Good Thief

Saint Dismas
Czech Republic.
The Good Thief
Died c. 33 AD
Golgotha Hill outside Jerusalem
Honored in Eastern Orthodox Church
Catholic Church
Feast March 25
Attributes Wearing a loincloth either holding his cross or being crucified; sometimes, standing in Paradise
Patronage prisoners, especially condemned prisoners; undertakers; repentant thieves; Merizo, Guam, San Dimas, Durango

The Penitent thief, also known as the Thief on the Cross or the Good Thief, is an unnamed character mentioned in the Gospel of Luke who was crucified alongside Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, unlike his companion the Impenitent thief. He is traditionally referred to as "St. Dismas".

In different Christian traditions different names have been given to the thief:

  • In the Arabic First Infancy Gospel he is called Titus, and the impenitent thief Dumachus.
  • In the Gospel of Nicodemus and Catholic tradition the name Dismas is given to the thief. He was never canonized by the Catholic Church but is venerated as a saint by local traditions as Saint Dismas (sometimes spelled "Dysmas" or in Spanish and Portuguese "Dimas"). The name Dismas for this thief may date back to the 4th century.
  • In Coptic Orthodox tradition he is named Demas.
  • In Codex Colbertinus he is named Zoatham.
  • In Russian Orthodox tradition he is named Rach.

Gospel of Luke

The narrative

Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left (Mark 15:32); Luke however, mentions that

39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied to him, "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise." 23:39-43


Today... in paradise

Main article: Paradise

The phrase translated "today... in paradise" in Luke 23:43 ("Καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, σήμερον μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ"[1]) is disputed in a minority of versions and commentaries. The Greek manuscripts are without punctuation, so attribution of the adverb "today" to the verb "be", as "be in paradise today" (the majority view), or the verb "say", as "today I say" (the minority view), is dependent on analysis of word order conventions in Koine Greek. The majority of ancient Bible translations also follow the majority view, with only the Aramaic Curetonian Gospels offering significant testimony to the minority view.[2]

Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The words of The Lord (This day....in paradise) must therefore be understood not of an earthly or corporeal paradise, but of that spiritual paradise in which all may be, said to be, who are in the enjoyment of the divine glory. Hence to place, the thief went up with Christ to heaven, that he might be with Christ, as it was said to him: "Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise"; but as to reward, he was in Paradise, for he there tasted and enjoyed the divinity of Christ, together with the other saints."[3][4][5]

Christian traditions

Unnamed

Augustine of Hippo does not name the thief, but wonders if he might not have been baptized at some point.[6]

According to tradition, the Good Thief was crucified to Jesus' right hand and the other thief was crucified to his left. For this reason, depictions of the crucifixion often show Jesus' head inclined to his right, showing his acceptance of the Good Thief. In the Russian Orthodox Church, both crucifixes and crosses are usually made with three bars: the top one, representing the titulus (the inscription that Pontius Pilate wrote and was nailed above Jesus' head); the longer crossbar on which Jesus' hands were nailed; and a slanted bar at the bottom representing the footrest to which Jesus' feet were nailed. The footrest is slanted, pointing up towards the Good Thief, and pointing down towards the other.


According to St. John Chrysostom, the thief dwelt in the desert and robbed or murdered anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. According to Pope Saint Gregory the Great he "was guilty of blood, even his brother's blood; (fratricide)".[3][4][5]

The thief's conversion is sometimes given as an example of the necessary steps one must take to arrive at salvation through Christ: awareness of personal sin, repentance of sin, acceptance of Christ and salvation's promise of eternal life. Further, the argument is presented that baptism is not necessary for salvation since the thief had no opportunity for it. However, in some church traditions he is regarded as having a "baptism of blood".

The name Dismas

Only the Gospel of Luke describes one of the thieves as penitent, and even that gospel doesn't name him. Luke's unnamed penitent thief was later assigned the name Dismas in the Gospel of Nicodemus, portions of which may be dated to the 4th century. The name "Dismas" was adapted from a Greek word meaning "sunset" or "death."[7] The other thief's name is given as Gestas. In Jean Joseph Gaume's Life of the Good Thief (Histoire Du Bon Larron French 1868, English 1882), Saint Augustine said; the thief said to Jesus, the child: " O most blessed of children, if ever a time should come when I shall crave Thy Mercy, remember me and forget not what has passed this day."[3][4][5] Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich saw the Holy Family "exhausted and helpless"; according to St. Augustine and St. Peter Damian, the Holy Family met Dismas, in these circumstances.[8]

The apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel calls the two thieves Titus and Dumachus, and adds a tale about how Titus (the good one) prevented the other thieves in his company from robbing Mary and Joseph during their Flight into Egypt.

In the Russian tradition the Good Thief's name is "Rakh" (Russian: Рах).

Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria (385–412) wrote a Homily on the Crucifixion and the Good Thief, which is a classic of Coptic literature.

Commemoration

The Catholic Church remembers the Good Thief on 25 March. In the Roman Martyrology, the following entry is given "Commemoration of the Good Thief in Jerusalem who confessed Christ on the cross and deserved to hear from Him these words, "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise. "

A number of towns, including San Dimas, California, are named after him. There also exist parish churches named after him, such as the Church of the Good Thief in Kingston, Ontario, Canada—built by convicts at Kingston Penitentiary, Saint Dismas Church in Waukegan, Illinois and the Church of St. Dismas, the Good Thief a Roman Catholic church at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

Art

In Apostles' Creed (though neither text mentions the thief).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, one of the hymns of Good Friday is entitled, The Good Thief (or The Wise Thief, Church Slavonic: Razboinika blagorazumnago), and speaks of how Christ granted Dismas Paradise.[9] There are several compositions of this hymn[10] which are used in the Russian Orthodox Church and form one of the highlights of the Matins service on Good Friday.

In popular culture

As part of Christ's story the good thief often appears in cinematic portrayals though with varying degrees of importance. He sometimes appears as just a background character whose presence in the film is limited to his role in the Gospel of Luke, if that much. One exception was Cecil B. Demille's 1927 film The King of Kings where his fate is compared to Jesus'. While in one scene people are mourning for Jesus as He is en route to Golgotha, in the next scene the very same people are throwing garbage at the two thieves. Later, when all three men are crucified, the good thief defends Jesus from Gestas' insults and asks to be forgiven for his own crimes. Jesus forgives the good thief. Later when the two men are dead, Mary is mourning at the foot of her Son's cross. She notices that at the foot of the thief's cross is a disheveled old woman crying for him. The old woman says "He was my son." The two mothers embrace and console each other. In the 1961 film King of Kings, the two thieves, along with Barabbas, are awaiting their fates. The two thieves are appalled when Barabbas compares himself to them. They say "We're only thieves! You're a murderer!".

The Penitent thief is named Jobab in the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.

The thief features also in Christian popular music, as in Christian rock band Third Day's 1995 song "Thief", and the name of the Christian rock band Dizmas. The thief also is the narrator in Sydney Carter's controversial song "Friday Morning".[11]

Tuomas Holopainen of the popular Finnish band Nightwish refers to himself as the 'second robber to the right of Christ' in his song The Poet and the Pendulum.

Prayer of The Good Thief

Prayer to Saint Dismas: Glorious Saint Dismas, you alone of all the great Penitent Saints were directly canonized by Christ Himself; you were assured of a place in Heaven with Him "this day" because of the sincere confession of your sins to Him in the tribunal of Calvary and your true sorrow for them as you hung beside Him in that open confessional; you who by the direct sword thrust of your love and repentance did open the Heart of Jesus in mercy and forgiveness even before the centurion's spear tore it asunder; you whose face was closer to that of Jesus in His last agony, to offer Him a word of comfort, closer even than that of His Beloved Mother, Mary; you who knew so well how to pray, teach me the words to say to Him to gain pardon and the grace of perseverance; and you who are so close to Him now in Heaven, as you were during His last moments on earth, pray to Him for me that I shall never again desert Him, but that at the close of my life I may hear from Him the words He addressed to you: "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." Amen.[12]

See also

References

External links

  • Patron Saints: Dismas
  • hymn from Eastern Orthodox Good Friday service (in English)
  • Saint Dismas - Freebase
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