Student Reader

Saint Thomas

Saint Thomas was one of Jesus' twelve chosen apostles, the apostle of India, but held doubts until seeing proof of Jesus' divinity.

Lived: ? - 53
Feast day: December 21
Patron saint: Prato, Parma, Urbino, judges, builders, architects, theologians.
Attributes: Spear, belt or girdle of the Virgin Mary.

Saint Thomas is a fable on the issue of requiring proof to believe, with Thomas eventually becoming a manifestation of the Christian ideal of believing without proof.

bernaert van orley altarpiece saint matthew saint thomasBernaert van Orley, ~1515. Altarpiece of the Saints Matthew and Thomas. Kunsthistorisches Museum. Image by L M Clancy, 2010/03/07.

The picture above is an early work by Orley and served as the central panel of a winged altarpiece. The side panels are now in Brussels. The Apostles Matthew and Thomas were the patron saints of masons and carpenters, respectively, who donated the altar. The fantastic architecture divides the panel into two parts: on the left is the martyrdom of St thomas (in the background he is walking across glowing irons and being put into an oven); on the right Matthew is chosen as an Apostle (in the background the presentation of the poisoned chalice and the death of his adversaries).

Doubt of Jesus' resurrection

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to the apostles but Thomas was not there. When he does arrive, Jesus has left and he does not believe them that Jesus has appeared; he writes off their claims as grief-induced hysteria. Though they insist he rose from the dead, he does not believe, and says, "Until I actually see him and put my fingers into those wounds, I will not believe it is the real Jesus that we saw hanging on the cross, bleeding." When Jesus returns a week later, Thomas is there and is overcome with awe at the sight and shame over his lack of faith. He sinks to his knees and says, "My Lord and my God" -- a rare instance where Jesus is called God. Jesus remarks to Thomas, "You only believe, Thomas, because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." Thomas could not believe without proof, and yet he became a saint.

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