1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Thomas, St

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THOMAS, ST, one of the twelve apostles. The synoptical Gospels give only his name, associating him in their lists with Matthew (Matt. x. 3; Mark iii. 18; Luke vi. 15); in Acts i. 13 he is coupled with Philip. In the Gospel of John (xi. 16; xiv. 5; xx. 24 seq.; xxi. 2) he appears in a characteristic light, full of personal devotion and ready to die with his Master, but slow to grasp the true significance of the personality of Jesus, and incredulous of the resurrection till direct evidence convinces him of its truth and at the same time of the Divinity of his risen Lord. John translates the Aramaic name or surname Thomas by the Greek equivalent Didymus (twin). Tradition has it that he was the twin brother of a sister Lysias (his parents being Diophanes and Rhoa, and his birthplace Antioch; “XII. Apost. Patriae,” in Chron. Pasch. ii. 142), or of a brother Eliezer (Hom. Clem. ii. 1), or, according to the Syriac Acta Thomae (ed. Wright, Eng. trans. pp. 155, 180), of Jesus Himself. The last form of the tradition seems to he derived from the name Judas Thomas, which he bears in Edessene legend (cf. Eusebius, H. E. i. 13, 10), and implies the identification of Thomas with Judas, the brother of the Lord. The most ancient tradition makes Thomas the evangelist of Parthia (Eus. H.E. iii. 1, 1); and at Edessa, which claimed to possess his bones, it was related that their missionary Addai {Doctrine of Addai, ed. Phillips, 1876, p. 5), whom Eusebius calls Thaddaeus {H.E. i. 13), was sent to them by him. Later tradition, originating with the Acta Thomae, and accepted by catholic teachers from the middle of the 4th century, makes him proceed to India and there suffer martyrdom. The Indian king Gundaphar of the Acta is, however, certainly identical with the historical Gondophares, whose dynasty was Parthian, though his realm included regions loosely reckoned to India. The Parthian and Indian missions of Thomas may perhaps therefore be regarded as derived from a single tradition, but it is very doubtful whether it is based on any historical facts. The oldest extant tradition is that St Thomas did not suffer martyrdom at all (Heracleon ap. Clem. Alex. Strom, iv. 9). The best investigation of the traditions connecting St Thomas with India is that by W. R. Philipps {Indian Antiquary, 1903, xxxii. 1–15, 145–160). The ingenious conjectures of von Gutschmid {N. Rhein. Mus. xix. 161 seq.) and Sylvain Lévi {Journ. asiatique, 1897, p. 27 seq.) are greatly weakened by the fact that they do not start from a consideration of the names in their original Syriac form. Bishop Medlycott’s India and the Apostle Thomas (1905) is wholly uncritical.

The Acta Thomae, very imperfectly published by Thilo (1823) and Tischendorf (1851), have been edited in Greek by Bonnet (Leipzig, 1883, 2nd ed., with new matter, 1903), and in the original Syriac, with an English translation, by W. Wright {Apocryphal Acts, 2 vols., London, 1871). See also Lipsius, Die apocryphen Apostelgesch., ii.(2nd. ed.) 423–425 (Brunswick); F.C. Burkitt in Journ. Theol. St. i. 280 seq., ii. 94. The Acta are said by Photius to be a part of the Περιοδοι τών άποστόλων of the Gnostic Leucius Charinus, but this unknown personage is to be thought of as a collector of Gnostic “Acts of Apostles,” rather than as the first author. In spite of extensive Catholic revision, the “Acts of Thomas” form one of the most interesting monuments of Syriac Gnosticism. Internal evidence assigns them with great probability to the school of Bardesanes, and the very ancient allegorical hymn about the soul which is preserved in the Syriac text (p. 274 seq., Eng. trans., p. 238 seq.) is perhaps by Bardesanes himself (cf. Nöldeke in Z.D.M.G., 1871, p. 676). This hymn was translated into the Greek Acta, along with the rest of the work (Bonnet, pp. 219–224, Anal. bolland. xx. 158–164). It is one of the most remarkable pieces in Syriac literature, and has been edited separately by A. A. Bevan, Texts and Studies, v. 3 (Cambridge, 1897). A metrical English version is given in F. C. Burkitt’s Early Eastern Christianity, p. 218 seq. (London, 1904).  (F. C. B.) 

“Christians of St Thomas” is a name often applied to the members of the ancient Christian churches of southern India, which claim him as their first founder, and honour as their second founder a certain bishop named Thomas, who is said to have come with some presbyters from Jerusalem to Malabar in A.D.. 345.[1] According to their tradition, St Thomas went from Malabar to Mylapur, now a suburb of Madras, where the shrine of his martyrdom, rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1547, still stands on Mt St Thomas, and where a miraculous cross is shown with a Pahlavi inscription which may be as old as the end of the 7th century. We know from Cosmas Indicopleustes that there were Christian churches of Persian (East-Syrian) origin, and doubtless of Nestorian creed, in Ceylon, in Malabar, and at Caliana (north of Bombay) before the middle of the 6th century, and even then St Thomas, the reputed apostle of Persia, may have been their special saint. The ancient churches of southern India never died out or wholly lost their sense of connexion with their mother church, for we find them sending deputies in 1490 to the Nestorian patriarch Simeon, who furnished them with bishops (Assemani, Bib. or. iii. 1, 590 seq.). Hard pressed by the Moslems, they welcomed the approach of the Portuguese, but proved by no means tractable to efforts to bring them within the Roman obedience. At length a formal union with Rome was carried through in the synod of Diamper (1599). Syriac was to remain the ecclesiastical language, but the service books were corrected and purified from error. A century and a half of foreign Jesuit rule followed, but the love of independence was not lost. A great schism took place in 1653, and of 200,000 Christians of St Thomas only 400 remained loyal to Rome, though many of their churches were soon won back by the Carmelites. Those who remained independent fell under the influence of the Jacobite Mar Gregorius, styled patriarch of Jerusalem, who reached Malabar in 1665 as an emissary from Ignatius, patriarch of Antioch. From his time the independent Christians have been Jacobites, the counter-efforts of the Nestorians under Mar Gabriel, bishop of Azerbaijan, having apparently come to nothing after his death in 1730. Since the visit of Claudius Buchanan, whose Christian Researches in Asia (1811) excited great interest, much has been done for the Christians of South India by English missionary effort, and Anglicans have cultivated friendly relations with the clergy of the independent native church, while discouraging dependence on the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch.

A valuable though tedious and ill-arranged history of the Christians of St Thomas is that by W. Germann, Die Kirche der Thomaschristen. (Gütersloh, 1877). See also La Croze, Histoire du christianisme des Indes (The Hague, 1724); Alexius de Menezes, Historia ecclesiae malabaricae (Latin by F. Raulin, Rome, 1745) (especially for the synod of Diamper); Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo, India orientalis christiana (4to, Rome, 1794); George Milne Rae, The Syrian Church in India (Edinburgh and London, 1892).

  1. See the sketch in Syriac of the history of the church of Malabar printed and translated by Land, Anecd. Syr. i. 24 seq. It was sent to Schaaf at Leiden in 1720 by Mar Gabriel, the last Nestorian bishop in Malabar (see Germann, p. 542).