Brief Church History

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Church History

Introduction


It was with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century in South India that the ancient church of St. Thomas for the first time, began to undergo the decisive effect of the Portuguese colonial era coupled with the adverse effects of Roman Catholicism. As the result, it was forced to succumb under Rome through the Portuguese. Five well – planned maneuvers were played to force this church finally to obey Rome. Among these the first one was bringing the church of Thomas under the administrative control of the Portuguese. The second, subjecting this Church to a thorough latinization process by establishing two clergy training institutes; Third, forcefully terminating all contacts of the Kerala Church once and for all with the East Syrian Church. Fourth, forcing the whole Church of the Thomas through a representativeve assembly to go under Rome. Fifth, imposing upon it the direct rule of the Roman Catholic regime and at the same time destroying the precious indegeneous heritage of the Church of St Thomas.

CONTACT OF THE THOMAS CHRISTIAN WITH THE PORTUGUESE


The Thomas Christians as a whole reacted against the Roman Catholicism in 1653 through the famous event known as the Coonan Cross Oath. Although the event was a great success, the Church of St. Thomas could not continue for long in its determination. As the pressures from the Roman Catholic side continued , the leadership became subject to division. A group once again rejoined Roman Catholicism and stood against the aspirations of the people who stood for freedom from Rome , the latter group later on become the Orthodox Church of India.

A few details of that tumoultous period are explained below.

When the Portuguese landed in India, they met the Christians of St.Thomas and felt satisfied that their old dream of discovering India and Eastern Christians had been fulfilled. They set great hopes on the St.Thomas Christians. These Christians too on their part experienced a spontaneous joy at the arrival of powerful Christians from the West and desired Portuguese help to strengthen their own privileged existence in India. So the new comer’s were enthusiastically welcomed by the Church of St.Thomas. When Vasco-da-Gama arrived at Cochin on his second voyage (1502) , a delegation of Thomas Christians went to met him and implored protection.

The cordial and intimate relation established thus continued for two decades. However, when the Portuguese penetrated into the interiors of Kerala and into the Churches of St Thomas Christians, they realized that these Christians were neither subject to Rome, nor were they similar in Church traditions. To their dismay they found that these Christians were followers of the East Syrian Church, Eastern bishops looked after them, and the Patriarch in Babylon was considered their ecclesiastical head. Moreover they thought thas as the East Syrian Church is Nestorian, Indian Christians were also of that sect. Since Pope of Rome through the ‘Padroado’ privileges had granted the Portuguese crown , sovereign rights over the eastern lands which come under their sway, the Portuguese thought that by right , the Thomas Christians should be under their control and to achieve this aim, they worked among the St Thomas Christians for one and a half centuries.

THE EAST SYRIAN BISHOPS AND ENCOUNTERS WITH THE PORTUGUESE


When the Portuguese came, the Church of St.Thomas was following the traditions of the East Syrian Church. There were about a dozen bishops from that Church, among the St.Thomas Christians in the 16th century. From a letter of 5 East Syrian bishops, written to their Patriarch in Babylon (in 1504), it is known that there were in Malabar about thirty thousand families of St.Thomas Christians ; new churches were being built, and that they were prosperous in every respect and living in peace and security. They also say that St.Thomas was martyred at Mylapore and there was a monastery in that town. The letter points also to the arrival of the Portuguese and the friendly relationship between them and the St.Thomas Christians. Among these East Syrian bishops, Mar Jacob the last one, lived and led the Church of St.Thomas till his death in 1552 AD. After the death of this last bishop the Roman Catholics intensified their efforts to subdue the Church of St. Thomas and for that, they directed their energy in the direction of preventing any fresh arrivals of bishops from Babylon. Some had come disguised, but they were caught and subjected to tortured or forced embrace Roman Catholicism so that they might become helpful in achieving the Romanization of the Church of St.Thomas. Two or three bishops did arrive from the East Syrian Church after the death of Mar Jacob but they were severely harassed and the last among them Mar Abraham , led the St Thomas Christians till the last year of the 16th century.

HE PLACE OF UDAYAMPEROOR IN SUBJECTING THE St THOMAS CHRISTIANS UNDER ROME


Immediately after the death of bishop Mar Abraham, the St.Thomas Christians were forced to meet in a infamous synod, best known as the Synod of Udayamperoor (1599); which declared that they were under Rome from then on.

Among all efforts that were undertaken to subdue the Thomas Christians by the Roman Catholics under Portuguese colonialism, the efforts of the Jesuits – a religious order that had been created in the tense context of reformation in Europe – deserves special mention. Their endeavours, in enforcing Roman Catholicism upon the Church of St.Thomas, was remarkable. It was due to their effort that a clergy training centre was established at Vaipikotta to train St.Thomas Christians’ clergy. Moreover, the major architects behind the convocation, deliberation, framing and execution of decree’s of the so called Udayamperoor Synod (1599) – were these Jesuits of Vaipikotta Seminary. Apart from this the administration of the Church of St.Thomas was also entrusted to them as a tribute to their excellent service following the Udayamperoor Synod.

Till 1653 three bishops from the Jesuits ruled over this church executing the decrees of the Synod and thus forcing the Malabar Church to become Roman Catholic. However the Synod of Udayamperoor was the culminating point in the high handed process of subjecting the St.Thomas Church to Portuguese administrative control. The convoker, presider, and judge was the Roman Catholic Archbishop Dom Alexios Menezis of Goa, who infact had no right at all, to do anything of that sort in the church of St.Thomas. The synod was held for eight days. None of the decrees were framed in the synod after due discussion, but before 15 days or after the gathering. Many of the decrees were framed after the Synod as the archbishop desired. The synodal decrees were passed by threats and terrorizing methods, as desired by the archbishop and his caucus. The synodal decrees were aimed at the total transformation of the church of St.Thomas into Roman Catholic faith, polity and church discipline . It decreed that the Supreme Head of the church of St.Thomas was the pope of Rome. The Patriarch of Babylon was condemned as a heretic and contact with him declared highly perilous and inviting dangers.

THE IMPACT OF UDAYAMPEROOR


The norms laid by the council of Trent were enforced upon the St Thomas Church. The priests were to be celibate by compulsion and the Malabar church was divided into parishes with a parish priest directly appointed by Portuguese authorities. Besides, the church was required to abandon the “many errors” which had crept into its life from the Indian milieu. All Syriac books are to be handed over for burning and destruction so that no memory of East Syrian connections was to remain. Though the whole process of the so called the Synod of Udayamperoor had been condemned by recent scholarships both ecclesiastical and secular, yet the impact of it upon the Thomas Christians was decisive. Roman Catholicism was firmly established on the St. Thomas Christians and the Synod was a turning point in the history of the Malabar Church. After the synod these events followed immediately. 1. Appointment of a Latin bishop over the Church of St.Thomas. 2. Suppression of the Metropolitan status of Angamali and making it subordinate to Goa. 3. ‘Padroado’ of the Portuguese was extended over the Thomas Christians. 4. The protest of St Thomas Christians protest and Restoration of the Metropolitan status to Angamali and transfer of the Latin bishop Roz to Crangannore.

Francis Roz was the first Portuguese Latin-Roman Catholic bishop over the Thomas Christians, after their subjection under the Udayamperoor Synod. Since he had been the main architect behind the success of Udayamperoor, he was given the privilege of ruling over the Thomas Christians for 24 years. During this time according to the principles directed by Udayamperoor he tried his best to Romanize and Latinize the Thomas Christians in worship, administrative system, custom, discipline etc. He centralized in himself all authority, reducing almost to nothing the powers of the Archdeacon, Palliyogams and Kathanars of the St. Thomas’ Church. The same continued to occur during the episcopates of his two successors Stephen Britto (1624-1641) and Francis Garzia (1641-1659).

Archdeacon George of the Cross, who had suffered endlessly under Roz and Britto died in 1640 and was succeeded by his nephew Archdeacon Thomas Parambil. This Thomas was not in tune with Archbishop Garzia. This incumbent tried his best, using both ecclesiastical and civil powers, to suppress the Archdeacon. Meanwhile the Archdeacon had corresponded secretly with bishops from South-West Asian churches. One named Ahatalla arrived and he was made captive by the Portuguese at Mylapore. From detention, he was brought to Cochin in chains on his way to Goa be sent away or imprisoned by the Portuguese. At once, under the leadership of the Archdeacon , the Thomas Christians reacted by asking the release of Ahatalla. But, all appeals for his release failed.

The news spread that he had been drowned by the Portuguese. The tension mounted and reached its apex, with the leadership of the Archdeacon against the Portuguese Jesuits and Garzia, at an Oath called Coonen Cross on Friday, January 3, 1653, at Mattanchery near Kochi,. This is the Coonen Cross Oath was a great declaration of freedom by the Church of the St.Thomas Christians. At once all connections with the Portuguese Roman Catholics, Jesuits and Archbishop Garzia was rejected declaring “till the end neither the Thomas Christians nor their generations would obey the church of Rome or the Portuguese or Jesuits, but only obey their Archdeacon Thomas”; adding also that Francis Metran should be rejected like any other from the Roman side.

All historians agree that after the Oath practically the whole body of the Thomas Christians joined together against Roman Catholic supremacy. After the Oath, for some considerable time there were only very few people ready to co-operate with Garzia. One view is that he had only about 200 laymen and 15 to 20 clergy with him from the St.Thomas Christians. The Coonen Cross event was a great victory for Archdeacon Thomas and for his church. It was a powerful expression of the will and determination of the Thomas Christians, who wanted to re-establish their freedom, identity, dignity and venerable heritage rejecting all things imposed upon them by colonial powers, ecclesiastical and political. Their leaders assembled at Edapally where four councilors – Parambil Chandy, Kadavil Chandy, Vengoor Gheevarghese and Anjilimoottil IttyThoman were appointed to help Archdeacon in his church administration. This was followed by a general meeting at Allangad on May 22, 1653 where Archdeacon Thomas was elevated to the status of bishop with the title Mar Thoma by laying on of hands of 12 leading priests of the Church of St.Thomas with the unanimous consent of the whole Church.

Troubled by the effects of the Coonen Cross,Garzia and the Portuguese authorities tried their best to first pacify and then suppress the people; trying to bring the community back under Roman Catholic control. But their efforts were in vain. In this situation, Goan authorities requested direct Roman papal intervention in this affair. Now Rome, sensing the favourable opportunity at its disposal acted immediately dispatching two batches of Carmelite missions, one under Hyacinth and another headed by Joseph Sebastiani. The latter arrived in Malabar in 1657 and the former a year later. Portuguese- Goan authorities and Garzia lent full support to these missions. Moreover the Raja of Cochin and his subordinate petty rajas at the command of the colonial power, lent their political and economic support. Sebastiani visiting many churches of St.Thomas Christians and making good use of local Raja’s support and spending huge amount of money to please the kings and other reactionary elements forcefully entered into churches of the Thomas Christians and took control of them. In the meantime archbishop Garzia, bribing 3 of the four councilors of Mar Thoma caused them to defect from Mar Thoma’s side to the Roman side. Thereafter using these former adherents of Mar Thoma, Sebastiani questioned and slandered the Episcopal position of Mar Thoma as illegitimate and invalid and constantly accused Mar Thoma as being a bishop only in name. Many accustomed to hearing frequently from the enemies of Mar Thoma and particularly from the Parambil Chandy (cousin brother of Mar Thoma) and the other two defected councilors, turned against Mar Thoma and joined with Rome. In January 1658 Sebastiani made a hurried visit to Rome to get himself consecrated as bishop and secretly returned to Malabar and thereafter presented himself before the Thomas Christians as a legitimate and valid bishop in opposition to Mar Thoma. The Portuguese and the Goan authorities would have opposed this move of Sebastini as he had become a bishop without their consent. But they kept silent because of two reasons: Archbishop Garzia was almost all at the end of his life so he could not do much to reconcile the Thomas Christians; moreover the Goan and Portuguese authorities themselves were unable to control the situation in Malabar. So they kept silent and supported Sebastiani . Sebastiani as a bishop, excommunicated Mar Thoma and entered into the churches of the latter with the help of political force and huge sums of money. Parambil Chandy also assisted him in this. Thus 2/3 of the Churches of St. Thomas Christians were once again brought under the control of Rome. The betrayal of Parambil Chandy, Kadavil Chandi and Vengoor Gheevarghese was disastrous to Mar Thoma and most advantageous to the success of Roman Catholicism among the St.Thomas Christians. Supported by the Portuguese, the Kings of Cochin and Vadakkankur and others, prohibited the entry of Mar Thoma into their territories. Mar Thoma had people in these places but because of the prohibition , he could not enter and guide his adherents. The net result, due to such adverse conditions, was in favour of Rome’s victory. The position of Mar Thoma became highly precarious year by year.

In such a situation, the Dutch captured Cochin and ended Portuguese rule in 1663. Sebastiani too was ordered to leave Malabar. Caught up in such a dilemma he decided to confer Episcopal position on Parambil Chandy in return for his loyalty to Rome. Parambil Chandy was consecrated bishop ceremonially but Sebastiani made it sure that Chandy would remain loyal to Rome and not join with his nephew – Mar Thoma. Before his consecration, he was pressed to curse the latter publicly. Further he was taken before the Dutch authorities at Cochin to vow to remains faithful to Rome during Dutch rule. This closed all possibilities of future re-union of the St.Thomas Christians and divided them into two. Thus Sebastiani left Malabar. Moreover, before his departure he got an assurance from the Dutch that they will support Chandy and his people and not Mar Thoma and his adherents. Indeed during the Dutch colonial period, Mar Thoma did not get any advantage from them. Although they did not persecute the adherents of Mar Thoma, they were left to be remain silently as the ignored ones, without any support from the Dutch. This situation prevailed till the end of 18th century.

In such a disappointing condition, Mar Thoma bishops lived and guided the anti-Roman Thomas Christians. From 1665 they began contact with the West Syrian Patriarchate. But that connection was not of much usefulness to them . This affair will be traced in the forthcoming section of this study.

WHO WAS THE VICTOR


It was the Portuguese mission associated with colonialism and militant Roman Catholicism that forced the ancient Church of St.Thomas to come under the Roman Catholic church. When they refused to surrender to that forced submission they were not allowed to continue in a state of unity but were subjected in a division and conflict. The original cause of divisions and quarrels within the church of St.Thomas Christians were the Roman Catholics and this tradition of quarrels and division was faithfully handed over to their partisans who joined them from the St.Thomas Christians.

The church of St.Thomas Christians founded by St.Thomas was connected with the Church of East Syria till the 16th century, in that way it was an independent church. The Portuguese action in converting that church to Roman was totally unjustified. Rome’s claim of universal church and universal jurisdiction is not accepted by any Eastern Church. This is a unilateral claim which is being advanced with Rome’s money by creating Uniate churches, with members from the Eastern Churches. As for the church of Malabar, it is out of ignorance of Church history and an incapability to hold on its own, that it happened to fall into the state of uniatism from 1599 AD. But after a half century, in 1653 when an opportunity arose, the community almost as a whole abandoned that servitude. Rome now used non-Portuguese European missionaries and did everything in its power to regain the loss. Even then about half of the people did not yield to Rome. Though these people lacked adequate knowledge of theology and church history, yet they maintained their Eastern character and ecclesiastical freedom, which the section which joined Rome from the Thomas Christians in 1653, did not enjoy. This is their deplorable situation from then on, till now.

It was Rome’s greediness for power and the utilization of money in that direction which is behind divisions among Christian churches. This was what had happened in the church of St.Thomas in the 16th and 17th centuries in India. The consequences of the betrayal of a section of the Thomas Christians who rejoined Rome are visible when one looks into the tribulations they suffered from 1657 till now.

But their opponents, from then on have enjoyed freedom though they underwent tribulations initially. So the difference between the Thomas Christians with Rome and the Thomas Christians apart from Rome is decisive and incompatible. One is under the servitude of Rome the other is fully independent; one is slave and the other is free. Let the reader assess who is the victor; the betrayer or the betrayed?

The Roman Catholic Church could have greatly helped the church of St.Thomas with its resources, had it had a larger and committed vision of Christianity. Indeed in the 16th century the Indian church was in need of help. Indian Christians befriended the Portuguese in that sense of mutual help. But seeing their plight Roman Catholics, through Portuguese colonial dominance attempted to bring them under their suzerainty. This was typically an expression of Western culture of that time, from which the Roman Catholicism was not free. Hence the events like the Coonen Cross Oath and divisions within the St.Thomas Christians, but through all this the Indian Church has challenged the very concept of Roman Catholic sovereignty. But it is very unfortunate to say that a section within the Indian Church did not realize the far reaching importance of those events which took place in their own history to be self expressions of their own self-awareness.

VARIOUS CONDITIONS OF THE ST.THOMAS CHRISTIANS IN THE 16th and 17th CENTURIES


Before concluding this section, it is relevant to note here a few things on the condition of the St.Thomas Christians during that period. Till 1599, the life of St.Thomas Christians spanned two worlds: the geographical, political and social world of Kerala; and the ecclesiastical world of East Syria. It was the East Syrian bishops who governed them, whose faith, worship, church laws they shared. But this does not mean that church had no identity of its own. It was also an Indian one. All the 16th century evidences are unanimous that the Ecclesiastical identity of the Thomas Christians was with the East Syrian Church. Therefore, the doctrinal position was East Syrian. Similar is the case in Liturgy and church disciplines. The texts of the Eucharistic celebration were the liturgy of St. Addai and St. Mari. In “Hail Mary” they did not use the words “O! Mother of God”, instead they used “Mother of Christ”. Auricular confession before a priest was not in vogue. There were traditions of married and celibate clergy but no compulsory celibacy.

To carry out the ministry of the church they had East Syrian bishops, local clergy and palliyogams (parish councils). Apart from them, there was an Archdeacon, the senior most priest who according to tradition administered the church both during the presence and long absences of East Syrian bishops, who were mostly occasional visitors. The head of church was the Catholicos – Patriarch of the East Syrian Church who resided at Gezarta in Iraq. Apart from this, they also had a large number of indigenous traditions, some of which the Udayamperoor synod tried to modify considering them as influenced by non-Christians contacts; yet most of them continued to prevail thereafter.

Till the above said Synod these Christians were East Syrian and this was sought to replaced by Roman Catholicism. Instead of the Catholicos-Patriarch, the Pope of Rome became their head and instead of the East Syrian bishop’s the Latin regime and bishops. The archdeacon’s office though was weakened with the introduction of the Latin bishopric and its regime and division of powers between the offices of the Latin bishop and that of the Archdeacon, constituted a reason for conflict.

The liturgy of Addai and Mari continued to prevail with modification because though the Udayamperoor Synod had tried to modify the liturgy in accordance with Latin custom that could not happen due to severe opposition from the St.Thomas Christians. So archbishop Roz had to reintroduce, the ‘Rozian’ statute ignoring the norms of Udayamperoor. During 16th and 17th centuries the Thomas Christians had no connection whatsoever either with the Antiochene Syrians or with the Antiochene Syrians of Tigrith. The life-style of the Thomas Christians during 16th and 17th centuries is of unique importance, and it has been briefly stated as “Indian in culture, Christian in religion and Oriental in worship”.

Their church life did bear the characteristics of an early church which had its origin and growth outside the Grace-Roman world. There was no tightly centralized administrative structure of a monarchical pattern. The territorial administrative system which developed in the diocesan pattern within the eastern and western Roman empires did not exist in the Church setup of the St.Thomas Christians in India. Their fidelity to the Law of Thomas (Thomayude Margam) was the touch stone of their authenticity and Orthodoxy. It was this indigenous church life style that the Roman Catholics drastically changed following 1599 .

What the Portuguese saw , when they arrived into the midst of St.Thomas Christian’s was that socially and culturally these Indian Christians were very much integrated into the wider Hindu community and they observed many of the Hindu Namboothiri social customs and practices. They had a position of privilege in Indian Society, accepted and later on granted by local rulers. Since majority of the Thomas Christian’s were having a high social standing they continued the social organization and life they lived before conversion and due to this there was no social dislocation between the Christians and the Hindu high caste communities. Christians shared with the Hindus especially the Brahmins, many of the social customs and practices connected with birth, adolescence, marriage, death etc. Hence they were considered next to Brahmins or equals; in sharing names they had similarities with the Nayars so also in dress, food habits, occupation, festivities, ornaments wearing etc. There were instances of inter-marriages between Christians and Nairs in Kerala. Religious harmony was the rule of the land. Mutual toleration and respect were the outcome of the same. The Hindu temples, Christian churches and even Mosques co-existed nearby sharing and worshipping. No restrictions or prohibitions prevailed on, that the Hindu alone or Christian alone attend functions therein. Christians used Hindu style torches, umbrellas, banners, bells, elephants, processional regalia etc and shared all these with the Hindus during festivities in temples actively participating with their presence. Thus from the very beginning the Indian Christians were an indigenous community having the deeply rooted social and community life shared with other Indians.

Their food was frugal consisting of boiled rice and curries, mostly vegetables; they rarely ate meat and beef and did not pork Alcoholic drinks were considered unbecoming to with their social status. During social feasts they eat with fingers squatting on long mattresses, their plates being plantain leaves right side folded into two, which was shared also by the high caste Hindus of the country as a privilege.

They distinguished themselves in such professions as agriculture, trade and military service. They cleared forests and drained marshy places to cultivate paddy, coconut etc. They were the proprietors of pepper and master of public weighing office. They were the finest soldiers in the whole of Malabar. Hindu kings constructed churches for them and endowed them with tax-free lands in order to secure their military services. For their services certain families had a position of privilege in society and certain honorific titles had been conferred on, such as Tharakan, Muthalali, Menon, Panicker, Vaidyan etc. They were commonly called “Nasrani Mappila”. Many served kings also as ministers and councilors. The Thomas Christians were a highly cultivated and disciplined people both in body and mind. They had elaborated rules of etiquette. The modesty of the St.Thomas Christians’ women was proverbial.

Although they respected other religions, they preserved their Christian faith intact. And they were distinguishable as Christians among the non-Christian people. It is a fact that they did not attempt much to effect a synthesis between their faith and the philosophy of the Hindu religion as the Greek Christians had tried. This may be due to a broader vision of communal harmony and spirit of tolerance, which is a typical Indian contribution to the Christian vision due to its co-existence with the classical non-Christian religions in India. This positive attitude was also due to their theology which was Antiochene.

At the heart of the Antiochene theology which influenced the Thomas Christian till the 16th century period, was the emphasis on the full humanity of Jesus Christ. The reality of Jesus’ humanity and its kinship with the rest of humankind is of utmost importance in their theology. Contrary to the Augustinian teaching on original sin and human nature, they emphasized human freedom and the responsibilities and obligations of Christian faith. It is possible for such a theology to develop a positive attitude to other religions and cultures. An emphasis on the full humanity of Jesus Christ, an appreciation of human freedom and responsibility, a positive attitude to other religions and cultures and a strong affirmation of the independence and freedom of the Indian Church were some of the salient features of the Indian Christian theology and ecclesiology in the early period. This is what the Latin missionaries found to be heretical within the St.Thomas Christians and what the present day historians of Indian Christian theology fail to notice. Here above it is seen how St.Thomas Christians lived and encountered in the 16th and 17th centuries. Till the end of 16th century they lived ecclesiastically in closer allegiance with the East Syrian Christianity and thus were their story while one looks back at least to the 4th century or even backwards. This is explained in the forthcoming section of this narration.