Catholics/imitation of christ


Dear Priest,
I just read chapter 2 of the Imitation of Christ. It states: "If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel."
Now I am very confused. It looks like Thomas Kempis is talking about self-loathing but that doesn't help people at all. This can't be Catholicism. People with certain personality disorders have these extreme feelings. What exactly is the authour talking about?

I think that statement needs to be understood within the overall context of the title of the work: "Imitation of Christ."

The essence of the life of Christ is the Incarnation.  The essence of the Incarnation is that God in taking on a human nature emptied himself of EVERYTHING but love.  Paul puts it this way: "He did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped at."  #Phillipians 2:6#

It is not that Christ "loathes" himself in the Incarnation it is that Christ loves the Father infinitely more than he loves himself.  Christ loves the Father to the point of death.  Christ did not consider his own life worth more than the Father, but considered the Father's life worth more than his.  In order to die for someone you have to empty yourself of self love.  This is different from self loathing.

If we are to truly imitate Christ we must live and love in the same manner.  We must empty ourselves of everything but love.  This means letting go of pride, selfish tendencies, honor, prestige, etc. Only then can the life of God be truly revealed in us.  

The Bible says "If anyone comes to me who does not HATE their father, mother, sisters, brothers, yes, even their own life, they cannot be my disciple."  #Luke 14:26#  Here Jesus is almost saying the same thing as chapter 2 of the Imitation of Christ.  Does Jesus mean to suggest that we experience in our person "extreme hostility" towards father, mother, sisters, brothers, and self, when the very same Word of God commands us to "Honor father and mother?"  Of course not!

Jesus, nor the person who wrote Imitation of Christ do not mean "hate" in the sense of "Extreme hostility towards self or others" "Intense dislike" etc.  They mean hate in the sense of humbling one's self before God, and again, loving others and God more than one loves self to the point of death.

It is just another way of trying to get across the mystery of the Incarnation, what it means, and how it applies to our own lives as disciples of Christ.

Because God is infinite, eternal, and mysterious, language fails when talking about God, how God loves us, and how we are to love God.  Sometimes certain words or phrases will come across in ways not intended in order to express the mystery.

Self loathing is actually a form of pride---for it is usually based on a comparison to others.  When one loathes themselves it is usually because of some physical flaw, physical lack, etc.  This is not what the saint means when he talks about "self loathing."  

When the saint talks about self loathing he is trying to get across the point that everything we do and offer God, including praise of God is itself a gift of God that we did not earn.  Everything we are comes from God and has its origin in God.  I would suggest as I said before that the hate of self loathing Jesus or the saints speak of is more like an extreme humility then it is an extreme hostility towards self, or dislike of self.  


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

©2017 All rights reserved.