St. Thomas the Apostle: Seeing Is Not Believing

It is to be remembered that St. Thomas the Apostle did more than just doubt, though his doubt is, without doubt, just what St. Thomas is best remembered for. But it is in the doubt of Thomas that the reason for conviction lies hidden—that what is essential is invisible to the eye. The ultimatum and understanding of Thomas is a moment in the Gospel bearing an emotional force that will never grow dull, reminding all of the blessedness that awaits those who believe without the testimony of their eyes and hands. Faith teaches us, together with Thomas, that seeing is not necessarily believing.

The paradox of faith is that it believes precisely in the unbelievable. Seeing is only necessary to the faithless. To those who keep faith, no worldly explanation for what they believe is possible; and in that, and that alone, is peace and salvation. This action of faith is something that is nurtured in those tales of the saints that are difficult to believe—stories that belong to the golden realm of legend. There is, in fact, one about St. Thomas himself that is so incredible it invites the credence that every Catholic must embrace if they are to be counted among those who have not seen and yet believe.

Legend has it that when Christ commanded His apostles to go forth and baptize all nations, sending His Spirit with the power to be missionaries, some of those apostles were miraculously transported across oceans and over mountains to nations in the far-flung corners of the world. To God, nothing is impossible.

After converting the Indies and travelling beyond the Ganges, Thomas called the Twin was, according to mystic fragments of Christian lore, sent by this wondrous way to the jungles of Mesoamerica. There he found a people awash in the blood of human sacrifice and awry with error of inhuman arts. St. Thomas struck amazement in the hearts of all by his unaccountable appearance together with his bold and beautiful words. He fearlessly preached the truth to the Aztecs, baptizing them with hands that had been buried in the body of God, and turned them from darkness to light. Thomas abolished the ritual of human sacrifice, and was hailed as one from God—godly himself, a priestly power, and a great teacher of the pure rites of worship and the un-bloody sacrifice of the Cross of Christ.

When St. Thomas was spirited from that land, having carried out his evangelization, he was remembered and immortalized in Aztec myth as Quetzalcoatl, the Twin, the feathered serpent, wearing hair upon his face, who had come on the wings of the wind to make them as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. The prophets said that he would come again one day to their people at that time when earth would be reunited with heaven.

But hell was destined to return before Quetzalcoatl. Over time, the demons regained their crooked sway over the South American civilizations. The natives gradually returned to the embrace of the fire, turning the Christian life-giving ceremonies taught to them by Thomas back into the slaughter that gives life to the legions of darkness. Blood stained the Aztec altars once more. Their religion was perverted and putrefied, leaving only shadowy traces of the purity they had been given by God through Thomas. And so it went on as the centuries crawled by and the people sank further and further back into benighted ways; remembering, however, and with some trepidation, the prophesied return of Quetzalcoatl whom they had betrayed.

The work of St. Thomas was not to be left undone forever. On Good Friday, 1519, Hernán Cortés beached at Mexico. The natives, led by Emperor Moctezuma, were struck with fear and reverence, believing that the divinations had come to be and that the bearded man who marched their shores was none other than Quetzalcoatl, come back from across the sea—and with him, the spirit of St. Thomas. They knew that they had fallen away from the olden rites entrusted to them, and the Aztecs quailed before the holy cross. St. Thomas had indeed returned. As interactions between the parties proceeded, the priests in Cortés’ entourage remarked on the mysterious Christian echoes in the rituals they discovered in the Aztec religion—such as ritualistic fasting and oblation, and the cruciform symbol—and remembered the old tales about St. Thomas with awe. Heaven had revisited earth, and Mexico would be washed clean of blood yet again. God’s Kingdom was come once again, leaving the way well paved for the glories of the Lady of Guadalupe.

The legend of St. Thomas and the Aztecs is a wild one, and thus it offers the very challenge of Thomas to all Doubting Thomases when it comes to the wild truths concealed in wild Christian legends. Catholicism is fantastic, and so its portrayal in a type of fantasy is fitting. The truth of sanctity is, in many ways, more accessible through wild and wonderful tales that surpass the bounds of truth as it is commonly known, for sanctity is of a higher truth. The stories of saints should offer a heightened element to the lives of saints, allowing them to appear clearly as citizens of two worlds—two worlds that they helped to bring together in Christ.

The action of legend renders the invisible aspects of sainthood more visible, tangible, and attractive, giving the heroes of the Church a dimension that goes beyond mere history and mere humanity. By exaggerating the extraordinary features of our holy ancestors, pious legends emphasize the very reason why they are saints. Like St. Thomas, Catholics are called to look beyond the evidences of their eyes, to believe in miracles, and to be optimists when pessimism is the only reasonable conclusion. This is the Faith, and it is a way that is often shrouded in obscurity and ordeal. Life can be a dark pilgrimage, offering no clear path towards light and life. Hence, we walk by faith, not by sight. “But the men signed of the cross of Christ,” sings Chesterton’s legendary Ballad, “go gaily in the dark.” Catholics must be confident, and carry on even though they carry on blindly—seeing only as through a glass, darkly—and ever ready to cry out at every sudden, joyful realization that we lie in the arms of the Risen Christ, “My Lord and my God!”

image: Renata Sedmakova /

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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