First Edition of "The Imitation of Christ," the Most Influential Devotional Work of the Latter Middle Ages
THOMAS À KEMPIS, Saint. Imitatio Christi. Augsburg: Gunther Zainer , 1473.
First edition of the most important and influential devotional work of the later Middle Ages. Folio (11 1/16 x 8 inches; 280 x 205 mm.). [76] leaves. Thirty-five lines. Capital spaces. Two- to six-line lombard initials supplied in red ink. Fol. 3/10 a cancel and printed, as usual, on narrow paper, here margined to size at the time of binding.

Early manuscript notes and publisher's name on top margin of first page in a contemporary hand. A few contemporary ink marginalia.

This treatise is bound together with six (of eight) other theological tractates printed by Zainer, in the identical format and layout between the years 1472-1473. Also bound with these is a separate incunable dated 1485, all as listed below.

[bound with]

AUGUSTINE, SAINT. Soliloquia; [Anonymus], Speculum peccatoris. [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, c. 1472-1473]. [1-210 38]: 28 leaves (3/3v blank).

Goff A-1333 + A-1337; BSB-Ink A-902; Bod-inc A-602


Pseudo-Jerome. De essentia divinitatis; SAINT Thomas Aquinas, Summa de articulis fidei. [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, c. 1472-1473]. [1-28]: 16 leaves.

Goff H-179; BSB-Ink E-105; Bod-inc H-95


[Nider, Johannes ]. Dispositorium artis moriendi. [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, c. 1472-1473]. [110 210 (+6* Dubitatur)]: 21 leaves.

Goff A-1089; BMC II 319 (IB.5547); BSB-Ink N-151; Bod-inc N-75


Processus iudiciarius (alias: Litigacio mascaron contra genus humanum). [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, c. 1472-1473]. [110]: 10 leaves (fo. 1 blank).

Goff P-1001; BMC II 318 (IB.5545); BSB-Ink B-211; Bod-inc P-472


[Gerson, Jean ]. Donatus per allegoriam moralisatus. [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, not after 1472]. [18]: 7 of 8 leaves, lacking fo. 8, blank.

Goff G-221; BMC II 318 (IB.5546); BSB-Ink G-174; Bod-inc G-142


[Theobaldus subprior]. Errores iudaeorum; Probationes Novi Testamenti. [Augsburg: Günther Zainer, c. 1472-1473]. [112]: 12 leaves (12v blank). This title is one of the earliest books on the Talmud.

Goff E-106; BMC II 318 (IB.5544); BSB-Ink T-136; Bod-inc T-70.


Hugo de Sancto Victore. De sacramentis. Strassburg [Jordanus de Quedlinburg Press], 30 July 1485. Liber I only (of II). þ4; a-f8.6 g-k6: 69 of 70 leaves, lacking k6 blank.

Goff H-535; BMC I 133 (IB.1837); BSB-Ink H-433; Bod-inc H-244.

All books bound together in early nineteenth-century sheep, rebacked with spine laid down. Spine stamped in gilt. Brown morocco spine label, lettered in gilt. All edges speckled red. Boards a bit rubbed and bumped. Some tiny wormholes most prominent in the initial few leaves of the Imitatio Christi, later leaves of the Imitatio Christiwithout holes, or just a few marginal ones. Other tractates have tiny wormholes throughout. First leaf with corner renewed, but not affecting text. Small page-marker stubs on first leaf of each work. Two previous owner's bookplates on front endpapers. Some manuscript notes to front endpapers, one of which is tipped in and dated 1879. Housed in a custom cloth clamshell. Overall a very clean and near fine copy of all titles.

“'The Imitation of Christ’ is a book of mystical thought which throughout history has appealed to Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. It has been the most widely read devotional manual apart from the Bible, perhaps even surpassing the influence of such books as Pilgrim’s Progress and St Augustine’s Confessiones. This is the more surprising as in the first place it was addressed to monks and recluses...The book is written partly in verse. Its title is derived from that of the first of its four books ‘De imitatione Christeet contemptu vanitatum mundi’ (of the imitation of Christ and the contempt of all worldly vanities). Its authorship has been the subject of dispute—sometimes violent: the rival to the accepted author being Johannes Gerson...However, Thomas à Kempis is now definitely recognized as its author...The ‘Imitation’ was first printed in 1473. Since then there have been thousands of editions and translations into fifty languages, a record rivaled only by the Bible itself. The first English translation by William Atkinson and Margaret, Duchess of Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, was published in 1503” (Printing and the Mind of Man, 13).

The Imitatio Christi was one of nine theological tracts printed by Günther Zainer in identical format ca. 1472-early 1473 that were available either individually or together with a printed contents leaf. Although its authorship in early printed editions is often attributed to Jean Gerson, the Imitatio Christi is here correctly attributed in the colophon to Thomas à Kempis, whose holograph manuscript survives at the Bibliothèque Royale at Brussels. It is the most influential document of the devotio moderna, a lay movement advocating the pursuit of a religious life in imitation of Christ, through meditation, instruction, and writing.

BMC II, p. 318. Goff I-4. Hain *8589. Harvard/Walsh 507-508. Polain 2050. Printing and the Mind of Man 13. Proctor 1566. Schäfer 331.

HBS # 67791 $165,000