[Thomas a Kempis, biography]

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Thomas a Kempis
an outline biography

  Thomas a Kempis was born in Kempen (hence à Kempis) near Krefeld in the then Duchy of Cleves. His father may well have been an artisan worker in metals, their family name Haemerken is suggestive of a "little hammer" and Kempen was known for its metal working.

  It appears there was only Thomas and a brother some fourteen years his senior in the family. When Thomas was about thirteen years old he followed his brother's example of journeying to enrol at the famous schools established by the Brothers of the Common Life at Deventer in the Netherlands. When he arrived at Deventer Thomas found that his brother, John, had moved on to a newly established faith community of Canons Regular at Windesheim near Zwolle. He was nonetheless able to contact his brother and to get his recommendation to Florentius Radewijn then a leading figure at Deventer.

  In the seven years Thomas was attending school at Deventer he was much influenced by the "new devotion" (devotio moderna) encouraged by the Brothers of the Common Life. This "new devotion" looked to the enthusiam and sincerity that was held to be associated with Christianity in the first century after Christ.

  The "Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life", as much influenced by Gerard Groote and as administered by Florentius Radewijn, lived more or less as monastics, but without the taking of vows. All were expected to work in support of the community but monies were held in common.

  In 1399, Thomas sought admission to the faith community of Mount St. Agnes near Zwolle which at that time had Thomas' brother John for its prior, and was in the early stages of establishment as a fully functioning monastic religious house. Given this earliness, and associated limitations on its operations, Thomas was not ordained as a priest until 1413 A.D.

  Thomas' brother John passed away in 1432. Thomas before this time had been called upon to fill diverse offices within the Canons Regular but it had become apparent that his character was more that of a contemplative scholar than an administrator and organiser.

  a Kempis died in July 1471 and his mortal remains were interred within the grounds of the Priory of Mount St. Agnes. The facts of the Priory being damaged during the disruptions associated with the emergence of the Reformation Movement, and of his rising fame as the author of the Of the Imitation of Christ, both contributed to his remains being re-interred, with much ceremony, at Zwolle more than two hundred years after his death.

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