Kempis, Thomas à (Hemerken)


b Kempen, nr Cologne, c1379, d 1425. Educated at Deventer, Netherlands, at a (public) school of the recently founded Brethren of the Common Life, he entered the community house of the Augustinian ‘Canons Regular’ at Agnietenberg, nr Zwolle (Netherlands), in 1399. In 1406 he took his monastic vows and was ordained in 1412, remaining there for most of his life thereafter. His main work involved prayer, preaching, spiritual counselling, writing of many kinds and copying mss. He is almost certainly the author of the devotional classic The Imitation of Christ, first circulated anonymously in 1418. This played a part in the spiritual awakening of John Newton (qv) and was precious to nurse Edith Cavell both before and after her arrest in Belgium; it is still in demand among readers of many traditions, contains much wisdom and beauty, but rarely engages with the actual Jesus of the 4 gospels, so that we learn little from him of our Lord’s incarnate life. One of many illustrated 19th-c edns had an Introduction by Dean F W Farrar. It was only in that century that the verses which are probably by à Kempis became widely known through the hymn-book. No.225.