Reactions » Caravaggio, “Doubting Thomas”

We start a new series on visual art today called “Reactions.”


Caravaggio (1571 -1610), “Doubting Thomas” 1602-1603, Oil on Canvas



11 thoughts on “Reactions » Caravaggio, “Doubting Thomas”

  1. Ah, one of my favourite paintings — it’s so astonishing, so shocking, almost unbearable. Jesus’ own participation in the action — gently pulling back his clothes, baring the wound, guiding Thomas’s hand, looking down attentively at the inserted finger — Jesus’s involvement is so intimate and so vulnerable and so exposed that I can hardly bear to look. But then (with the other onlookers, the two disciples in the background) it’s also impossible to look away.

  2. I’m with you Ben. Though I wonder, was Jesus’ guiding so “gentle”? When I look at the creases on Thomas’ forehead and the way he grips his leg together with Jesus’ grasp of his wrist, I sense something more forceful. Could Caravaggio be intimating that perhaps Thomas’ earlier bravado (“unless I…place my hand into his side, I will never believe” ) was replaced by something more hesitant when actually confronted with the living Christ and that the prospect of following through on his earlier pronouncement was rather terrifying? Could the fact that only one finger enters his side be another pointer to Thomas’ resistance?

  3. Wow, I’ve never thought of artists as theologians. But how could they be not? Clearly this painting is a collaborative work of interpretation, imagination and creativity. When discussing works of art, it is prudent to consider potential influences of the patron (who commissions the work) and popular culture on the artist.

    Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, with great interest in the arts and aspirations for the papacy, took in Caravaggio and supported his work. I do not know much about the cardinal, only that he was not elected Pope due to his sympathies for the French. As for popular culture, Caravaggio was labeled a “naturalist,” rejecting the formal, saintly icons of his peers with full intent to represent truth. Notice how he portrays the disciples as rugged, weathered commoners. And take note of the word “thrust” in the King James Version.

    John 20:27 (KJV)
    Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

    Is this a reflection of the Cardinal’s view? Or perhaps is Caravaggio rejecting a popular interpretation of this passage, one filled with stoic and dignified icons versus passionate humanity?

    This is a remarkable painting, particularly when viewed through a 17th century eye.

  4. Hasn’t Graham Ward written an essay on this painting? I heard an oral presentation of it where there was an argument about depicting the prying finger, on the grounds that a reading of the text suggested Thomas didn’t go there…

  5. I am debating the hand of Jesus that is guiding Thomas’. Yes,it matches with Jesus’ other hand quite perfectly and you would assume by the position that it is the hand of Jesus.. but Caravaggio could also be leaving room to the viewer to question if it is the hand is one of the other disciples holding Thomas back. Maybe trying to slow his forceful doubt as he trys to poke Jesus.

  6. 08-11-08, Monday Wound of Love, How Incredibly Merciful (at the Laundromat)

    How utterly inadequate.

    The gash, made by the blade of a knife,
    barely more than a flesh wound.

    Not the wide pierce of a long, broad, half-dull lance,
    straight through the heart,
    a hole that never closes,
    a wound, not even a wound,
    a door to a blinding light, a consuming fire,
    a dead heart that gives life.

    A presence, not seen…felt, transforming.
    Out the door flows a wine
    —sweet and nourishing—
    Into my heart, open, too.


    John 19:34: but when they came to him, they saw that he was dead already. However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.

    Hebrews 12:29: Our God is a consuming fire.
    Exodus 13:21: And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.

    Matthew 26:27-28: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins


    From the wine to the winery.
    Now there your right, Caravaggio.
    Jesus pulls me through His vulnerable chasm
    into His heart.

    Will I love Him despite all the ugliness
    of His still-torn flesh?
    Yes, drawn into His abyss, our hearts are welded
    by His consuming fire.

    Big hearted, heart of gold, heart of hearts, heart throb,
    home is where the heart is, heart rending,
    heart felt, sweet heart, in a heartbeat, lion hearted,
    tender hearted, hungry heart, heart and soul,
    put my heart into it, take heart, know by heart,
    heart to heart, bare your heart.

    Is our love not endless?


    Hebrews 12:29: Our God is a consuming fire.


    How adequate, Caravaggio.

    There’s a crack in your painting
    and a crack in my poem.

    Let’s have mercy on we.
    “The quality of mercy is not strained
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    upon the place beneath…
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
    When mercy seasons justice.”

    You and I—I is we—incognito,
    right in His lato.
    Welcome inn to Our Most Holy Mercy Seet.


    Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There is a crack in everything God has made.”

    Matthew 18:32-33: I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow-servant just as I had pity on you?’

    William Shakespeare: “The Merchant of Venice”, Act 4, scene 1, 180–187

    Hebrews 4:16: …throne of grace to receive mercy…

    Nehemiah 8:10: for the joy of the Lord is your strength.


  7. Pingback: Top posts from our first year « Theology Forum

  8. I am responding to CB’s comment. If you look closely,
    you can see the nail scare on the front side of his hand. If you look closely, Jesus has an identical scare on the other hand. That is how you can make a positive identity to who the hand belongs to. “….By His wounds we are healed.” 1Peter 2:24

    Seeking His Kingdom,

    a voice crying out………………

    How God Has Met Our Needs in Jesus

    What makes the resurrection of Jesus so precious to so many of us is that it is God’s declaration and confirmation that he will be our servant to meet these two needs through his Son Jesus Christ.

    1. The Enemy of Sin

    The Bible says, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But Christ has been raised. And we are no longer trapped in the condemnation of our sins. The reason God raised Jesus from the dead was to put his divine seal and validation on the saving, sin-defeating death of Jesus for sinners.

    Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

    And God raised him from the dead on the third day to show that his death had been an awesome success. The debt had been paid, the penalty had been borne, the curse had been lifted. Our Servant from heaven had done for us the work that we could never do for ourselves—take away our sin and make us right with God.

    And shall we, then, try to work for this gift? Shall we try to switch roles with our Omnipotent Servant and earn our way out of sin and into heaven? No, for the Bible makes it very clear:

    By grace are you saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8)

    The forgiveness of your sins no matter how terrible and no matter how long—the new reconciled relationship with God—is not your work; it is God’s work. Because the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Today his eyes run to and fro though this world and through this service to show himself powerful on behalf of those who trust in him.

    That’s the first urgent need that we have—to be free of our sins and get right with God. Jesus did it on the cross, and God sealed it with the resurrection.

    2. The Enemy of Death

    The other need we all have is the need to overcome death. A friend called me from Boston yesterday and said there have been 48 murders in Boston so far this year. There is a spirit of violence and fear. He said you don’t even honk your horn carelessly for fear that someone might just fire a pistol through your windshield. That’s our world.

    There are three million people with AIDS in the world, and sixty million AIDS carriers and four hundred thousand AIDS related deaths each year. Do you think they are unusual? Not very. Three million people die of tuberculosis every year. Five hundred thousand women die in childbirth every year. There are fifteen million hunger related deaths every year. On planet earth this year 50 million people will die. The average life expectancy is 62.3 years. If I am average, I have less than 18 years to live.

    Death is an enemy. We were made to live. I want to live forever! But I cannot save myself from death. Nor can any scientist in the world. That’s why the resurrection of Jesus is so precious to me. Because the Bible says,

    If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

    In other words, because he has overcome death, we can overcome death by faith in him. Jesus himself put it powerfully like this:

    I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25)

    Do You Believe This?

    And he turned to the woman standing by and said, “Do you believe this?” And he turns to us this morning and says, “Do you believe this?”

    If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

    If you put your faith in Jesus Christ this morning as the living Lord and Savior,

    * all your sins will be blotted out,
    * you will receive the Spirit of Christ as a free gift in your heart,
    * God will give you the assurance of everlasting life,
    * and he himself will become your Servant to glorify his grace and his power by working everything together for your good forever and ever.

    by John Piper (

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