Seeing is believing: Augustine on Thomas

“Love is the eye and to love is to see.”  Thus taught Richard of St. Victor.  A fitting way to introduce a brief piece of a sermon by St. Augustine of Hippo about "doubting" Thomas the Apostle, whose feast is celebrated today in the reformed, post-Conciliar calendar.

In a sermon that makes up part of the Tractates on the Gospel of John the great bishop of Hippo speaks of Thomas in that supreme and dramatic moment after the Resurrection when Jesus appears and Thomas is finally present for the Lord’s appearance (tr. Io. 121.5 – my trans.):

Thomas responded and said to Him: “My Lord and my God!”   He saw and he touched the man, but he professed faith in God, whom he did not see or touch; but by the fact that he saw and touched he believed, since every doubt had been removed.  “And Jesus said to him: Because you have seen me, you believed”.  He did not say, you touched me, but rather, “you saw me”; since sight is in some way a general sense.   For sight is customarily named in conjunction with the other four (senses), as when we say: “Listen and see how good it sounds, smell and see how good it smells, taste and see how good it tastes, touch and see how well it warms.”  It is said this way everywhere: “See!” even though sight is properly belongs to the eyes alone.  And so, here also the Lord Himself said: “Reach your finger over here, and see my hands!”  What else is He saying than, “Touch and see!”  Nor did he even have eyes in his finger. Therefore, either by looking or by touching (the Lord) said: “Because you have seen me, you believed.”  Although it can be said that the disciple did not dare to touch Him, even though the Lord was offering Himself to be touched; for is it not written: “And Thomas touched Him.”?  But whether it was by gazing or by touching that he saw and believed, that which follows proclaims and commend the faith of the Gentiles rather more: “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed (John 20:24-29).  He used the past tense, in the manner of one who knew in His predestination that what was to be in the future was already a thing that was done.  But this present sermon must be kept from being prolix; the Lord with grant that we will examine closely the other things which still remain.

Did you catch that comment on predestination?  Augustine was sore pressed on this very issue for years toward the end of his life, as he attempted to teach and clarify his teachings about God’s eternal knowledge, His will, and the things which must therefore follow of necessity without destroying or compromising our free will.

St. Thomas was blessed during the Lord’s earthly sojourn to see and hear and touch the Lord.  We can do this in the Blessed Sacrament in which we can also taste and see the Lord.  Thomas, again using Richard of St. Victor, was able to look through the visible wound to see the invisible wound of love, which drew forth from his own heart a gasp of realization that we imitate even to this day, most commonly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or elevated at Mass: "My Lord and my God!"  There it is.  It’s all there. 

But there are consequences for one who says these words.  The love of the Lord and the profession of belief comes at the price of a wound.  The perfect Wounds are those of Jesus, each one more glorious than any merely human "perfection" or outward sign of beauty.  Those wounds which were part of the price of our salvation must draw from the Christian not only the precious words of faith exclaimed but also the deeds of faith enacted.  Remember the old phrase that we must constantly bear witness to the Lord, and sometimes even use words!  The love commanded and invited by the Lord is a two fold command: love God – love neighbor.

Perhaps you have even now an opportunity before you to look through the Wound of Christ and then see the wounds you cause to others by your sins, sins of commission and of omission.  Perhaps you can think of something which out of love you have in your power to put right.  This would be a fitting way to remember Thomas today.  No doubt about it.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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