Thomas of Cantimpré

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Thomas of Cantimpré (Latin: Thomas Cantipratensis) (1201 – 15 May 1272) was a Roman Catholic medieval writer, preacher, and theologian. He is especially known for his great encyclopedia on nature, De Natura Rerum, and for Bonum Universale de Apibus, a preaching aid which uses bees as an allegory for human society.


Thomas was born of noble parentage at Sint-Pieters-Leeuw near Brussels, in the Duchy of Brabant in 1201; died 15 May 1272. At the age of five his education began at Liège, where he spent eleven years mastering the difficulties of the trivium and quadrivium.

At the age of sixteen he received the habit of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in the Abbey of Cantimpré [fr], where he was eventually elevated to the priesthood. In 1232 after fifteen years at Cantimpré, during which he was a constant source of edification to his religious brethren, he entered the Order of St. Dominic at Leuven, also in Brabant. Immediately after his profession in the following year, he was sent to Cologne to pursue the higher theological studies of the order, under the tutelage of the illustrious Albert the Great. From Cologne, where he spent four years, he went to Paris, to the Dominican studium of St. James, to perfect himself in the sciences and to prepare for the apostolate of preaching.

Returning to Leuven in 1240, he was made professor of philosophy and theology—an office he filled with rare distinction. He achieved equal success in the apostolate of preaching, in recognition of which the title of "Preacher General" was conferred upon him. His missionary activities extended throughout Brabant and into Germany, Belgium, and France.


15th-century illuminated manuscript of Thomas of Cantimpré's De rerum natura. Sheet showing 'monstruous human beings' such as cannibals.

In all, seven works are attributed to Thomas of Cantimpré, treating of philosophy, theology and hagiology:

  • His first work is entitled Opus de natura rerum. It contains twenty books and took roughly fifteen years to write.
  • Between 1257-1263 he wrote Bonum universale de apibus. By an allegory on the life in a community of bees, he treats the conduct and duties of superiors and subjects. This work, which inspired many spiritual writers for many centuries, was printed at Deventer (before 1478), at Paris, and three times at Douai (1597, 1605, 1627).
  • Vita Christinae virginis mirabilis dictae
  • Vita B. Margaritae Iprensis
  • Vita Piae Lutgardiae
  • Vita Joannis abbatis primi monasterii Cantimpratensis et ejus Ecclesiae undatoris
  • Supplementum ad vitam B. Mariae d'Oignies a B. M. Jacobo de Vitriaco

One significant work from Thomas was a hagiography of Mary of Oignies. This work, written around 1230, was a supplemental volume to Jacques de Vitry’s “Life of Marie d’Oignies. [1] It was one of the earliest written accounts of the beguine life and Thomas’ first writing on holy women. The Oignies community specifically requested his authorship to propagate the work of their community. [2] Cantimpre was so impressed by Marie Origine’s expressive spirituality that, although he was her confessor, he admitted to being her disciple, she the master. [3]

Jacob van Maerlant's Van der Naturen Bloeme is a Dutch translation of De natura rerum, the natural history in twenty books by Thomas of Cantimpré. Konrad of Megenberg's Buch der Natur, published in 1475, was based on Cantimpré's book.[4]


  • PD-icon.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Thomas of Cantimpré". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.


  • Newman, Barbara, ed., Margot H. King and Barbara Newman, trans. Thomas of Cantimpré, The Collected Saints' Lives: Abbot John of Cantimpré, Christina the Astonishing, Margaret of Ypres, and Lutgard of Aywières (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008) (Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 19).



  1. ^ Thomas de Cantimpre and Hugh Feiss. Supplement to The life of Marie d'Oignies. Saskatoon, Sask: Peregrina Pub. Co, 1987. pg 12
  2. ^ Fulton, Rachel, and Bruce W. Holsinger. History in the comic mode medieval communities and the matter of person. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. pg 46
  3. ^ Jacques de Vitry and Margot H. King. The life of Marie d'Oignies. Toronto, Ont: Peregrina, 1989. pg 7
  4. ^ "Book of Nature". World Digital Library. 1481-08-20. Retrieved 2013-08-30. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Blood Libel

-Albert Ehrman, "The Origins of the Ritual Murder Accusation and Blood Libel," Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Spring 1976): 86


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Thomas of Cantimpré". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.