The text is considered a classic in Christian devotional literature. It has been most widely read by both Protestants and Catholics. Many mystics have read it in their journey to escape the physical world to reach a higher spirituality. It also can be studied as history to comprehend the late medieval religious thought on piety and efforts in church reform.
The authorship of the work is obscure. It is said to have originated in the Low Countries among the Brethren of the Common Life who members sought to imitate the dedicated and prayerful life of the first Christians. The first complete Latin manuscript was published around 1427, but undoubtedly early versions had appeared before then. More than twenty persons have been said to have written the work. The work’s present form is credited to Thomas a Kempis (c.1380-1471), still others credit it to Gerald Groote (1340-1384). The work has been translated into dozens of languages with the earliest English translation appearing in the mid-15th century.
As the tittle implies The Imitation of Christ is to instruct readers in their efforts of attempting to imitate Christ. The work is divided into four books discussing “(1) the means of liberating oneself from worldly concerns and preparing for a spiritual life; (2) advice and admonitions concerning such a devotional life; (3) the inner consolation and conversation between Christ and those earnestly following him; and (4) recommendations for receiving Holy Communion in a devout manner.”
The concepts within the work are given in a series of aphoristic reflections and counsels that are written in a candid and conventional manner. A.G.H.
Source: (Imitation of Christ, John T. Ford, C.S.C., The Catholic University of America) 61.