It is the 8th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

My guess is that you have read some kind of Christian “devotional” book. Maybe the word “devotional” isn’t your word of choice but you get what I mean. Think of a book about the practical implications of Christian theology (although, perhaps we could suggest that all theology is devotional and practical).

If you are living in the context of most modern expressions of Christianity devotional literature is a given. It’s an industry. And this is not to say anything bad about it at all. But it’s only been a practice of Christians for a fraction of the history of the church. And we can locate the practice coming out of something called the “Devotio Moderna” or Modern Devotion in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Devotio Moderna was a late Medieval theological practice centered around the Brethren of the Common Life (a lay order) and the Augustinian congregation at Windesheim. Diarmaid MacCulloch writes of the movement :

“The Devotio became the dominant outlet for pious expression in the fifteenth-century West: it was an intense and creatively imaginative mode of reaching out to God. It also tended to introspection, aided by that crucial contemporary technological advance in the spread of texts, printing.”

The Modern Devotion saw its apogee in a singular text. Perhaps the most printed, read and sold book in the history of the church outside the Bible. This is the Imitation of Christ.

The book was written by Thomas A Kempis, a Dutch Augustinian with the brethren of the Common Life. The son of a blacksmith we know that A Kempis was born around 1380. We know he came into contact with the Brethren in Deventer and spent his life in study and personal devotion.

We are fairly to surely certain that A Kempis wrote the Imitation of Christ. He didn’t sign his work. And thus there are questions but this makes sense if you read the book itself.

The key to the book and to what A Kempis says is central to the Christian Life is humility. It would be strange for the author to trumpet himself as the author of a central insight.

It is possible that the model for imitation was not original to him but instead was the general practice of the Brethren.

This work and the Devotio have a direct connection to the Reformation movement on the horizon. Many Reformers saw the Brethren and the Devotio as a fundamental step towards a decentralized church.

A Kempis was Augustinian- and while many of the Brethren were not in traditional orders, it makes sense that the author of one of the great devotional works of all time came from the Order named after Augustine, perhaps the father of popular personal devotion and author of his own Confessions.

A Kempis was originally named Thomas Hemerken. “A Kempis” means “from Kempen” but that A puts him in the “famous-Theologians-whose-names-starts-with-an-A-club”. Of course, he’s famous for his work: the Imitation of Christ. A Kempis died OTD in 1471 at the monastery he had lived at for the previous 70 years.

The last word for today comes from 1 Peter 2:

21 You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. 22 He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. 23 When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. By his wounds you were healed. 25 Though you were like straying sheep, you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your lives.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who, just in case, I am calling Christopher A’Gillespie.

The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.