The Imitation of Christ "O, How Quickly Doth The Glory Of The World Pass Away!"

Thomas Hammerken

"O, How Quickly Doth The Glory Of The World Pass Away!"

Context: Sic transit gloria mundi is an old Latin saying usually translated "so passeth away the glory of the world," or "thus passes the glory of this world away." It is used most pointedly and effectively, perhaps, by St. Thomas à Kempis (properly Thomas Hamerken von Kempen) in his religious classic, Imitatio Christi. St. Thomas, a German mystic and devotional writer, was educated at Deventer by the Brethren of the Common Life, a religious order committed to a contemplative and scholarly existence. From here he entered the monastery of Mount Saint Agnes, taking his monastic vows a few years later in 1406. He was subsequently ordained priest and eventually became subprior. He was a copyist of considerable excellence and greatly enjoyed such work: but he is remembered today for The Imitation of Christ, which some scholars have attributed to another theologian named Gerson. It soon became a permanent religious classic and has since been translated into every language in the Christian world; more than two thousand editions have been published up to the present time. This book instructs, both fervently and humbly, exemplifying the Christian way of life. It begins with the observation that in order to find true illumination and deliverance from all blindness of heart, we must endeavor to conform our lives to that of Christ. It enjoins humility and contempt for the world's vanities; cautions us to avoid inordinate thirst for knowledge, for with knowledge goes great responsibility and we should rather fear the knowledge we have than take advantage of it. Nor should we take pride in it. We should not be forever questioning; to God all things are one, and he is Truth. The individual must strive for unity and simplicity within himself, doing all his many tasks for the honor of God. In this life all perfection is mingled with imperfection, and "a lowly knowledge of thyself is a surer way to God than the deep searchings of man's learning."

Yet learning is not to be blamed, nor the mere knowledge of any thing whatsoever to be disliked, it being good in itself, and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a virtuous life is always to be preferred before it.
But because many endeavour rather to get knowledge than to live well; therefore they are often deceived, and reap either none, or but little fruit.
O, if men bestowed as much labour in the rooting out of vices, and planting of virtues, as they do in moving of questions, neither would there so much hurt be done, nor so great scandal be given in the world, nor so much looseness be practised in Religious Houses.
Truly, at the day of judgment we shall not be examined what we have read, but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how religiously we have lived.
Tell me now, where are all those Doctors and Masters, with whom thou wast well acquainted, whilst they lived and flourished in learning?
Now others possess their livings and perhaps do scarce ever think of them. In their lifetime they seemed something, but now they are not spoken of.
O, how quickly doth the glory of the world pass away! O that their life had been answerable to their learning! then had their study and reading been to good purpose.
How many perish by reason of vain learning in this world, who take little care of the serving of God:
And because they rather choose to be great than humble, therefore they become vain in their imaginations.