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Penitent thief

"Saint Dismas"
  (Catholic tradition) [1]
Statue of St. Dismas in Březnice, Czech Republic, dated 1750.
  • Penitent Thief
  • Good Thief
  • Thief on the Cross
Died c. 30-33 AD
Golgotha Hill outside Jerusalem
Venerated in Template:If empty
Feast March 25
Wearing a loincloth and either holding his cross or being crucified; sometimes depicted in Paradise.
Patronage Prisoners (especially condemned)
Repentant thieves
Merizo, Guam
San Dimas, Mexico

The Penitent Thief, also known as the Good Thief or the Thief on the Cross, is one of two unnamed persons mentioned in the Gospel of Luke as being crucified alongside Jesus. Unlike the other, the Impenitent Thief, the Penitent Thief is recorded as asking Jesus to "remember him" when Jesus "came into" his kingdom.

He is given the name "Dismas" in the Gospel of Nicodemus and, though not formally canonized by the Catholic Church, is venerated in some Catholic traditions as "St. Dismas" [1] (sometimes "Dysmas", or, in Spanish and Portuguese, "Dimas"). Other traditions have bestowed other names:

Gospel of Luke


Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27-28,32, Luke 23:33, John 19:18), which Mark interprets as fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12. According to Matthew and Mark, respectively, both of the "thieves" mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44, 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

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

"Today ... in paradise"

Main article: Paradise

The phrase translated "today ... in paradise" in Luke 23:43 ("Αμήν λέγω σήμερα θα είσαι μαζί μου στον Παράδεισο."[5]) 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.[6]

As a result, some prayers recognize the good thief as the only person confirmed as a saint—that is, a person known to be in Paradise after death—by the Bible, and indeed by Christ himself.

Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The words of The Lord (This 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."[7][8][9]

Christian traditions


Only the Gospel of Luke describes one of the thieves as penitent, and that gospel doesn't name him.

Augustine of Hippo does not name the thief, but wonders if he might not have been baptized at some point.[10]

According to tradition,[citation needed] 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.

File:Ge ChristandRobber.jpg
"Christ and the Thief" by Nikolai Ge.

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)".[7][8][9]

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".[citation needed]



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".[1] 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."[7][8][9] 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.[11] Theophilus of Alexandria (385–412) wrote a Homily on the Crucifixion and the Good Thief, which is a classic of Coptic literature.


In Coptic Orthodox tradition he is named Demas.[2] This is the name given to him in the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea.[3]


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).[citation needed]


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 to 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, the Old Catholic Parish of St Dismas in Coseley and the Church of St. Dismas, the Good Thief a Roman Catholic church at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

He is commemorated in a traditional Eastern Orthodox prayer said before receiving Holy Communion: "I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom."[12]


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).

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).

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.[13] There are several compositions of this hymn[14] which are used in the Russian Orthodox Church and form one of the highlights of the Matins service on Good Friday.

In Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, the main characters Vladimir and Estragon briefly discuss the inconsistencies between the four evangelists' accounts of the penitent and impenitent thieves. Vladimir concludes that since only Luke says that one of the two was saved, "then the two of them must have been damned [...] why believe him rather than the others?"[15]

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.

Italian singer-songwriter Fabrizio De André wrote about him the song Il testamento di Tito ("Titus' testament") in his 1970 album La buona novella, inspired by the apocryphal gospels. 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".[16]

In 2011, The JESUS Film Project and Campus Crusade For Christ released an anime style short film about the Penitent Thief entitled My Last Day

In 2013, Author Don Willis wrote about the two thieves crucified with Jesus in his novel Tale of the Penitent Thief. The book went on to be awarded as a Finalist in the 2014 International Book Awards, Religious Fiction category.

Prayer to the Good Thief

Below is a Catholic prayer to Saint Dismas:

Glorious Saint Dismas, you alone of all the great Penitent Saints were directly canonised 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."

See also


  1. ^ a b c Lawrence Cunningham, A brief history of saints (2005), page 32.
  2. ^ a b Gabra, Gawdat (2009). The A to Z of the Coptic Church. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780810870574. 
  3. ^ a b Ehrman, Bart; Plese, Zlatko (2011). The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 582. ISBN 9780199732104. 
  4. ^ Renate Gerstenlauer, The Rakh Icon: Discovery of its True Identity, Legat Verlag, 2009 (ISBN 978-3932942358). Cited at "The Repentant Thief Who?". Icons and their interpretation. 17 December 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2014. 
  5. ^ The Four Divine and Holy Gospels with the Holy Revelation of the Evangelist John, Second Edition, 'with the written permission of the Holy Great Church of Christ' (meaning the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), by the Greek typographers Phoenix, Venice, 1863 [in traditional, i.e., medieval Roman ("Byzantine") period Greek]
  6. ^ Bruce Metzger A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament United Bible Societies 2nd Ed. 1994
  7. ^ a b c The Life of The Good Thief, Msgr. Gaume, Loreto Publications, 1868 2003.
  8. ^ a b c Catholic Family News, April 2006.
  9. ^ a b c Christian Order, April 2007.
  10. ^ Stanley E. Porter, Anthony R. Cross Dimensions of baptism: biblical and theological studies 2002 Page 264 "It is interesting to notice, in this connection, that in his Retractions, Augustine wondered whether the thief might not in fact have been baptized at some earlier point (2.18)."
  11. ^ The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the Visions of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich, TAN Books, 1970.(No.2229)/(No.0107).
  12. ^ Prayers: Before and after Holy Communion
  13. ^ The text of the hymn (translated into English): "The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise in a single moment, O Lord. By the wood of thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me"
  14. ^ One of the most notable versions of the hymn is Pavel Chesnokov's Razboinika blagorazumnago (The Wise Thief)
  15. ^ Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Dramatic Works. Faber & Faber. p. 15. 
  16. ^ Sydney Carter, obituary Daily Telegraph, March 16, 2004
  17. ^ [ Prayer to Saint Dismas]

External links

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