It is somewhat unusual for me to write about saints. Don’t get me wrong, I like saints primarily because I am not one, but also to heed St. Philip Neri’s excellent advice to read plenty about the lives and examples of all saints whose names start with an “S“… Saint Thomas, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Ignatius, and so forth. St. Philip Neri was a gregarious fella, with a glorious sense of humour. I like him too!
St. Thomas is one of the most popular apostles and a household name as far as saints’ names are concerned. Ask anyone about a different saint and people will look a little bewildered. Mention St. Thomas and they all go, “Doubting Thomas? Oh yeah, I like him… What did he doubt all about?”… One hundred years ago people would have known who St. Thomas was and what was the issue he felt doubts about, but – signs of our times – people tend to know more about other things now…
Back to St. Thomas then. Good or not-so-good popular knowledge, St. Thomas still is very popular because people do know generally he was the Apostle who laughed his mates out of the room when they told him they had seen Jesus (after His death, evidently… Just saying). The passage in John’s Gospel (chapter 20: v. 24-29) gives us an accurate account of the episode:
“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But Thomas said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’“
Church teaching focuses primarily on Jesus’ remark. Not the remark itself, but an interpretation of it, pointing at the apparent lack of Faith in Thomas, and how it relates to our own lack of Faith. Traditional teaching highlights how our “faltering” Faith relates to that of Thomas and therefore how Jesus’ rebuke to Thomas is essentially a rebuke directed at us, for suffering from the same Fidelity shortcomings. Thus, the same line of teaching pursues the idea that by rebuking Thomas, Jesus is saying that those who unlike Thomas, believe without seeing are blessed, which carries by implication a doubt cast over whether Thomas was blessed, since he did not believe until he had proof of it. And therefore, those of us who believe without proof are blessed, so others must come to believe without proof, to share in the blessing and grace of holding a steady Faith.
But teaching has not always been as gloomy as that. There is merit in noting that simply by believing, one is blessed. There is added-value in thanking Divine Providence for getting a valid first-hand witness of disbelief, so others in future would not have to go through the same predicament. Thomas episode signifies the demise of Faith based on hearsay and delivers Faith affirmed by witnessed knowledge… We can safely believe because Thomas poked Jesus and happily confirmed “yup folk, this is the Dude, I know that now for a fact”.
In a homily delivered in 1202, Pope St. Gregory The Great had an interesting point to make:
“Plus enim nobis Thomæ infidélitas ad fidem quam fides credéntium discipulórum prófuit,quia dum ille ad fidem palpándo redúcitur, nostra mens, omni dubitatióne postpósita, in fide solidátur.Nam ita factus est discípulus dúbitans et palpans, testis veræ resurrectiónis”.
Pope Gregory puts it in simple terms: “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.”
What I especially like in Pope Gregory’s Homily in 1202 is the implicit recognition Faith is strengthened by knowledge. All other apostles believed by Faith, but Thomas believed by Faith and knowledge, which is to say, positive verification of a Fact of Faith, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I take comfort in seeing that knowledge was valued as a contributing factor to a better deepening of Faith, as far back as the 13th Century.
I have no idea why St. Thomas is not the Patron Saint of Science and Academic Enquiry, but I think he should be. I say so because there is a very interesting twist to this episode in John’s Gospel. That it took place at some point shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus, that much is clear. But here is an interesting point… Surely, Jesus knew He had left His shroud behind, inside the Sepulchre. Both the fabric piece that had been used to wrap Jesus Body and the cloth used to cover Jesus’ face were left behind.
And I cannot help it but to think the incident with St. Thomas was a hint, a prophecy and an anticipated recognition of the value of proper academic and scientific enquiry, all rolled-in-one. And a great testimony of Jesus’ sense of humour. He came back from the dead, Thomas’ positive verification of Jesus’ wounds virtually changed Thomas’ life and Faith. And Jesus would have known at the time that what He purposefully had left on both pieces of cloth would one day, 2000 years into the future, do the same job, clearing any shadow of doubt, and confirm the Resurrection of the Son of God. But in a way that would only reveal itself when all of us were ready to find it. Gradually.
Thomas and the Shroud are thus a mirrored symbol of one another, both heralds of excellent News, separated by 20 centuries of blessed Faithful, who believe anyway!
I should like to think – and I do in fact – that when Jesus told Thomas to poke his wounds and certify himself that He was Who He said He was, Jesus must have thought to Himself “little he is to know what a brilliant miracle I left on my wrapping Shroud and my face cloth, for the generations of the future on Earth!”… I like that idea… Jesus, doubtlessly certain His departure from Earth was due shortly, His Mission complete, made sure He did not leave us without something, the Shroud.
For the Shroud is not simply a 14 feet piece of linen cloth… No!… The Shroud is Jesus’ Love Letter to Humanity. Signed. Something for us to discover and explore gradually, as technology becomes available, step by step enabling us to see more of what it has to reveal. We have as much to thank Thomas, as we have to modern knowledge, science and the dedication of all those who throughout the centuries lived and worked to progress what we know.
Progress in Science & Technology is what enabled us to read Jesus’ Love Letter to Humanity. When photography was discovered, God gave us a curious Lawyer and enthusiast photographer, Secondo Pia, who took the first ever photo of the Shroud and came to develop it, discovered something amazing; the image on his negative plate was in fact a fully developed positive image, something he did not expect to obtain until it was printed on photocard. And how inspiring it is to know he did not give up after the first failed attempt on the 25th May 1898, and tried to capture a photo on the 28th May 1898! Luck or God’s Hand?… I say God’s Hand!
Since 1898, we have progressed much more, enabling us to enter into a Universe of data the Shroud contains. It would need a full fat book to explain. Science has proved and set in stone that the image has no pigment, ink, paint or any other drawing material, then in 2002 it was established the image had been formed by a process of intense yet quick oxidation of the cellulose fibres in the linen, something like a high precision laser projection and scientists could calculate it would be necessary to use at least as much as the electric power of an entire football stadium, to successfully produce that image in a succession of split-second bursts of energy.
Then progress in medical science has shown there is blood, lots of marks as well as blood serum marking the crown of thorns bleeding points. And we now know the blood type is AB, the same as in all Eucharistic Miracles around the World. Specialist X-Ray and scanning technology has enabled us to map the blood marks on the Shroud to the injuries sustained by Jesus, just over 400, proving a perfect match could be achieved. Then came imagery technology to prove the face the Jesus on the Shroud matches 100% exactly the image on the face cloth, preserved in Oviedo Cathedral, Spain. Then 3D imaging technology arrived on the scene and guess what…? The image on the Shroud is actually a Negative 3D map, in perfect volumetry, of the entire Body of Jesus Christ.
And just as recently as 2017, a new giant step took place with a detailed Photogrammetric Restitution Analysis. This is a colossal undertaking, but the analysis completed so far provides solid evidence of the Resurrection, by demonstrating the actual emission of very powerful energy bursts which have their concentric arrival point at the core of the Body of Jesus, but originate from a Source outside Earth, somewhere in the Macrocosm. This was proven by complex Geomaths calculations whereby the oxidation patterns on the cloth are perpendicular relatively to the Horizon plain, requiring a arch with a circumference of an amplitude such as placing the source of Energy outside the physical limits of Earth’s orbit.
I am a Deacon, not a scientist, so please forgive me, I am doing my best to explain this in the best way I can. Scientists are scratching their heads themselves, never mind about me.
But it is considering what we now know, that the incident involving Jesus and St. Thomas 2000 years ago suddenly gains a whole extra dimension and a prophetic character to it. It is as if Jesus, by welcoming Thomas’s observational inspection of His wounds, and in the knowledge of what would be left behind on Earth after His Ascension to Heaven, is projecting the invitation to Thomas into a future which Jesus clearly knows will happen, as Humanity walks its journey on this World towards the future.
A future where Science is not seen as Faith’s arch-enemy, but its best complement and promise to reach God in the same way Thomas did 2000 years ago, when he declared “My Lord and My God”; the observation and confirmed Faith in the visible, in order to believe in what we cannot know or see, the invisible God.
Rev. Lewis G. Walker is a Deacon at the Old Catholic Apostolic Church.He holds a post as Canon Principal of the Canons Regular of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Christ the King Oratory, County Durham, England; and contributes regularly as Editor Coordinator of the Church’s Seminary of St. Catherine of Sienna’s Studies Syllabus, sharing this function with contributions to Wikipedia and, more recently, Academia Edu.