Dismas: The Penitent Thief: an Introduction by Mark Thomas Jones

Amerigo 2020 | 120 pp Hardback |  9788090731134 | 15.99 RRP

Reviewed by John Livesley, Vicar, Christ the King, Bowburn and St Andrew, Tudhoe Grange

The penitent thief in Luke’s crucifixion account (Luke 23:39–43), known to church tradition as Dismas, is an elusive but attractive figure. The author of this short book guides us skilfully through the historical reality of crucifixion. 

At the end, one is left with a deeper appreciation of the work of God’s grace in fallen humanity. In spite of all his failings, here is a man transfigured by his encounter with Christ; a man who, even in the midst of his own agony, looks at another tortured prisoner and, through grace alone, is transformed by the face of God that he sees there. And, the author suggests, if God can do that with a man like Dismas, then what about us? 

So this is a beautiful book, in many senses. Clearly the author has a wealth of expertise and enthusiasm for art history, and the text is lavishly illustrated with a wide range of illustrations of art works from various centuries on the theme of the crucifixion. It is also thoroughly referenced with extensive footnotes to an intriguing range of printed, internet and visual sources. My only criticism is that it is poorly edited: mistakes (such as confusing Cyril of Jerusalem with Cyril of Alexandria), clumsy phraseology and unsupported assertions are all left unedited, which is irritating. But this book offers excellent reading for a quiet day or even half day, a focus for contemplation and prayer, and a springboard for further study. Above all, to read it will deepen your faith, just as encountering Dismas has clearly deepened the faith of the author. 

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