Sunday, July 3, 2011
July 3 -- Feast of Saint Thomas
I don't make as big a deal of the namesake saint day as I might. There are, after all, several Saints Thomas I can celebrate: More, Becket, and Aquinas for starters. But Thomas Judas Didymus is a Big Dog, and the legends that grew up about him are fun.
For starters, how about this icon. Some brave painter chose to depict the whole family -- Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and Thomas. Both Thomas and Didymus mean twin, and the assertion in a few ancient sources is that he is Jesus' own twin, the brother Judas identified in Matthew 13:55. The Catholic doctrine is that Mary is Ever-Virgin, so the brothers must be sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. Maybe, but there's not a lot of text to support that.
Here's an entertaining alternative (yeah, I know that religion's about faith and not entertainment, but often, hagiomajor is about the mythos and not the doctrine). Taking a leaf from the Hercules (Herakles) story and the Castor & Pollux story, Mary conceives two sons -- one by God the Father and one by her husband. Queen Leda of Sparta conceived Castor by her husband King Tyndareus and Pollux by Zeus. Alcmene conceived Hercules by Zeus and Iphicles by her husband Amphitryon. In each case, one is a demi-god and the other mortal. Thomas the Apostle is the Doubting Thomas, the guy who has to put his fingers into the wounds of the Resurrected Jesus before he believes. While Jesus is an incarnation of the one true God rather than a demi-god, Thomas' disbelief stands in contrast to Jesus' miraculous achievement as a mortal's failing. (Painting on the right -- Carravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas)
By tradition, Thomas the Apostle evangelized the east, winding up planting Christianity in India. Christian communities there still celebrate his mission. Collectively, the branches and sects of Christianity in India are known as Saint Thomas Christians. The apocryphal works describing this mission contain some humorous scenes of substitution between Thomas (threatened with persecution) and Jesus (invulnerable, indistinguishable from his twin).
Posted by Tom Major at 4:00 AM