Thomas the Apostle

The Apostle Thomas, 21 December

Thomas was one of the Twelve. He is often called “the Twin,” though this may or may not have anything to do with his status as a sibling, inasmuch as “Thomas” is our Anglicized version of an Aramaic word (itself the adaptation of a Hebrew word) that simply means “twin.” Didymus, a name St. John the Evangelist also calls him, is simply the equivalent word in Greek.

St. Thomas is most infamous for his skepticism of Our Lord’s Resurrection, thus leading to his being known as “Doubting Thomas.” But in what may be thought of us a moment of weakness, we are actually taught a significant truth of the Faith; in a moment of one man’s doubt, the truth of Christ’s work is confirmed, and we see his dual nature–both fully God and fully man–is made plain. In a way, the doubt of Thomas precipitates one of the clearest expressions of the Incarnation recorded in Scripture. Even in our own frailty, and perhaps especially in moments of our own frailty, Christ works in and through us. Thomas’s doubt is not nearly as significant as his affirmation: “My Lord and my God!”

A lesser-known episode is also recorded in John’s Gospel, and St. Thomas shows himself as an Apostle, perhaps the only Apostle, willing to die for Christ’s truth. When the others are grumbling and afraid to return to Judea to visit the house of their friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus after learning of Lazarus’s death, it is St. Thomas who boldly proclaims “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thus, from him do we learn both the courage to proclaim Christ’s Gospel, no matter the cost, and what the truthful content of that Gospel is: Jesus the Christ, fully man, is also fully God, the Lord and King of all that is.

Ancient tradition asserts that he left the Roman Empire soon after the day of Pentecost to spread the Gospel, and established the Church in and around the Indian Ocean in South Asia. To this day, many “Thomas Christians” continue to hold firm the truth of the Gospel, especially in India and Sri Lanka.

From Mr. James Kiefer:

The Apostle Thomas (Hebrew or Aramaic for “twin”) was also called “Didymus” (Greek for “twin”). He was absent when the Risen Lord appeared to the other apostles on the evening of Easter Day, and refused to believe that Christ had indeed risen until he had seen him for himself, but when he had seen Him, he said to Him, “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:19-29)

Because of this episode, he has been known ever since as “Doubting Thomas.” But we ought also to remember his earlier words, when Jesus announced His intention of going to the Jerusalem area, brushing aside the protests of His disciples that His life was in danger there, at which Thomas said to the others: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:7,8,16) If Thomas was pessimistic, he was also sturdily loyal.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said: “I go to prepare a place for you…. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Thomas replied: “Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?” To this Jesus answered: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:1-6)

Thomas is mentioned again (John 21) as one of the seven disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Tiberias) when the Risen Lord appeared to them. Aside from this he appears in the New Testament only as a name on lists of the Apostles. A couple of centuries later a story was circulating in the Mediterranean world that he had gone to preach in India; and there is a Christian community in India (the Kerala district) that claims descent from Christians converted by the the preaching of Thomas.

The tradition among Christians in India is that Thomas was speared to death near Madras, and accordingly he is often pictured holding a spear. Paintings of martyrs often show them holding or accompanied by the instruments with which they were put to death.

A recently discovered work called the Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus. I know of no scholarly support for the notion that it is the work of the Apostle Thomas, but some scholars think that some of the sayings in it may be authentic sayings of Jesus.

Prayer and Readings:

Almighty and everliving God, who didst strengthen thine apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in thy Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in thy sight; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AMEN.

Psalm 126

Habakuk 2:1-4

Hebrews 10:35-11:1

John 20:24-29