Saint Thomas the Apostle
Feast Day: December 21
Saint Thomas the Apostle
Little is recorded of St. Thomas the Apostle, nevertheless thanks to the fourth Gospel his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the Twelve. His name occurs in all the lists of the Synoptists (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6, cf. Acts 1:13), but in St. John he plays a distinctive part. First, when Jesus announced His intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, "Thomas" who is called Didymus [the twin], said to his fellow disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). Again it was St. Thomas who during the discourse before the Last Supper raised an objection: "Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5). But more especially St. Thomas is remembered for his incredulity when the other Apostles announced Christ's Resurrection to him: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25); but eight days later he made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus: "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed" (John 20:29).
This exhausts all our certain knowledge regarding the Apostle but his name is the starting point of a considerable apocryphal literature, and there are also certain historical data which suggest that some of this apocryphal material may contains germs of truth. The principal document concerning him is the "Acta Thomae", preserved to us with some variations both in Greek and in Syriac, and bearing unmistakable signs of its Gnostic origin. It may indeed be the work of Bardesanes himself. The story in many of its particulars is utterly extravagant, but it is the early date, being assigned by Harnack (Chronologie, ii, 172) to the beginning of the third century, before A. D. 220. If the place of its origin is really Edessa, as Harnack and others for sound reasons supposed (ibid., p. 176), this would lend considerable probability to the statement, explicitly made in "Acta" (Bonnet, cap. 170, p.286), that the relics of Apostle Thomas, which we know to have been venerated at Edessa, had really come from the East. The extravagance of the legend may be judged from the fact that in more than one place (cap. 31, p. 148) it represents Thomas (Judas Thomas, as he is called here and elsewhere in Syriac tradition) as the twin brother of Jesus. The Thomas in Syriac is equivalent to didymos in Greek, and means twin. Rendel Harris who exaggerates very much the cult of the Dioscuri, wishes to regards this as a transformation of a pagan worship of Edessa but the point is at best problematical. The story itself runs briefly as follows: At the division of the Apostles, India fell to the lot of Thomas, but he declared his inability to go, whereupon his Master Jesus appeared in a supernatural way to Abban, the envoy of Gundafor, an Indian king, and sold Thomas to him to be his slave and serve Gundafor as a carpenter. Then Abban and Thomas sailed away until they came to Andrapolis, where they landed and attended the marriage feast of the ruler's daughter. Strange occurrences followed and Christ under the appearance of Thomas exhorted the bride to remain a Virgin. Coming to India Thomas undertook to build a palace for Gundafor, but spend the money entrusted to him on the poor. Gundafor imprisoned him; but the Apostle escaped miraculously and Gundafor was converted. Going about the country to preach, Thomas met with strange adventures from dragons and wild asses. Then he came to the city of King Misdai (Syriac Mazdai), where he converted Tertia the wife of Misdai and Vazan his son. After this he was condemned to death, led out of city to a hill, and pierced through with spears by four soldiers. He was buried in the tomb of the ancient kings but his remains were afterwards removed to the West.
Now it is certainly a remarkable fact that about the year A.D. 46 a king was reigning over that part of Asia south of Himalayas now represented by Afghanistan, Baluchistan, the Punjab, and Sind, who bore the name Gondophernes or Guduphara. This we know both from the discovery of coins, some of the Parthian type with Greek legends, others of the Indian types with the legends in an Indian dialect in Kharoshthi characters. Despite sundry minor variations the identity of the name with the Gundafor of the "Acta Thomae" is unmistakable and is hardly disputed. Further we have the evidence of the Takht-i-Bahi inscription, which is dated and which the best specialists accept as establishing the King Gunduphara probably began to reign about A.D. 20 and was still reigning in 46. Again there are excellent reasons for believing that Misdai or Mazdai may well be transformation of a Hindu name made on the Iranian soil. In this case it will probably represent a certain King Vasudeva of Mathura, a successor of Kanishka. No doubt it can be urged that the Gnostic romancer who wrote the "Acta Thomae" may have adopted a few historical Indian names to lend verisimilitude to his fabrication, but as Mr. Fleet urges in his severely critical paper "the names put forward here in connection with St. Thomas are distinctly not such as have lived in Indian story and tradition" (Joul. of R. Asiatic Soc.,1905, p.235).
On the other hand, though the tradition that St. Thomas preached in "India" was widely spread in both East and West and is to be found in such writers as Ephraem Syrus, Ambrose, Paulinus, Jerome, and, later Gregory of Tours and others, still it is difficult to discover any adequate support for the long-accepted belief that St. Thomas pushed his missionary journeys as far south as Mylapore, not far from Madras, and there suffered martyrdom. In that region is still to be found a granite bas-relief cross with a Pahlavi (ancient Persian) inscription dating from the seventh century, and the tradition that it was here that St. Thomas laid down his life is locally very strong. Certain it is also that on the Malabar or west coast of southern India a body of Christians still exists using a form of Syriac for its liturgical language. Whether this Church dates from the time of St. Thomas the Apostle (there was a Syro-Chaldean bishop John "from India and Persia" who assisted at the Council of Nicea in 325) or whether the Gospel was first preached there in 345 owing to the Persian persecution under Shapur (or Sapor), or whether the Syrian missionaries who accompanied a certain Thomas Cana penetrated to the Malabar coast about the year 745 seems difficult to determine. We know only that in the sixth century Cosmas Indicopleustes speaks of the existence of Christians at Male (?Malabar) under a bishop who had been consecrated in Persia. King Alfred the Great is stated in the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" to have sent an expedition to establish relations with these Christians of the Far East. On the other hand the reputed relics of St. Thomas were certainly at Edessa in the fourth century, and there they remained until they were translated to Chios in 1258 and towards to Ortona. The improbable suggestion that St. Thomas preached in America (American Eccles. Rev., 1899, pp.1-18) is based upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Acts of Apostles (i, 8; cf. Berchet "Fonte italiane per la storia della scoperta del Nuovo Mondo", II, 236, and I, 44).
Besides the "Acta Thomae" of which a different and notably shorter redaction exists in Ethiopic and Latin, we have an abbreviated form of a so-called "Gospel of Thomas" originally Gnostic, as we know it now merely a fantastical history of the childhood of Jesus, without any notably heretical coloring. There is also a "Revelatio Thomae", condemned as apocryphal in the Degree of Pope Gelasius, which has recently been recovered from various sources in a fragmentary condition (see the full text in the Revue benedictine, 1911, pp. 359-374).
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV
Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912, Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
St. Thomas, Apostle
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Thomas was a fisherman, born in Galilee. The divine Saviour received him among His Apostles, to announce His Gospel to the world, and to convert mankind. From the time that he was chosen to so high an office, Thomas followed his beloved Master everywhere, and feared no danger. One day, when Jesus spoke of going to Judaea, to awaken Lazarus from the dead, some of His disciples opposed Him, saying: "Rabbi, the Jews but now sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?" They probably feared that they would have to suffer with Him. Thomas, however, more courageous than the others, said: "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." By these words the Apostle manifested that no fear of death would separate him from Christ; and that, rather than leave Him, he would die with Him. It is true that later, with other disciples, he left Him on the Mount of Olives, when He was taken prisoner by the Jews; but he returned soon, and joined the rest of the Apostles.
On the day of His resurrection, Christ appeared to them. Thomas, however, was not with them. When they told him afterwards, that they had seen the Lord, he doubted, and said: "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." By this, Thomas meant that he did not believe the resurrection of the Lord, although he had several times heard from the lips of Jesus, not only a prophecy of His sufferings and death, but also of His resurrection; and although the Apostles and several pious women had repeatedly assured him that they had seen the risen Lord. The Holy Fathers say that Christ permitted this unbelief in Thomas, not only that from it we might learn our own weakness, but also that all who believe in Him might be so much better instructed in the mystery of His resurrection, and strengthened in their belief in it. Hence, St. Gregory writes: "The unbelief of Thomas has been more useful to our belief than the belief of the other disciples of the Lord, who, without hesitation, received the news of His resurrection," because the unbelief of Thomas gave occasion for new proofs of the resurrection of Christ.
The eighth day after that event, Christ came into the hall where Thomas was with the other Apostles, and greeted them with the words: "Peace be unto you." Then, turning to Thomas, He said: "Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing." What Thomas must have felt at these words, and at seeing his risen Saviour, each one may picture to himself. He saw himself suddenly convinced, not only of the resurrection, but also of the omniscience of his dear Master. With shame and fear at the remembrance of his fault, but also with love and confidence at the thought of the meekness of the Saviour, he touched, with deep veneration, the holy wounds, and exclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" In these few words he repented of his unbelief, and at the same time made a confession of his faith, in presence of those whom he had scandalized by his obstinacy. He remained until his end, constant in his belief; and, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, announced, not only the glorious resurrection of the Lord, but also the other mysteries and articles of the faith.
St. Thomas passed some time in Judaea, preaching the Gospel, and then went into distant countries, inhabited by savage races, as Parthia, Media, Persia, Hyrcania, and came, at last, to India. In all he preached the Gospel of the Lord, notwithstanding the manifold difficulties which the Evil One placed in his way, through the enemies of the faith, and the numerous persecutions which he everywhere endured. How many thousand souls this holy Apostle converted to Christ is known only to Him from whom nothing is hid. The many miracles which he almost daily performed, persuaded the people that the faith which he preached was truly divine: hence his success with the most embittered pagans. He made the largest number of converts in India. This immense territory he traversed in every direction, and established Christianity in it so firmly, that traces of it were found there in the sixteenth century, fifteen hundred years after his death. Even in China, indubitable signs of it were discovered. He erected many churches, and placed Christian teachers in them, that the faith he had personally preached during his life might be preserved after his death.
At the building of the church at Meliapor, one of the chief cities of India, a wonderful event took place. The sea had cast ashore a very large tree, which the king desired to make use of for the palace he was just erecting. But neither men nor many elephants could move the tree. The holy Apostle, full of trust in the Almighty, offered to draw the immense burden all alone, if the king would make him a present of it for the Christian church he was about to build. The king consented, and St. Thomas, loosening his girdle, tied the end of it to one branch of the tree, made the sign of the Cross, and drew the tree away from the place where it was lying. All present were greatly astonished at this miracle, and many were converted, and assisted the Apostle in building the church. In this church the Saint erected a cross of stone, which, it is said, is still to be seen at this day. Upon this cross he engraved the following words: "When the sea will have reached this spot, men will come from Europe to propagate the faith which I began to preach." The sea was, at that time, far off, but at the time when St. Francis Xavier landed there, it had reached the cross, and the prophecy was fulfilled.
The idolatrous priests who could not contradict the faith which St. Thomas preached, and which he verified by so many miracles, were enraged at his success, as they lost considerably in temporal goods by the conversions that took place. They therefore endeavored to arouse the king's wrath against him, or to make away with him in some other manner. Some write that they persuaded the king to pronounce his death-sentence, and that he was shot dead with arrows. Others relate that the Brahmins themselves took the life of the holy Apostle. They had ascertained that the Saint went every day, towards evening, to a cross which he himself had erected, and that he remained there a long time in prayer. This gave them a favorable opportunity to vent their wrath upon him. They came together silently to the place where, on bended knees, the Saint was saying his prayers. One of them thrust a lance into him so violently that he sank upon the ground; after which, the others continued to beat him and to trample on him until all signs of life ceased.
When St. Francis Xavier came to India, the signs of blood were still to be seen on the cross where this murderous deed was committed; and more than once drops of blood appeared on this cross during the celebration of Mass, when crowds of people were present. St. Xavier, shortly after his arrival in India, went to the tomb of St. Thomas, and passed many days and nights there in prayer. He begged God fervently to bestow upon him the Spirit and zeal of this holy Apostle, that he might be able to restore the Christian faith which St. Thomas had preached there, but which had gradually been entirely exterminated. Before undertaking any important work, he went, if possible, to the tomb of St. Thomas; and when this was impossible, he invoked the holy Apostle's intercession, and endeavored to follow his example in all things.
I. St. Thomas, for three years, accompanied Christ our Lord; was present at His divine instructions; saw the many miracles He wrought; and yet became incredulous and remained so for eight days, and might have remained still longer, had not Christ mercifully restored his faith. Go, O man, and build upon your own strength, or if you have lived piously for some time, imagine you are secure against falling! Oh! how foolish, how presumptuous you are! That which happened to an apostle may surely happen to you. The sad fall of our holy Apostle, ought not, however, to make you despondent or fearful; it ought only to incite you not to trust too much in your own strength, but to walk continually in the fear of the Lord, and to pray to Him daily, that He may give you the grace not to offend Him, but to remain constant in His service If you remain continually in the fear of the Lord, you will walk carefully and not fall into any great sin. For, it is written: "The fear of the Lord is unto life; and he shall abide in fulness without being visited with evil," (without falling into sin.) (Proverbs, xix.) Tertullian writes: "Fear is the foundation of our salvation. Whoever fears is careful. Through fear we shall become careful, and through carefulness we shall be saved. Whoever is careful is sure." If we cease to fear God, then we are near falling, even if we have reached the highest pinnacle of perfection. This the Holy Ghost indicates in the following words: "Unless thou hold thyself diligently in the fear of the Lord, thy house shall quickly be overthrown." (Eccles. 22.)
II. Thomas is called unbelieving by Christ, although he disbelieved only one article, the resurrection. Hence, it is clear that he who doubts, or rejects only one article of faith, cannot be counted among true Catholics, although he believes all the others. A Catholic must believe every truth revealed by the Almighty, be it great or small, as God cannot fail either in small things or great. The offence which we do to God by denying even the smallest article of faith, is as great as if we denied an important one, or all of them together; for, it is just as if we said: God has been deceived, or He has deceived us in revealing this article. Whether this is said of great and important articles, or of one that is small, makes but little difference; or if we desire to make a difference, we must say that it is a greater offence to God to ascribe to Him a fault in a small matter than in a great; for, what can be more blasphemous than to maintain that the Almighty has been deceived in a trifling matter, or that He intends to deceive us? They should ponder on this, who sometimes entertain doubts about an article of faith, or even go so far as to say that in some matters, they agree with non-Catholics, and consider them right. These are no longer Catholics. Their faith is lost; and if they do not repent, as St. Thomas did, they will go to perdition, because they are incredulous. They are disobedient who obey nine of the Commandments but not the tenth. What is the fate of the incredulous? Christ Himself pointed it out when He said: "Who believes not in the Son, will not see life, but the wrath of God will remain with him." (John 8.)
Homily of St. Gregory, Pope on the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle
What, dearest brethren do you notice in this passage? Do you think that it happened by chance, that this chosen disciple was absent at that time, and afterwards coming, heard the news, and hearing doubted, that doubting, he touched, and touching, he believed? This did not happen by chance, but by divine dispensation. For the divine clemency brought it about in a wonderful way that the doubting disciple, while touching the wounds in his master's flesh, should thereby heal the wounds of our unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas is more to our faith than the faith of the believing disciples. While he is brought back to faith by touching, our minds are set free from doubt and established in the faith.
So the Lord indeed after his resurrection permitted his disciple to doubt, but he did not leave him in unbelief; just as before his birth he wished Mary to have a spouse, who however never attained to the married state. The disciple who doubted and touched his risen Lord thus became a witness to the truth of the resurrection, just as the spouse of his mother was the guardian of her inviolate virginity. Thomas touched, and cried out: My Lord, and my God. Jesus said to him: Because you have seen me, you have believed. But since the Apostle Paul says: Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not; it is certainly clear that faith is the evidence of those things which cannot appear. The things which appear are the object, not of faith, but of knowledge.
Why then is it said to Thomas, who saw and touched: Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed? But he saw one thing and believed another. Indeed, mortal man cannot see the divinity. So Thomas saw a man, and confessed him to be God, saying: My Lord and my God. He therefore believed through seeing, for, looking upon one who was truly man, he cried out that this was God, whom he could not see. The words which follow are cause of great joy to us: Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed. These words are meant especially for us who cherish in our minds him, whom we do not see in the flesh. They are meant for us; but only if we carry out our faith in works. For he truly believes, who puts his faith into practice.
St. Thomas, Apostle
from the Liturgical Year, 1870
This is the last Feast the Church keeps before the great one of the Nativity of her Lord and Spouse. She interrupts the Greater Ferias in order to pay her tribute of honor to Thomas, the Apostle of Christ, whose glorious martyrdom has consecrated this twenty-first day of December, and has procured for the Christian people a powerful patron, that will introduce them to the divine Babe of Bethlehem. To none of the Apostles could this day have been so fittingly assigned as to St. Thomas. It was St. Thomas whom we needed; St. Thomas, whose festal patronage would aid us to believe and hope in that God whom we see not, and who comes to us in silence and humility in order to try our Faith. St. Thomas was once guilty of doubting, when he ought to have believed; and only learnt the necessity of Faith by the sad experience of incredulity: he comes then most appropriately to defend us, by the power of his example and prayers, against the temptations which proud human reason might excite within us. Let us pray to him with confidence. In that heaven of Light and Vision, where his repentance and love have placed him, he will intercede for us, and gain for us that docility of mind and heart, which will enable us to see and recognise Him, who is the Expected of Nations, and who, though the King of the world, will give no other signs of His majesty, than the swaddling-clothes and tears of a Babe.
Prayer to Saint Thomas the Apostle
O glorious Apostle Thomas! who didst lead to Christ so many unbelieving nations, hear now the prayers of the faithful, who beseech thee to lead them to that same Jesus, Who, in five days, will have shown Himself to His Church. That we may merit to appear in His divine presence, we need, before all other graces, the light which leads to Him. That light is Faith; then, pray that we may have Faith. Heretofore, our Savior had compassion on thy weakness, and deigned to remove from thee the doubt of His having risen from the grave; pray to Him for us, that He will mercifully come to our assistance, and make Himself felt by our heart. We ask not, O holy Apostle! to see Him with the eyes of our body, but with those of our faith, for He said to thee, when He showed himself to thee: Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed!
Of this happy number, we desire to be. We beseech thee, therefore, pray that we may obtain the Faith of the heart and will, that so, when we behold the divine Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in a manger, we may cry out: My Lord! and my God! Pray, O holy Apostle, for the nations thou didst evangelize, but which have fallen back again into the shades of death. May the day soon come, when the Sun of Justice will once more shine upon them. Bless the efforts of those apostolic men, who have devoted their labours and their very lives to the work of the Missions; pray that the days of darkness may be shortened, and that the countries, which were watered by thy blood, may at length see that kingdom of God established amongst them, which thou didst preach to them, and for which we also are in waiting. Amen.
Touching the Lord's side, thou didst attain to the perfection of good things, for, as a sponge, thou drew there from the fount of all good and drank the draught of everlasting life, driving out ignorance from the minds of men and filling them with the doctrines of the knowledge of God.
First incredulous, then believing, thou strengthened those who were tempted, preaching to every creature how our Lord and God became flesh for us on earth and suffered death on the cross, being transfixed with nails and having His side opened with a lance, whence we draw life.
Most holy apostle, who dost rejoice in the vision of God, thou didst flood with light all the land of the Indies; when thou hadst enlightened these children of the light and the day, inspired by the Spirit, thou didst overthrow their pagan temples and didst raise their people in the love of God, to the praise and glory of the Church--O blessed intercessor for our souls.
Through a vision of the divine, thou didst become, O Thomas the Apostle, the mystic cup of the spiritual wisdom of Christ, in whom the souls of the faithful rejoice; a spiritual net, thou didst draw men from the abyss of ignorance. Hence thou became as a stream of charity from Sion, filling every creature with thy teachings of the divine. Thou didst imitate the Passion of Christ and, with thy side pierced for Him, didst put on immortality. Pray to Him for us, that He may have mercy on our souls. Amen.
above text courtesy of Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals