The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio,
Painted by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1571-1610),
Painted circa 1601-1602,
Oil on canvas
© Sansoucci, Potsdam, Germany / Wikimedia Commons
The Word was made flesh, and lived among us
In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.
Reflection on the painting
Today, the last day of 2022, our Gospel reading is the prologue to John’s Gospel. It highlights the eternity of Christ. Jesus is actually called God in this text, which was an unusual and probably shocking designation in the New Testament, since ‘God’ was only applied to Jahweh before. So this is a christologically important text.
The text highlights the eternity and divinity of Christ, whilst at the same time accentuating Jesus’ humanity. So the prologue of John serves a very practical purpose for us Christians never to lose sight that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.
But how to depict this in art? Well, that question has certainly been the subject of many debates over the past two thousand years. Second-century theologians such as Saint Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria initially repudiated the notion that the divine could be captured in pictorial representations. Pope Gregory I in the 6th century observed that images were the Bible of the illiterate, and thus of great merit. Theologically, the issue was how to represent the fullness of Jesus’ divine and human natures in any artistic representation of him. How all this developed is a long and complex but fascinating development of artistic creative expression, too long to share here on these short daily reflections.
A work of art that does, for me, display this beautiful combination of Jesus’ divine and human natures together, is this canvas by Caravaggio depicting the Incredulity of Saint Thomas. We see Thomas’ dirty fingernails entering the wound of Christ. Jesus is painted here post-Resurrection, with no divine apparition here (unlike what most other painters were doing at the time). But we see Jesus in his humanity, a man of flesh, blood and wounds. Soon he would ascend into heaven. It is a painting that grasps Jesus' humanity, his post-resurrection reality and divinity all at the same time. The divinity is accentuated by the light falling on Christ from above. And as Thomas approaches Jesus to touch his wound… he is drawn into that light!
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Beautiful scripture passage, reflection, and artwork. Thank you Patrick.
May Pope Benedict XVI rest in peace.
Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through him who loved us. Desmond Tutu
I have found CA to be a great blessing in my devotional life, so I pray that 2023 will be a year of great blessings to all who pause here, especially to Patrick as he approaches his ordination.
The furrowed brows of the disciples also reminds me of the wonder we ought to have of the Lord, and also the limitations of our understanding of Him. His ways are often times mysterious to man, and how wonderful that is! It wouldn’t be God if we could figure him out and understand him completely. Praise God!
Uplifting posts today good people. Thank you.
Ooh yes…the painting…Jesus said to Thomas “here, give me your hand, put it into my side” and in this image you see Our Lord doing just that with his hand on Thomas’s. What a moment to capture!
I think Caravaggio always saw himself as a sinner; to me that adds to his gospel depictions.
Blessings to all today.
Nous pourrions faire une similitude entre la peinture de la chapelle Sixtine où Michel-Ange représente les doigts distants de Dieu et Adam et la représentation du Caravage Représentant Thomas touchant le Seigneur. Ce dernier symbolisant l’Alliance et la réconciliation de Dieu et de l’humanité.
Powerful reading teamed with a powerful painting. This Gospel opening is also a work of art for me, it has a rhythm and a lyricism all of its own- of all the Gospels it draws us both closer to the writer but also directly to the divine and the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. The painting also does this. A perfect pairing to end the year, and look forward to what you have to share next year, Patrick.
I feel a little overwhelmed this morning. I cannot thank you enough for this site and wish all involved, including those who read but don’t comment, a year which finally brings hope and light for us all after such a dark time. God is good.
Let your light shine….
Thank you so much.
It is thanks to all of you, readers, which makes the site what it is.
So wonderful to see a community building here
Resonant echoing words. John’s gospel is perhaps the most powerful and direct of all the gospels? Any other opinions out there?
When I read this I hear John saying; “Right, this is the way of it. Fact!”
But my favoured gospel is Luke’s.
I used to prefer John, but as I get older I prefer Luke just because Jesus interacts with so many people, especially women.
I like it for those reasons also, and showing the circumstances and relationships of people.
All the gospels offer something different, but John’s is very different to the other three. Powerful for sure, sometimes not so direct and requiring much more thought for me.
I love the opening of John’s gospel. He leaves no question that Jesus is God.
In my late teenage years I learnt this passage by heart I was so struck by it. This work of art by Caravaggio with its reflection expressed the awe I feel every time I read/ hear this opening chapter of John. Thank you .
Happy New Year!
Yes! The passage does indeed inspire a feeling of awe!
“…and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark…”
Today I read in the news a very warming story about a men in the US who went to help a friend in the dangerous blizzard and got trapped in it, he was refused shelter when he asked for it to save his life and then ended up saving 20 people from the deadly cold. His name is Jay Withey and he recognized the light shining in the dark.
As this year comes to an end, may that shine enlight the way in the new year, help us to leave behind our heavy baggage and give us strength, wisdom and grace to live a life pleasant to God.
Dear CA family, I humbly send you my best wishes for a Happy New Year.
Thank you so much Adriana. In these times it is more than ever necessary to live in the light. People the world over are struggling, but God always seems to send someone to drive out darkness with the light of love. I am moved by this story and your prayer for us.
To you too Adriana!