Imitatio Christi, c. 1427 (The Imitation of Christ, c. 1460-1530)
Thomas à Kempis (TAHM-uhs uh KEHM-puhs), born Thomas Hammerken (or Hemerken), probably in 1379, was the son of a peasant whose wife was the keeper of an old-fashioned dame school for small children. At the age of twelve, Thomas was sent to the chapter school at Deventer, where among his teachers was Florens Radewijns (Florentius Radewyn). Known at Deventer as Thomas from Kempen, the scholar gradually assumed the name by which posterity knows him. When it became apparent to Thomas and his teachers that he was suited for a monk’s life, he went in 1399 to the monastery of St. Agnietenberg, near Zwolle, where the prior was his brother John. Thomas entered the Augustinian order in 1406 and was ordained a priest in 1413 or 1414.
The remainder of his long life was spent in that monastery, except for a brief period of exile from 1429 to 1432, during the Utrecht schism. Thomas copied a great deal of material, earning money for his monastery by his labors. He also wrote original material, for which dates of composition are too vague to have any value. Included in his works are biographies of Gerhard Groot, Florentius Radewyn, and the Flemish St. Louise. He also wrote many tracts and a chronicle of the monastery of St. Agnietenberg.
The most important of the writings with which his name is associated is The Imitation of Christ. This work, which states the aims of a true Christian and describes the means to achieve these aims, is an extremely well known and influential religious work. Although Thomas à Kempis’s authorship has been disputed, the arguments advanced against his authorship have only seemed to strengthen the belief that the work is really from his pen. Thomas was made subprior of St. Agnietenberg in 1425. He died there on August 8, 1471.