Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Book 1, Chapter 18: Of the example of the Holy Fathers

Of the example of the Holy Fathers

Consider now the lively examples of the holy fathers, in whom
shone forth real perfectness and religion, and thou shalt see how
little, even as nothing, is all that we do.  Ah! What is our life
when compared to theirs?  They, saints and friends of Christ as
they were, served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and
nakedness, in labour and weariness, in watchings and fastings, in
prayer and holy meditations, in persecutions and much rebuke.
O how many and grievous tribulations did the Apostles,
Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, endure; and all others who would
walk in the footsteps of Christ. For they hated their souls in
this world that they might keep them unto life eternal.  O how
strict and retired a life was that of the holy fathers who dwelt
in the desert!  what long and grievous temptations they did
suffer!  how often were they assaulted by the enemy!  what
frequent and fervid prayers did they offer unto God!  what strict
fasts did they endure!  what fervent zeal and desire after
spiritual profit did they manifest!  how bravely did they fight
that their vices might not gain the mastery!  how entirely and
steadfastly did they reach after God!  By day they laboured, and
at night they gave themselves ofttimes unto prayer; yea, even
when they were labouring they ceased not from mental prayer.
They spent their whole time profitably; every hour seemed
short for retirement with God; and through the great sweetness of
contemplation, even the need of bodily refreshment was forgotten.
They renounced all riches, dignities, honours, friends, kinsmen;
they desired nothing from the world; they ate the bare
necessaries of life; they were unwilling to minister to the body
even in necessity.  Thus were they poor in earthly things, but
rich above measure in grace and virtue.  Though poor to the outer
eye, within they were filled with grace and heavenly
They were strangers to the world, but unto God they were as
kinsmen and friends.  They seemed unto themselves as of no
reputation, and in the world’s eyes contemptible; but in the
sight of God they were precious and beloved.  They stood fast in
true humility, they lived in simple obedience, they walked in
love and patience; and thus they waxed strong in spirit, and
obtained great favour before God.  To all religious men they were
given as an example, and they ought more to provoke us unto good
livings than the number of the lukewarm tempteth to
carelessness of life.
O how great was the love of all religious persons at the
beginning of this sacred institution!  O what devoutness of
prayer!  what rivalry in holiness!  what strict discipline was
observed!  what reverence and obedience under the rule of the
master showed they in all things!  The traces of them that remain
until now testify that they were truly holy and perfect men, who
fighting so bravely trod the world underfoot.  Now a man is
counted great if only he be not a transgressor, and if he can
only endure with patience what he hath undertaken.
O the coldness and negligence of our times, that we so quickly
decline from the former love, and it is become a weariness to
live, because of sloth and lukewarmness.  May progress in
holiness not wholly fall asleep in thee, who many times hast seen
so many examples of devout men!

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