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Saint Dismas
The Good Thief
Died c. 33 A.D., Golgotha Hill outside Jerusalem
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman 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
Statue of St Dismas (1750) in Březnice, Czech Republic.

In Christian tradition, Saint Dismas (sometimes spelled Dysmas or only Dimas, or even Dumas), also known as the Good Thief or the Penitent Thief, is the "good thief" described in the Gospel of Luke. This unnamed thief, crucified alongside Jesus, repents of his sins, and asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. The name Dismas for this thief may date back to the 4th century, and various traditions have assigned him other names. Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand, and one on his left (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27-28, Luke 23:33, John 19:18), which Mark interprets as fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12. According to Matthew, both of the "thieves" at first mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44); 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

Russian Orthodox icon of The Good Thief in Paradise (Moscow School, c. 1560).

Contents

The name Dismas

Historically, Jesus was crucified along with two others, though only Luke describes one of them 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, often dated to the 4th century. The name of "Dismas" was adapted from a Greek word meaning "sunset" or "death." The other thief's name is given as Gestas.

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).

Theological significance

The church never formally canonized Dismas, though he is regarded as a saint by virtue of Jesus saying he would be in Paradise.

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.

"Christ and the Thief" by Nikolai Ge.

According to St. John Chrysostom, Dismas 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)".[1][2][3]

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. Dismas, according to St. Augustine, 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."[1][4][2][3]

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 down with Christ to hell, 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."[1][2][3]

The feast of St. Dismas is 25 March.

Legacy

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

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, one of the most moving 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. There are several moving compositions of this hymn which are used in the Russian Orthodox Church and form one of the highlights of the Matins service on Good Friday.

In medieval art, St Dismas is often depicted as accompanying Jesus in the Harrowing of Hell as related in 1 Peter 3:19–20 and the Apostles' Creed (though neither text mentions the thief).

Icon showing Christ (center) bringing Dismas (left) into Paradise. At the right are the Gates of Paradise, guarded by a seraph (Solovetsky Monastery, 17th century).

A number of towns, including San Dimas, California, are named after him, and the Christian rock band Dizmas named themselves after the "good thief" in recognition of his decision on the Cross to follow Christ. There also exist parish churches named after him, such as the Church of the Good Thief in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

As part of Christ's story Dismas 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 Luke's Gospel, if that much. One exception was Cecil B. Demille's 1927 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 Dismas and Gestas, the "bad thief." Later when all three men are crucified, Dismas defends Jesus from Gestas' insults and asks to be forgiven for his own crimes. Jesus forgives Dismas. 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 Dismas' cross is a disheveled old woman crying for Dismas. The old woman says "He was my son." The two mothers embrace and console each other.

In 1961's King of Kings, Dismas and Gestas, along with Barabbas, are awaiting their fates. Dismas and Gestas are appalled when Barrabbas compares himself to them. They say "We're only thieves! You're a murderer!" (He and Gestas say this regardless of the fact that there is every chance that the real "Dismas" was just as violent as Barrabas and no mere thief.

Third Day's 1995 song "Thief" is presented from the perspective of Dismas.

A major part of Dismas' legacy is one of penance. Though a rebel and perhaps even a terrorist and not a thief, the fact that he did live a wicked life and was sorry for that life means that the traditional moral drawn from his story is still intact. Symbolic of this it is very common for prison chapels to be dedicated to Saint Dismas, since he represents not only the epitome of a repentant malefactor, but also God's willingness to forgive even at the last moment.

References

  1. ^ a b c The Life of The Good Thief, Msgr. Gaume, Loreto Publications, 2003.
  2. ^ a b c Catholic Family News, April 2006.
  3. ^ a b c Christian Order, April 2007.
  4. ^ The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the Visions of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich, TAN Books, 1970.(No.2229)/(No.0107).

External links

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