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Thomas a Kempis
Monument on Mount Saint Agnes in Zwolle. "Here lived Thomas à Kempis in the service of the Lord and wrote On the Imitation of Christ, 1406 – 1471".
The reliquary with the relics of Thomas à 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.1380 – 25 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 Rhine region in Kempen (Germany), County of Cleves in 1380 and died in 1471 near Zwolle in the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht, 75 miles north of his birthplace. His paternal name was Hemerken, Kleverlandish for "little hammer."

In 1392 he followed his brother John to Deventer in order to attend the city school. While attending school in Deventer, Thomas encountered the Brethren of the Common Life, followers of Gerard Groote's Modern Devotion. He attended school in Deventer 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



External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Thomas à Kempis (1380 - 1471) was a medieval Christian monk and author of Imitation of Christ, one of the most well-known Christian books on devotion.


Imitation of Christ (c.1418)

  • O quam cito transit gloria mundi.
    • Translation: How fast passes away the glory of this world.
    • Book I, ch. 3
    • Note: These words are used in the crowning of the pope.
  • Certe adveniente die judicii, non quæretur a nobis quid legimus, sed quid fecimus; nec quam bene diximus, sed quam religiose viximus.
    • At the Day of Judgement we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how holy we have lived.
    • Book I, ch. 3
  • A humble knowledge of oneself is a surer road to God than a deep searching of the sciences. Yet learning itself is not to be blamed, or is the simple knowledge of anything whatsoever to be despised, for true learning is good in itself and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a holy life are always to be preferred. But because many are more eager to acquire much learning than to live well, they often go astray, and bear little or no fruit. If only such people were as diligent in the uprooting of vices and the panting of virtues as they are in the debating of problems, there would not be so many evils and scandals among the people, nor such laxity in communities. At the Day of Judgement, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holily we have lived. Tell me, where are now all those Masters and Doctors whom you knew so well in their lifetime in the full flower of their learning? Other men now sit in their seats, and they are hardly ever called to mind. In their lifetime they seemed of great account, but now no one speaks of them
    • Book I, ch. 3
  • Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
    • Book I, ch. 16
  • Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit.
    • Translation: Man proposes, but God disposes.
    • Book I, ch. 19
  • What canst thou see elsewhere which thou canst not see here? Behold the heaven and the earth and all the elements; for of these are all things created.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • It is easier not to speak a word at all than to speak more words than we should.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • No man ruleth safely but that he is willingly ruled.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • And when he is out of sight, quickly also is he out of mind.
    • Book I, ch. 23
  • First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.
    • Book II, ch. 3
  • Love is swift, sincere, pious, pleasant, gentle, strong, patient, faithful, prudent, long-suffering, manly and never seeking her own; for whosoever a man seeketh his own, there he falleth from love.
    • Book III, ch. 5
  • Of two evils, the less is always to be chosen.
    • Book III. ch. 12

External links

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