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Blessed are Those Who Have not Seen and Yet Have Believed

by Tony M.

Something to note about today's Gospel passage:

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Christ makes a point of Thomas's needing to see in order to believe, and exclaims the belief of those who believe without seeing. It is common to declare of this that Thomas's faith was deficient, and those (like modern Christians) who believe without having Christ in front of them have stronger faith.

But there is something a little off with that sense: Christ uses the past tense. He might have been using the past tense in a hypothetical sense, (as if he transported them to years and decades into the future and then looked back), but it's a little odd. More likely, he was pointing to the patriarchs and the prophets, who believed that the Christ would come, and would be put to death, and would rise again. These men did not see Christ, but in their faith they anticipated what was to come: they believed before seeing.

Note, though, that they believed in a series of events in a formal sense: that these things WOULD occur, at some definite time in the future. They did not believe specifically that it was the grandson of Anne and Joachim, the one raised in Nazareth, that it was the man crucified by Pontius Pilate at the time of the paschal celebration in (roughly) the year 30 AD. They were not called on to assent in faith that it was THIS SPECIFIC MAN who is the Christ. But Thomas was.

And we ourselves, who believe without seeing, are the benefactors of Thomas who insisted on seeing and touching. For this event is unprecedented. It is miraculous, and if we are to believe it reasonably, we need more than allusions and guesses for support. We need better reason than that somebody thought they might have seen Jesus days later. We need a basis for acceptance that does not require us to be utterly ridiculous in that acceptance: we need to understand that the people who told everyone else about Christ did more, themselves, than just saw an appearance. There are too many stories of ghosts and the like for a mere visual appearance to be sufficient basis. Christ made sure that there was better foundation for the Apostles (and many other disciples) to believe than one or two mere appearances. He showed up repeatedly, he held extended conversations, with explanations of the Scriptures; he ate food; they touched him. These are the foundations for the rational belief by the Apostles that Christ rose from the dead. And they therefore form the kernel of the rational foundation for us too.

Christ, then, to the extent that he was speaking of people of the future who would come to believe in Him, was calling us blessed through Thomas and the other Apostles who not only saw but touched Jesus: "blessed are they, who will believe in part because you have insisted on adequate basis for belief. They will still need acts of faith, but that faith will be faith working WITH reason, not against it."

Comments (3)

Yeah, some think this endorses a form of fideism. However, I don't see that in this text. However, I think this kind of passage rules out forms of verificationism (e.g. A.J. Ayer).

Good post. Thank you.

Good point, Jonathan. I don't know much about Ayer specifically, but naturally I reject his reliance on the Humean "fact / value" disjunction: I wholeheartedly agree with Edward Feser that the Humean thesis completely fails with an Aristotelian account of forms and the natures of natural beings.

As far as verificationism, I fear that there are probably so many different flavors of it that it is a little hard to talk about it in general. I am not an expert in the topic, so let me just say that I agree with you that the passage is not strong support for fideism, and in fact the whole of the Resurrection stories taken as a body are good support against fideism on the Resurrection. There is a goodly amount of work that needs to be done in sorting out the distinctions needed for talking about a faith that operates against reason or without any rational support (i.e. fideism) versus a faith that operates with rational support but exceeds it. With Josef Pieper, my attitude is that there are a preliminaries to faith to be met by reason, to set the stage for reasonable belief, not SHEER belief. In that environment, the act of belief provides for greater assurance than the rational evidence itself satisfies, but does not (at least primarily) provide for certainty where rational evidence is firmly to the contrary. The motive cause of belief is, in the case of religious faith, from God, but the operation of belief in the intellect is not different by genus from those cases where we believe non-religiously.

Yes, I've always thought that *if* Jesus was reproving Thomas, it was for his not giving due weight to the testimony of all the other disciples, not for his demanding evidence.

I think the collect for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle in the Book of Common Prayer gets a pretty good theoretical balance (not to mention the beautiful liturgical flow):

Almighty and everliving God, who, for the greater confirmation of the faith, didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son's resurrection; Grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ, that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved.

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