KEMPIS, Thomas à

Born: Circa 1380, Kempen or Kempten, near Düsseldorf, the Rhineland (now Germany)

Died: July 25 or August 8, 1471, St. Agnietenberg near Zwolle, Bishopric of Utrecht (now the Netherlands)

Thomas à Kempis was born into a peasant family in what is now Germany. His mother taught a school for small children and she was responsible for his early formal education. At the age of twelve, he left his mother's school to attend a chapter school in Deventer. At the school, he was dubbed Thomas from Kempen, and he eventually adopted that name.

In 1399, Kempis left school to go to the Monastery at St. Agnietenberg. His brother was prior at the monastery and Kempis formally entered the Augustinian order in 1406. Three years later, he was fully ordained as a priest and by the time he was forty-five, he was appointed subprior of St. Agnietenberg. He lived to be ninety-one and most of his adult life was spent at the monastery. It was there that he died in 1471.

Much of Kempis' time was spent copying manuscripts and working with new members of the order, but he found time to produce much of his own writing as well. He wrote several biographies and completed a history of the St. Agnietenberg monastery; however, his most important work was The Imitation of Christ which took almost thirty years to complete. Many historians consider this writing to be the most significant work in Christian literature next to the bible.

His writing style was simple and the language he chose was uncluttered. The theology he professed emphasized moderate austerity, spiritual discipline and the avoidance of materialism.