Thomas of Cantimpré

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Hagiographer and encyclopedist; b. S. Pieters-Leeuw (Brabant), c. 1201; d. Louvain, c. 127072. Born of the family of De Monte or Van Bellinghen in Brabant, Thomas was often called "Brabantinus" and was thus confused by early historians with his Flemish contemporary, the famous translator, william of moerbeke, also a "Brabantinus." After schooling at Liège, Thomas in 1217 joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine at Cantimpré (Cambrai), hence his more familiar name. About 1230 he transferred to the Dominicans at Louvain and then studied in the School of cologne, perhaps under albert the great, and at Paris. By 1246 he was subprior at Louvain, and presumably died in this community.

His writings include a life of John, first abbot of Cantimpré, a supplement to the life of Bl. mary of oignies by jacques de vitry [Acta Sanctorum 5 June (1867) 573581], a life of St. Christine, the miracle worker of Saint-Truiden [ActSS 5 July (1868) 650660], a life of St. Lutgart [ActSS 4 June (1867) 189210], and a life of Bl. Margaret of Ypres.

Thomas's fame, however, rests especially on his De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things), and on his Liber de apibus (Book of the Bees). In the De natura, an encyclopedia of the natural sciences, the result of 15 years of work (c. 122844), Thomas undertook to compile all that was known about the nature and properties of creatures, with suitable moral applications for the use of preachers. He listed his sources as Aristotle, Pliny, Ambrose, Basil, Isidore, Jacques de Vitry, Palladius, Galen, Matthaeus Platearius, and Aldhelm; also the Physiologus, the Experimentator, and a Modernus. The complete work contains 20 books: books 1 to 3, man; books 4 to 9, animals; books 10 to 12, plants; book 13, water; books 14 to 15, stones and metals; books 16 to 18, astronomy, astrology, and meteorology; book 19, elements. There are at least two redactions, a longer and a shorter, in the MSS. The work was widely copied in the Middle Ages and made use of by Albert the Great (to whom it was occasionally attributed) and by Vincent of Beauvais. It was translated at least partially, into Dutch, French, and German.

The Liber de apibus, which, along with the Vitae fratrum of Gerard de Frachet, was commissioned by Master General humbert of romans (resigned 1263) to record the earliest activities of the Order of Preachers, contains many anecdotes of first-generation Dominicans, including Thomas Aquinas. The work was widely circulated in MS and, from 1472 to the 17th century, in printed editions. G. Colvener prepared the best Latin edition in 1597. Many extant MSS contain excerpts of this work.

Bibliography: a. kaufman, Thomas von Chantimpré (Köln 1899). l. thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York 192358) 2:372400. g. sarton, Introduction to the History of Science (Baltimore 192748) 2.2:592594. a. hilka, ed., Eine altfranz. moralisier. Bearbeitung des Liber de monstruosis hominibus orientis aus Thomas v. Cantimpré "De naturis rerum " (Berlin 1933). p. aiken, "The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré," Speculum 22 (1947) 205225. a. c. crombie, Medieval and Early Modern Science, 2 v. (2d rev. ed. Garden City, N.Y. 1959).

[j. c. vansteenkiste]