Happy St. Thomas Day
Saturday July 03rd 2010, 3:00 am
Filed under: Books,Patristics

The Apostle Thomas is a figure of fascination for both believers and doubters. For me, he’s an object of obsession. I’m especially fascinated by the traditions of his work in India — preserved in epic poems, family stories, and (of course) the testimonies of the Fathers.

At long last, I’m bringing out a book on the subject: A Doubters Novena: Nine Steps to Trust With the Apostle Thomas, co-authored with my friend Christopher Bailey. It’s due out in a few weeks, but Amazon lets you pre-order now.

While you’re waiting for the book to arrive, you can celebrate the feast of St. Thomas by reading these posts:

Without a Doubt

Hindu Traditions of St. Thomas

Spice and Spirit

Friends, Romans, Christians … in Ancient India?


3 Comments so far
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I’ve read the attached posts, and unfortunately nothing in them gives us any serious reason to believe that the apostle Thomas ever brought the Gospel to India. Of course, many Christians in India believe he did, but that doesn’t make it so. We need solid historical evidence, not pious legends. And that evidence is lacking.

1. In your post of July 3, 2006, you say: “There is ample testimony from the era of the Fathers confirming Thomas’s apostolate in India: the Syriac Acts of Thomas describe it in detail; Clement of Alexandria mentions is, as do The Didascalia Apostolorum, Origen, Eusebius, Arnobius, Ephrem, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyrillonas, Ambrose, Gaudentius, Jerome, Rufinus, Theodoret, Paulinus, Jacob of Sarug, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, and many others.” (This list of authorities is remarkably similar to the one in the Wikipedia article “Thomas the Apostle”, though there is much more detail in the Wikipedia article.)

But you don’t seem to have checked whether this list is correct. In fact, there is absolutely nothing in the Didascalia about Thomas ever going to India. You can check it out for yourself by going to http://www.bombaxo.com/didascalia.html. So if this reference to Thomas in India is bogus, then it’s difficult not to have doubts about the rest of what you say.

2. You make much of the fact that many Church Fathers refer to Thomas in India. But the number of mentions is irrelevant if they all got the story from the same source, because if the source is wrong then all subsequent repetitions of the story are equally wrong. But we don’t know where they got the story, and so we don’t know what weight to give to their claims.

What a competent historian would do is try to find the earliest reference to the story and then try to assess its credibility. The earliest mention of Thomas going to India is the apocryphal book of the Acts of Thomas, written some 150 or 200 years after the events it purports to relate. This gap of 2 centuries makes the book quite unreliable. Furthermore, we know that the Acts of Thomas were written to show that Thomas was a very important apostle, and so the incentive to fabricate stories about him is considerable. Unless we can find a source closer in time to the alleged events, we have no reason to believe that Thomas ever went to India.

What we do know is that Christians from what is today Iraq and Iran brought Christianity to India, probably in the 4th century. Until we find better evidence than that presented so far, any suggestion that Christianity came to India in the 1st century must be judged to be nothing more than a pious legend.

Comment by Archangel 07.05.10 @ 8:09 pm

Geesh, those Church Fathers should have known better than to have used Wikipedia as their source!

Comment by Danny Garland Jr. 07.06.10 @ 9:54 am

Dear Archangel,

I appreciate your devotion to the historical method, but I believe that in this insance an important part of your argument is mistaken. You say that a wide variety of sources does not matter if all ultimately come from one source. But the Acts of Thomas was Gnostic (or, if you do not accept the clasification of “Gnostic”, at least heterodox), while Eusebius of Caesarea and most of the other sources that do indeed refer to Thomas’s evangelization of India are orthodox. It is not likely that Gnostic and orthodox writers of the second, third, and fourth centuries would have shared sources. Therefore, there are at least two independent strands of tradition that point to Thomas in India. As for the Didascalia, a scholar of your caliber should know there are numerous versions extant, and they vary somewhat on the details. I have not read them all. Have you?

Thank you for reading this post. Have a nice day!

Comment by Carl Sommer 07.06.10 @ 11:48 am



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