instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, April 24, 2006

Apologia pro namesake sua

Every year on the Octave Sunday of Easter, I brace myself for the inevitable criticism of my patron saint, Thomas (called Didymus). And every year, I try to add to my defense of him. A defense, not against his guilt before Christ, but more in the sentencing-phase, society-made-him-do-it sense.

This year's wrinkle is this: As everyone knows, Thomas told the other disciples, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Okay, but why the "put my hand into his side"? The marks of the nails, sure; when you're crucified, your hands have nail marks. But crucifixion by no means implies being pierced in the side. Yet verifying that wound is one of Thomas's conditions of faith. Why?

Perhaps, we might speculate, because Thomas witnessed the soldier piercing Jesus.

Yes, certainly, he may have merely been told of it. But he strikes me as awfully obstinate in his refusal to believe the other disciples, particularly if his knowledge of Jesus' death comes by way of those same disciples, and awfully particular about what he'll accept as proof.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Thomas was himself an eyewitness to Jesus' death, or His deposition, from some suitably safe vantage point. This sets up an interesting parallel to Jesus' statement:
"Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Thomas saw (we suppose) Jesus die, and would not believe that Jesus rose unless he saw Him alive. We have not seen Jesus die, and we are blessed if we believe He rose without seeing Him alive.

Thomas, we might say, was in a position of finding his faith in conflict with his knowledge, and refusing to correct his faith without first having his knowledge corrected. We are, in a sense, fortunate to have no direct knowledge of Jesus in His human body, because our faith cannot be impeded by what we think we know about His life in the flesh.

Of course, our faith can still be impeded by what we think we know about Jesus apart from His life in First Century Palestine. Thomas serves as the bad example, teaching us that, whatever we think we know, we are blessed if we believe what the apostolic Church tells us is true.