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bishop as well as a scholar, published a quarto volume, in which he gave the names of four separate authors of the several books of the “Imitation," leaving only to poor Thomas à Kempis the humbler task of compiling and setting in order these earlier writings.
In the national dispute concerning the authorship of “The Imitation of Christ,” there are three parties; in the monastic dispute there are only two; on the one side are the Augustinians and Jesuits, on the other, the Benedictines. Even in the lifetime of À Kempis, in 1464, the Augustinian Buschius had claimed for his order the paternity of the “Imitation,” and a long line of regular canons of the order followed and repeated his opinion. From the time of Sommalius, in 1600, the Jesuits, to a man, have espoused the same cause. To deny the right of Thomas à Kempis in this book is, in Jesuit judgment, as much sacrilege as to deny the right of the Pope, or the holiness of Saint Ignatius, or the dogma of the God made man. To the Benedictines, on the contrary, it is a matter of duty to assert at all hazards that the "Imitation” is the work and property of their order. Gerson, and not À Kempis, is the author, because Gerson is a Benedictine. No matter how fit the one or how unfit the other may be for the composition of the book, it is enough that the ecclesiastical relation of the one is right, while the ecclesiastical relation of the other is wrong. “ The Imitation of Christ” is not the only religious book which has been claimed by one order or another on this purely monastic ground. “ The Spiritual Combat," a famous Catholic work, is disputed by Benedictines, Jesuits, and Theatins, the first assigning it to the Spaniard John of Cattanisa, the second to the Jesuit Gagliardo, and the third to the Theatin Scupoli. Brignon, a French Jesuit, who published, in 1688, a translation of the work from Italian into French, very quaintly remarks in his Preface, that he will not venture to decide in the dispute, since he prefers to leave each party in possession of its own rights, rather than make enemies by coming out openly for any one of them.
The claims of the French and Italian candidates not being here in question, we shall make no further mention of them; observing only in passing, that some sagacious critics are bold
enough to doubt if the very existence of “Gerson " be not a myth, - a hasty and forced deduction from very insufficient philological premises. The history of the “ Gerson ” theory is one of the curiosities of Italian literature in the seventeenth century. Thomas à Kempis, with whom here we have to deal, is in no sense a mythical character. His lineage, his age, his place of birth and of death, his occupation, capacity, and temper, are all perfectly well known, - as well known as those of any historical personage of the fifteenth century. His father, Hemerken, was an humble artisan of Kempen, in the diocese of Cologne. His brother, John à Kempis, fourteen years older than himself, began to serve in a Dutch convent when he was fifteen years of age, rose by successive steps to be at the head of more than half a dozen large monasteries, and at his death, in 1432, was equally distinguished as a builder of religious houses, a copier and illuminator of religious manuscripts, and a framer of rules for the břethren of his order. Thomas à Kempis followed and surpassed his brother in the walk which he had chosen. At twelve years of age, in 1391, he was a pupil in the school at Deventer; at seventeen, he belonged to a religious fraternity, associated to pray and study together and to copy manuscripts; and at twenty, he was a novice in the monastery of Mount Saint Agnes, near Zwoll, of which his brother was at that time the Prior. From a novice, he became in due time a monk, and received priest's orders from the hand of his brother. His preaching gift soon became widely known; students flocked to his teaching, and novices besieged his monastic abode. He was chosen Sub-Prior; accompanied his monks in their exile and dispersion ; and, after a life of various and harassing toil, died in 1471, at the great age of ninety-two years. His character was elaborately drawn by more than one contemporary biographer. A brother of his convent writes, in rather rude Latin : " “ Frater Thomas å Kempis sustinuit ab exordio monasterii magnam penuriam, labores et tentationes Scripsit autem Bibliam nostram totaliter et alios multos libros pro domo et pro pretio. Insuper composuit varios tractatulos ad ædificationem juvenum plano et simplici stylo, sed prægrandes in sententiis et operis efficacia. Fuit etiam multos annos amorosus in pas
sione Domini et mire consolatorius tentatis et tribulatis." This description of the pious monk's style is, as we shall have occasion to see, not absolutely accurate. The “opinions” may be "prægrandes,” but the diction is certainly not plain or simple. Another biographer somewhat more eloquently says of him : “ Thomas à Kempis fuit brevis staturæ, sed magnus in virtutibus; valde devotus, libenter solus et nunquam otiosus; custos oris sui præcipuus et tamen cum devotis valde libenter de bonis loquebatur, ut puta de antiquis moribus et patribus et tunc proprie jucundus erat. In loquendo et.scribendo magis curabat affectum inflammare quam acuere intellectum. Compositus erat in moribus ; ab aliena et secularia referentibus recedens; incompositos et excedentes diligenter redarguit; monebat dulciter, adhortans ad meliora; dulcis et affabilis erat omnibus, maxime devotis et humilibus."
Putting out of view the great work on “The Imitation of Christ,” which is disputed, the number of genuine works of this famous monk is very considerable. They have been published in every form, — folio, quarto, octavo, — and translated into several languages. The German translation, published in 1834, is in four quarto volumes. Though the subjects are various enough, nearly all the treatises have an ascetic tone, spirit, and purpose. There are thirty Sermons to the “Novices”; nine Sermons to the “ Brethren”; a “ Soliloquy of the Soul”; on the three tabernacles, “ Poverty, Humility, and Patience”; “The Little Garden of Roses"; “ The Valley of Lilies”; “ The Discipline of the Cloister"; “ The Hospital of the Poor”; “ Dialogues of the Novices”; Spiritual Exercises”; a
“ Manual for Youth"; on “Compunction of Heart”; on “Solitude and Silence"; on the “ Recognition of one's own Frailty; on “Mortification”; “Humility”; a “ Peaceful Life”; and others, the titles of which we have no space to insert. A volume of “Spiritual Songs ” also came from his hand, for a part of which he composed the music. The manuscript Bible transcribed entire by the hand of Thomas à Kempis was in existence in Holland in the seventeenth century, in four folio volumes, but has since been lost. A manuscript New Testament transcribed by him, however, is still remaining, and other manuscripts by his hand are in the libraries of Holland.
The fame of Thomas à Kempis chiefly rests on his supposed authorship of the book wbich, next to the Bible, is regarded by the majority of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, as the holiest of books, — which has been repeatedly called the
masterpiece” of all human compositions, the Bible being inspired, and therefore divine. The arguments which vindicate his authorship have been collected and digested in the exhaustive work of Malon, Bishop of Bruges, a third edition of which was published in 1858. The six contemporary witnesses whom he cites, companions or disciples of Thomas, seem to him sufficient and entirely trustworthy. If the testimony of the Fathers, from Papias to Jerome, is to be taken as sufficient in proving the genuineness of the several Gospels, surely this testimony of men who lived with the writer ought to be received in his favor. Beyond this, Malon cites as evidence manuscripts of the “ Imitation,” apparently from the hand of Thomas. Then, for internal evidence, he contends that there is entire harmony between the doctrines of the “ Imitation" and the principles of the life which Thomas led, and that many of the expressions used are expressions which he would be likely to use. It is on this last point mainly that M. de Larroque joins issue with the Bishop. To him it is clear that the doctrines and the style of the “ Imitation are not those of the other writings of Thomas, and not such as might have been expected from him. And he specifies forty distinct heads of difference, which, in turn, might have been more minutely subdivided. In reviewing his specifications, we shall omit and condense.
According to M. de Larroque, the verbal differences between the “ Imitation" and the genuine works of Thomas à Kempis are so numerous as to be unaccountable on the supposition that they come from one author. Some strong expressions of the “ Imitation are not found at all in the works of Thomas. The word abyssalis, describing the depth of God's being, does not appear in any writing of the monk, where it would be very convenient. The “Imitation” uses absorptus in an address to God, - “ quando ero tecum unitus et absorptus”; in vain we look for this in the other works of Thomas. In the 4th book, ch. 1, the “Imitation" calls the Eucharist “immortali
tatis alimonium.” Now Thomas had frequent occasion to write about the Eucharist, but he never uses this word alimonium. No writer more than Thomas would find it convenient to use such words as contradicere and confortare, which are frequent in the “ Imitation.” Yet we find neither these words nor their derived nouns, contradictio and confortatio, in any of his works. In the “ Imitation ” (Book 3d, Ch. 5) we have the highly poetic phrase, “ In amore liquefieri et natare," to be melted and swim in love. The word liquefieri seems to be entirely unknown to the ascetic writer. The same remark is true of the word nihileitas, an original and untranslatable word, of the word mobilitas, and of the words resignare and resignatio. The “Imitation ” calls God “Conditor mundi.” Much as Thomas à Kempis writes about the Deity and his works, he never avails himself of this fine epithet. He calls God almost everything else but this, the description used by the writer to the Hebrews.
It is curious, too, to note the difference between the adverbs of the “Imitation” and of Thomas à Kempis. Those of the “ Imitation” almost all end in e, while those of the monk end in ter. In the one, we read abnegate, caute, circonspecte, discrete, desperate, distracte, dejecte, fruitive, laboriose, mirifice, while the other gives us æternaliter, æquanimeter, alacriter, ardenter, consequenter, constanter, cordialiter, desideranter, difficulter, dignanter, and a multitude more of the same kind. On some pages of Thomas à Kempis, these formidable and sonorous adverbs are found to the number of eight, nine, and even eleven! To use M. de Larroque's comparison, the adverbs of the “Imitation" are like flakes of soft-falling snow, which descend gently, and leave beauty and purity upon the page, while the adverbs of Thomas à Kempis are like great driving hailstones, which crash upon the roof with intolerable clatter.
“ Quam multâ grandine nimbi
Culminibus crepitant.” The adverb alacriter, which the monk uses continually, is not to be found at all in the “ Imitation,” while the adverb abnegate, used often in the “Imitation," is never used by Thomas à Kempis. Indeed, all derivatives of the verb abVOL. LXXIII. 5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. III.