Apostle Of India
Apostle Of India - Proof of his Arrival
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Proof of his Arrival

Historians today believe that St. Thomas planted the seed of the gospel on Indian soil. This is the general trend of their thinking: During Apostolic times there were well frequented trade routes, by land and / or water, connecting North-West India (today Pakistan), the West Coast and the East Coast, with North Africa and West Asia. Thus Alexandria, Aden, Socotra, Ormuz, Ctesiphon, Caesarea, Taxila, Broach, Kodungallur (Muziris) and even Rome were inter-linked.

The witnesses of different authors belonging to different places, Churches, cultures, centuries and races ( and often speaking different languages) supporting the Apostle’s Indian mission provide an almost unassailable bulwark of evidence, along with the South Indian tradition that is woven into a myriad details of folklore, placenames, family traditions, social customs, monuments, copper plates, ancient songs, liturgical texts etc..

The following are some of the early references to the Indian sojourn of St. Thomas in foreign sources: (All these testimonies are of a date prior to the commencement of the Malayalam or Kollam era, i.e. A. D. 825. Many of these belong to centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325.)

One of the earliest works to refer to St. Thomas as the Apostle who evangelized the India of today is the Syriac work entitled 'The Doctrine of the Apostles', which according to critics, date from the second century A.D .Here are the Passages:

1. 'The Doctrine of the Apostles'

'After death of the Apostles, there were Guides and Rulers in the Churches; and whatever the Apostles communicated to them, and they had received from them, they taught to the multitudes. They, again, at their deaths also committed and delivered to their disciples after them everything which they had received from the Apostles; also what James had written from Jerusalem and Simon from the City of Rome, and John from Ephesus and Mark from the great Alexandria, and Andrew from Phrygia and Luke from Macedonia and Judas St. Thomas from India, that the epistles of an Apostle might be received and read in the Churches in every place, like those Triumphs of their Acts which Luke wrote, are read, that by this the Apostles might he known...'

'India and all its own countries and those bordering on it, even to the farthest sea, received the Apostles' Hand of Priesthood from Judas St. Thomas, who was Guide and Ruler in the Church which he built there and ministered there.'

2. The Acts of Judas St. Thomas, Century: 2nd/3rd (c. 180-230), Church represented: Syrian

One of the source books for the life and mission of St. Thomas the Apostle is the work called: 'The Acts of St. Thomas' which dates probably from early 3rd Century.

It is understood to be an apocryphal work; but serious scholars seem to favour the historical foundation for the main statements made in the work, as for example, the travel of the Apostle to the Indus Valley, reference to names which sound similar to historical potentates of Northern India, e.g., Gondophares

It is known that apocryphal, legendary writings take their origin around certain historical events, which in the course of the development of the work get mixed-up and even lost to some extent amid the highly exaggerated, even fantastic details, stories and narrative embellishments. Even if we set aside these details, we may still consider the main outlines of the work. We may for instance, consider the following extracts from these Acts:

(a) 'When the Apostles had been for a time in Jerusalem, they divided the countries among them in order that each one might preach in the region which fell to him; and India fell to the lot of Judas St. Thomas.' What may be considered here is not so much the fact of the lots being cast as the fact of India being mentioned.

(b) The Acts say that St. Thomas was not willing to accept the same decision and said: 'I am a Hebrew; how can I teach the Indians?' It is perhaps quite unlikely that an Apostle would have refused to go on his mission as soon as it became known to him. For our purpose that is not what we should worry about. What is to be noted is rather the fact that 'Indians' are mentioned in the narrative. We may say the same with regard to what follows in the Acts narrative. The Apostle says stubbornly: 'Whithersoever Thou wilt, O Lord, send me: only to India I will not go...'

3. St. Jerome (342- 420)

"He (Christ) dwelt in all places: with St. Thomas in India, Peter at Rome, with Paul in      Illyricum."

4. St. Gaudentius ( Bishop of Brescia, before 427)

"John at Sebastena, St. Thomas among the Indians, Andrew and Luke at the city of Patras are found to have closed their careers."

5. St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431)

"Parthia receives Mathew, India St. Thomas, Libya Thaddeus, and Phrygia Philip".

6. St. Gregory of Tours (d. 594)

More about St.Gregory's testimony see ch. IV. St. Thomas the Apostle, according to the narrative of his martyrdom is stated to have suffered in India. His holy remains (corpus), after a long interval of time, were removed to the city of Edessa in Syria and there interred. In that part of India where they first rested, stand a monastery and a church of striking dimensions, elaborately adorned and designed. This Theodore, who had been to the place, narrated to us.

7. St. Isidore of Seville in Spain (d. c. 630)

"This St. Thomas preached the Gospel of Christ to the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians, the Hyrcanians and the Bactrians, and to the Indians of the Oriental region and penetrating the innermost regions and sealing his preaching by his passion he died transfixed with a lance at Calamina...a city of India, and there was buried with honour".

8. St. Bede the Venerable (c. 673-735)

"Peter receives Rome, Andrew Achaia; James Spain; St. Thomas India; John Asia....

In addition to these there are many breviaries, martyrologies, other liturgical books and calendars of the Syrian, Alexandrian/ Greek, Latin and other Churches belonging to a period before the commencement of the Quilon era, which bears ample testimony to St. Thomas’ Indian Apostolate.