Thursday, December 21, 2006

Doubting Thomas

The feast of St. Thomas, one of Jesus' twelve disciples, whose feast is celebrated by some Christians on this day.

Although he is barely mentioned in the first three Gospels, Thomas is featured prominently in John's Gospel. Like the sons of thunder, John and his brother James, Thomas is a loyal fire-breather, suggesting that all of Jesus' followers accompany him to Bethany in Judea to visit Lazarus when it seemed likely that Jesus would be in danger there -- "Let us all go," he says, "that we may die with him."

Later, at the Last Supper, Thomas shows his interest in logistics when he questions Jesus about his impending departure and Jesus' promise to prepare places for his faithful followers: "Lord," he says, "we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?" Jesus takes the opportunity to draw Thomas' attention beyond physical reality, telling him "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would without doubt have known my Father also: and henceforth you shall know him, and you have seen him."

After Jesus' crucifixion, Thomas' Aristotelian drive to pull it all apart and put it all back together arises again when, being absent from the Upper Room when the resurrected Christ first appeared, he says that he won't believe Jesus had returned until he can see, with his own eyes, the holes in Jesus' hands where the nails had been, and to touch, with his own fingers, Jesus' wounds. Eight days later, when Jesus arrives and invites Thomas to "put in thy finger," Thomas is humbled, exclaiming breathlessly, "My Lord, and my God," stating more simply and directly than any of the other disciples the conclusion of his faithful questioning. Jesus, however, gently rebukes him for his habit of mind, stating that while Thomas had to see Jesus in the flesh to believe, "blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." For this episode, Thomas is forever to be known as "Doubting Thomas," and held out as an example of imperfect faith. His namesake, Aquinas, would later provide the world with the model of the Aristotelian Christian, the faithful scientist whose faith is perfected through the exercise of logic.

Thomas is said to have led a mission to India, where he is supposed to have promised to build King Guduphara a palace which would last forever; according to legend, Guduphara gave Thomas the money to build the palace, but Thomas gave the money to the poor. When Guduphara confronted Thomas, Thomas explained (perhaps learning Jesus' lessons on metaphysics after all) that the palace he was building was in heaven, not on Earth. A Christian community on the Malabar coast of India claims its lineage to Thomas' mission, which ended when he was apparently slain with a spear while praying on a hill in Mylapur near Madras. His remains were said to have been buried there, and afterwards transported to Edessa, from which they were retrieved 800 years later and conveyed to Ortona, Italy.

The Roman Catholics name Thomas as the patron of a number of constituencies, including architects, construction workers, the blind, geometricians and theologians, as well as of India and Portugal.


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Anonymous Fathead (aka: Thomas) said...

I doubt any of this is true.

9:58 AM  

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