Who Was Saint Thomas, The Apostle?
Our parish takes its name from Thomas, also called Didymus in Greek, one of Jesus’ original twelve Apostles. Thomas is a Syriac word meaning “twin,” so we may assume that he was one, although there is no biblical reference to this fact.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio: St. Thomas is most well known for being “doubting Thomas,” the apostle who refused to believe that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead until he could see him first hand. Of course, after the risen Christ had shown Thomas the wounds in his hands, feet and side, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” to which Jesus replied, “now that you have seen me risen you believe; blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.”
After the Pentecost event and the eventual dispersal of the original followers of Jesus to other parts of the world, we lose all factual track of Thomas. The most persistent rumor is that he migrated to the Indian Subcontinent where he preached the Gospel for the remainder of his life. Other tales exist as to his work, but this one is by far the most common. Early Christian communities did exist there very early in the Church’s history, dating even to the first century some say, and so it may indeed be true that Thomas was the founder of them.
In 1945 an ancient manuscript was discovered (actually dug up) in Egypt. This “Secret Gospel of Thomas,” as it is called, is a recitation of many of the well-known sayings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth and some others which did not make their way into the Canon of the New Testament that we use as our Bible today. This gospel is generally considered Gnostic by church historians and theologians; that is, part of a separate branch of early Christianity which stressed the special knowledge of Gods’ will and intent (gnosis in Greek) that certain elders possessed (one assumes Thomas being one of these elders). The Orthodox (Catholic) Church eventually overwhelmed the Gnostic sects (finally, in the fourth century C.E.) and that particular strain of Christian theology fell into severe disfavor for nearly two millennia. In recent years, it has been much researched and discussed and its concepts have achieved a sort of rebirth.
St. Thomas is a wonderful saint for us to remember – a very human saint — skeptical, “doubting,” yet once convinced of the truth, willing to carry the good news of Christ to far-flung places with the greatest zeal and dedication.