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breath, my music, my lyre, my drum, my psalm, my hymn, my song, my joy, my helmet, my cuirass, my bow, my sword, my treasure, my gold, my silver, my talent, my house, my camp, my palace, my buckler, my flag, my tower, my defender, my garden, my flower-bed, my grove, my refreshment, my court, my table, my meat, my drink, my cinnamon, my balm, my spikenard, my myrrh, my rose, my lily, my bouquet, my crown, my chamber, my bed, my sheet, my lantern, my lamp, my candle, my star, my book, my Bible, my master, my reader, my professor, my physician, my apothecary.” Nowhere are the pages of the “Imitation ” encumbered by such an array of irrelevant words.
Thomas à Kempis, again, is very fond of telling stories, and relating trifling incidents, to illustrate his point, and uses very often the manner of fable, wanting only the force of fable. In reciting the glories of St. Agnes, he tells how a good brother of the convent, getting choked by a fish-bone, was relieved by calling upon the saint at vespers, and threw up the bone “ cum saliva oris," as he was chanting prayers, and how a horse, which had been stolen from the pasture of the convent, knowing that he had been unlawfully appropriated, slipped his bridle deliberately, and came back to the gate of his proper home. In the “ Imitation” there is only one story, and that of quite another kind. The author does not interrupt the flow of his serious discourse to relate trifles.
And when we find proverbs in the “ Imitation,” they are usually the proverbs of Solomon. Where the proverbs so abundant in the writings of Thomas à Kempis have come from, it is impossible to tell. Some of them would not be mistaken for proverbs, unless he had kindly furnished the witness that they are such (“ proverbium veridicum est ”); — such as, “ One who will not listen to his master shall be struck like a stupid ass”; “ When one who is blind or lame attempts to go out, he seldom comes back safe and sound”;
“ Pleasant pastures lead fools to wretched lodgings”; “An empty vessel gives us nothing to drink ”; “Perfection is a rare bird upon the earth”; “ Fine words will not fill a bag”; “All that glitters is not gold ” ; &c. The same thing is true of the allegories in the writings of Thomas à Kempis. We rarely
find these in the “ Imitation,” but the monk is very fond of using them, and in a very preposterous way. The description of the three beautiful garments of St. Agnes and the circles of her golden crown is no better than the riot of an insane fancy. The whimsical writer has surpassed himself, however, in his account of the “ four conditions pertaining to the edification and ornament of the house of God.” He represents the soul as a house which must have humility for its foundation, the four Gospels for walls, seven clear windows always open to receive the light of heaven, but always shut against the thunders and lightnings of the Devil, which seven windows are the emblem of the Holy Spirit's gifts. These windows must not be darkened by the smoke of anger, by the clouds of sadness, by the dust of vainglory, - must not be broken by hard words, or spattered by the mud of evil suspicions. The house must have four solid beams, — justice, strength, temperance, and prudence. The roof must be framed of the wood of constancy and perseverance. In fine, the tiles to cover the house, that it may resist the wind of pride and the winter of carnal delights, are the examples and the words of Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the “Imitation” which in any way resembles this kind of allegory.
And the difference between the writers appears in their way of quotation. It is the almost invariable habit of Thomas à Kempis to begin his chapters or treatises by a quotation from the Scripture. The only exception to this remark in his Sermons, his Meditations, and his various Manuals, is the eighth chapter in the “ Manual for Youth.” If the “Imitation," in its opening, makes any use of the sacred text, it is so incorporated with the words of the writer as not to be distinguishable. The “Imitation ” very rarely makes a rhetorical commencement from Scripture. And when Thomas à Kempis quotes, he takes pains to give his authorities, to tell from whom he quotes. His writings are pedantic in the extreme. Not only does he make mention of David and Solomon, of the “ blessed James” and the blessed Paul," but he is careful to show that he is acquainted with the works of the Fathers, and frequently calls by name Augustine, Bede, Bernard, Fulgentius, Pope Gregory, Pope Leo, Isidore, Origen, Maximus, Chrysostom, and the leading Christian writers, ancient and modern. And, not content with citing their names, he must stop to describe, to eulogize, or to invoke them. When he summons David, it is as “ that truly great prophet before the Lord, filled with the Holy Ghost.” Solomon is always the “wise king” (sapiens rex); and St. John must be illustrated as summæ Trinitatis limpidissimus inspector ac setator, columna primitivæ ecclesiæ, rector ac fundator totius Asiæ.” For St. Paul he has a large variety of titles, not the least frequent of which is the vas electionis. Now, of all this we find in the “Imitation no sign or trace. Using very largely the ideas and expressions of St. Bernard, so much so that ingenious writers have pretended to discover all the book in the works of the great ecclesiastical doctor, it never mentions the name of Ber-nard; and it is equally silent in regard to Thomas Aquinas, though also largely indebted to him. The author of the " Imitation” was evidently anything but a pedant.
The pedantry of Thomas à Kempis, too, is pietistic. His citations are almost exclusively biblical or ecclesiastical, and he makes little or no use of pagan authors. The “Imitation,” on the contrary, does not shun references to pagan writers when these will serve its turn. In the 2d chapter of the first book, we find a phrase borrowed from Aristotle's Metaphysics. In the 13th chapter of the same book, we find a couplet of verses from Ovid; and in the 20th chapter is a fine saying from Seneca. All the books of the “Imitation," indeed, show a mind very familiar with the best thoughts of the pagan classics, and not afraid of their study. The religion of the “Imitation” is not narrow or timid, but large and free, ready to borrow from all sources and to drink at every fountain.
The tone of the writings of Thomas à Kempis, again, is far more monastic than the tone of the “Imitation.” The monk writes with monks and for monks, always from and to and for bis ascetic brethren. Homo with him is equivalent always to monachus, and there is no other life than the monastic which is worthy to be considered. But the “Imitation” is not specially, not chiefly, a convent manual. It is for the religious life of men in the world, as well as of men in the cell. The sins of which it speaks are sins which beset men in the
world. The virtues which it commends are those which can be practised without any ascetic seclusion. Queens have taken comfort in reading this devout treatise, – philosophers in their studies, soldiers in the field, and prisoners in the dungeon. Its finest teaching, we may say, is for those who have experience of the varying fortunes of life in the world, who know the cares and the trials, the gains and losses, the joys and sorrows, of these natural human relations. The writings of Thomas à Kempis have as little help for the laborer or the mourner as they have for the philosopher. They are only suited to the cloister.
A close scrutiny of the works of the Prior of St. Agnes seems to show that he was not acquainted with those scholastic disputes, the terminology of which appears in the pages of the “ Imitation." We read in this of “genera," “ species," of cavillatio, cognitio, exceptio, litteratura, — all words of the scholastic philosophy, yet which never appear in the writings of A Kempis. It may seem strange that one with such reputation for learning should be ignorant of these scholastic arguments, but we have to remember that the education of À Kempis was in the convent, and not in the school; that he was not a university pupil, but was from the beginning kept under monastic influence. To him probably these scholastic disputes were alike useless and impious. As he rejects Aristotle, he does not care to honor those who only reproduced the Grecian sage, baptizing his philosophy, but hardly regenerating it.
In the treatment of certain great themes, Death, Hell, the Devil, the Cross, the Virgin, upon which Catholic writers might be expected to enlarge, there is a marked difference between the “Imitation” and Thomas à Kempis. Nothing can be grander or more solemn than that “meditation of death” which is given in the 23d chapter of the first book of the “Imitation.” Nothing can be more frivolous than the same meditation as we find it in the 25th chapter of the “ Valley of Lilies," -- a series of commonplace antitheses between Now and Then, To-day and To-morrow; or, as we find it in the 7th chapter of the “Manual of the Poor," – a list of twenty-eight kinds of persons that die, arranged in fourteen
pairs, of rich and poor, young and old, high and low, learned and ignorant, master and servant, professor and student, canon and monk, white and black. Hell and the torments of the damned are not a frequent or a favorite theme with the author of the “Imitation.” Only in a single short passage has he given any description of these torments. Thomas à Kempis delights in these descriptions, loves to tell of the “boiling oil," the “raging lions," the “ voracious dogs," the serpents, crabs, dragons, and the like. His hell is a menagerie of wild animals, as well as of malignant demons. He thinks that the damned will be troubled in hell on account of its “ high temperature,” will cry out præ nimis calore; and he shows us a host of dreadful demons, who roar, and torture the flesh of the damned with red-hot forks, their faces black as coal, and horridly leering. The physical agony of hell is more to him than its spiritual woe, and there is no such balance of punishment and sin as we find in the “Imitation."
And the Devil throughout the “Imitation” is kept in the background, is only seven times mentioned by name, while in the writings of Thomas à Kempis he comes up on all occasions; more than three hundred instances may be found where he appears in person. His various names are profusely used, he is called Diabolus more than two hundred times; Satanas, forty times ; Lucifer, a dozen times; and at other times hostis malignus, malignus spiritus, tentator, serpens antiquus, fraudulens serpens, princeps tenebrorum. In one of his sermons Thomas gives a genetic history of the Devil, as curious, if not as long, as the recent thick octavo of the Abbé Lecanu. The Devil is his especial enemy, against whom he is appointed to strive; and, as in the life of Antony and Luther, so in the life of À Kempis, a nocturnal conflict of the monk with this enemy of souls is minutely recorded.
Both writers have special chapters upon the Cross of Christ; but in the one the tone is spiritual, while in the other it is all material and sensuous. Totally unlike that beautiful passage in the 12th chapter of the 2d book of the “Imitation," on “ The Royal Way of the Holy Cross” (De Regia Via Sanctæ Crucis), is the agglomeration of physical images which we