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A meditation on the incarnation of Christ : sermons on the life and passion of our Lord and of hearing and speaking good words (Volume v.4) online

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2 3 IJOV 1 2



lated by W. DuTHoiT, D.C.L.


DEVOTION: being the lives of Gerard
Groote, Florentius Radewin, and their
followers. Translated by J. P. Arthur.


ST. AGNES. Translated by J. P. Arthur.

lated by DoM Vincent Scully, C.R.L.


Other volumes in preparation.

Each vohnne bound in brown buckram, ^s. net.

Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.

Vol. IV.

agetiitationis anti ^etmong on tf)e

3lncai:nation, life, anD passion

of ©ur loro


Joseph Wilhelm, S.T.D., Censor Deputatus.


>B Gulielmus Episcopus Arindelensis,

ViCARius Generalis.


DIE 1 Nov., 1906.

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2009 with funding from

Boston Library Consortium IVIember Libraries

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:a ^etiitation

on tlje incarnation of Cljri^t ,


on tlie Hife anD pa^gd'on of ^ur Horti


Cf Rearing: anti Speaking (BooD CifllorD^











Dryden House, Gerrard Street, W.








Introduction xiii

A Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ,


Holy Writ


Testimonies from the Old Testament 3

Testimonies from the New Testament 25

A Prayer to greet Our Lord Jesus Christ .... 43
A Prayer to Christ, Who is the true Light, Way,

Truth, and Life 44

Sermons on the Life and Passion of Our Lord,
to wit, from the Advent of the Lord


I. Of the desire of the Prophets and of devout

preparation for the coming of Christ . . 49
II. Of meeting and welcoming the Heavenly

King 54

III. On Christmas day. Of the Feasts of the soul 62
IV. On Christmas night. Of seeking the Infant

Jesus 67

V. Of the devout visiting of the new-born Infant

Jesus 71

VI. Of abiding near the venerable Crib of Christ 74
VII. Of the joy of this day, and the devout service

of Jesus 80

VIII. Of the desire of seeing and embracing Jesus 87
IX. To the Blessed Virgin, that she show us her

Son, Jesus 93




X. Of the Loss and Finding of Jesus in the

Temple 99

XI. Of four ways of seeing Jesus, according

to the affection of devotion .... lo6
XII. Of the sacred institution of the Fast, after

the example of Jesus Christ . . . 112

XIII. Of taking up now a more fervent amend-

ment of life 118

XIV. Of the going up of Moses into Mount

Sinai 120

XV. Of the words of Jesus, and cleanness of

heart 124

XVI. Of the love of Jesus and self-denial . . 127
XVII. Of following the Poverty of Jesus, and
casting aside care for temporal

things 129

XVIII. Of the weariness of Jesus and His saving

doctrine 132

XIX. Of the writing of Jesus and His mercy

towards the sinful woman .... 136
XX. Of keeping humiUty from the considera-
tion of our own weakness .... 140
XXI. Passion Sunday. Of lamenting over Our

Lord's Passion 142

XXII. Of the Cross of Jesus, which He bore

for us 154

XXIII. Of the merit of the Lord's Passion, and

the dignity of the Holy Cross . . . 159

XXIV. Of the manifold fruit from remembrance

of the Lord's Passion, and of thank-
fulness therefor 166

XXV. Of profitable exercise in the Passion of

Christ 170

XXVI. Of seven notable points of meditation on

the Passion of Christ 177

XXVII. On Palm Sunday. Of the procession of

Christ, and of the six classes of men,

who honour Christ. First Sermon . 204

XXVIII. Of the riding of Christ, not in Pharaoh's

chariot, but on the ass of humility.

Second Sermon 214

XXIX. Of the Resurrection of Christ, and the

Spiritual Consolation of the soul . . 220
XXX. Of the joy of the Lord's Resurrection . 224








Of the mystic name of the Pasch, and

the leading of a new life .... 230
Of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven
On the Feast of Pentecost. Of the gifts 233

of the Holy Ghost 237

Of the comfort of the Holy Ghost . . 242
Of the holy and united life of the
primitive Church in Jerusalem . . 247

Of Hearing and Speaking Good Words



NEW critical text of the " Omnia
Opera" of Thomas a Kempis is
being edited by Dr. M. Joseph
Pohl, of Bonn, in seven volumes,
of which four have already ap-
peared, and the remainder are to
be issued in the course of 1907. An eighth
volume is to contain a life of the author, a dis-
sertation on his various writings, and a vindica-
tion of his title to the " Imitation " by the same
industrious hand. The publishers, Messrs. Her-
der, are doing their work in a way worthy of the
subject matter, and of the painstaking toil of the
editor; their volumes are a pleasure to behold
and handle, a masterpiece of the printer's and the
bookbinder's art, a contrast indeed to the un-
wieldy tomes and cramped letterpress, to which,
apart from the " Imitation," students of the Ven.
a Kempis have hitherto been accustomed. From
this edition is taken Dr. Duthoit's translation,


" Prayers and Meditations on the Life of Christ,"
published in 1904 by Messrs. Kegan Paul, as also
the present volume and the remainder, five in all
yet to appear, of this series, embracing, with the
exception of the " Imitation," the complete works
of a Kempis. Various parts, in fact quite a large
proportion of these writings have been already
rendered into English, and in many cases well,
but at various times, by various hands, in various
forms; and it was felt that even a thorough sup-
plement of the portions not yet translated or
not translated satisfactorily could in no wise com-
pare with the advantages of a complete, uniform
edition, one in fact to rival in English the work
so admirably done by Dr. Pohl and Messrs. Her-
der in the original.

The fact that there is a demand, irrespective
of class and creed, for these writings of a Kempis
in the vulgar tongue, is one that speaks well for
the English people. And whatever other reasons
may be brought forward in explanation, it seems
to me that the chief cause is one that lies deep in
the heart and conscience of the nation. The re-
markable love of Englishmen for the " Imitation "
and for the other works of the saintly a Kempis
may be traced to the strong, personal love which,
in however lesser a degree, they share with him
for Our Divine Saviour.

It is well known that in pre-Reformation days
England was famous for her devotion to the per-
son of the Incarnate Son of God. She was called


the most Christian nation of Europe, and pre-
cisely, it seems, because of her deep-rooted love
and reverence for Christ, The unhappy upheaval
of the sixteenth century wrought many sad changes
and brought in its train irreparable losses. These
have been further accentuated by the countless
religious divisions that immediately followed and
that still daily spring up around us. But the love
of Jesus Christ was too firmly set in the depths
of the spirit and traditions of the English people
ever to be wholly changed or entirely lost. And
for those numerous pious souls who to-day long
and pray for the re-union of Christendom there
is no more assured motive for the hope that they
cherish, no basis more practical for what efforts
they can individually essay, than this common
love for the Master, Whose name we all glory to

The great attraction, then, which the mysticism
of Thomas a Kempis and of the whole school of
Windesheim exercises over the English people is to
be found in the principal character of that mystic-
ism, an overflowing, simple, almost childlike love
and devotion for the person of the Divine Saviour.
The opening words of the " Imitation " strike the
keynote: "Let it be our chief study to meditate
upon the life of Jesus Christ." And the whole
spiritual philosophy of that masterpiece may be
summed up in the counsel: Shake off all that can
hinder free access to Jesus; eagerly embrace all
that can make the soul more like to Jesus, bring



her nearer to Him, confirm her in closer union of
divine love. There are passages there, whole
chapters, familiar to all the world, which treat
directly of this union in love, and which breathe
the most pure and ardent affection. But from
the very nature of the work, this latter element
finds more free and tender, though certainly not
more deep and full expression in the author's
other and less-known writings.

What can compare, for instance, with the ex-
quisite tenderness in some of the passages of the
Sermons on the Infant Saviour, V-VIII, in this
volume? Read especially Sermon VIII, where free
rein is given to devotion in kissing the "feet,
hands, and mouth of Jesus." And again in Ser-
mon VII, who cannot relish something of the
poetry of the sublime simplicity with which the
venerable author offers himself to render various
little menial services in the Cave of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem indeed and Calvary always seem to
appeal with the greatest force to the holy Canon
Regular, and to call forth the tenderest ex-
pressions of the burning love which consumed
his soul. And herein again we find him in touch
with the truest Christian instincts of the English
people, for whom, in spite of growing ignor-
ance, indifference, and materialism, Christmas and
Good Friday are still the chief solemnities of the

In addition to this general influence over a
whole nation which a Kempis wields as a true


interpreter of its noblest aspirations, and apart
also from the power, second only to that of Holy
Writ, exercised over countless generations by the
pages of the " Imitation," numberless individual
instances might be cited of the fascination which
the personality of this humble Religious exerts
and of the enthusiasm which his writings arouse
in almost every age and country. One has only
to remember for a moment the host of zealous
scholars who have stood forth to defend the title
of a Kempis to the " Imitation " from the day it
was first impugned, and whose learned and vo-
luminous labours have now, we may well hope,
settled the question for ever.

Two of these, and by no means the least de-
voted or illustrious in the roll, are with us and
active still, Sir Francis Cruise and Dr. Pohl, and
each dates his hero-worship of a Kempis from
earliest childhood. The former still recalls with
gratitude his first copy of the " Imitation," pre-
sented him by his sister. The perusal so awak-
ened his interest and enthusiasm that his ques-
tion at once was, what manner of man had writ-
ten this? It was then he first learnt of the regret-
able controversy, to the solution of which he
henceforth devoted the scanty leisure of a most
strenuous career, a labour of love which has been
to a great extent its own reward, and which has
earned for him the esteem and gratitude of thou-
sands. It is due to his suggestion that the present
writer first conceived the idea of a complete
xvii 6


translation of all the works of a Kempis, a labour,
he said, which had been the dream of his life. It
is to him, therefore, that this volume is affection-
ately dedicated.

Dr. Pohl also, in a touching- little passage,
" Thomae a Kempis, Opera Omnia," vol. ii, p.
484, traces back his love of the author to the first-
remembered lessons of a simple, pious mother,
whose reading was almost entirely confined to her
prayerbook and her " Imitation." One result of
these early impressions is the new edition to
which reference has been already made, the fruit
of years of patient scholarly labour and research,
a work which will doubtless render the good
Professor's name as immortal as that of a Kempis

With regard to the present volume, " A Medita-
tion on the Incarnation of Christ, etc.," Dr. PohFs
text is a careful edition of the autograph MS.
preserved in the Roj^al Library, Brussels, 4585-
4587. An inscription is inserted to the effect:
"Dono dedit anno 1755 R. P. Rumoldus Way-
nants museo nostro praesente et consentiente
R. P. Provincia(le)." On the top of the first page
is written further: " Collegij Soc^'^Jesu Contraci."
A Jesuit, Simon Wynants, was Professor of Gram-
mar at the time and place mentioned in these two
notices, and the presumption is that the donor of
the manuscript was a relative of his. In any case,
at the suppression of the Society, 1773, the valu-
able manuscript found its way, with so many other


treasures of the Jesuit libraries in Belgium, to

The Codex contains, in addition to the Medita-
tion and Sermons, the " Alphabetum Monachi,"
a fragment in Low German, "Van goeden woerden
to horen ende die to spreken," and some canticles.
These latter seem to have been added as an
afterthought to fill some odd pages; the "Alpha-
betum " is found also in other manuscripts, and I
am giving its translation in a subsequent volume,
containing several treatises, all concerning life
and discipline in the cloister. But the German
fragment, of which Dr. Pohl gives a Latin version,
I thought as well to place here, ending this
volume as it ends the autograph codex, with its
date, 1456.

This date, 1456, at which time Thomas a
Kempis was in his seventy-seventh year, of itself
signifies nothing more than that this small treatise
was then copied and the codex completed. But
from internal evidence Dr. Pohl is of opinion that
the other works translated here are of the same

The titles here given, " A Meditation on the
Incarnation of Christ," and " Sermons on the
Life and Passion of Our Lord," are those assigned
by the author himself and by all his editors, with
the exception of Sommalius, whose edition has

' "Thomae a Kempis, Opera Omnia," vol. iii, p.

^ Op. cit.^ p. 421.



hitherto been the best known and most used.
Sommalius puts the Meditation and Sermons to-
gether under one head, " Condones et Medita-
tiones triginta sex utilissimae/' with the following
interesting appreciation : " In this second part of
the first volume are contained both sermons and
meditations, very profitable and devout. The ser-
mons are such that they seem to be meditations.
Likewise the meditations are so written that ser-
mons can be made of them."

A striking likeness will be found between the
contents of the present volume and Dr. Duthoit's
translation, already mentioned, " Prayers and
Meditations on the Life of Christ." Dr. Pohl col-
lects from the two works a number of parallel
passages of evident similarity.^ Indeed, it is the
eminent critic's opinion that this resemblance was
the occasion of the puzzling omission, without a
word of explanation, in Sommalius' third edition
of the above " Prayers and Meditations," whiqh
had already appeared in his second, under the
title "De vita et beneficiis, etc." This second
edition is the best that appears under Sommalius'
name. At the time of publishing the third edition
the learned Jesuit was already eighty years of
age, and moreover actively engaged in other
affairs. Dr. Pohl then argues that he left the care
of this new edition to his publisher, with the result
that the latter, noticing the similarity between
the two treatises in question, took the liberty,

^ Op. cit., pp. 416 seq.


without his knowledge or consent, of suppressing
one of them/

The question will naturally occur to many,
whether these sermons were actually delivered as
such, and, if delivered, to whom. We know that
for two periods of his life, covering a considerable
number of years, Thomas a Kempis was sub-prior
of the Canonry of Mount St. Agnes. One of the
duties of this office was the care and instruction
of the novices and younger professed brethren.
And in fact we have a whole volume of sermons
by a Kempis, thirty in all, addressed to novices, a
translation of which will appear shortly. With
regard to these the author expressly states that
they are a collection of discourses '' given at dif-
ferent times to our novices by way of sweet con-
ference." " There is another treatise of" Nine Ser-
mons to the Brethren." But we know from Francis
Tolensis and other biographers that a Kempis
frequently preached to the people also, who, as
the fame of his holiness of life and eloquence and
unction of word spread abroad, flocked in crowds
to the Mount to hear him. Hence the inference
would be that these present Sermons, treating of
the mystery of our Redemption from its revela-
tion to the prophets to the descent of the Holy
Ghost, were in the first instance actually preached
to the faithful. The difficulty is that much there-
in seems addressed directly to religious, and that

' Vol. iii, p. 416; vol. v, p. 396.
^ Prol. in serm, ad nov.


the whole tone is of too elevated a devotion for
the people in general.

However, we must bear in mind the particular
class of faithful who would form the majority of
his audience, and the close connection of these
with the Canons of the Windesheim Congrega-
tion. To realize this better we must go back to
the origin of this Congregation, as described by
John Buschius in his " Chronicles of Windes-
heim," and by a Kempis himself in his charming
biographies of Gerard Groote, Florence Radewyn,
and others their disciples, an excellent transla-
tion of which forms one of the volumes of this
series, " The Founders of the New Devotion."
The question is treated at some length in my
" Life of the Venerable Thomas a Kempis " (Lon-
don, Washbourne), ch. i-v.

To give here a brief resume: Gerard Groote
was a cleric of Deventer, in Holland, who, after a
more or less worldly youth, came under the in-
fluence of the great religious movement, which
invaded the Low Countries in the latter half of
the fourteenth century, and became himself its
chief protagonist. At the end of three years' re-
tirement in the Carthusian Convent of Moni-
chuisen, acting on the advice of friends there,
Gerard went forth to communicate to others by
word and example some of the zeal for perfection
with which he was himself filled. To this end he
received deacon's orders from the Bishop of
Utrecht — his humility forbade him ever to aspire


to the priesthood — and authority also to preach,
" Clergy, religious, and laity, men, women, and
children, learned and ignorant, princes, magis-
trates, lawyers, tradesmen, servants, pilgrims, and
beggars — all flocked to hear the new apostle, and
listened for hours to his impassioned exhortations
to repent of their sins, to despise the fleeting
pleasures of the world, to lead a better life. His
words bore marvellous fruit. Besides the many
sinners whom he recalled to a sense of their duty,
numbers of the clergy and laity placed them-
selves unreservedly in his hands, and under his
direction began to lead lives that in simplicity,
devotion, and contempt of the world rivalled those
of the primitive Christians." ^

Through much misrepresentation and some
unfortunate misunderstanding an inhibition was
procured from the Ordinary forbidding Groote to
preach. He submitted at once. Retiring to his
native town, he now devoted himself unreservedly
to the task of forming to a perfect Christian life
the many who had been converted by his burning
eloquence. A large band of disciples, priests^
clerics and laymen, gathered round him, not for-
saking their ordinary avocations, but united
simply by an ardent pursuit of holiness, and an
earnest emulation of the fervour of the first
Christians, the unworldliness or other-worldliness,
poverty, simplicity, and devotion of early days.
At the suggestion of his most devoted admirer
^ " Life of the Ven. Thomas a Kempis," p. 4.


and follower, Florence Radewyn, Gerard con-
sented that some, who so chose, should live to-
gether in community, though still bound by no
manner of vow. The greater proportion of those
who availed themselves of this permission were
poor students, frequenting the public schools of
Deventer. One stringent rule was that all should
labour for their maintenance. This was to pre-
vent abuses which, throughout the Netherlands
and elsewhere, had arisen in similar bodies of
men and women, who had commenced in a laud-
able spirit of poverty to live on alms, but who
had degenerated into idle and insolent beggars.
The chief work undertaken by the students was
that of copying manuscripts, a highly-appreciated
and well-paid service in those days, before the in-
vention of the press. At the same time, a com-
munity was formed of pious females, who, follow-
ing a similar manner of life under the guidance
of a confessor, supported themselves also by the
labour of their hands. They were called simply,
" Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life." The
whole movement was known as the New Devotion^
and its followers styled the Devout. These latter
terms are of frequent occurrence throughout the
works of a Kempis.

Gerard Groote, however, anxious for the con-
tinuance of the good work and for its preservation
against opposition from without and disintegrating
elements within, had already conceived the idea
of placing the whole body under the protection


and guidance of a canonically instituted religious
Order already existing in the Church. While he
was maturing his plans and looking for resources
to make a commencement, Deventer was devas-
tated by one of the periodical plagues of those

Gerard himself fell a victim to his devotedness
to the stricken, and at the very moment when the
legacy of a pious and wealthy friend had removed
the financial difficulties which had hitherto stood
in the way of his scheme. However, on his death-
bed, as the expression of his last wishes, he told
the weeping brethren that as soon as possible
some of them should enter an Order approved by
the Church, and from the cloister be the guides,
directors and protectors of the Devout still living
in the world. They asked him which Order they
should join. Some suggested the Carthusians.
Groote objected that they were too secluded for
their purpose. Others mentioned the Cistercians.
The Master replied that these were too severe.
" Rather," said he, ^^ you should enter the Order
of Canons Regular. For this Order follows an
easier rule, and is well adapted to all who are
just able to serve God in holy religion. Neither
do these Canons seem to differ much from you in
their manner of life, except that they observe by
profession and vow what you observe without
vows, to wit, charity, and poverty, chastity, and
obedience." ^

' John Busch, " Chron. Wind, de orig.," c. v.



And in effect, shortly after the death of Groote,
six Devout Brethren founded the monastery of
Windesheim, and made their profession in the
Order of Canons Regular as the first members of
a Congregation, which in a marvellously short
space of time covered all the Netherlands with
new establishments and affiliated centres. I hope
to speak more at length of the Congregation ot
Windesheim and of the Canonical Order itself in
introductory notes to subsequent volumes of this

For the first years of its existence the new
Congregation drew all its recruits from among
the Devout. The greater number of the canonical
foundations also owed their origin to a humble
community of Brothers ; Mt. St. Agnes itself, the
cloistral home of our venerable author, is a striking
instance, as may be seen from the opening pages
of his " Chronicle of Mt. St. Agnes." Throughout
this Chronicle, as also that of Windesheim, we
find constant proofs of the amicable relations, of

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Online Libraryà Kempis ThomasA meditation on the incarnation of Christ : sermons on the life and passion of our Lord and of hearing and speaking good words (Volume v.4) → online text (page 1 of 19)