Unlocking The Doors Of Fear

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam

John 20:19–31
Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Absent)

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Present)

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Have you ever been paralyzed by fear?  The disciples certainly were after the crucifixion of Jesus.  It’s easy to understand.  They surely felt the terror of a similar fate for themselves, but they also must have felt orphaned and alone.  It’s powerful to understand how His return to them vanquished their fear.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

It’s precisely in such a context that we hear Jesus’ words to his disciples. God will not allow fear to have the last word. In fear the disciples try to hide themselves from a world that resists all the implications of the life-changing, liberating power of resurrection. But fear can’t hinder the new life Jesus extends to us! Resurrection life acknowledges the fear, but does not allow the fear to divert or destroy what God is doing through Jesus and through us. We’re given a truly remarkable image here. I love the way the resurrected Jesus appears within the locked room and stands among them there; he stands within the confines of their fear; he appears and stands in their place of greatest fear and says, “Peace be with you.” Even locked doors can’t keep him out. Christ’s boldness overcomes every barrier we try to erect in fear. We’re not meant to live behind locked doors. Within the confines of all our fears, Jesus continues to stand among us, unlocking our prisons of fear, and saying, “Peace be with you.”

The place of fear can become the place of presence, the place of peace, the place of resurrection. The text tells us that their fear was replaced with rejoicing at the sight of his presence. That’s what resurrection can do. That’s what the resurrected Lord continues to do.

How is fear the opposite of love?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 


John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/



D I G  D E E P E R

 Peace Which Passes Understanding

St. Paul exhorts the Philippians (4:6-7) not to be anxious about anything but to make all their concerns a subject of thankful prayer to God, promising that if they do so “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” will keep (lit. “stand guard over”) their hearts and minds. The thought echoes Isa. 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee,” and takes up Jesus’ exhortation to have no concern over practical needs because “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:24-34). The peace Paul speaks of passes all understanding both in the sense that it is inconceivably great, beyond human capacity to comprehend (cf. Eph. 3:19, 20), and also in that it is far better than any “peace” which human “understanding” could bring. Notably, it is a peace which is found in the midst of trouble, not by escaping from it.

Commenting on Job 9:4 (Vg) in which Job observes that God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has resisted him, and had peace?” Wyclif says that “we are to see by this description of peace that it is achieved by conformity of [one’s] will to that of God.” He goes on to say that peace is not, as one might expect, a matter of temporal quietude free from attack or hostility; rather, it is just when the battle is raging most fiercely that one is most likely to experience the benefits of being at peace with God (Sermones, 4.25). A later Wycliffite writer takes up the theme, “þer be trew pees and fals pees, and thai be ful diverse”—true peace being grounded in God, false peace grounded in “rest with our enemies” when “we assent to þem withoute aʒen-standyng” (Arnold, ed., Selected English Works of John Wyclif [1871], 1.321).

In George Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” the O Vos Omnes hymn is developed with Christ drawing a contrast between himself and Barabbas: “And a seditious murderer he was: / But I the Prince of Peace; peace that doth passe / All understanding, more than heav’n doth glasse” (117-19; cf. Ruskin, Unto This Last, chap. 3). Herbert’s poem “Peace” makes the point that the “Prince of Peace” himself had no peace: “He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save / His life from foes” (25-26), and that he won peace for others at the expense of his own struggle and death (cf. A Priest to the Temple, chap. 34). In Vaughan’s “Peace” the poet speaks of a peace which is not to be found in this life, but in “a Countrie / Far beyond the stars,” sentiments echoed in an early 20th-cent. American sonnet by Joyce Kilmer, written while the author was soldiering in France during World War I (“The Peacemaker”). Aldous Huxley thinks hints of such peace can be derived from art: “Even from the perfection of minor masterpieces—certain sonnets of Mallarmé, for instance, certain Chinese ceramics—we can derive illuminating hints about the ‘something far more deeply interfused,’ about ‘the peace of God that passeth understanding’“ (Ends and Means, chap. 14; cf. Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” 96). In Black Boy Richard Wright tells of an unsuccessful application of the traditional interpretation in the home of his grandmother: “Granny bore the standard for God, but she was always fighting. The peace that passes understanding never dwelt with us.” Recalling the prophetic promise that in the days of the Messiah peace shall flow “as a river” (Isa. 48:18; 53:5), Margaret Avison writes that “Word has arrived that / peace will brim up, will come / ‘like a river and the / glory … like a flowing stream’“—an unprecedented, unimagined grace (“Stone’s Secret,” 20-22).

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

ART:  For a deep dive on The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1601-2), see HERE


Faith In Honest Doubt by Alfred Tennyson

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio,


You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.

I know not: one indeed I knew
In many a subtle question versed,
Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true:

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them: thus he came at length

To find a stronger faith his own;
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,

But in the darkness and the cloud,
As over Siniai’s peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of gold,
Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem

RickDoubt is not unbelief.  It is a friend of Truth because honest Doubt is a seeker and Truth welcomes investigation. Tennyson wrote his famous In Memoriam as a response to and journal of grief following the death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam.  In it he lays bear the devastation which led to a crisis of faith, but to our benefit he carries us through to a better conclusion.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:

Towards the end of In Memoriam Tennyson addresses those who condemn doubters as weak, and suppress or demonize their own doubts. He shows instead that a mature and balanced faith is not one which has refused the agony and the wrestling but one that has been through them and grown from them. Paradoxically this famous passage about ‘faith in honest doubt, is also a place in which he makes one of his most explicit appeals to scripture, to the darkness and cloud of Sinai, contrasted with the sparkling certainties of the Golden Calf.

Has doubt ever brought you closer to God?

Mark 9:23–25

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

25When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!”


Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson

(1809–1892) The most popular English poet of the latter half of the nineteenth century, Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, the son of a country rector. He and his brother began to write verse and published a volume titled Poems by Two Brothers in 1827, the year Alfred left for Cambridge. He remained there until 1831, when financial need obligated him to return home, where he devoted himself to the craft of poetry. At Cambridge he developed a close friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam, who later became engaged to Tennyson’s sister. Hallam’s sudden death in Vienna at age twenty-two led to the publication of a long sequence of elegies by the poet in tribute to his friend. Finally completed and published in 1850, In Memoriam, is generally considered to be Tennyson’s finest work. Some parts of the poem have been made into hymns. Also in 1850 Tennyson was appointed Poet Laureate as successor to William Wordsworth.

His earlier poems—“Mariana,” “The Palace of Art,” “The Lotus Eaters,” “The Lady of Shalott,” “Ulysses,” and “Locksley Hall”—won for Tennyson wide acclaim. His poetry is always touched with the spirit of romanticism that early reminded critics of Keats. With the publication of In Memoriam Tennyson was secure, his income substantial, enabling him to buy a house in the country and to marry Emily Sellwood. Idylls of the King, a twelve-part narrative poem based on the Arthurian legends, occupied much of the latter part of Tennyson’s life. A good portion of Tennyson’s work is idealistic and morally high-minded. His religious convictions were expressed in terms of hope for an afterlife, but these hopes were rarely supported by strong doctrinal commitment. “Crossing the Bar,” his best known single poem, was written when the poet was eighty years old. Tennyson’s “Strong Son of God, Immortal Love” (1850) found its way into Christian hymnody when it was set to music by Leo Sowerby in 1941. He was buried in Westminster Abbey next to Robert Browning.

P.M. Bechtel, “Tennyson, Lord Alfred,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 664.


Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith


51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.

Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: https://literarylife.org/2017/07/21/the-incredulity-of-saint-thomas-by-michelangelo-merisi-de-caravaggio-1601-2/



Why Did My Parents Send Me To The Schools? by John Davies

Why did my parents send me to the Schools,
That I with knowledge might enrich my mind?
Since the desire to know first made men fools,
And did corrupt the root of all mankind:

Even so by tasting of that fruit forbid,
Where they sought knowledge, they did error find;
Ill they desir’d to know, and ill they did;
And to give Passion eyes, made Reason blind.

For then their minds did first in Passion see
Those wretched shapes of misery and woe,
Of nakedness, of shame, of poverty,
Which then their own experience made them know.

But then grew Reason dark, that she no more,
Could the faire forms of Good and Truth discern;
Bats they became, that eagles were before:
And this they got by their desire to learn.

All things without, which round about we see,
We seek to know, and how therewith to do:
But that whereby we reason, live and be,
Within our selves, we strangers are thereto.

We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th’ebs and floods of Nile;
But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The subtle motions we forget the while.

We that acquaint our selves with every Zone
And pass both Tropics and behold the Poles
When we come home, are to our selves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own souls.

We study Speech but others we persuade;
We leech-craft learn, but others cure with it;
We interpret laws, which other men have made,
But read not those which in our hearts are writ.

Is it because the mind is like the eye,
Through which it gathers knowledge by degrees −
Whose rays reflect not, but spread outwardly:
Not seeing itself when other things it sees?

No, doubtless; for the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


How well do you know yourself?  As Facebook says, “it’s complicated.”  Since the oracle of Delphi uttered ‘Nosce Te Ipsum!’ (know thyself!) our best and finest writers have struggled to articulate the quest.  Into this fray came John Davies in the late 16th century.  A contemporary of William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, Davies composed a 2,000 line poem that takes us to task on self-knowledge.

For the next three days, we look to Davies’ poem for insight.  In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite wrote:

What we need is the kind of self-knowledge that would lead us to understand that we are not self-made, and would put ourselves and our world into better perspective. Davies exclaims upon the strange paradox of our sophisticated knowledge of the world set against our wilful self-ignorance, and, anticipating both Freud and Jung, suggests that we prefer to hide ourselves rather than know ourselves because we are afraid of what we might find:

For the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Davies’ response to this insight is not flight or cynicism, the two characteristic responses of our own age, but rather courageous exploration.

How has your understanding of yourself evolved?

Proverbs 20:5

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

John Davies

John Davies

(1569–1626). The Englishman John Davies distinguished himself as a poet and as a statesman. His famous work Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing reveals a typically Elizabethan pleasure in the contemplation of the correspondence between the natural order and human activity.

Davies was born in April 1569 in Tisbury, Wiltshire, England. Educated at the University of Oxford, he was called to the bar in 1595. On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Davies was one of the messengers who carried the news to James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I. James received him with great favor, sent him to Ireland as solicitor general, and conferred a knighthood on him. In 1606 Davies was made attorney general for Ireland. He took an active part in the Protestant settlement of Ulster, a province in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and wrote several tracts on Irish affairs. He entered the Irish Parliament and was elected speaker in 1613, and after he returned to England he sat in the English Parliament of 1621. He was appointed lord chief justice in 1626 but died later that year, on December 8, before taking office.

Much of Davies’ early poetry consisted of epigrams. Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M. (1590?) contained both Davies’ work and posthumous works by Christopher Marlowe; it was one of the books the archbishop of Canterbury ordered burned in 1599. Orchestra (1596) is a poem in praise of dancing set against the background of Elizabethan cosmology and its theory of the harmony of the spheres. In Nosce teipsum (1599; Know Thyself), he gave a lucid account of his philosophy on the nature and immortality of the soul. In the same year he published Hymnes of Astraea in Acrosticke Verse, a series of poems in which the initials of the first lines form the words Elisabetha Regina in honor of Queen Elizabeth. A volume of his collected poems was published in 1622.

“Davies, John,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).


Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith


51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: Narcissus

Alternative name: Narcissus (Caravaggio)
Date: c.1599
Style: Baroque
Genre: portrait
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 110 x 92 cm
Location: National Gallery of Ancient Art (GNAA), Rome, Italy

Zen Is Not Enough


Thomas à Kempis

He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.

Ernest Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure, but I don’t think that goes far enough. It’s insufficient to achieve a zen-like tranquility of inner equilibrium in the midst of outer chaos. For that a lobotomy will do just fine. Being able to stay calm only gets you so far.

The church celebrates the Confession of St Peter on this day, January 18th as a remembrance of Peter’s bold statement to Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15).  It’s important to remember that much was still ahead of Peter.  It was his fear that later caused him deny Christ, his remorse that consumed him afterwards, but it was his love for Jesus that led him to a life of bold leadership, ultimately resulting in his martyrdom.

True serenity is achieved by living in unobstructed communion with God, and that is the essence of a spirit filled life.  Jesus wasn’t the only one who walked on water. Peter did it too as long as his focus was on Christ, but when he was distracted by the storm he began to sink. What a powerful lesson to him and to us.


IMG_0181Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?


Dig Deeper

Art: The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio, 1601

Painted for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Across the chapel is a second Caravaggio work depicting the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus (1601). On the altar between the two is an Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci.

The painting depicts the martyrdom of St. Peter by crucifixion—Peter asked that his cross be inverted so as not to imitate his God, Jesus Christ, hence he is depicted upside down. The large canvas shows Ancient Romans, their faces shielded, struggling to erect the cross of the elderly but muscular apostle. Peter is heavier than his aged body would suggest, and his lifting requires the efforts of three men, as if the crime they perpetrate already weighs on them.

Literature and Liturgy: Saint Peter

Simon Peter is one of Jesus’ first disciples and later becomes the spokesman of the Twelve. Although Jesus gives Simon the name “Peter” (“rock”; Πέτρος, Petros; in Matt 16:18; Mark 3:16; Κηϕᾶς, Kēphas; in John 1:42), his ability to live up to it is often in doubt in the Gospels. Peter’s rebuke of the Lord (Matt 16:22–23; Mark 8:32–33), his falling asleep in the garden (Matt 26:40; Mark 14:37), his attack on Malchus (Mark 14:47; John 18:10–11), and his denial of Jesus (Matt 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–61; John 18:15–27) all support this perception. However, Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter in John 21:15–17 (“Do you love Me … feed My sheep”) communicates His confidence in and selection of him as the head of the early church. Luke demonstrates this in the book of Acts, which portrays Peter as a bold proclaimer of the gospel (Acts 2:14–41; 3:12–26; 4:8–21), a miracle worker (Acts 3:1–11; 9:32–35, 38–42), an authoritative figure in the early church (Acts 1:15–26; 5:3–10; 8:14–17; 15:7–11), the first missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1–45), and a missionary to the Jews outside of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). Ultimately, Peter demonstrates his total devotion as a follower of Jesus when he dies a martyr’s death in Rome (1 Clement 5:4).

Peter in Extrabiblical Writings

Beyond the New Testament, several extrabiblical writings mention Peter. For instance, First Clement recounts Peter’s martyrdom in Rome (see Bauckham, “The Martyrdom of Peter,” 549–95). First Clement was written to the Corinthians around the end of the first century AD by Clement, the bishop in Rome. Clement states that Peter endured hardship and died the glorious death of a martyr (5:4). The early church historian Eusebius confirms Clement’s statement, adding the detail that Peter was crucified upside-down; Eusebius claims that the church father Origen was the first to record this detail, in a now lost fragment of Origen’s Commentary on Genesis (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.1.2).

Peter also appears as a main character in several noncanonical texts, including the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles.


Bauckham, Richard. “The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature.” Pages 539–95 in ANRW II.26.1. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1992.
Blaine, Bradford. Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of and Authentic Disciple. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.
Bockmuehl, Markus. The Remembered Peter. Tübingen: Mohr, 2010.
Caddidy, Richard. Four Times Peter: Portrayals of Peter in the Four Gospels and at Philippi. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Cullmann, Oscar. Peter: Disciple—Apostle—Martyr. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953.
Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Grant, Michael. Saint Peter: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1956.
Hengel, Martin. Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.
Lapham, F. Peter: The Myth, the Man and the Writings. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.
Perkins, Pheme. Peter: Apostle for the Whole Church. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.
Smith, Terence. Petrine Controversies in Early Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr, 1985.
Wiarda, Timothy. Peter in the Gospels. Tübingen: Mohr, 2000.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1601-2)


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio,


RickAre you a Doubting Thomas?  The phrase has come to be associated (like the good folks from Missouri) with people who have to see something with their own eyes before they will believe it.  We have the Apostle John to thank for this frank description of Thomas.  The other gospel writers simply list him by name.  Writing near the end of his life, John was already seeing signs of fracture in the young church among intellectuals claiming that Jesus was too spiritual to have actually been fully human as well.  John wrote “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1 emphasis mine).

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

The startling painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is almost shocking in its blunt physicality—a religious painting with nary a hint of sentimentality or devotional piety. In it, Caravaggio explores the moment when Thomas, not present when Jesus appeared to the other disciples and therefore in a state of skepticism regarding the resurrection, finally gets the proof he has required. As two other apostles look on, Jesus guides the probing finger of Thomas into the gaping open wound in his side. The face of Thomas registers disbelief as Jesus steers Thomas’s finger (with dirt still under the fingernails) into the place where his side had been pierced. Can we not all identify with Thomas, the man full of doubts and questions, who wants evidence that what he believes is not just wish fulfillment? He is, in a sense, the stand-in cynic for all of us, and Jesus honors the bravery he shows in asking the hard questions.

The answer to the question Thomas has posed is that Jesus indeed has risen, though the resurrection in this painting does not receive its usual treatment by picturing a ghostly, spiritual Christ. Instead, this is a testimony to a physical, bodily resurrection. The risen Savior is real flesh and blood that can be seen, felt, and even probed. Through this picture we see a miracle made real, which was the great talent of Caravaggio.

Does it trouble you to think of Jesus as fully human?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio


Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio

(1571–1610) Italian artist. His earliest religious work was Flight into Egypt (1595/7), painted for Cardinal del Monte, who obtained for him his commission for his first major work, a series of three pictures in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, depicting the Calling of St. Matthew, Martyrdom of the Saint, and Saint Inspired by an Angel. These works introduced his vivid realism and his down-to-earth portrayal of his subjects in common settings, quite unlike the artificial grandiloquence of religious art. The same realism appears in Madonna di Loreto (1604/5), Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1605), Death of the Virgin (1606), and the Entombment of Christ (1602/4). His brief stay in Malta produced the Decollation of St. John the Baptist (1607/8). Caravaggio’s influence was immense, mainly outside Italy.

George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).

Review these important steps in Thomas’s journey from doubt to faith, and try to summarize some basic principles for addressing doubt from them:

  • Thomas apparently isolated himself from others after the death of Jesus (John 20:24).
  • Time passed between Thomas’s demand for evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and his being given such evidence (John 20:25, 26).
  • Jesus challenged Thomas to examine evidence and to take a stand one way or another (John 20:27).
  • Written testimony of the Bible is given to succeeding generations who struggle with the same doubts Thomas had (John 20:29–31).

It was, perhaps, in pursuit of truth rather than traditional notions of beauty that Caravaggio broke with the conventions of his time and place, early seventeenth-century Italy, to paint some of the most direct, unvarnished representations of the gospel that the West had seen. Such is Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ (1602–1604),22 in which the Virgin Mary could be any grieving mother, and Mary Magdalene a girl of the street, while Joseph of Arimathea has been given the sun-baked face of a peasant. Caravaggio’s image broke with all decorum but, in so doing, made the grief of Christ’s followers palpable and deeply moving. In turn the viewer is drawn into their emotion and their world, thus bringing Christ that much nearer. It was from such works that Rembrandt took his cue, as a current exhibition in Amsterdam makes clear.23

Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin, The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 100.

see also

Guasti, Alessandro and Francesca Niri. Caravaggio: The Complete Works. (Barnes and Noble, 2007).


Lambert, Gilles. Caravaggio, 1571–1610. Taschen Basic Art Series. (Taschen, 2000).

Wilson-Smith, Timothy. Caravaggio: Colour Library (Phaidon Press, 1998).

The Passion of the Christ (2004, Icon Productions). Mel Gibson and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel studied the paintings of Caravaggio as inspiration for the composition and lighting for the film.

“316,” Episode 6, Season 5, of Lost. Beginning at 14:30 minutes into the episode and ending at 17:00 minutes into the episode is a scene relevant to this study. Two characters are in a church in which Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is displayed. The biblical account of Thomas is summarized in a brief discussion about faith and doubt.


Joe Garland, Cindy Garland, and Jim Eichenberger, God’s Word on Canvas, Through Artists’ Eyes: An Exploration of Bible-Inspired Art, 6 Studies (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 2010), 31–32.

König, Eberhard. Caravaggio. Potsdam: H. F. Ullmann, 2013.

Lambert, Giles. Caravaggio. Köln: Taschen, 2000.

Prose, Francine. Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.