The devotional life : Catholic and Protestant translations of Thomas à Kempis' 'Imitatio Christi', c.1420-c.1620
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The incorporation of the Imitatio by Protestant and Catholic reform movements suggests important points of continuity between late medieval and early modem religion, especially within the realm of spirituality. The study of the Imitatio is testimony to the versatility of spirituality; it was accessible both to the laity and monks and also to Protestants and Catholics. The ethical emphasis of the Imitatio, its interiority, its simplicity and intended renewal in Christ, were vital to its endurance. The text's accessibility was reinforced by the expansive nature of late medieval and early modem translations. English and French translations of the Imitatio at the turn of the sixteenth century reflected the concern for simplification, thereby simplifying the text rather than providing an alternative interpretation. In the sixteenth century, Protestant translators, grounded in the essential tenets of Lutheran theology, inevitably revised or removed any explicitly Catholic elements of the Imitatio's spirituality. Despite its apparent widespread appeal, the promotion of the Imitatio tended to be undertaken by late medieval and early modem movements which had links with the devotio moderna. The Imitatio was circulated in late medieval England and France by individuals whose connections with the devotio moderna were marked. Indeed, a similar trend was evident with the Protestant tradition of the text; Leo Jud, Caspar Schwenckfeld and Sebastian Castellio were all directly or indirectly influenced by the Brethren. Most striking of all was the timing with which translations of the Imitatio appeared. The translations by Caspar Schwenckfeld, Leo Jud, Edward Hake and Thomas Rogers were undertaken at a critical stage of their respective Reformations. Similarly, the Jesuits, traditionally viewed as the vanguards of the Counter- Reformation, were deeply committed to the Imitatio. Devotional works were vital to the maturing progress of Reformations, regardless of the confession. Spirituality was not a peripheral, insignificant dimension of religion; it remained at the very centre of Protestant and Catholic self-perception and identity.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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