Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

Doubting Thomas

The Incredulity of Thomas

In The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Caravaggio portrays in rather grotesque detail the scene of John 20: 24-29, where Thomas proclaims that he will not believe in Christ’s resurrection unless he feels the wounds himself.  In this portrayal we see Jesus guiding Thomas’s hand deep into his wound, with two onlookers studying the event from behind.  Jesus appears completely calm and unaffected by the inspection, while Thomas’s face holds wrinkles of concentration and awe.  The placement of four heads united in the center of the painting is a classical depiction of the search for truth, and the search here ends in the detailed inspection of the body of Christ.  The black background provides further illustration of this discovering of truth, with the four men illuminated from the darkness by the light which appears to emanate from Jesus.  The scene is at once shocking and complex; the extreme familiarity with which Thomas’s finger digs into Jesus’ wound is startling, but it simultaneously reveals an aspect of spiritual discovery.  Thomas here gains knowledge of God through a personal examination of Christ, and the physicality of it reveals a very real and tangent search for truth.  Thomas’s inspection of the wound is very much of this world, but the result of that inspection is a knowledge which is entirely spiritual.  We find this scene shocking because it seems so realistic, and the realism is a means of showing how an ordinary person can discover spiritual truth through worldly interactions.  Here Thomas literally pulls the skin of Jesus back to understand Him as God, but Caravaggio demonstrates through this that physical encounters with the world can provide a spiritual knowledge, and that in searching and finding knowledge of God the truth transcends the person from the physical world to the spiritual one.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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5 responses

  1. Molly Allender

    Great post! I like how you draw a comparison between Thomas’ exploration of the wound with an exploration of religion and your explanation of a spiritual search in a physical world.

    April 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

  2. Elizabeth Hinojos

    I love Caravaggio, so good choice on discussing the theme of this painting. I also agree with Molly, the way with which you relate Thomas’ experience with Jesus on a more universal level is a great parallelism and allows for a deeper understanding of what is going on in this particular piece of work.

    April 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm

  3. nickmehendale

    I like this story. I think it gives one of the most human and realistic reactions to a resurrected Christ. One of “Nuh-uh!” It serves a great way for people to relate to the characters in the Bible.

    April 27, 2011 at 9:51 am

  4. Akshata

    You did an amazing job describing the piece in the beginning! It was like I didn’t have to look back at the picture. I like how you draw a connection between Thomas’ personal examination of Christ and how others examine themselves spiritually. I actually didn’t know this story of Thomas until now, and it seems it should be a significant part of Christianity, although I’m sure many followers may not have heard of it.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm

  5. I enjoyed that you took this a step further than most. Rather than just sticking to what the Bible infers, which is basically Thomas would not believe Christ resurrected unless he sees himself, you go further by relating it in totality as someone finding spiritual truth through what they can see in the physical realm. Very interesting.

    May 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

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