The Brahmin priests were furious. A man named Thomas had come to India from the west, preaching a new religion. Thousands of people were going over to this strange new teaching. And a foolish cult it was, too. It had as its hero a crucified criminal, whom Thomas claimed was raised to life. But people will believe anything! The priests' control over minds was in danger; this meant danger to their incomes, too. Thomas must be gotten out of the way!
Today, July 3, is the feast of St Thomas in the Roman Church. Thomas was one of Christ's twelve apostles. His name is mentioned by all four gospel writers, some of whom call him "the twin," but John is the only one who tells us anything that Thomas said or did.
When we first hear Thomas speak, Jesus has just learned of the death of Lazarus. Jesus declares he will go to visit Mary and Martha, but the other disciples protest. Hadn't the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem just tried to kill him! But Thomas takes his master's side. Heroically he says, "Let us go, even if we have to die with him" (John 11:16). He would prove his bravery again and again in his later career.
Thomas next spoke up at the Last Supper. When Jesus said he must go to the Father, Thomas admitted his ignorance. "I don't know where you are going or the way there," he says. In reply, Jesus uttered one of his greatest sayings:
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; but from now on you know him and have seen him" (John 14:6).
Finally, after Christ rose from the dead, he showed himself to the disciples. Thomas alone missed that meeting. When the other disciples reported that Jesus had appeared to them, Thomas said he would not believe unless he saw the nail prints in his hands and touched his wounded side. Later, Jesus did appear to Thomas and showed him those wounds.
Thomas immediately understood the implications. God the Father, by raising Christ from the dead, proved that Christ was all he claimed to be. Thomas fell before Jesus declaring him "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). This is one of the most triumphant testimonies of faith in the Bible.
After the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, Thomas carried the gospel eastward. Strong traditions link his name with Iran and India. All agree that he was martyred.
Thomas probably died in India, at Mylapore near Madras (Chennai). According to the best record we have, an angry pagan priest drove a spear through his body while he knelt in prayer. Unfortunately, Portuguese adventurers destroyed precious documents that might have shed light on Thomas' history. The Portuguese thought that the Christians of Malabar were heretics. And so the writings of Christians who have an ancient church named for Thomas and who can point to a tomb where he was buried, are lost forever.
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints. (Various editions).
- Lockyer, Herbert. All the Apostles of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1972.
- McBirnie, William Steuart. The Search for the Twelve Apostles. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1973.
- "Thomas, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Thurston, Herbert. "St. Thomas the Apostle." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1914.
- Tisserant, Eugène, Cardinal. Eastern Christianity in India; a history of the Syro-Malabar Church from the earliest time to the present day. Authorized adaptation from the French by E.R. Hambye. Westminster, Maryland., Newman Press, 1957.
- Vigeveno, H. S. Thirteen Men Who Changed the World. Glendale, California: Regal, 1966.