuous life makes him dear to God. I had rather feel compunction than understand the definition thereof. If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would all that profit thee without the love of God, and without grace?
Follow thou Me: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Without the Way, there is no going; without the Truth there is no knowing; without the Life, there is no living. I am the Way, which thou oughtest to follow; the Truth, which thou oughtest to trust; the Life, which thou oughtest to hope for.

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