Three Reasons I love Thomas the Doubter

Three Reasons I love Thomas the Doubter July 3, 2023

Doubting Thomas
(by Giovanni Serodine)


















Today, the 3rd of July, the Roman church marks out as the feast of St Thomas, called the Doubter.

The Orthodox tend to prefer October 6th. The Episcopal church marks his feast on the 21st of December, and generally I like their calendar best.

But here’s an opportunity to share why I love Thomas so much. So…

While I love Jesus and am fond of some of the churches derived, if to my mind indirectly from his teachings, I am not Christian. At least by most of the normative standards of that usage. That said, 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.

Doubt. In Zen a critical element in the authentic spiritual life.

And so. With that totally unThomas like bit of advice almost spoiling the story, but not quite. Because we still get Thomas the Doubter, patron saint of not knowing.

It is that Thomas is someone I feel the closest affinity with. He becomes one of two possible candidates for my patron saint.

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, or, okay, more a Taoist 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 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 of.

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?

And, it is an opportunity to celebrate many good things.

About James Ishmael Ford
James Ishmael Ford is the author of five books on the spiritual life within the Zen tradition. His sixth, the Intimate Way of Zen is due from Shambhala Publications in the spring of 2024. You can read more about the author here.

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