Catholic and Protestant Translations of the Imitatio Christi, 1425–1650
From Late Medieval Classic to Early Modern Bestseller
The Imitatio Christi is considered one of the classic texts of Western spirituality. There were 800 manuscript copies and more than 740 different printed editions of the Imitatio between its composition in the fifteenth century and 1650. During the Reformation period, the book retained its popularity with both Protestants and Catholics; with the exception of the Bible it was the most frequently printed book of the sixteenth century. In this pioneering study, the remarkable longevity of the Imitatio across geographical, chronological, linguistic and confessional boundaries is explored. Rather than attributing this enduring popularity to any particular quality of universality, this study suggests that its key virtue was its appropriation by different interest groups. That such an apparently Catholic and monastic work could be adopted and adapted by both Protestant reformers and Catholic activists (including the Jesuits) poses intriguing questions about our understanding of Reformation and Counter Reformation theology and confessional politics. This study focuses on the editions of the Imitatio printed in English, French, German and Latin between the 1470s and 1650. It offers an ambitious and comprehensive survey of the process of translation and its impact and contribution to religious culture. In so doing it offers a fresh analysis of spirituality and devotion within their proper late medieval and early modern contexts. It also demonstrates that spirituality was not a peripheral dimension of religion, but remains at the very heart of both Catholic and Protestant self-perception and identity.
Table of Contents
Chapter One Introduction; Chapter TWO The Imitatio Christi in the Context of Late Medieval Devotion; Chapter THREE The Imitatio Christi and the Devotio Moderna; Chapter FOUR From Manuscript Classic to Early Printed Bestseller: The Imitatio Christi in Europe, c.1470-c.1530; Chapter FIVE Nourishing Lay Hunger for Devotional Works: English and French Translations of the Imitatio Christi, c.1480-c.1530; Chapter SIX The Printed World of the Imitatio Christi, 1531–1620: Protestant Editions in Latin and the Vernacular; Chapter SEVEN The Translation of the Imitatio Christi by Protestants; Chapter EIGHT The Place of the Imitatio Christi in the Protestant World; Chapter NINE The Printed World of the Imitatio Christi, 1531–1620: Jesuit Editions in Latin and the Vernacular; Chapter TEN ‘The Partridge of Spiritual Books’: Ignatius Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises and Jesuit Appropriation of the Imitatio, c.1522-c.1620; Chapter ELEVEN The Place of Thomas à Kempis’s Imitatio Christi in the Ministry of Jesuit Spirituality; Chapter TWELVE Conclusion;
Maximilian von Habsburg, The History Department, Oundle School, UK
"Von Habsburg’s study will be of great value to readers interested in the history of late medieval and early modern times; the theology of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, or the Reformed figures who valued The Imitation of Christ, or the important theme of imitation as a devotional practice. It is also a helpful starting point for considering the appeal to imitation within modern Christian ethics."
- H. H. Drake Williams III, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit Leuven, Belgium and Tyndale Theological Seminary, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
'This is a historico-theological-bibliographic study of the reception by selected Protestants and Catholics of Thomas Ã Kempis’s Imitation of Christ... a fine study that well repays careful reading.'
- Catholic Historical Review
'... this study provides an illuminating compendium of information and ideas about the role of the Imitatio in the early modern period.'
- Renaissance Quarterly
'This work on the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, now attributed to Thomas Ã Kempis, is particularly valuable because it introduces English readers to important Protestant and Catholic European editions and translations of the work... The Introduction and Conclusion are of great value to the non-specialist reader because of their summary of the content of the chapters, many of which are inevitably densely bibliographical and technical.'
- Recusant History
'... the book provides a fine inventory and description of the editions discovered.'
- Bijdragen, International Journal in Philosophy and Theology
'This is an important book that will be read with interest by historians of medieval and early modern religion.'
- The Medieval Review
'Von Habsburg’s work on devotion is indeed a labor of devotion; in his research he consulted over 300 copies of the text. His composition is painstaking and meticulous, as he details, analyses, and explains the Imitatio, its translations, and its transmission... This monograph, though orientated primarily to scholars, has important insights for anyone interested in the history of spirituality.'
- Lutheran Quarterly