Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tardy Thomas...

Today was the Feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Julian Calendar (which my Russian Church follows). At Liturgy, the thought occurred to me, reflecting on the traditional account, that Thomas should not be called "Doubting Thomas" but, rather, "Tardy Thomas." He showed up too late to see the Risen Lord. And he also showed up three days late to be present at the passing away of Our Lady. But precisely because he asked to pay his last respects to her directly, the Church learned that she had been assumed body and soul into Heaven. 

Now, Protestants don't believe any of that, of course, since it's not in the Bible. What I'm about to describe is certainly not an attempt to persuade a Protestant (which I used to be myself) on the matter of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Anyway, the thought occurred to me that anyone studying these two stories from a folklore standpoint would conclude that Thomas was turned into the late arrival at the Dormition because he had already served that role in Canonical Scripture.

And I realized, it's actually the other way around.

Even though the story of Our Lady's Assumption did not find literary form for four centuries, I assert that it happened, and that knowledge of certain details of it was current in the Church from the very earliest times. It was known so early, that it influenced the final formation of the Gospel of John.

It has long been accepted by Biblical scholars that the Gospel of John absorbed additional endings for a period of time. John 20:30 reads like a full break conclusion, and then things just keep going. The intrusion of the story of Thomas not being at the appearance of Jesus to the other Disciples is curious, since it follows the report of how Jesus imparted the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples. We are forced to assume that Jesus quickly later gave the Holy Spirit to Thomas so he could perform valid Confirmations out in India.

But here's my ultimate point. The story of the Disciple who wasn't at the first appearance wasn't originally about Thomas. It was about a Disciple, but the account didn't record which one exactly. The fact that the account describes this as being about "Thomas, One of the Twelve, called the 'Twin'" (John 20:24) has preserved the curious detail that apparently readers don't know that Thomas was one of the Twelve? I mean, why not? His name appears in all the 12 Disciple lists (Matt 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16).

Originally, this was a story about a disciple who wasn't at the first appearance of Jesus to his other disciples. And the account didn't remember which one it was. John 21:2 records an event with Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the Sons of Zebedee, and "two other of his disciples." So names can be forgotten in Tradition. So the account told us all that was known. This was "One of the Twelve." When someone eventually added in the name Thomas, they preserved the description "One of the Twelve" because no scribe feels comfortable deleting data, only adding it.

But why add Thomas in to this story? Because he was already known in the Tradition as someone who came late to an important event regarding a Resurrection. He came three days late to the death of the Mother of God. And when they opened the tomb, they discovered it empty and knew that she had been assumed into Heaven.

Adding the name Thomas to the account in John 20:24-29 was a natural development from the already known details of the Assumption.

No comments:

Post a Comment