Today is the second Sunday of Easter, known as Low Sunday. The Gospel reading at Mass is St Thomas doubting the resurrected Jesus in in fact the risen Lord. I have included the reading below (emphasis added). I did a post on The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Rubens, which so moved me at the Rijksmuseum. This other masterwork was accomplished by Caravaggio. It is now in the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, in Potsdam, Germany.
Gospel John 20:19-31
In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them.
The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him: ‘You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.
This 1602 painting is unquestionably a masterpiece. The risen Christ, whom we acclaim and celebrate in this Easter time, appears to St Thomas and asks him to put his hand in Jesus’ side in order to believe that he has indeed been raised form the dead. In so doing, Christ has defeated death, not only for himself but for all of the faithful. This is truly the cornerstone of the Christian faith so it was important that the artist did this moment justice. I believe he did.
You can see that St Thomas is the central figure in this painting. His strained belief can be seen by the wrinkles in his forehead. Behind him are most likely St Peter and St John the Evangelist. The lack of halo on Christ’s head emphasises his corporeal form. The Rubens painting of the same scene showed a faint glow behind Christ’s head but no halo.
There is heavy chiaroscuro throughout the painting, increasing the drama of the scene. Jesus is depicted brightly, as though the shadow is cast by light emanating from him. All of the fabric is rendered beautifully and the painting has a generally quite striking aspect. This is indeed very moving for me. Modern Christians, of course, have not seen the risen Christ. I do count myself among the number who are blessed for not seeing, and yet believing. I hope this painting helped viewers throughout the last 420 years to feel similarly moved and compelled.