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life and business of mankind in marked contrast to that of the Friends of God, whose religion was largely a lay religion, a religion of the home and workshop and the market place, regarding all kinds of honest labour as ways of holy living and as means of serving God and mankind. Nevertheless the mysticism of the Friends of God was in Thomas' blood. It is not unlikely that his parents at Kempen had listened to Tauler and shared in the spiritual revival which resulted from Tauler's preaching throughout the region of the Rhine. Mysticism, too, must have been in the air he breathed as one of the Brethren of the Common Life ; for had not their revered founder, Gerard Groot, been influenced by Ruysbroek ? Indeed, would the brotherhood ever have been established but for that influence ? So we should naturally expect the Imitation to embody a great deal of the teaching of the mystics; and some students believe that they find here and there the thought of Tauler and Suso and Ruysbroek reproduced in it. But it is evident that, profound as the influence of these mystics must have been upon him, and much as he must have absorbed their teaching, Thomas' Imitation is in no sense or measure to be regarded as a compilation from their writings.
If the book had any "begetter" besides Thomas himself, it was Gerard Groot, who, as we have seen, suggested the keeping of rapiaria by the Brethren. In Thomas' Life of Gerard Groot, a number of the latter's sayings are given, and these sayings have the very quality of the Imitation-brief, incisive, arresting, full of meaning, and inculcating the same kind of truths as the Imitation itself. Here are a few of them.
He who doeth that which he knoweth, doth deserve to know much. He who doeth not that which he knoweth doth deserve to be in darkness.”
Before all things and in all things study especially to be humble inwardly, and also outwardly before the brethren.”
“The beginning of vain glory is to be pleasing to oneself."
“Thou oughtest always to strive to note some good in another, and to think thereof."
“When any evil is suggested to thee, think what thou wouldest ask thy fellows to do in like case.”
“Let every man beware of causing scandal to others by his conduct ; let him study to amend the same, and everywhere to behave himself honestly, that others may be the more edified.”
With whatsoever thoughts a man doth fall asleep, with such doth he awaken; at these times it is well to pray or read some Psalms.”
“The further a man knows himself to be from perfection, the nearer he is to it.”
“Study only to please him who doth know thee and all that pertaineth to thee; suppose that thou dost please all men but dost displease God, what should it profit thee ? " 1
But even though we assume that it was Gerard Groot to whom we owe the style of writing which Thomas adopted, there is no more reason for supposing that the Imitation embodies many of his sayings than for thinking that it incorporates many of the sayings of the mystics and others. The Imitation is not a compilation, a book of extracts from many sources, cleverly arranged. It is one of the most original books in the world, a work of religious genius of the first order. Like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, like Shakespeare, like all the great masters in literature, Thomas à Kempis was indebted to predecessors who worked in the same fields, and he freely availed himself of the fruits of their labour. He was the heir of many ages of spiritual culture, and he used his inheritance for the enriching and perfecting of the work which God had given him to do. Not in vain had he studied and transcribed the great teachers of Christendom in his quiet corner on Mount St. Agnes. Their teaching had stirred his soul, and mingled with his own thought; and so, when he came to write, he could hear, as it were, the sound of many potent voices from the past bearing witness to the truth he had himself to deliver. And this surely is the great function of study - not simply to fill the mind with ideas, but to help us towards self-expression, or rather to help the living Spirit of Truth which is in each of us towards the freest and fullest utterance. The end of all education is just to bring out what of divine truth and goodness each soul contains; and the writings of the wise and saintly have their value in the witness they bear to our own inmost convictions, in the witness they bear with our spirits that we are the children of God, and that something of the divine nature is seeking to reveal itself in and through us.
1 Founders of the New Devotion, pp. 71-2.
The Imitation is a work of the most patient, laborious, literary craftsmanship. The name
" Ecclesiastical Music which it has frequently borne, is not inappropriate ; for Thomas handles his theme very much as a musician does, and chooses words that fall pleasantly and impressively on the ear; and hence, as Dr. Bigg says,
there are innumerable recurrences of the same note, like the tinkling of little silver bells." When writing he kept in mind the thought that what he wrote would sometimes be read aloud or even chanted ; and in the autograph copy at Brussels, the punctuation is so arranged as to indicate to the reader where the long pauses should be that would allow important words to have their due effect on the listening mind. Most of Thomas' exquisite artistry in words is, of course, lost in translation. It is only occasionally that the assonance of the Latin can be reproduced in the English, as it is in the saying, “homo proponit, sed Deus disponit," — "man proposes but God disposes." A great part of the Imitation is in rhythm, and there are numerous occurrences of rhyme, some of it being of a highly elaborated kind. The eleventh chapter of Book II, "On the Fewness of the Lovers of the Cross of Jesus,''1 is in metre. Even in the English prose rendering we are made to feel something of the solemn poetry of the original :
Jesus has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom ; but few bearers of his cross.
1 Habet Jesus nunc multos amatores regni sui celestis :
“He has many that long for consolation ; but few that long for tribulation.
“He finds many companions of his table, but few of his fast.
“All desire to rejoice with him ; few are willing to suffer anything for him.
Many follow him unto the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion.
Many reverence his miracles, but few follow the ignominy of his cross.”
Thomas' attitude toward the present world is, of course, monastic and mediaeval, the attitude of religious pessimism, which found expression in the twelfth century poem of Bernard of Morlaix, De contemptu mundi,made familiar to us by J. M. Neale's rendering and especially by the hymns taken from it-" Brief life is here our portion,” and “ Jerusalem the golden.” Whether Thomas was acquainted with that poem, we do not know; but it is interesting to notice that the first chapter of the Imitation is entitled De imitatione Christi et contemptu omnium vanitatum mundi ; and a contempt of all worldly business and pleasure is characteristic of the book as a whole. But this despising of the world, this sense of detachment from the affairs of the present life, and expectation of real happiness only in the life to come-though much exaggerated in the Middle Ages—has to some extent characterised Christianity from the beginning. It represents indeed a recurrent feeling of the human heart amid the strangeness and sorrow and
ence of mortal things. That Thomas à Kempis was not altogether without a sense of the divinity of the