Friday, August 31, 2012

Time to Read a Classic...Again

If I asked you "which book has been published more and read more widely than any other, except for the Bible," would you know the answer? That book is called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. A new selection in Paraclete's GIANTS series ( ($29.99), this edition, titled The Complete Imitation of  Christ includes translation and commentary by Fr. John-Julian, OJN, founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich and author of another in the GIANTS series, the one on Julian, of course.

Thomas Kempis (1380–1471), as Fr. John-Julian prefers to call him, was a medieval monk who founded several monasteries in Europe and wrote 31 books, treatises and articles, as well as several biographies.

Fr. John-Julian’s introduction to this 456-page paperback is very informative as he describes how Kempis’s Imitation began and grew. He notes that as early as 1410—1415 pieces and copies of the writings of various monks, began to come together and were shared from one monastery to another. There were many years of controversy over who wrote which part of The Imitation, but by 1441, the first verified autograph manuscript, was signed as "by the hand of Thomas Kempis," a monk of Mount St. Agnes monastery near Zwolle in the Netherlands..

Fr. John-Julian’s translation is based on the first printed edition (1471) and he compared it with the 1441 edition but made few corrections. On each left-hand page of each chapter, he provides interesting comments and biblical references, which I found very helpful to have beside the poetic text on the right-hand page. He gives detailed endnotes on each chapter and a full bibliography, as well as a time line of the medieval church in Europe, from 1260–1471. He also includes a page on how "Notable Readers of The Imitation" responded to it.

The main body of the text is divided into four books, each book having several chapters. I like best the chapters in the fourth book, beginning with "Of Christ Speaking Inwardly to the Faithful Soul." There are imagined speeches and conversations between God and the soul, just as we might imagine today. I can definitely see why so many people like to keep this book by their beds, and often read a few pages before they go to sleep. I think I will try it, too.

Lois Sibley