Why isn’t Thomas à Kempis a saint? Or is He?

The Imitation of Christ- One of the most important books ever written!

It has been said; that “After the Bible, the “Imitation of Christ” (on-line link) is the all-time favorite books of Catholics throughout the world”. It has also been said that the only book published more times than the “Imitation of Christ” is the Bible, which is the most published book of all time
I’ve read that; “Hundreds of years ago, Bishop Maximilian started the cause for the beatification of Thomas à Kempis. But when the Bishop died in 1688, the beatification process came to a stop.
Why isn’t****Thomas à Kempis a saint? Or is He? If you have any further information on **Thomas à Kempis can you please post it here?
Let us hope and pray that one day we will be able to say: St. Thomas
à Kempis, Pray for Us! **

I have also read that the “Imitation of Christ” has been a guide to Saints since it first appeared”, more than 500 years ago and that; “St. Ignatius of Loyola was one of the many saints who loved to read the “Imitation of Christ.” And that He read it every day and encouraged others to read it too.”

Like many other Catholics, the “Imitation of Christ” is one of my favorite books, I own it and have read it many times over and I am giving two books as Christmas gifts this year.

After reading the book myself and listening to the “Imitation of Christ” on CD (I also have the “Imitation of Christ” CD -CD link) I feel that Thomas à Kempis truly knew what Jesus meant when he said “Believe in me”.

I think that **“Imitation of Christ” **(book link) is a “must” read for all Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. If you don’t have this book, get it!

(Note: Thomas was born in 1379, in Kempen, a small village near Cologne, Germany. His real name was Thomas Haemerken, but later his last name was made up from the name of the town where he was born.).

I found one site that says he was beatified, but never obtained sainthood. I also found this quote:
Thomas à Kempis died on July 25, 1471. Although contemporaries considered him a saint, Thomas was not named one by the Catholic church. However, the Episcopal Church honors him on this day, July 24.

Thomas a Kempis was reportedly not canonized as a saint because when then disinterred his body (part of the process), it was discovered that he was apparently inadvertantly prematurely buried and there was doubt that he was reconciled to the fact.

I heard it elsewhere, here is the article on snopes.


How horrible! Poor Thomas!

I can’t believe that a normal desire NOT to be buried alive would be enough to disqualify one from sainthood.

I was wondering myself why he is not a saint, seeing as how he has inspired so many saints. Maybe we still need to be praying for him?

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Since I cannot verify what exactly took place when Thomas’ body was disinterred, I will add that from what I have read when a body is found that shows signs of having been alive after burial, this is almost automatically grounds to end the canonization process due to the possibility of despair. This not meant to impute any thing negative about the individual but there is just too much doubt related to the physical discovery of this type.

Perhaps the best way to honor his memory is to read his works and trust in God’s mercy.

I agree. How horrible. I really just can’t imagine how utterly horrifying it would be to be burried alive.

My understanding is that there’s substantial doubt as to whether he ever existed. He might have been a fictitious, composite character created by a small group of anonymous religious writers.:thumbsup:

Hello, PauloFreire2, Thank you for your reply,

Wow… I have never heard this one before, that* “Thomas Kempis might be a “fictitious” character”.* I have been a huge fan of Thomas since I was a teenager.

Is there any evidence or a link to one of those wacky conspiracy web sites, that you are aware of, that actually makes this claim? If so maybe you could post a link here.

I find some of these conspiracy sites to be entertaining at times, but I do not usually come away with a sense of any truth.

Usually, the impression I come away with, is that there are many people on the internet; who are self-professed experts, with a personal agenda or a need for attention and self-gratification.

The comments they publish with their version of “historical” events like; “*Thomas Kempis might be a “fictitious” character” *are often “supported” by bad, little or no credible source material.

Many of the internet writers who come up with conspiracies theories, to me seem a little nutty, very confused or disturb, and un-informed. This is probably the case here.

I love the “Imitation of Christ” and as a result, I have developed a love and admiration for Thomas Kempis,

I do not believe it is possible that a “small group of anonymous religious writers” wrote the “Imitation of Christ”.

Moreover, as I have mentioned earlier, I have read the “Imitation of Christ” so many times, and I have recently began listening to it on CD, that I feel like I actually know Thomas.

I know the man in a very profound and intimate way. In addition, it is important to note that he has a unique and distinctive style of writing.

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There also exist in his great work the “Imitation of Christ” a very sweet, poetic flow to his writing.

I am not making an infallible judgment, that the “Imitation of Christ” was a work, which was divinely inspired or created.

However, I believe it is entirely possible and I will say there does exist divine characteristics, poetics’ beauty and truth that resonate from the pages of his book which are similar to books found in the Bible.

It is like a musical score, which is un-interrupted, and created in an identifiable process, which is consistent from the very beginning to the end of the book.

When one becomes deeply familiar with Thomas and what he wrote, we come to know Thomas the person, on a very personal level.

The Imitation of Christ is a love story. It is a man, a very devout, holy man, sharing with his readers, his very personal relationship with Jesus.

Moreover, in the later chapters (which were actually written first) he shares with us his understanding and belief of the “Real Presences" of Jesus Christ; Body, Blood, Heart, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. This is another love story, a very personal and intimate love story, and Thomas’ love for Jesus in the Eucharist…

Like I said; This a love story. It is clear that one man wrote the “Imitation of Christ”, and I believe the one man was Thomas Kempis.

The man, who wrote this book shared with us, his deeply, profound, passionate expression of his overwhelming love for our lord Jesus Christ, Thomas was madly in love with Jesus…

May God Bless You! And poor Thomas Kempis…And My I grow to love Jesus in the way Thomas did…completely…

Well, there’s probably more genuine reason to doubt Shakespeare - not that he existed, but that he wrote the works attributed to him. Doesn’t matter in the slightest. The works do exist, and most of them are unadulterated genius on many different levels.

Same with Thomas a Kempis.

This has been bothering me all day. It just doesn’t sound right. Since when is struggle an impediment to sainthood?
I thought that someone was declared a saint based on miracles during their life and due to miracles attributed to them after their death. A lot of the saints died in a horrible way. I don’t see why being buried alive would exclude anyone from sainthood.


what fact?

Resigned to the fact of his own death, apparently. It seems it’s saintly, or at least more saintly, to be calmly accepting in the face of death than otherwise.

They died in a horrible way, true, but those who did usually welcomed death, or at any rate weren’t desperately trying to preserve their lives. It speaks to attachment to the world rather than God, and perhaps a guilty conscience that the dying one wants to atone for.

I think that is assuming an awful lot, just based on scratches in a coffin. My goodness, if I woke to find myself locked up in a dark and confined space, I am pretty sure I would try to find a way out. I think we are supposed to appreciate the life that God has given us, not sit around wasting away.

From reading The Immitation of Christ it doesn’t seem as if Thomas a Kempis was attached to the world. In fact, quite the opposite.

I wonder, does anyone have any reputable sources for Thomas a Kempis being buried alive? What I read at newadvent.org about his death, burial, and possible sainthood does not mention this:

“He was laid to rest in the eastern cloister in a spot carefully noted by the continuator of his chronicle. Two centuries after the Reformation, during which the priory was destroyed, the holy remains were transferred to Zwolle and enclosed in a handsome reliquary by Maximilian Hendrik, Prince-Bishop of Cologne. At present they are enshrined in St. Michael’s Church, Zwolle, in a magnificent monument erected in 1897 by subscriptions from all over the world and inscribed: “Honori,non memoriae Thomae Kempensis, cujus nomen perennius quam monumentum” (To the honour not to the memory of Thomas à Kempis, whose name is more enduring than any monument). It is interesting to recall that the same Maximilian Hendrik, who showed such zeal in preserving and honouring the relics of à Kempis, was also eager to see the cause of his beatification introduced and began to collect the necessary documents; but little more than a beginning was made when he died (1688) and since that date no further steps have been taken.”


I was playing devils’ advocate a bit in my previous posts. I don’t agree with the outcome either.

Then again :smiley: canonised saints are indeed rightly judged by incredibly rigorous standards.

Substantial doubt?

“A few words on Thomas’ claim, once disputed but now hardly so, to the authorship of the “Imitation of Christ”. The book was first issued anonymously (1418) and was soon accorded a wide welcome, copied by different scribes, and attributed to various spiritual writers, among others St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, Henry de Kalkar, Innocent III, Jean Charlier de Gerson, and John à Kempis. In 1441 Thomas completed and signed his name to a codex still extant (Royal Library, Brussels, 5855-61), containing the four books of the “Imitation” and nine minor treatises. Then for two hundred years no serious attempt was made to dispossess à Kempis of his title; but eary in the seventeenth century a fierce and prolonged controversy was commenced with the object of establishing the claim of either Jean Charlier de Gerson, Chancellor of Paris, or of his Italian variant, Giovanni Gerson, alleged Benedictine Abbot of Vercelli. At one period an Englishman, Walter Hilton, Canon Regular of Thurgarton, the author of the “Scale (Ladder) of Perfection”, was brought forward, but his claim was not long maintained. Incredible as it may sound, the very existence of Giovanni Gerson of Vercelli is yet to be proved. Of Jean Charlier de Gerson the following facts have been established and they may be found demonstrated at length in such works as Cruise, “Thomas à Kempis”, and Kettlewell, “The Authorship of the De Imitatione Christi”. Not a single contemporary witness is found in Gersen’s favour; not a single manuscript during his life or for thirty years after his death ascribes the work to him; internal evidence, style, matter, etc. are in every respect unfavourable. On the other hand we find the title of à Kempis proved by the following : several contemporary witnesses of unimpeachable authority, including members of his own order, name Thomas as the author; contemporary manuscripts, including one autograph codex, bear his name; internal evidence is wholly favourable.”


Hello Dulcissima – my first posting. The name »Thomas a Kempis« made me sign in here.

My name is Peter, and I’m living just a quarter of an hour from Kempen, the birth town of Thomas. (Which is a very beautiful medieval town!)

On the Homepage of Kempen I found this short English biografie.

I never heard about a fact that he had been buried alive or prematurely. I guess that’s some kind of popular myth. And if the trustworthy Catholic Encyclopedia doesn’t know anything of it, I guess it cannot be confirmed. But I could ask friends in Kempen. They should be able to clarify the matter.

Many greetings
from Thomas’ country,

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