The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A'Kempis.
With the exception of the Bible itself, this little devotional book written 600 years ago has possibly been the most influential book in Christian literature. Written by German monk Thomas A’Kempis at some time between 1390 and 1440, it has been the source of inspiration to millions of Christians over the centuries and should be prescribed reading for everyone who is seeking the spiritual Path amid the turmoil and distractions of daily life. It is as fresh and relevant today as it was when the ink dried on the parchment pages in a German monastery those many years ago. Remarkable for its simple language and style, it emphasizes the spiritual rather than the materialistic life, it affirms the rewards of being “Christ-Centered,” and supports the Holy Communion as a means to strengthen faith. Thomas A’Kempis stresses a common-sense approach to life, encouraging us not to be overly intellectual in a bookish way, and to walk the middle-path of moderate, not extreme, austerity. His final comments in the book show the great comfort and inspiration many people derive from religious rituals, in this case, the Holy Communion of the Christian Church.
From a theosophical point of view, this wonderful book is an accurate portrayal of the Christian message. According to Theosophical writers, Jesus Christ was an “Avatara” or divine spiritual teacher and inspirer of the Piscean Age of approximately 2,000 years duration, just completed. The Gospels, rather than being an accurate historical record, were a type of spiritual "instruction manual" urging Christian devotees to follow the example of Christ in their own lives. Therefore, Thomas’s title and purpose for his book is completely accurate. As far as Theosophy is concerned, we should all live in The Imitation of Christ attempting to apply his message of revering God and loving our neighbors equally as ourselves. When reading this book, if we simply apply the theosophic understanding of the Higher Self rather than the Christian terminology of Jesus Christ and Thy and Thine, etc., we could be reading a theosophical book! All the great lessons discussed by theosophical writers are there, from the importance of the Inner Life, the necessity of prayer and meditation, the need to develop patience, be moderate in our living, to centre our consciousness in the Christ-like aspect of ourselves, the impermanence of material things, the necessity of seeking unity with the Inner God, and the constant temptations and inner battles to be faced on the Path of spiritual development.
What better advice can there be for our daily lives in the 21st century than this simple prayer of 800 years ago from The Imitation of Christ encouraging us to put our trust in the hands of the Inner God within all of us:
“Grant me Thy grace, most merciful Jesus that it may be with me, and work in me, and persevere with me even unto the end. Grant that I may ever desire and wish whatsoever is most pleasing and dear unto Thee. Let Thy will be mine, and let my will follow Thine and entirely accord with it. May I choose and reject whatsoever thou dost, yea, let it be impossible for me to choose or reject except according to Thy will. Grant that I may die to all worldly things, and for Thy sake love to be despised and unknown in this world. Grant unto me, above all things that I can desire, to rest in Thee, and that in Thee my heart may be at peace. Thou art the true peace of the heart, Thou art alone its rest; apart from Thee all things are hard and unquiet. In Thee alone, the supreme and Eternal Good, I will lay me down in peace and take my rest.”
Heathclyff St James Deville, FTS, sent me the following comment: "There are over 6,000 editions of The Imitation of Christ available! An especially useful one has recently been published translated and with an invaluable study guide: Father John-Julian: The Complete Imitation of Christ (Paraclete Giants), Paraclete Press, 2012. Father John-Julian introduces Kempis and his Imitation in ways that will shock many who have read the book before. For example, Protestant devotees to the book may be astounded to discover that Thomas was not only a Roman Catholic but an ardent traditionalist contemplative monk as well. And devoted Catholic readers may be amazed to discover that he was a radical moral reformer and part of a group twice formally charged with heresy. Notes and introductions to every aspect of The Imitation open the meaning of this classic to the next generation of readers." – Andrew Rooke