Saint Dismas (sometimes spelled Dysmas or only Dimas, or even Dumas), also known as the Good Thief or the Penitent Thief, is the apocryphal name given to one of the two "thieves" who was crucified alongside Jesus, repented of his sins, and asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom.
The two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand, and one on his left (, , ), which Mark interprets as fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah . According to Matthew, both of the "thieves" at first mocked Jesus (); Luke however, mentions only that one of the "thieves" mocked him (). According to the Gospel of Luke :
39 Unus autem de his, qui pendebant, latronibus blasphemabat eum dicens: “ Nonne tu es Christus? Salvum fac temetipsum et nos! ”. 40 Respondens autem alter increpabat illum dicens: “ Neque tu times Deum, quod in eadem damnatione es? 41 Et nos quidem iuste, nam digna factis recipimus! Hic vero nihil mali gessit ”. 42 Et dicebat: “ Iesu, memento mei, cum veneris in regnum tuum ”. 43 Et dixit illi: “ Amen dico tibi: Hodie mecum eris in paradiso ”.
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."
Regardless, later embellishments of the story elaborated on the otherwise anonymous "good thief." Dismas is his best known pseudonym and appears first in the twelfth century in the Gospel of Nicodemus. 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 (Dismas) 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 (Рах).
The biblical account of the repentant thief is foundational to the teaching of the church regarding Baptism of desire, whereby one who desires baptism, but is prevented by circumstances beyond his control from actually being baptized, may be saved by the grace and mercy of God. Traditionalist Catholics who argue that the Church has never taught Baptism of Desire say that the Dismas died and was saved under the Old Law, not under the New Law in which all must be baptized.
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.
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 cinimatic portrayals though with varying degrees of importace. 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 as 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 disshiveled 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 Barrabas, 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. This is ironic considering that this King of Kings emphasized the political climate of first century Israel.)
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. This is meant to convey that with the love of God, it is never too late.