I’ve previously occupied this space with cursory considerations of two saints named Thomas: Aquinas, super-brained intellectual mystic of the Middle Ages, and More, Lord Chancellor in the court of Henry VIII, martyred in 1507. With utmost respect for the Rule of Three, and in the interest of fairness, it’s only right that today’s rumination should concern itself with their namesake, Thomas the Apostle.
Over the centuries, writings have emerged that were attached to his name, the so-called Acts of Thomas or the Gospel of Thomas, and although these are surely apocryphal, very little is known of the man himself. Thomas is believed to have brought Christianity to India, and to have been killed in 72 AD. Some credible evidence supports this claim. A community of early Christians at Mylapore, near Madras, maintained his gravesite for hundreds of years, but there follows a convoluted slog regarding the translation of his relics, brought to Edessa in 394. From there, they were reportedly moved to an island in the Aegean, and then later to the Abruzzi region of Italy. A Portuguese exploratory force discovered his original tomb in 1522, and there are those still who maintain that his body remains in its first resting place, the tomb at Mylapore.
He is mentioned in all four Gospels, and in the Book of John he is called Didymus—the twin—but if he has a brother or a sister lurking somewhere off the tablet, John makes no mention of it.
Thomas’s reputation has taken a hit throughout the millennia, dubbed with the automatic epithet “Doubting.” Absent for the Lord’s first appearance after the Resurrection, but informed by the other apostles that He had risen indeed—as He promised He would—Thomas refused to believe it unless he could put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus. Our Lord granted him the opportunity to do exactly that, whereupon Thomas fell to his knees exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”
And then he drew this rebuke: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I’m no biblical scholar—I’m a scholar of nothing, really—but because I take my lessons where I can find them, allow me to apply Thomas’s skepticism, minus the salve of any Divine Apparition, to our ignoble contemporary moment: Our confounding inability to distinguish what is real from what is not; what is true from what is false.
I don’t want to wander too deep in the woods on this one, but it’s always useful to consult our antiquarian forefathers on the Big Subjects, and from his Metaphysics, here’s what Aristotle had to say about truth: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.” Plato’s star pupil had a lot more to contribute on the subject, but that should suffice for now.
Stranded in the grinding dystopia of our Covid-colored world, millions of souls cowering behind screens, our hunger for truth, any kind of truth, has proved as often as not to be a will o’ the wisp. To say for example, following Aristotle, that 5 is 5, and not 4, is absolutely true as far as that goes, but aggregates of raw numbers assigned to various columns do not of themselves constitute truth or falsehood. Our interpretations of those numbers, or worse, some “expert’s” interpretation of those numbers recited with self-serving inflection by some oracle, wash us away in a tidal wave of practically useless information, but not truth.
The obvious culprit, and a cliché by this time, is the media–they have a great deal to answer for, and have never been more horrid. But who holds the accountants accountable? Nobody.
Enter their hideous progeny, social media, the hemlock of our age, which appears to operate pretty much like this: Skim a headline on a propaganda outlet (it might contain a molecule of truth), bleed with shallow but overwrought emotion, and then post across several platforms. If it’s poisonous enough, and you’ve got enough of a name, the legacy media will then report on what you felt, not on what you thought (little thinking encumbered your passion) thereby creating a nightmarish feedback loop of half-truth, untruth, and outright falsehood.
This befuddling nowhere of neither/nor fosters paranoia, a genuine state of mind, mostly but not entirely detached from the truth, and formerly reasonable people are succumbing to it everywhere.
I gave voice to these anxieties with an acquaintance I made at a July 4th gathering of family and friends (and yes, I have the embarrassing habit of saying several words too many—even to strangers) and this was his reaction: “Dude. Unplug. Read Moby Dick.”
To reiterate, I take my lessons where I can find them. This is a brilliant man.
I couldn’t admit that I’ve tried three times (and failed) to muscle through Melville’s masterpiece, but with the suggestion that 19th century novels might be a balm for my unquiet mind, this man was pointing me in the direction of moral truth—quickly, a thought or an action that brings about a good or positive outcome—a preoccupation of the genre.
What better examples of moral truth do we have than those provided, all Thomases considered, by the saints? Aquinas made it his life’s work to reconcile faith and reason, to unite the temporal with the eternal. He drew heavily upon truth, moral and otherwise, and upon Aristotle, whom he refers to constantly as the Philosopher, with a capital P. For his part, throughout St. Thomas More’s dispute with the king, he remained convinced that he was arguing from the position of truth, and that even if it meant his death, he would go to it willingly, in defense of that ideal.
In a frequently flung about and misattributed quote, it was Jesus Christ who said, “You will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I think what He was saying was that we will know God, the energy and the essence underlying the totality of all things, the ultimate reality, the final truth, and in that knowledge, we would find freedom. Hardly at a loss for words on the subject, Jesus also said “I am the way, and the truth and the light.” And who do you suppose was on the receiving end of the Lord’s synopsis of His nature and His mission? None other than his Apostle, Thomas. Doubting Thomas.