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The Imitation of Christ (Vintage Spiritual Classics) Paperback – March 24, 1998
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Coincidentally (or maybe not!) I picked up this just-received book, sent to me by a dear friend who recalled my reviewing an earlier published edition of this same "Ronald Knox translation." And it literally fell open to these words,
"By all means ask questions, but LISTEN to what holy writers have to tell you . . . often enough, (when we hear) Holy Scripture, we are distracted by mere curiosity; we want to seize upon some point and argue about it, when we ought to (listen) and move on."
I flipped open "The Imitation" just now and my eyes (lately fixated on my newest pride and joy were these: (p 32 under the heading, "ABOUT SELF-CONFIDENCE, AND HOW TO GET RID OF SELF-CONCEIT")
"It is nonsense to depend for your happiness on created things (and) why all this self-importance? Do not boast of riches, if you happen to possess them . . . nor about the important friends you have; boast rather of God's friendship.
"Do not give yourself airs, if you have physical strength or beauty; it only takes a spell of illness to waste the one, or mar the other. Do not be self-satisfied about your own skill or cleverness; God is hard to satisfy, and it is from him that they come, all these gifts of nature.
"He reads our thoughts, and will only think the worse of you, if you think yourself better than other people. Even your good actions must not be a source of pride to you: If you have any good qualities to show for yourself, credit your neighbor with even better qualities: that is the way to be humble.
"To be humble is to enjoy undisturbed peace of mind, while the proud heart is swept with gusts of envy and resentment."
Seven years ago (on my birthday actually) I wrote my very first review for Amazon.com -- for an earlier re-print of this same translation. This latest version, from Ignatius Press of San Francisco, is far-and-away the most beautiful and features cover art by Andrea Solario (1480-1540) from the "Galleria Borghese, Rome" -- painted about a century after Thomas a Kempis produced his "Imitation." Inside artwork includes some marvelous, same-period woodcuts by Albrecht Durer.
In his (2005) FOREWARD to this new edition, psychologist and priest Benedict Groeschel (seen by millions on his "Sunday Night Live" TV show on EWTN) recalls stealing his first copy of the "Imitation" from the public library in his Caldwell NJ hometown - slipping it into his schoolbag intending to return it "to its rightful place on the shelf, in two weeks time, the ordinary period for a book loan in those days."
"The title suggested to my 12-year-old mind that this must be a story about someone who pretended to be Jesus. I went and sat by a window . . . the spring sun (shining) on the oak table, I can still see my blue-sweatered arm around the book as I began to read:
"'Vanity of Vanities - all is vanity except to love God and serve him alone.' At that moment I was electrified, and I sat there reading page after page . . . . for two hours, mesmerized by the book!"
As for the translation? Is it really the best-ever? I stand by my thoughts of seven years ago:
"I have several translations of the Imitation but I keep coming back to this one. I believe many readers will find this translation 'flows' better than the others, written as it is in a warm, gentle and accessible style by a master translator and communicator, Monsignor Ronald Knox. A convert to Catholicism who produced an acclaimed Latin-to-English translation of the Bible, Knox completed the first 30 or so chapters of the Imitation before his death in 1957. He wrote to Michael Oakley, two months before his passing: "If I die without finishing my translation, please tell my executors that you are to finish it." The younger Latin scholar did a splendid, seamless job of completing Knox's superb translation of what was--until this century--the second most widely read book in the world. What a delight that this version is once again available, [50 years] after its first publication. If you purchase only one copy of the Imitation in your lifetime, make it this one."
In a nutshell this book says that we are miserable because we are trying to find joy in other people and in other things and everything out there will fail us and let us down. The only thing that provides true happiness, peace and contentment is God. The Imitation of Christ goes through exercises on how we can detach ourselves from worldly things to focus on God. Once we are focused solely on God and have the faith that God will provide everything we need, then we can really enjoy the world around us. Enjoy it because once we receive true happiness from God we can see how beautiful the world is and enjoy it as the gift God created it to be, instead of something that we grab onto in the hopes that it will provide us our happiness and security.