Today, the 3rd of July, is one of the days people in the Christian communion mark to celebrate Thomas the Doubter, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. It isn’t the only date, some churches prefer the 21st of December, the Sunday after Easter, and the 6th of October. But as this is the date in the Roman church, and they have vastly the larger numbers of Christians, this is the best known time to pause and consider the saint.
And, while not Christian, at least by most of the normative standards, I do love Thomas. For at least three reasons.
The first he is the doubter. The words that I like best are put in Thomas’ mouth in the (nearly completely a-historical visionary) gospel according to John. He says he cannot believe in a risen Christ without putting his own fingers into Jesus’ wound. He has to know for himself, and well…
Now, in the story as told in John this is a device and just meant to lead us to the moment where he does the deed, and touching the wound, he believes. After which we get a coda which tells us that those who believe without any proof are doubly blessed. Not to my taste. And frankly it isn’t true. Not in any sense…
Still. And. But. Also.
With that totally unThomas like bit of advice spoiling the story, we still get Thomas the Doubter, patron saint of not knowing.
And that Thomas is someone I feel the closest affinity with. He becomes one of two possible candidates for my patron.
The second reason I really like Thomas are that those stories that circulated around him which 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. My dream church…
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 while not from the time of Jesus’ life, nonetheless of considerable antiquity.
It’s the oldest of any book claiming the title gospel other than the canonical texts. If you haven’t read it, 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. And a fair number within the academic community believe it does contain authentic sayings from Jesus that were not preserved in the three synoptics.
So! What’s not to love?
Lift a cup…
Hurray for Thomas!