Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Thomist Church (a legend)

The Jewish poet Bardesan wrote a famous book about 175 years after Thomas died, chronicling Thomas’ exploits in India. For various reasons – many of them theological – this book is not recommended reading (Bardesan, apparently, confused Jesus Christ with a kind of Kung Fu Cosmic Wizard…which, while exciting, is pretty bogus). The Acts of Thomas do, however, tell us a historically accurate recounting of Thomas missionary journey into India and what is now Afghanistan.

Legend has it that after the Ascension, the disciples divided the world so they could each spread the message of Jesus across the globe. Thomas was chosen to minister in India, but didn't want to go ashamedly because he was something of a racist. Jesus appeared to Thomas in a vision, however, and instructed him to go anyway but Thomas stubbornly refused, saying: I will go wherever you send me, so long as there are no Indians.

Around that time, there was a wealthy merchant from India visiting Jerusalem. He had been send by King Gundaphorus to secure skilled carpenters who could work on the King’s new palace. Thomas was such a carpenter, but refused to go with Abbanes (the merchant). Jesus, however, approached Abbanes in the marketplace and told him Thomas was his slave. He sold Thomas to Abbanes, who then proceeded to find Thomas in the market and confront him.

Abbanes cornered Thomas and asked him if Christ was his master. Thomas told him that indeed he was, and then Abbanes informed the disciple that he had been sold and would now travel back to India to work on King Gundaphorus’ palace.

Thomas said nothing in reply, but did travel to India and led the project on the King’s home. The King gave him vast amounts of money and conscripted hundreds of workmen to help him, but Thomas gave all the money to the poor. He told the King the palace was coming along nicely, but Gundaphorus began to get suspicious. In the end the King sent for Thomas and asked him: have you finished my palace? To which Thomas replied: Yes I have. You may go and see it. Not now, of course, but when you have departed this life you will see the mansion I have built for you in heaven.

At first the King was furious, but his anger subsided and he was won over to the cause of Christ.

This is how Christian spirituality first came to India, and how the Thomist Christian Church was formed.

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