Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380 – 25 July 1471) was a late Medieval Catholic monk and the probable author of The Imitation of Christ, which is one of the best known Christian books on devotion. His name means, "Thomas of Kempen", his home town and in German he is known as Thomas von Kempen. He also is known by various spellings of his family name: Thomas Haemerkken; Thomas Hammerlein; Thomas Hemerken, and Thomas Hämerken.
He was born at the Lower Rhine region in Kempen, Germany, County of Cleves in 1380 and died in 1471 near Zwolle, Netherlands in the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht, seventy-five miles north of his birthplace. His paternal name was Hemerken, Kleverlandish for little hammer.
In 1392 he followed his brother, John, to Deventer in order to attend the city school. While attending school in Deventer, Thomas encountered the Brethren of the Common Life, followers of Gerard Groote's Modern Devotion. He attended school in Deventer from 1392 to 1399.
After leaving school, Thomas traveled to Zwolle to visit his brother again, after John had become the prior of the Mount St. Agnes monastery. Thereafter, Thomas was invested at the Mount St. Agnes monastery in 1406. He did not become ordained as a priest, however, until almost a decade later. He became a prolific copyist and writer. Thomas received priest's orders in 1413 and was made sub-prior of the monastery in 1429.
The monastery was disturbed for a time because of the pope's rejection of the bishop-elect of Utrecht, Rudolf van Diepholt; otherwise, Thomas's life was a quiet one, his time being spent between devotional exercises, composition, and copying. He copied the Bible no fewer than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt in five volumes. In its teachings he was widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.
No doubt, his life is fittingly characterized by the words under an old picture first referred to by Francescus Tolensis: "In all things I sought quiet and found it not save in retirement and in books".
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