The Zen priest finds himself thinking of Thomas the Doubter as a paragon of the Intimate Way, the Secret Heart of Religions

The Zen priest finds himself thinking of Thomas the Doubter as a paragon of the Intimate Way, the Secret Heart of Religions December 21, 2019

 

Today, the 21st of December, the ever lovely Anglican communion celebrates a feast in honor of Jesus’ companion, the Apostle Thomas.

I love Thomas for three reasons.

The first is that he is the doubter. The words are put in Thomas’ mouth in the (nearly completely a-historical visionary) gospel according to John. There he says he will not believe in a risen Christ without putting his own fingers into the wound. Now, this is just to lead us to the moment where he does it and he believes, after which we get a coda that those who believe without any proof are doubly blessed. Still. And. Also. With that totally unThomas like bit of advice we still get Thomas the Doubter, patron saint of not knowing. Someone I feel the closest affinity to…

Second is that the stories that circulated around him tell us that after Jesus’ death Thomas’ ministry took him as far as Tamilakam in what we call India. There he established a church which would root, although further south, and would eventually send missionaries to China. Then out of that project a wondrous thing called the Luminous Religion arose, flourished for a bit, and then was swept away in a great purge of foreign religions. But there remains a trace, a dream, of a Buddhist Christian church. And with that, so many possibilities…

And third it is name that is given to that wondrous collection of sayings we call the Gospel of Thomas. It’s a book compiled roughly at the same time as the gospel of John was written. And therefore of considerable antiquity. The oldest of any book claiming the title gospel other than the canonical texts. Thomas lacks a narrative, and is simply a gathering together of sayings attributed to the sage Jesus. Because of that structure for a brief time some within the scholarly community and beyond thought it might even be the hypothetical Q document. That is no longer believed to be the case by any of the scholars I know, but nonetheless, it is a strange, delicious, and compelling document.

So, of course! A feast for Thomas, the giver of a triple gift…

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