22 JULY 1882, Page 20


the writer of an able, if not a convincing work on the authorship of the De Imitations

Christi. Incidentally, though not always briefly, he touches on the same subject in the present volumes. Long passages are quoted from the Soliloquy of the Soul, which A. Kempis is

known to have written, and compared with the book, which is supposed to have had a circulation throughout Europe second only to the Bible.

The author is apparently less sure of his ground than formerly. On page 10, indeed, he writes of It Kempis as the undoubted author of the De Imitations, but elsewhere he alludes to the subject less confidently, and as though, despite his

arguments, it remained a realata quaestio. The greater portion of Thomas a Kempis's long life, for he lived to be upwards of ninety, was spent in composing devotional treatises, and in transcribing in a firm and beautiful hand the works of famous

authors. He lived, be it remembered, before the age of printing, and like other monks of the so-called " dark ages " performed a task of almost inestimable value. It has been said that "not one reader in a thousand knows anything whatever of his history and character," and Mr. Kettlewell considers that the confused notion that prevails about him justifies the publication of a work in which the endeavour is made to gather together the "scattered materials," and "to weave them as far as possible into something like a full-length por- trait." Great labour and the most protracted research have been expended on this attempt, but the result, we regret to say, is far from satisfactory. We see the saintly devotee, and have ample evidences produced of his piety, but we do not see the man. We are told by his first biographer, and can well believe, that "as he taught others and as he instructed them, both by word of mouth and of writing, even so he lived," and Mr. Kettle- well's copious narrative corroborates this statement. Thomas is Kern pis was as devout in life as in print, and his piety, although not free from what is morbid and superstitious, was profoundly sincere. A monk must be inevitably one-sided. We do not expect to find largeness of vision in the cloistered cell. The world is shut out, and a monk's chief object, if true to his vows, is to crush down not only the passions which all Christians deem sinful, but such as are in themselves beautiful and innocent. The life of " a religious" is not the noblest life, but it is far from being neces- sarily ignoble, and there have been periods in which earnest and high-minded men and women were forced to seek for rest and security within conventual walls. Even the hermit in the desert was not without his vocation, and Mr. Kettlewell, who is a little too fond of preaching long sermons, moralises on the ascetic virtues of solitude and silence. It is not without sym- pathy that he records the following anecdotes given by A.

Kempis. The first is on silence :-

"" There was in the upper country a certain monk of the Cistercian Order, a careful guardian of his mouth, and a diligent observer of the discipline of the cloister. This man, kindled with the zeal of devotion, used scarcely to speak a single word in a week. To whom. the Abbot said, for sake of relief, ' I give you permission to speak sometimes with your Brethren.' The man answered, ' Oh, Reverend Father, I do not desire to have such a permission.' Hearing this, the Abbot was edified by the answer of the Brother in his being willing to remain silent.'

The second anecdote illustrates the blessedness of solitude :-

"" A certain Brother of the Order of Regulars, being sent out of doors, and having completed his business, wished to return quickly home, that he might more freely have leisure for God in silence. But having set out on his way, he fouud a certain traveller, who said that he bad visited various places for the purpose of seeing holy persons and monasteries. Being interrogated concerning religious houses, he said he had been, among others, in the sacred cloisters of the Carthusians. And when he had told many good things of the position of that place, as being on a lofty mountain, and of the close solitncle and the strictness of the Brethren living there, he at length said :- ' I found there a Brother with whom I could freely speak, and, from curiosity, I asked him, " How long a time bast thou dwelt here P" who replied, "Forty years have glided by, and, in the interim, I have not seen the outer gate by which I first entered,' which leads 'A Kempis to remark, 0, how raro and foreign is that to many religious persons in these times, who regard it as the punishment of a prison if,' within the year, they may not go beyond the railings of the monastery and the outside wall for the sake of rambling about.' " * Thomas a Kempis and the Brothers of Common Life. By the Rev. B. Kettlewell. 2 vols. London : Kogan Paul and Co. 1882.

Thomas h Kempis was born about 1379, and his long life com- prises one of the worst periods in ecclesiastical history. There were, in the first place, two, or even three, rival Popes contend- ing for the throne of St. Peter,—men of corrupt minds, of san- guinary cruelty, of sordid avarice. The Council of Constance deposed them, and placed Marlin V. in the Papal Chair, and his pontificate is said to have been principally devoted to two object's,—the recovery of the States of the Church, and the amassing of wealth. This Council is everlastingly infamous for its condemnation of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, and the Emperor Sigismond shares the guilt and shame of that odious sentence. "I came voluntarily to this Council," said Huss, "under the public faith of the Emperor, here present ;" but Sigistnond—such was the immoral piety of the age—had been persuaded that it was his duty to violate his written word, rather than to protect a heretic. Then followed the religious war in Bohemia, a war waged with Papal sanction, protracted for many years, and full of indescribable horrors ; and then, to mention but one more political event that occurred before the death of A Kempis, in the year 1453, Constantinople, to the dismay of all Christian Europe, fell into the hands of. the Turks.

In days like that, so full of peril to body and soul, we need scarcely wonder at the feeling which prompted so many earnest- minded men and women to lead a life dedicated entirely to religion. The objects proposed by the "Brothers of Common Life " were almost wholly praiseworthy. They were bound by no irrevocable vows, and like Paul, laboured with their own

hands. When Thomas was a boy, the Society had recently been formed, and to it, like his brother John before him, be was chiefly indebted for his education. The Brotherhood shared all things in common, and was in high repute for learning, as well as sanctity. The members chiefly lived by transcribing books, and they also paid much attention to Classical studies, and to the training of youth :—

" They boldly and at once cast away," says Mr. Kettle well, "the whole, insipid absurdities of Scholasticism, now become mere lumber, and turned from the perplexing and useless to the sound and needful, —from modern barbarism to the simplicity and purity of the ancients. The schools of the Brethren cultivated an improved Latin with so much success, and in the sequel advanced with so great a zeal the study of Greek, as to train and send forth the most eminent of the revivers of ancient literature at the close of the fifteenth and the commencement of the sixteenth centuries."

Wherever there were Brothers' houses, there many scholars might be found, and Thomas received his education at Deventer, in the diocese of Utrecht. This was the centre, according to his biographer, of a great religious movement a hundred and fifty years before the Reformation, The Bible was constantly studied as well as transcribed by the Brothers, and their founder, Gerard, seems to have walked in the steps of the great mystic Tauter, whose works won the admiration of Luther. Every period of Church history has had its band of protesters against the corruptions of the Romish Church. The work of A Kempis and of the pious men with whom he laboured was practical rather than aggressive. They loved better to inculcate truths than to attack abuses, and in many respects they were not in advance of the times. Mr. Kettlewell points out that in his numerous writings A Kempis does not allude to the Pope or to the Papal Court more than two or three times, and then not in enthusiastic terms, and there are indications that he was not addicted to Mariolatry. But the life led by the Brothers of Common Life, and consequently by Thomas himself, was not free from superstition, Their faith in the virtue of

poverty was strong, and on one occasion, "having found some florins hidden in the cell of a Brother who died-suddenly, they caused him to be buried without prayers, and without the honours they usually paid to their deceased Brethren." A Kempis wrote a groat number of short biographies, not only of the

Brothers at Deventer, but also of the Canons Regular at the Monastery of St. Agnes, of which he was afterwards the sub- prior. The librarian at Deventer, known as Gerard de Zutphen, is described as an example for future generations. When still a boy he found the school hours too short, and afterwards, in his cell, his zeal for learning was so great that even in the finest weather he would scarcely ever approach the windows to breathe the fresh air :—

" He seemed wholly raised above external things, and even, to some extent, above the necessities of the flesh. He would pass through the streets to the church as if unconscious of the presence of men, and when interrogated about this absence of mind, and whether he were hindered by people passing, he would give an answer implying that outwardly, as regarded their persons and business, they were no more to him than a flock of sheep. Moreover, he seemed not to oars what ho had to eat, or when the hours of refection came ; and when necessity compelled him to take food, ho would rather listen to some sacred discourse than be in any haste to refresh his body."

Dr. Kettlewell, whose readiness to moralise is never lacking, observes that " such souls as these are precious to the Church, and are the salt of the earth," They may be, but as lie pro- foundly observes elsewhere, " so much depends upon the light and position in which anything is looked at," The biographer

of A. Kempis, it is evident, sees nothing weak or superstitious in other anecdotes given by the pious monk. Of one of the Brothers, Thomas relates as a proof of his humility that,— "Whoa he was reading at dinner-time, he would sometimes know- ingly snake a mistake, that he might be corrected by the president of the table; and he would sometimes feign that he did not hear, that he might be more fully corrected, desiring to be put to shame and to be thought stupid, as if he knew not how to read bettor. But Master Gerard, of Zutphen, who was the president of the table, perceiving that he did not make mistakes from ignorance, but from the virtue of humility, ceased to correct him any more."

Master Gerard, let us hope, was a sensible man, and saw that the failing of Lubert was not due to humility, but to the pride that apes it. The cook at Deventer, who bore the appropriate name of John Kettel, was much beloved by A Kempis, and of him an anecdote is recorded which indicates, in our judgment, a want of reality and manly truthfulness in the Head of the Brothers, rather than a special virtue in the good cook. Father Florentus, it is said, knowing him to be a man of brave heart, would impute a fault to him of which he had not been guilty, in order to try his patience. Thus, when John was fully occupied with other persons, the pious father would ask hastily fer something he pretended to want, and then rebuke Kettel for not bringing it at once. The author of these volumes is foolish enough, or wise enough—let our readers decide which —to justify this conduct, and in expressing his approval, he quotes the story of a certain abbot, who served a saintly hermit in the wilderness for twelve years with all affection, but without a thankful word for so doing. On the contrary, he was often treated unkindly and even rudely by the holy man, and not

until the hermit was on his death-bed did he acknowledge the patience and humility of his attendant. Such a trial, we are told by the biographer, was intended to elevate a man's religion above the region of mere sense and feeling ; and than follows a homily, with which our readers shall not be troubled. To sup- pose that rudeness and ingratitude, or the simulation of those

faults, can make a man more saintly and more faithful, is to show a profound ignorance of human nature. For long years the hermit was playing a false part, and how can the perversion of what is right conduce to righteousness P Mr. Kettlewell is a painstaking, learned, and exhaustive biographer. These volumes abound with interesting materials, but the literary art is wanting that might have welded the materials together. The writer, however, has successfully proved that the life of the devout Thomas h Kempis was in full accordance with the work which, whether justly or not, has made his name immortal. We may add that the doubts enter- tained by many scholars with regard to the authorship of the Do Irnitatione Christi are not likely to be lessened by a perusal of these volumes.