Thomas (Apostle)

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The incredulous Thomas ( Gerrit van Honthorst , 17th century)

The apostle Thomas (* place and date unknown; † according to tradition in Mailapur , a district of the Indian city ​​of Madras , today's Chennai , around 72) is one of the twelve apostles or disciples who accompanied Jesus as friends and students for three years (cf. Joh 15.15  EU ). The name Thomas is derived from the Aramaic ta'am , which means “paired” or “twin”. That is why Thomas is also called Didymos ( ancient Greek δίδυμος didymos ) in the Bible . In the Syrian tradition he appears as Judas Thomas, since Thomas is understood there as an epithet.

In the Catholic , Orthodox and Anglican Churches the apostle Thomas is venerated as a saint and martyr ; the Protestant churches also remember him.

Occurrence in the Bible

Thomas is mentioned in all four lists of the apostles compiled in the New Testament . In the first three Gospels he stands next to Matthew the tax collector (Mt 10: 3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15). In the Acts of the Apostles he can be found next to Philip (Acts 1.1 3). The fourth gospel in particular offers some indications that trace traits of his personality.

Thomas as a doubter

The incredulous Thomas ( Caravaggio )

First of all, Thomas, on the basis of his personal relationship with Jesus, illustrates the way to professing faith in the Son of God . In the Gospel of John it says ( Joh 20,19-29  EU ):

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples had closed the doors for fear of the Jews, Jesus came, stepped into their midst and said to them: Peace be with you! After saying this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were happy to see the Lord. Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. After saying this, he breathed on them and said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit! Whom you forgive sins, they are forgiven; to whom it refuses to forgive, it is refused.

Thomas, called Didymus (twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples said to him, We have seen the Lord. He replied: If I don't see the marks on his hands and if I don't put my finger in the marks and my hand on his side, I don't believe. Eight days later his disciples were gathered again and Thomas was there. The doors were locked. Then Jesus came, stepped into their midst and said: Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas: Put your finger out - here are my hands! Reach out your hand and put it in my side and don't be unbeliever, but believe! Thomas answered him: My Lord and my God! Jesus said to him: Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. "

The pejoratively used term “unbelieving Thomas” goes back to this pericope , because the latter initially doubted the resurrection of Jesus until he himself saw the stigmata of the resurrected one.

"The way, the truth and the life"

Another statement by Thomas can be found in the report of the Last Supper ( Jn 14.4  EU ). Here, after announcing his imminent death, Jesus says that he is going to prepare a place for the disciples so that they too may be where he is; and he explains to them: "And where I am going - you know the way there" . Thomas intervenes and says, “Lord, we don't know where you are going. How should we then know the way? ” ( Jn 14,5  EU ). His question prompts Jesus to utter one of his famous I-am-words ( Jn 14.6  EU ): "I am the way and the truth and the life."

"Walking with Jesus to Die"

Thomas appears a third time before Lazarus is raised from the dead. When, at a critical moment in his life, Jesus decided to go to Bethany to resurrect Lazarus , he put himself in danger as he was approaching Jerusalem ( Mk 10.32  EU ). Then Thomas said to the other disciples: "Then let us go with him to die with him" ( Jn 11:16  EU ).

Thomas doubts the Assumption of Mary

According to legend, Thomas was the only apostle who was not present at the Assumption of Mary . He doubted the event as he did before the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, Mary appeared to the doubter and handed him her belt as proof of her physical acceptance into heaven. In the baroque era the donation of belts or Mary with the holy belt was a popular motif in Christian art .

Traditions about his apostolic ministry

The St. Thomas Basilica in Chennai-Mylapore, above the original tomb of the apostle
Reliquary of St. Thomas, in the lower church of the Cathedral of Ortona
Reliquary altar of St. Thomas, lower church of the cathedral of Ortona
St. Thomas in front of a map of India, jewelry for the festival of Thomas in a south Indian village church

The Didaskalia or Apostles 'doctrine, an early Christian script that was written around the year 250, contains the oldest written reference to Thomas' missionary activity in India . It is said there that he founded the Church in India and the surrounding areas.

It was not until a hundred years later that the so-called Thomas Acts emerged , which report the same facts, but often adorn them fantastically and are apparently influenced by Gnosticism .

Origen reports that Thomas first preached the gospel to the people of Iraq and Iran. He is said to have come to southern India and was killed in the 1970s near Mailapur as a result of his missionary work.

From the following times, more written testimonies about the work of St. Thomas received in India. Written evidence exists of St. Hieronymus (347-420) and his contemporaries St. Gaudentius of Brescia and St. Paulinus of Nola (354-431).

St. Gregory of Tours (538-594) narrates not only that the apostle Thomas worked and died in India, but also that he was buried there for a long time, his relics were transferred to Edessa , but that his original burial place was still venerated in India. St. Isidore of Seville (560–636) and also reports on the manner of his martyrdom in India.

Independently of this, there is a constant tradition in southern India, which dates back to apostolic times, of the apostle's missionary work there, the establishment of the first seven churches on the Malabar coast and his martyrdom in Mailapur on the opposite Coromandel coast . The local tradition of the Thomas Christians in India also confirms that most of the relics were transferred to Edessa, with a few remains in the grave there, which were actually found in later excavations.

Ibas von Edessa had a church built there for his relics , the alleged skull of the apostle is kept in the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi ( Georgia ) and venerated as a relic by the Georgian Orthodox Church of the Apostles . The main part of the Thomas relics came from Edessa to Ortona in Italy by the Crusaders in 1258 and is now kept there in a shrine in the lower church of the Cathedral of San Tommaso Apostolo . The original grave in India is a heavily frequented pilgrimage site.

In addition to the St. Thomas Basilica on the site of the Apostle's tomb in Mylapore (district of Chennai), there are numerous pilgrimage sites in South India that focus on St. Thomas and his missionary work there. The most famous are:

  • The church on St. Thomas Mount near Chennai, the traditional site of his martyrdom
  • The church on Little Mount near Chennai, with a cave in which St. Thomas is said to have hidden from his martyrdom.
  • Mount and Church of Malayattoor in Kerala , where St. Thomas withdrew to prayer and meditation for a long time.
  • Kodungallur Church . According to tradition, St. Thomas landed here in the once famous port city in the year 52 and it is one of the seven early churches of the apostle. A hand relic of the saint from Ortona is venerated there, a gift from Pope Pius XII. on the 1900th anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas in India.
  • The church of Palayur , one of the seven original communities on the Malabar coast, a former Hindu temple , which St. Thomas converted into a church after the conversion of most of the local Brahmins .

In some lines of tradition, which are particularly expressed in Gnosis and Manichaeism , Thomas is considered to be the twin brother of Jesus.

Thomas is the only apostle who has a far-reaching extra-canonical tradition with an independent author profile. The Gospel of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas but are pseudepigraphic writings.

Patronages and memorial days

In Europe it applies a. as the patron saint of builders and carpenters . Many folk customs are associated with St. Thomas's Day on December 21st.

Roman general calendar

The feast of the apostles has been celebrated on July 3rd since the liturgical reform in 1970 . This day is considered to be the date of the transfer of the Apostle's bones from his place of death and burial Kalamina (geographically unclear) to Edessa in the 3rd century. - Before the liturgical reform, the day of remembrance was December 21st.

Orthodox liturgy calendar

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Apostle Thomas on October 6th (of the Julian calendar, that is October 19th of the Gregorian calendar).

Evangelical liturgy calendar

The Lutheran agendas and the lectionary of 1978 set December 21st as St. Thomas's Day . Gospel of the day: Joh 20,19–31  Lut (in excerpts), liturgical festival color: red.

The new pericope order, which has been in effect since the church year 2018/19, allows the traditional date of December 21st, but recommends July 3rd as a day of remembrance, with reference to ecumenism . The gospel of the day was shortened to Jn 20 : 24-29  Lut .

Anglican liturgy calendar

Day of the Apostle Thomas, December 21 ; Liturgical color: red . The Book of Common Prayer also has this holy day.

See also


Web links

Commons : Thomas (Apostle)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Benedict XVI. : Follow me! The Apostles: Encouragement to Follow Jesus. St. Benno-Verlag, Leipzig 2007, p. 114 ff.
  2. Belt donation (BeyArs - The large art dictionary by PW Hartmann)
  3. Didache in German translation ( Memento from September 28, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Konrad Algermissen , Church History from the Beginnings to the Present (Celle 1955), p. 10
  5. Testimonies about the work of the Apostle Thomas in India ( Memento of January 29, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  6. On the Thomas grave and the relics
  7. ^ The St. Thomasberg near Madras
  8. The church on "Little Mount"
  9. ^ The St. Thomas pilgrimage church Malayattoor
  10. The pilgrimage church of Palayur
  11. Management pericope revision of EKD, UEK and VELKD: Order of texts and songs for worship , December 6, 2017
  12. Dec21 , episcopalnet
predecessor Office successor
Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East
Mar Addai (Apostle Judas Thaddaeus or Thaddaeus of Edessa)