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St. Thomas in China?


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#1 Yang Zongbao

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 02:08 AM

St. Thomas the Apostle, or "Doubting Thomas", was one of Jesus' disciples. He spread the religion through the Middle East, and I came upon him in my readings about India, where there are still Christians who trace their roots to St. Thomas' converts and Syrian Jewish diaspora.

Anyways, looking for more information, I wiki'd him, and it also mentions that

Various Eastern Churches claim that St. Thomas personally brought Christianity to China and Japan in AD 64 and 70 respectively. [38]


I have not heard of Christianity reaching China at this time; for it to have reached Japan seems to have been impossible. Is this credible?
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#2 William O'Chee

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 02:45 AM

I have researched St Thomas for family reasons (my mother went to a Catholic School in Australia called St Thomas's), and have personally visited the site of his believed martyrdom in Chennai in India.

There is a good account of the various explanations of Thomas's activities after the death of Jesus, contained in the Catholic Online Encyclopedia at:

St Thomas

Nowhere there or elsewhere have I found it mentioned that he preached in India or China. It would appear the first Christians to reach China were in fact Nestorians, some time after the 4th century AD.

St Thomas is definitely associated with India, and it is believed he preached in India as far south as Madras (now Chennai). On the outskirts of Chennai is a hill called St Thomas Mount, and it was on this site that he was martyred by being pierced with spears. Alternative versions say he was martyred with arrows. When the Portuguese excavated the site in the 16th century they found this bas-relief cross which is inscribed in Old Sassanid Pahlavi.

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Stylistically, the cross is very interesting. The columns on either side of the cross are very similar to the architecture of places like Palmyra, which is not that far from Edessa, where his remains were claimed to have been finally interred. The pillars are topped with flames, and there is a dove above the cross. The cross is strangely shaped, as it has balls on each end of what would otherwise look like a flory cross.

Some suggestions date the cross to the 7th century, but legend claims that it was before this cross that St Thomas was martyred. In any event, the cross certainly pre-dated the Portuguese arrival, although whether it dates to the 1st century AD is unknown. It could be possible, based on the language, but I cannot prove it.

#3 Mok

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 04:04 AM

This would be the first time as a non-Catholic Christian that I've heard of Thomas preaching in China. Interesting claim, but not very likely IMHO.
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#4 shunyadragon

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 06:59 AM

St. Thomas the Apostle, or "Doubting Thomas", was one of Jesus' disciples. He spread the religion through the Middle East, and I came upon him in my readings about India, where there are still Christians who trace their roots to St. Thomas' converts and Syrian Jewish diaspora.

Anyways, looking for more information, I wiki'd him, and it also mentions that


There is more likely a chain of converts that trace their conversion to St. Thomas.

I have not heard of Christianity reaching China at this time; for it to have reached Japan seems to have been impossible. Is this credible?


I believe it is physically possible, but not credible. There is no evidence that Christianity reached China or Japan at this time.
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#5 sunflower1

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 02:05 AM

A book The Creed of Half Japan covered a topic about Christianity in India, China and Japan, and also about St. Thomas. Can read it here:

http://www.sacred-te...d/chj/index.htm
http://www.sacred-te...d/chj/chj10.htm
http://www.sacred-te...d/chj/chj11.htm

Edited by jullian_bei, 21 January 2009 - 02:07 AM.


#6 William O'Chee

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 03:57 AM

A book The Creed of Half Japan covered a topic about Christianity in India, China and Japan, and also about St. Thomas. Can read it here:

http://www.sacred-te...d/chj/index.htm
http://www.sacred-te...d/chj/chj10.htm
http://www.sacred-te...d/chj/chj11.htm

Jullian, a great post, as always.

I note the reference to the source "the apocryphal Acts of St Thomas." This needs some clarification.

There are many works which made their way into the Apocrypha. Today the word "apocryphal" suggests that a work may not be true. The Apocrypha does contain many such works, but also other works which, while considered true, did not make it into the New testament. The test for inclusion in the New Testament was that a work had to meet a fourfold text: was it authentic? was it Apostolic? which Church received it? and was it canonical (i.e. in conformity with accepted faith)?

The Acts of St Thomas did not make it into the New Testament because it is not canonical. Specifically, it sees Christ as standing outside Creation. This means it cannot conform with the Nicene Creed which states of Christ that "through him all things were made", i.e. he participated in the Creation.

I know this might sound a little convoluted, but the point is that the facts contained in the Acts of St Thomas might be correct, but aspects of the theology were not in conformity with accepted faith, and therefore it was "apocryphal".

#7 changsham

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 01:15 AM

Just re-reading an account from George Morrison stating that Provicaire Moutot a well known Catholic missionary in Sichuan in the late Qing told him that St Thomas had visited Suifu(Yibin). Moutot was quite convinced about the truth of this tradition. Morrison adds there is no scholary evidence to support this and that the image he saw in the Suifu mission chapel was likely that of the Buddhist monk Tamo who was quite revered in those parts of China.

Edited by changsham, 20 April 2009 - 01:41 AM.

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#8 Craig

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 11:16 AM

Just re-reading an account from George Morrison stating that Provicaire Moutot a well known Catholic missionary in Sichuan in the late Qing told him that St Thomas had visited Suifu(Yibin). Moutot was quite convinced about the truth of this tradition. Morrison adds there is no scholary evidence to support this and that the image he saw in the Suifu mission chapel was likely that of the Buddhist monk Tamo who was quite revered in those parts of China.



That would be Bodhidharma, wouldn't it? Tamo was a title meaning 'Grand Buddhist". The statue is described as having Hindoo features and the timeline fits (sixth century).
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