Thomas a Kempis – The Imitation of Christ – Chapter3

Chapter 3
On the Teaching of Truth

Happy the man who is instructed by Truth itself, not by signs and passing words (Num 12:8), but as It is in itself. Our own conjectures and observations often mislead us, and we discover little. Of what value are lengthy controversies on deep and obscure matters, when it is not by our knowledge of such things that we shall at length be judged? It is supreme folly to neglect things that are useful and vital, and deliberately turn to curious and harmful things. Truly, `we have eyes and see not (Jer. 5:21; John 12:40; Rom 11:8): for what concern to us are such things as genera and species?

Those to whom the Eternal Word speaks are delivered from uncertainty. From one Word proceed all things (John 1:3) and all things tell of Him; it is He, the Author of all things, who speaks to us (John 8:25). Without Him no one can understand or judge aright. But the man to whom all things are one, who refers everything to One, and who sees everything as in One, is enabled to remain steadfast in heart, and abide at peace with God.

O God, living Truth (John 14:6) unite me to Yourself in everlasting love (Jer 31:3)! Often I am wearied by all I read and hear. In You alone is all that I desire and long for. Therefore let all teachers keep silence, and let all creation be still before You; do You, O Lord, speak alone.

The more closely a man is united to You in pure simplicity, the more varied and profound the matters which he understands without effort, for he receives light and understanding from heaven. A pure, simple, and stable man, however busy and occupied, does not become distracted thereby, for he does all things to the glory of God, and strives to preserve himself free from all self-seeking. And what harms and hinders you more than the undisciplined passions of your own heart? A good and devout man firstly sets in order in his mind whatever tasks he has in hand, and never allows them to lead him into occasions of sin, but humbly subjects them to the dictates of a sound judgement. Who has a fiercer struggle than he who strives to conquer himself (Wisd. 10:12)? Yet this must be our chief concern – to conquer self, and by daily growing stronger than self, to advance in holiness.

All perfection in this life is accompanied by a measure of imperfection, and all our knowledge contains an element of obscurity. A humble knowledge of oneself is a surer road to God than a deep searching of the sciences. Yet learning itself is not to be blamed, nor is the simple knowledge of anything whatsoever to be despised, for true learning is good in itself and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a holy life are always to be preferred. But because many are more eager to acquire much learning than to live well, they often go astray, and bear little or no fruit. If only such people were as diligent in the uprooting of vices and the planting of virtues as they are in the debating of problems, there would not be so many evils and scandals among the people, nor such laxity in communities. At the Day of Judgement, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holily we have lived. Tell me, where are now all those Masters and Doctors whom you wso well in their lifetime in the full flower of their learning? Other men now sit in their seats, and they are hardly ever called to mind. In their lifetime they seemed of great account, but now no one speaks of them.

Oh, how swiftly the glory of the world passes away (I John 2:17)! If only the lives of these men had been as admirable as their learning,their study and reading would have been to good purpose But how many in this world care little for the service of God end perish in their vain learning. Because they choose to be great rather than humble, they perish in their own conceit (Rom 1:21). He is truly great; who is great in the love of God. He is truly great, who is humble in mind, and regards earth’s higher honors as nothing. He is truly wise who counts all earthly things as dung, in order that he may win Christ.(Phil 3:8) And he is truly learned, who renounces his own will for the will of God.

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