by Matthew Betts
Over the next few months we will continue to look at each of Jude’s fellow Apostles. This time, I would like to reflect on Saint Thomas the Apostle, who was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.
Thomas is commonly known as "Doubting Thomas" because he doubted Jesus' resurrection when he was first told (as related in the Gospel of John alone). However, let us first look at Thomas earlier in the Gospels. He is ever-present in the four Apostle lists in the New Testament; the first three Gospels, he is next to Matthew, and in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, he is listed after Philip.
Although the moniker “doubting” has been stuck with him, it was Thomas who was most determined to follow Jesus to the end, when he says, “..let us also go, that we may die with him…”. Later at the Last Supper, Jesus announces that he will prepare a place for his disciples, so that they could be where he is found: “You know where I am going, and you know the way.”. However, Thomas replies that, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”. This gives Jesus the opportunity to confirm that he is: “...the Way, and the Truth, and the Life...”. (John 14:16)
After doubting the Resurrection of Jesus, Thomas later confessed his faith, "My Lord and my God," on seeing Jesus' crucifixion wounds. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The Apostle Thomas' case is important to us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him.”1 It is also important to note that Thomas was the first Apostle to call Jesus, God.
After Pentecost, it is believed that Thomas travelled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel - initially to the Parthians (which bordered the Roman Empire), until travelling as far as Tamilakam and Tamil Nadu (modern-day India). According to tradition, Thomas reached Muziris, (modern-day North Paravur and Kodungalloor in the state of Kerala, India) in AD 52 and converted several people, founding what today are known as Saint Thomas Christians or Mar Thoma Nazranis.
After his death, the reputed relics of Saint Thomas the Apostle were enshrined as far as Mesopotamia in the 3rd century, and later some of his relics were moved to various places, including the Basilica di San Tommaso Ortona, Italy. These relics were stolen from the Greek island Chios and brought to Ortona. After arriving in Italy, the relics survived many events, including an earthquake, an attack from the Ottoman Empire, a fire, and finally from WWII bombs. The relics were kept safe and are now back in the Basilica.
Symbolism associated with Thomas include: placing his finger in the side of Christ, axe, spear (his martrydom), and carpentry tools. His Feast Day is on 3 July.
The image above shows Saint Thomas carving (on left) amongst his fellow apostles. The carvings of the Twelve Apostles round the apse in the inner Shrine are by Anthony Foster. The design was based on the Malmesbury Apostles. Saint Paul has been substituted for Judas Iscariot.
Our second image shows one of two panels in aggrafito work by Adam Kossowski. The one here bears the names of the Apostles, and the other the Apostles Creed, embellished with early Christian symbols. The lettering and ornamentation are in red and black, and the effect is obtained by laying a foundation of red and black plaster, then covering it with an off-white plaster, and while the latter is still moist, cutting away the lettering with a stylus to reveal the colours beneath.
Saint Thomas, pray for us!
Let us pray...
Almighty and ever living God, who strenghtened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Why not find out more about Saint Thomas? We would recommend reading some of these excellent books or articles:
- Relics of Saint Thomas
- Not That Man!: Restoring St Paul's Reputation - Fr Nicholas King, SJ
- God in the Time of Covid-19: Book 1 - an excellent reflection by Fr. Brendan Grady, O.Carm
- A New Hope: God in the Time of COVID-19: Book II
- Saint Thomas prayer booklet
Read our other reflections on the Apostles:
- The Apostles - what happened after the Pentecost?