Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Book 1, Chapter 3: Of the teaching of truth

Of the teaching of truth

Happy is the man whom Truth by itself doth teach, not by figures
and transient words, but as it is in itself.(1)  Our own
judgment and feelings often deceive us, and we discern but
little of the truth.  What doth it profit to argue about hidden
and dark things, concerning which we shall not be even reproved
in the judgment, because we knew them not?  Oh, grievous folly,
to neglect the things which are profitable and necessary, and to
give our minds to things which are curious and hurtful!  Having
eyes, we see not.
And what have we to do with talk about genus and species!
He to whom the Eternal Word speaketh is free from multiplied
questionings.  From this One Word are all things, and all things
speak of Him; and this is the Beginning which also speaketh unto
us.(2)  No man without Him understandeth or rightly judgeth.  The
man to whom all things are one, who bringeth all things to one,
who seeth all things in one, he is able to remain steadfast of
spirit, and at rest in God.  O God, who art the Truth, make me
one with Thee in everlasting love.  It wearieth me oftentimes to
read and listen to many things; in Thee is all that I wish for
and desire.  Let all the doctors hold their peace; let all
creation keep silence before Thee: speak Thou alone to me.
The more a man hath unity and simplicity in himself, the more
things and the deeper things he understandeth; and that without
labour, because he receiveth the light of understanding from
above.  The spirit which is pure, sincere, and steadfast, is not
distracted though it hath many works to do, because it doth all
things to the honour of God, and striveth to be free from all
thoughts of self-seeking.  Who is so full of hindrance and
annoyance to thee as thine own undisciplined heart?  A man who is
good and devout arrangeth beforehand within his own heart the
works which he hath to do abroad; and so is not drawn away by the
desires of his evil will, but subjecteth everything to the
judgment of right reason.  Who hath a harder battle to fight
than he who striveth for self-mastery?  And this should be our
endeavour, even to master self, and thus daily to grow stronger
than self, and go on unto perfection.
All perfection hath some imperfection joined to it in this
life, and all our power of sight is not without some darkness.  A
lowly knowledge of thyself is a surer way to God than the deep
searching of man’s learning.  Not that learning is to be blamed,
nor the taking account of anything that is good; but a good
conscience and a holy life is better than all.  And because many
seek knowledge rather than good living, therefore they go astray,
and bear little or no fruit.
O if they would give that diligence to the rooting out of vice
and the planting of virtue which they give unto vain
questionings: there had not been so many evil doings and
stumbling-blocks among the laity, nor such ill living among
houses of religion.  Of a surety, at the Day of Judgment it will
be demanded of us, not what we have read, but what we have done;
not how well we have spoken, but how holily we have lived.  Tell
me, where now are all those masters and teachers, whom thou
knewest well, whilst they were yet with you, and flourished in
learning?  Their stalls are now filled by others, who perhaps
never have one thought concerning them.  Whilst they lived they
seemed to be somewhat, but now no one speaks of them.
Oh how quickly passeth the glory of the world away!  Would
that their life and knowledge had agreed together!  For then
would they have read and inquired unto good purpose.  How many
perish through empty learning in this world, who care little for
serving God.  And because they love to be great more than to be
humble, therefore they “have become vain in their imaginations.”
He only is truly great, who hath great charity.  He is truly
great who deemeth himself small, and counteth all height of
honour as nothing.  He is the truly wise man, who counteth all
earthly things as dung that he may win Christ.  And he is the
truly learned man, who doeth the will of God, and forsaketh his
own will.
(1) Psalm xciv. 12; Numbers xii. 8.   (2) John viii. 25 (Vulg.).

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