Thomas à Kempis: On Religious Exercises

Considerations by the Way

A medieval philosopher illustrates a fundamental principle.

For man proposes, but God disposes; for man’s way is not in himself.

CHAPTER XIX.—On Religious Exercises.


thomasakempissTHE life of a good religious person ought to be enriched with all virtues, so that his inner life might accord with his outward profession.

Indeed his inner life ought to be in advance of his outer; for God beholds the heart, and before all others we are bound to reverence Him wherever we may be, and-like the angels-to keep ourselves pure in His Sight.

We ought every day to renew our resolutions, and to kindle our fervour, as though it were the very beginning of our conversion, and to say—“Assist me, O God, in this my good purpose, and in Thy Holy Service; and grant that this dayI may begin perfectly, for that which I have hitherto been able to carry out is as nothing.”

  1. Our success depends upon the strength of our purpose ; and, if we would make much progress we must use much diligence.

But, if one often fails after making a strong resolution, how will it fare with those who seldom make any good purpose, or who purpose without firmness?

But in various ways it comes to pass that we abandon our good purposes, and a slight omission in our devotions hardly ever happens without some loss to our souls.

The purposes of just men depend for their fulfilment rather upon the grace of God than upon their own wisdom ; and, in whatever they take in hand, they always trust in His help.

For man proposes, but God disposes; for man’s way is not in himself.

  1. If from a call of duty, or for the benefit of another person, sometimes one of our regular devotions is omitted, it may be easily afterwards recovered again. But if, through distaste or negligence, it is readily given up, such conduct is sinful, and will be found to be hurtful to ourselves.

Strive as much as ever we can, we shall still be sure to fall short in many things.

Yet, always let us have something definite after which we are aiming; and let our resolves turn upon those things which we feel most of all hinder us.

We must examine and set in order both our outer and our inner life, because both are of importance to our spiritual advancement.

  1. If you cannot continuously preserve recollection, at all events do so sometimes, and at least once a day;—for instance in the morning, or at evening.

In the morning make your resolution; in the evening examine yourself—your thoughts, words, and actions during that day, for in these, perhaps, you will find that you have oftentimes offended God and your neighbour.

Gird yourself like a man against the Wicked devices of the Devil; curb your appetite, and you will more easily restrain the lusts of the flesh.

At no time be entirely idle, but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating, or doing something for the common good.

Yet bodily mortification must be undertaken with discretion, and not equally by all.

  1. Practices which are not general ought not to be paraded before others, for things which are singular are more safely carried out in secret.

You must, however, be careful not to neglect things which are performed by all, whilst you are eager for those which are only prescribed by yourself.

But having faithfully and fully performed the former, which are binding on you; if time remains, you may employ yourself in devotions according to your taste.

All cannot have the same plan of prayer, but one kind of devotion is suitable to one, another to another. Again, different devotions please us according to the different seasons ; some delight the soul on Festivals, others on ordinary days; some we need in times of temptation, others in times of peace and quietness.

Some subjects we like to dwell upon when we are sad, others when we are rejoicing in the Lord.

  1. About the time of the great Festivals we ought to renew our good practices of devotion, and ask God more fervently for the prayers of the Saints.

From Festival to Festival we ought to make our resolve, as though we were then about to leave the world, and to pass at once to the Eternal Festival.

Therefore we should carefully prepare ourselves at such holy times, and pass them more devoutly, and keep more strictly all our observances, as though shortly we were about to receive the reward of our labours from God.

  1. And if our departure should be delayed, let us think that we are not yet well enough prepared, and that we are unworthy as yet of so great glory as that which shall be revealed in us at the fore-ordained time; and let us strive to become better prepared for death.

“Blessed is that servant,” saith St. Luke, “whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching. Verily, I say unto you, He will make him ruler over all He hath.”

—Thomas à Kempis (trans. W. H. Hutchings), Of the Imitation of Christ, Book I.

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker