A Byzantine hymn for the Second Sunday of Easter points to the mystical experience of Thomas, who touched, without being burnt, the Fire of the Divinity when he probed the wounds of the Risen Christ. All the Apostles touched Jesus; Thomas alone dared to put his hand into the pierced side. Why did he feel the need to probe the wounds?
Christ’s flesh veiled his Divinity. To Thomas the wounded flesh revealed the Divinity, so that he exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” To those willing to see, the veil makes known what is beyond it; remember that “reveal” actually means “veil again.” If there were no veils, nothing at all could be seen or known in the world.
One of the virtues of Baroque art is its ability to make the veil of flesh palpable. I was moved by the role this picture by Caravaggio was given in Xavier Beauvois’ 2010 film, Of Gods and Men, a true story about Trappist monks in Algiers. The scene I refer to is fleeting but unforgettable. Brother Luc, a physician, has throughout the film been seeing Christ in all the sick and wounded persons he serves in the Muslim village. Now we see Luc at prayer in front of a copy of Caravaggio’s painting, his ear to the lance wound in Christ’s side (the pierced veil), as if he were listening to the Sacred Heart. Right after this we see Luc in the same position, but now his ear is against the window, and the veil (curtain) is drawn aside, as he listens to the footsteps approaching in darkness – terrorists who will kill the monks for the crime of being Christians. Like Saint Thomas, he and his brethren will seal with their deaths their faith in the Person who has veiled/revealed Himself to them: “My Lord and my God!”