Imitatio Christi in German
[Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380–1471)].
Ein ware nachvolgung Cristi.
[Augsburg: Anton Sorg, 20 November 1486]. (07067)
For six centuries, the Imitatio Christi (“Imitation of Christ”) has been the most widely read Christian book after the Bible. Written circa 1418 by Thomas à Kempis, an Augustinian Canon at Mount St. Agnes, near Zwolle in Holland, the Latin text has been translated into hundreds of languages and printed in some ten thousand editions. Its spirit of personal devotion, humility, and detachment from worldly concerns helped sow the seeds of the Protestant Reformation as well as the Counter-Reformation, and it profoundly influenced such diverse theologians as St. Teresa of Àvila and John Wesley.
Bridwell Library holds the first Latin edition of the Imitatio Christi (Augsburg: Günther Zainer, ca. 1473), twenty-seven other fifteenth-century editions, and numerous editions dating from the sixteenth through the twentieth century. These later printings include vernacular translations into English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic.
The exhibited book is the first edition of the Imitatio Christi in German, and the first printing of the text in any vernacular language. Decorated with hand-painted woodcut initials, it is preserved in its contemporary blind-tooled calfskin binding. Prior to the acquisition of this book, Bridwell Library’s earliest German translation of the Imitatio Christi was the fourth edition, printed in Augsburg by Johann Schönsperger in 1498.