Both history and tradition testify that St. Thomas one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ came to India, preached the Gospel and founded a Church here. The origin of the Indian Church is an apostolic one. There are lot of opinions, views coupled with lack of documentary evidences which creates confusion about the early Nasrani Prelates proceeding the Apostle. This article focus on the prelates and missionaries of Nasranis continuing the Apostle, till the Syond of Diamper (Udayamperoor) convened on June 20, 1599 citing a number of sources.
1. St. Thomas Christians & Church of East
“Doctrine of the Apostles” states that, “India and all its countries . . . received the Apostle’s hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas….”
Church of the East traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, said to be founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle. Other founding figures of Seleucia-Ctesiphon are Saint Mari and Saint Addai as evidenced in the Doctrine of Addai and the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari. Church of Persia traces its origin to the missionary activities of St.Thomas the Apostle.
There are documents which indicate that the Syrian Church of Malabar was dependent on the Church of Seleucia or better Seleucia-Ctesiphon, later on called the church of Babylon or Church of East. We do not know for certain when and how this dependence began. It appears that, through the Church of Persia, the Malabar Church was subject to Seleucia, which was under Antioch, which in turn was under Rome.
Since the relations of the Malabar Church with the Church of Seleucia were done away with, only at the end of the 16th century, it will be useful to refer briefly to that Church, which had its headquarters in Seleucia and Ctesiphon, the chief cities of the Persian Empire.
We shall now briefly examine the history of the Eastern Church, in order to see whether and how far the course of events that affected the history of this Church, produced corresponding results in the Indian Church which was united to it even from early times.
According to many ancient authors, the Bishop or Metropolitan of Seleucia used to receive episcopal consecration from Antioch.
It should also be kept in mind that, Church of East declares Mar Thoma Shilkha, (Saint Thomas) (c. 33-c. 77) as the first Patriarch followed by Mar Tulmay (St. Bartholomew the Apostle) (c. 33), Mar Addai, (St. Thaddeus of Edessa), Mar Agai (c. 66-c. 87), Mar Abris (c. 121-c. 137) etc which seems in accordance with the particular nature of any other Eastern Church.
Towards the close of the second century, Ahad Abuei,who had been elected Bishop of Seleucia, went to Antioch to be consecrated. But he was attacked by the Persians, at the instigation of their king. He managed to escape to Jerusalem, but his companion Kam-Jesus fell into their hands and was put to death.
On hearing this disastrous news, the Patriarch of Antioch allowed the bishop to be consecrated in Jerusalem, and declared that in future, bishops chosen for the see of Seleucia, might be consecrated in Seleucia itself, and that they need not go to Antioch for consecration.
Soon after this concession, the Primate of Persia was consecrated Metropolitan of Great India. Both these facts are attested by the Council of Nice in 325. The former custom is recorded by the 33rd Arabic Canon of the Council.
“Let the See of Seleucia which is one of the Eastern cities be honoured likewise and have the title of Catholicon, and let the prelate thereof ordain Archbishops, as the other Patriarchs do, that so the Eastern Christians who live under heathens may not be wronged by awaiting the Patriarch of Antioch’s leisure, or by going to him, but may have a way opened to them to supply their own necessities; neither will any injury be done to the Patriarch of Antioch thereby, seeing that he has consented to its being thus, upon the Synod’s having desired it of him.”
The latter custom is to be inferred from the signature of one of the prelates present at the Council. The prelate signs himself as “John the Persian [presiding over] the Churches in the whole of Persia and Great India.”
From several sources we find that the Malabar Church was under Persia.
Persia, came under Seleucia in the 5th Century. But till the 8th Century the bishops of Persia (Fares) continued to resist against Seleucia, saying they had nothing to do with the see of Mari (i.e., Seleucia) since they were evangelized by St. Thomas.
Owing to this resistance, some times episcopal succession was interrupted in India, as we gather from a letter of Jesujahb, Patriarch of Seleucia (650 660) written to Simon of Riwardashir in Persia. In Asseman,16 iii. 131, the long letter from the Patriarch Jesujabus Adjabenus who was Patriarch from 650 to 660 is reproduced. The Patriarch says:- “Not only India, which extends from the shores of the kingdom of Persia as far as Quilon, a space of more than twelve hundred parasangs, but also your own country of the Persians lies in darkness, deprived of the light of divine doctrine which shines forth through bishops of the truth.”
This state of affairs came to an end, only when Timothy I surnamed the Great, Patriarch of Seleucia, gave to Persia in the 8th century, a metropolitan with power to consecrate bishops.]
This same Timothy separated the Church of India from Persian jurisdiction, and constituted her into a province immediately subject to him.
About this date one of the bishops in India obtained the rank of Metropolitan. The Patriarch Saliba- Sekha in the same century raised the Indian Church to the dignity of a Metropolitan Church, and Patriarch. From the passage in Asseman, iii. 346, it appears that this dignity was conferred by Saliba- Zacha who was Patriarch of Babylon from 714 to 728.
Theodosius in the next century gave her a sort, exemption with the obligation that she was to send him every sixth year, letters of communion and the dues for the sustenance of pastors.
The Council of Nicea ( AD 325) laid down a rule that all bishops should meet the Patriarch in an annual synod. This rule was from time to time relaxed and finally in a synod held under Theodosius, who was Patriarch from 852 to 858, the obligation upon the more distant Metropolitans was reduced to sending a letter and funds every sixth year. The words of the Synod are quaint:- “But other Metropolitans, that is to say, of the Chinas, of India, of Persia and of Samarcand, situated in very distant countries, hindered by mountain ranges infested with robbers and by seas fatal with shipwrecks and tempests, so that they cannot come to us so often as they otherwise might wish, shall take care to send, every sixth year, letters of consent and union and in the same letters to set forth any business of their countries which requires an opportune remedy: and they shall take trouble that from all cities, great and small, be sent to the Patriarch what is right according to the ability of each man and the Canons of the Fathers for the expenses of the Patriarch’s house.”
Thus we find the Patriarchs of Seleucia claiming jurisdiction over the Indian Church in which, the Church of Malabar was included.
2. Rough Chronology
1. AD. 52-72 St. Thomas the Apostle
2. AD.72 Mar Kepha and Mar Paul ( according to tradition)
3. AD.250-300 Mar David of Barsa
4. AD. 325 Mar Johannan of Persia
5. AD. 345 Mar Joseph of Edessa.
6. AD. 535 A Persian Bishop (whose name is unknown)
7. AD. 880 Mar Sabor and Mar Proth.
8. AD. 988 Mar Johannan.
9. AD. 1056 Mar Thomas
10. AD. 1119 Mar Johannan and his Suffragan Bishops
11. AD. 1222 Mar Johannan.
12. AD. 1231 Mar Joseph.
13. AD. 1285 Mar David.
14. AD. 1301 Mar Jacob
15. AD. 1407 Mar Jaballaha
16. AD. 1490 Mar Johannan and Mar Thomas.
17. AD. 1503 Mar Thomas (2nd time), Mar Jaballaha, Mar Denaha
18. AD. 1530 Mar Jacob Abuna [1503-1550]
19. AD. 1555-60 Mar Elia Hormes
20. AD. 1555-70 Mar Joseph Sulaka
21. AD. 1557-97 Mar Abraham, Archbishop of Angamali.
22. AD. 1578-83 Mar Simeon
23. AD. 1580-99 Archdeacon George of Christ, a native Syrian of Kuravilangadu, Bishop elect of Palur.
3. List of Early Prelates of Church of St.Thomas Christians
1. AD. 52-72 St. Thomas the Apostle, founder of the Church of St.Thomas Christians
The writings of the early Fathers and Doctors of the Church, such as Abdias 190 A.D., Dorotheus 254, St. Ephrem 373, St. Jerome 420, and St. Gregory of Tours 593 A.D., are in harmony with the tradition about the apostolate in India. Further, a statement in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and quotations from the accounts and letters of travelers and missionaries, such as Marco Polo (1288), John of Monte Corvino (1305), Friar Odoric (1321), the Pope’s legate Marignoli (1348), and St. Francis Xavier give us historical information in a line with the tradition of the preaching and martyrdom of St. Thomas in India.
The proofs alluded to above and more may be found in any book on the Apostleship of St. Thomas in India.
2. AD.72 Mar Kepha and Mar Paul ( according to tradition)
There is a tradition which says that there were local Bishops in the beginning for Church of St. Thomas Christians. This side of the tradition is that the Apostle ordained two bishops, Kepha and Paul, respectively for Malabar and Coromandal (Mylapore). There are no factual records existing about this.
3. AD. 250-300 Mar David of Barsa
“The Chronicle of Seert”, an important East Syrian document of 7th century AD makes reference to a Bishop namely, Mar David of Barsa who arrived at Malabar between the period 250 - 300 AD.
According to certain traditions existing in India, St. Thomas, on his way to India, embarked at Basra in the Persian Gulf.
In all probability, St.Thomas might have preached in Basra and its neighbourhood; and thus they also claimed him as the founder of their church which explains the presence of Mar David as Prelate for Church of St. Thomas Christians in Malabar.
4.AD. 325 Mar Johannan of Persia.
The history of the Council of Nicea states that, Mar Johannan, the Bishop of Persia and Greater India, had attended the Council of Nice in 325 and put his signature to its decrees.
The prelate signs himself as “John the Persian [presiding over] the Churches in the whole of Persia and Great India” in the council documents.
From this it is evident that in the beginning of the 4th century, Indian Church was governed either directly by Mar John himself, the Bishop of Persia and Greater India, or by another Bishop under him residing in South India.
South India was moreover at that time in close contact with Persia. St. Ephrem living at Edessa during the middle of the fourth century testifies that during his time “the Christian Community of India was in a flourishing state, and that many miracles were being wrought in the country by the Apostle St. Thomas, whose feast, the Indian Christians were celebrating with great pomp and magnificence.”.
We have no physical proofs that Bishop John was the actual reigning prelate of Great India, and some say it is very improbable that a bishop could exercise direct and immediate jurisdiction over two such distant bishoprics as Persia and India. The signature of the bishop anyways implies the ultimate control he held over the Indian Church.
It is clear from the acts of the Council of Nicea that the Fathers of the Council gave Mar John no new title as Bishop of Great India but only accepted his former title as such. This clearly shows that India was subject to Persia from the Apostolic times, in ecclesiastical jurisdiction. This does not stand in the way of India to have had Indian priests and even Bishops. In this case Mar John might have been a superior Bishop.
5. AD. 345 Mar Joseph of Edessa.
Under Sapor II (313-381) there was a great persecution in the Persian Empire and many Christians, fleeing from the theatre of persecution settled down in Socotra, Ceylon, Malabar Coast, etc. The Christians of Sri Lanka, which Cosmas Indicopleustus mentions in AD 535 seems to be one among them.
There exist a strong tradition that Bishop Mar Joseph came to Malabar during the period, as Prelate for the Church of St. Thomas Christians along with many priests and deacons . Kuravilangad Martha Mariam church is believed to have been blessed by Mar Joseph of Edessa in AD 345.
6. AD. 535 A Persian Bishop (whose name is unknown).
Cosmas Indicopleustus mentions an anonymous Bishop in Malabar who was ordained from Persia, One among the former travelers to India, the Alexandrian Cosmas Indicopleustes who passed Malabar in AD 535, saw there, the Christians, Priests and Bishop.
In his “Christian Topography” he writes, “In the island of Taprobane to the interior India (ad interiorem Indiam), where the Indian Ocean is, there exists a Christian Church where clergy (clerici) and faithful are found; whether further also I do not know. So also is Malabar, as they call it, where the pepper grows. But (also) at Calliana (they call it thus) there is a bishop generally ordained in Persia “
7. A.D 880 Mar Sabor and Mar Proth.
Le Quien ‘Oriens Christianus’ Paris 1740 col. 1275 gives the year 880 as the date of Mar Sabor and Mar Prodh at Quilon as Bishops came from Persia as Prelates for the St. Thomas Christians. Le Quien and other historians make mention of them as workers of many miracles and Syrian Christians held them in great veneration.
Le Quien says that “These bishops were Chaldaeans and had come to Quilon soon after its foundation. They were men illustrious for their sanctity, and their memory was held sacred in the Malabar Church. They constructed many churches and, during their lifetime, the Christian religion flourished especially in the kingdom of Diamper.”
They led so saintly a life that many churches were dedicated in their name, and later on that Archbishop Menezes changed the names of such churches, and dedicated them to “All Saints” at the Synod of Diamper, for the only reason that they came from Babylon.
8. AD. 988 Mar Johannan.
About the year 1000 in the Church of Cranganore there lived a Bishop named Mar Johnnan as the Prelate before the coming of the Portuguese in India. He raised to life the sacristan of the said Church who died from a fall..
Le Quien col. 12757 says that after the death of Mar Sabor and Mar Prodh one Mar John, Mar Dua and Mar Thomas were consecrated as Bishops by Catholicus of Babylon, the first as Archbishop of Cranganore, second and the third as his suffragans Bishops of Socotra and Messina respectively.
9. AD. 1056 Mar Thomas
After the arrival of Mar Sabor and Mar Proth in the 9th century there came into Malabar, Mar Thomas as Prelate in 1056 as from Letters from Malabar feasty.
10. AD.1119 Mar Johannan and his Suffragan Bishops.
Another Mar Johannan, Archbishop of India went with his suffragan Bishops to Rome and received the ‘Palluim’ from Pope Calixtus II in 1119. He exposed before the Pope and Cardinals all the miracles which are annually wrought by St. Thomas, the Apostle at his shrine in Mylapore.
In the life of Pope Calixtus II, in the chronicle of Albericus written in the 13th century, in Le Quien and others, its mentioned that Archbishop Mar John of India, otherwise known as Patriarch of India, went with his Suffragan Bishops to Constantinople. There, at the court of John II Comnenus, he found the envoys whom Calixtus II had sent to promote the union of the Greek and Roman Churches. The Archbishop went with them to Rome, received the pallium, and exposed before the Pope and the Cardinals the miracles that were wrought at the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore.
11. AD 1222 Mar Johannan.
Letters from Malabar feasty, writes about the arrival of Mar John (Johannan) as Prelate in 1222.
12. AD 1231 Mar Joseph.
Letters from Malabar feasty, writes about the arrival of Mar Joseph as Prelate in 1231.
13. AD 1285 Mar David.
Letters from Malabar feasty, writes about the arrival of Mar David in 1285 as Prelate for Church of St. Thomas Chrisitans.
14. AD 1301 Mar Jacob.
In AD 1301 Mar Jacob, was the prelate of Malabar Church. There is a book of Lessons from the Epistles of St. Paul for the Sundays of the year composed in Syro-Chaldaic in 1301 by deacon Zacharias son of Joseph from the town of Cranganore who was a disciple of Mar Jacob the then Archbishop of the Syrians in Malabar under the reign of Jaballa, Patriach of the East, and the book is still preserved in the Vatican Library.
15. AD 1407 Mar Jaballaha.
Letters from Malabar feasty, writes about the arrival of Mar Jaballa in 1407 as the Prelate for Church of St. Thomas Christians.
16. AD 1490 Mar Johannan and Mar Thomas.
Mar Simon, Patriarch of the East, at the request of the Indian Christians, sent them in 1490 two bishops, Mar Thomas and Mar Johannan as Prelates for St. Thomas Christians. Mar Thomas after a time returned to the Patriarch, leaving Mar Johannan alone to administer the Indian Church.
In 1504 certain bishops in India wrote a report to the Patriarch of Babylon and this Syriac report is in the Vatican Library, with a latin translation dated 1533 of the report and of an addition to the report, which addition gives the history of these bishops and of their companions.
From this document we learn that in 1490, three faithful Christian men set out from the remote regions of India to ask Mar Simon, Patriarch of the East, to give bishops for their provinces. One of the three travellers died but the two survivors, Joseph and George, appeared before the Patriarch and stated their errand.
Two monks were selected from the monastery of St. Eugene and were consecrated by the Patriarch under the names Thomas and John. The Patriarch furnished the two bishops with letters under his signature and seal and sent them forth with prayers and blessings to seek the shores of India. The four arrived safely and were received with great joy by the Christians who ran to meet them and carried before them the book of the Gospels, the Cross, torches and a thurible.
The two bishops consecrated altars and ordained a large number of priests, because for a long time there had been no bishop there. Mar Johannan, remained in India but Mar Thomas, with Joseph, returned to the Patriarch taking first fruits and offerings. In 1493 Joseph returned to India but Mar Thomas remained for some years in Mesopotamia.
17. AD 1503 Mar Thomas (2nd time), Mar Jaballaha, Mar Denaha
On the death of Patriarch of the East, Mar Simon in 1502, Mar Elias, his successor consecrated three monks from the monastery of St. Eugene under the names of Mar Jaballa, Mar Denha and Mar Jacob as Prelates for Malabar.
They started for India in company with Mar Thomas ( second time ) , and found the aged Mar John still living. These are the bishops alluded to by Mr. Mackenzie.
In 1504, these bishops sent a long report to their Patriarch. The full report may be read in Giamil.
Few extracts from the report given in “ The Syrian Church in Malabar “ by J.C. Panjikaran,
“There are here thirty-thousand families common in faith with us, and they pray God for your prosperity…. Also the Church of St. Thomas is now again inhabited by Christians. It is distant a journey of 25 days, situated on the sea near a city called Meliapor in the Province of Silan….. Our province in which the Christians dwell is called Malabar, and has about twenty cities…. In all these, Christians live and churches have been built… About twenty Portuguese live in the city of Cannanor.
When we arrived from Ormuz at Cannanor, we presented ourselves to them, said that we were Christians and explained our condition and rank. They received us withgreat joy, gave us beautiful garments, and twenty drachmas of gold, and for Christ’s sake they honoured our journey more than it deserved.
We remained with them for two and a half months, and they ordered us that on a fixed day we also should perform the Holy Mysteries, i.e., should offer the Oblation.
They had prepared a proper place for prayer, which they called the Oratory, and their priests offer sacrifice every day and complete the Holy oblation; for that is their custom and rite. Whereof on Nosardel Sunday, after their priests had celebrated, we also were admitted and performed the holy sacrifice, and it was greatly pleasing in their eyes. We started thence and arrived among our Christians who dwell at a distance of eight days from that place.”
18. AD 1540 Mar Jacob Abuna
From 1540 till his death in 1549 aged Mar Jacob ruled the Malabar Church.
In a letter to John III of Portugal, dated 26th January 1549, Francis Xavier makes mention of Mar Jacob, the only one still living of the five Bishops who had been sent by the Patriarch in 1502.
“It is now five and forty years that a certain Armenian Bishop, by name Jacob Abuna, has served God and Your Highness in this country. He is a man who is about as dear to God on account of his virtue and holiness as he is neglected and despised by Your Highness and in general by all who have any power in India. God thus rewards his great deserts Himself, and does not think us worthy of the honour of being the instruments whom He uses to console His servants. …..While I have been writing this, I have seemed to myself to be serving and doing a favour not so much to that pious Bishop as to Your Highness…
For at present Your Highness is very greatly in want of the goodwill and intercession of a man very acceptable to God as he is…. This Bishop very greatly deserves such treatment on this account if on no other-that he has spent much labour in attending to the Christians of St. Thomas, and (even) now (et nunc) in his all but decrepit old age, he conforms himself most obediently to all the rites and customs of our holy Mother the Roman Church….I would urge Your Highness to write it (him a letter) full of all manner of expressions of your favour, esteem and affection.”
In a lithic inscription, in Holy Ghost Church at Muttuchira ( the site of one Mar Thoma Cross) of 1528, we read the names of Mar Tana & Mar Avu together with that of Friar George setting up a holy cross there. Mar Tana seems to be Mar Denha and Mar Avu seems to be Mar Jacob Abuna
19. AD 1555-60 Mar Elia Hormes
From 1555 to 1597 the Malabar Church was governed by the Chaldean Bishops Mar Elia, Mar Joseph and Mar Abraham who were sent to Malabar by Mar Abedjesus, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Assyria with the special approbation of Popes Julius III, Pius IV, Pius V, Gregory XIII and Xistus V.
They governed the Malabar Church under the characteristic contradiction and persecution of the Portuguese in India.
The chief men among the Syro-Chaldean Christians in 1578, petitioning the Roman Pontiff, Gregory XIII, make mention that Patriarch Abedjesus had sent them Mar Elia and Mar Joseph of whom the latter was kept in prison by the Portuguese.
20. AD 1555-1570 Mar Joseph Sulaka
In 1549, the aged Mar Jacob died, and for the next six years the Syrian Church was without a Bishop. Meanwhile some changes were taking place in the Patriarchate of Babylon.
On the death of Simon Mama, of good memory, in 1551, many Chaldaeans, dissatisfied with the custom that had grown up of electing as Patriarch only candidates of the Bar-mama family, chose John Sulaka, a pious monk, and sent him to Rome. Pope Julius III consecrated him as Patriarch of the East. He returned home, but was put to death by the Turks in 1554.
His successor, Ebedjesus, followed his example, visited Rome, and assisted at the last session of the Council of Trent. He consecrated Mar Joseph, a brother of John Sulaka, as Archbishop of the Syrian Christians on the Malabar Coast.
As a prelate of the Syrian Rite sent by the Chaldaean Patriarch, Mar Joseph refused to ordain the students of the seminary at Cranganore who belonged to the Syrian Rite, but who had not been taught the Syriac language.
This refusal lost him the favour and earned the ill-will of the Portuguese, who, from that time forward, never ceased to persecute him and his successors. Finding no reasonable grounds to send him out of the country, they had recourse to their favourite weapon a weapon, as we shall see, so often used with such disastrous effects that the Bishop taught the Nestorian heresy..
Before long, he was taken to Goa and thence deported to Portugal. On the voyage he spent his time in copying out portions of Syriac liturgy and the Carmen of Ebed-Jesus. A volume of his work dated Mosambique the 8th. July 1556 is in the Vatican Library.
There he made so favourable an impression on Queen Catherine, Cardinal Don Henry and others, that he was naturally sent back to govern his people.
The Portuguese authorities at Goa, however, did not allow him to proceed to his diocese, but detained him at Bassein. This was done on the groundless suspicion that he deceived the authorities at Portugal and was only permitted later to return to his diocese when Mar Abraham made his appearance in Malabar.
The aim of the Portuguese in doing so was purposely to make a division among the Syrians as it really turned out. The Portuguese again, on the charges made against Mar Joseph, as they afterwards did also in the case of Mar Abraham, arrested him and he was thus sent to Rome through Portugal in 1568.
In Rome, by the order of Pope St. Pius V he was closely examined in which it was found that his faith was orthodox and Catholic and that he had no heresy in his teachings, as he had been caluminated and he was thus declared to be innocent .
In order to reward his great patience, sufferings, and injuries he bore for Christ Pope St. Pius V revealed his mind to raise him soon to the Cardinalate, but his enemies left no stone unturned to make this scheme an utter disappointment and the fact he died very soon after, was hailed as a victory by his enemies.
Even the author of the Oriente Conquistado (Part II. Conqui. I. Divi. II) admits the truth of these statements and says that Mar Joseph would have soon been raised to the purple, had he lived longer.
21. AD 1557-97 Mar Abraham, Archbishop of Angamali.
When Mar Joseph was deported to Portugal, the Chaldaean Patriarch, informed of these events, immediately sent Mar Abraham as Bishop of the Syro-Chaldeans. There is also a parallel theory that Mar Abraham has been send by Simeon VII Denkha (1552-1558 ) and that he moved over to Chaldean side.
He escaped the vigilance of the ‘argus-eyed and many-handed’ agents of the Portuguese, by travelling in disguise and through circuitous roads, and arrived among the Syrian Christians of Malabar.
The Portuguese, deeming this a good opportunity to create dissension and discord in the community and win over one party to their interests, released Mar Joseph from his detention at Bassein and sent him to his diocese.
Soon after, however, Mar Abraham fell into their hands, and was shipped off to Portugal. He managed to escape at Mozambique, made his way to the Persian Gulf, and presented himself before the Patriarch relating to him his experiences in India.
He was sent to Pope Pius IV, who requested the Patriarch to consecrate Mar Abraham as Archbishop of Angamale, and to divide the Christians of St. Thomas in Malabar between Mar Abraham and Mar Joseph..
In 1568, Mar Abraham arrived at Goa with credentials from the Pope and the Patriarch, in which the Pope requested the Archbishop of Goa to receive Mar Abraham as a brother. The arrival of Mar Abraham disconcerted the Portuguese, for it threatened to subvert their designs, and they determined to prevent his return to the coast.
“The Archbishop, therefore, took upon him to declare the Pope’s briefs to be null and void, as having been obtained under false pretences,”
Mar Abraham was confined in the Dominican Convent at Goa. He managed to escape, however, and reached his diocese. In 1578, he received a summons to attend the Provincial Council of Goa. He refused on the ground that he was responsible only to his Patriarch and that he had been ill-treated and twice thrown into prison at Goa.
To this effect also he induced the Raja of Cochin to write to the Pope.
Two years later the Pope wrote to the Archbishop of Goa, requesting him to “receive kindly our venerable brother the Archbishop of Angamale, and so to contrive that here and elsewhere he may experience your humanity and love.”
The Pope also wrote to the King of Portugal recommending to his Majesty “the venerable brother the Archbishop of Angamale who had been grievously vexed by some persons,” and asking him to “order the Viceroy and Governors of India to take steps that he be not oppressed with any injury.” .”
For the next fourteen years the relations between Mar Abraham and the Portuguese were normal, though not very friendly. At this time three Syrians, Abraham, Joseph and George Raisbander wrote a valuable letter to the Pope in which they expose the state of the Indian Church left without a sufficient number of Bishops, and request the Holy See to send letters to the Patriarch asking him to consecrate five Bishops for this Church as has been done by the Patriarch from the very beginning..
In 1579, Mar Abraham requested the pallium from the Pope, and there is a Memorandum on the subject in the Vatican Library. ..
The Society of Jesus had been allowed by Mar Abraham in 1574 to work in his diocese. In 1581 they had opend a college, built a church and set up a printing press in Vaipicotta. Two years later, at their instance, Mar Abraham convoked a diocesan synod in which Mass was said in both Syriac and Latin.
In 1584, a seminary was added to the college, and as both Syriac and Latin were taught in it, it was much frequented by the sons of the St. Thomas Christians. In a letter one of the Jesuit Fathers wrote to the Pope, he praises Mar Abraham and Archdeacon George, and suggests the latter as the fittest man for the administration of the diocese after the death of Mar Abraham.
In the Provincial Council of Goa in 1585, Mar Abraham was asked to re-ordain some of the priests he had ordained according to the Chaldaean rite, because the Portuguese considered that the ordination of priests with the imposition of hands and with the empty chalice and paten was invalid, whereas this has been the recognized practice of Oriental Churches at all times.
The Council of Goa, in the 7th decree of the 3rd session, had ordered the translation of the Latin Mass into Syriac for the use of the St. Thomas Christians. Mar Abraham, as we have seen, had, at the earnest request of the Portuguese, consented to some changes in the ceremonies of the Qurbana, of ordination, and in the use of unleavened bread and wine of grapes. This he had done without consulting his Patriarch. The Patriarch, therefore, called upon him to submit an explanation of his conduct.
Mar Abraham answered that he did these things at the insistence of the Portuguese “who were over his head as a hammer over an anvil.” After this warning from the Chaldean Patriarch, Mar Abraham refused in 1590, to ordain the clerical students of the Vaipicotta Seminary, because he was asked to ordain them according to the Latin Ritual.
Two years later he refused to attend the Fourth Council of Goa. Thereupon the Portuguese sent unfavourable reports of his conduct to the Pope, accusing him of Nestorian heresy. But Mar Abraham had now finished his life-work.
22. AD 1578-83 Mar Simeon.
In 1578, there arrived on this coast, a Bishop Mar Simon, calling himself the Metropolitan of the St. Thomas Christians. The best authorities are agreed that he was a Assyrian Church of East Bishop.
He fixed his seat at Kaduthuruthy and gathered some adherents. But the letter of Pope
Gregory XIII, dated March 1580, sent on the recommendation of Mar Abraham to the Syrian Christians,
“to be obedient in the Lord to Mar Abraham, your Archbishop, and to George the Bishop of Palur, and in sincerity of faith and simplicity of manners, persevere and live in the unity of our Holy Mother, the Church” put an end to any prospect the Bishop had of influencing any considerable section of the people.
As resolved in the third Council of Goa, 1585, he was arrested and sent through Goa to Portugal and thence to Rome. Before his arrest, however, he managed to appoint Jacob, a Syrian Priest, as his Vicar- General. Mar Jacob followed in the wake of his Superior and continued the activities for a space of twelve more years.
When Mar Simeon arrived in Rome, Pope Sixtus V ordered an inquiry to be held into his case and pronounced a decision that Simeon should retire into a convent for instruction. Simeon was then handed over to Philip II who placed him in a convent at Lisbon. In 1594 when Archbishop Menezes was about to set out for India, the king offered Simeon to the Archbishop in case any use might be found for him in India, but the Archbishop would not have Simeon and left him in the Franciscan convent at Lisbon where he died in 1599.
Archbishop Menezes refusal to take him to India, tells us that he had premeditated to give no power to Syrian Bishops and if possible to put an end to their existence and the Syrian rite in India.
24. AD 1580-99 Archdeacon George of Christ, a native Syrian of Kuravilangadu, Bishop elect of Palur.
In 1566 Patriarch Abdisho, authorised Mar Abraham to ordain George of Christ as bishop and suffragan and successor to Mar Abraham. Mar Abraham too wanted this. Both he and the Jesuit fathers wrote to Rome about it. Pope Gregory XIII confirmed this nomination by his brief “Accepimus quod”, issued on 4 March 1580.
Pope Gregory XIII in his letter to the clergy and the Christians of St. Thomas calls him as Bishop. Pope Gregory XIII directs another letter dated 5th March 1580, to the clergy and laity of the Christians of St. Thomas….exhorting to be obedient to their Prelates Mar Abraham the Archbishop of Angamale and George of Christ the Bishop of Palayor. But the archdeacon who, out of humility, had previously declined this honour seems to have not been consecrated even after the papal confirmation.
Giamil on p.603, says, “Mar Joseph having breathed his last and Mar Simeon having been deported to Portugal, Mar Abraham alone governed the Malabar Church till the year 1597 when he closed his life at Angamale from old age after having committed the Church to the charge of Archdeacon George of Christ.”
4. Reasons for lack of further documentary evidences
Even though comparing to other communities in India, a wealth of literature exist about Nasranis, we see that detailed ancient local literature are missing. This curious phenomenon can be attributed to the Indian situation. The lack of interest in history in ancient India has often been noted and contrasted with the situation in China and the West.
The lacks of further documentary proof for early primates for St.Thomas Christians are due to a number of reasons.
1] The disastrous floods in Edesaa which destroyed many records
2] The poor record keeping of the community
3] Ban of Syriac books, burning and destruction of records during the Syond of Diampoor
4] The boat sinking resulting loss of old manuscripts during Tipu invasion.
How ever the major reason is the poor record keeping habit of the community. Because upon these meagre materials the various bodies of Christians have formed opinions wide as the poles asunder.
5. Other missionaries
There are also numerous reference of other Prelates conducting missionary activities in India.
5.1 Early Period
Eusebius, the Father of Church History, speaks of Christians in India in 190 A.D.
He says that, at their request, the philosopher Pantaenus was sent to India by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria and Pantaenus bears witness to the fact that he saw with these Christians a copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
According to St. Jerome, a deputation from India came to Alexandria. Impressed with the scholarship of Pantaneus, they asked Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, to send Clement to India “to preach Christ to the Brahmans and philosophers there.”
Theophilus (surnamed the Indian) an Arian, sent by Emperor Constantius (about 354) on a mission to Arabia Felix. He had been sent when very young a hostage a Divoeis, by the inhabitants of the Maldives, to the Romans in the reign of Constantine the Great. His travels are recorded by Philostorgius, an Arian Greek Church historian, who relates that Theophilus, after fulfilling his mission to the Homerites, sailed to his island home.
Thence he visited other parts of India, reforming many things — for the Christians of the place heard the reading of the Gospel in a sitting, etc. This reference to a body of Christians with church, priest, liturgy, in the immediate vicinity of the Maldives, can only apply to a Christian Church and faithful on the adjacent coast of India, and not to Ceylon, which was well known even then under its own designation, Taprobane. The people referred to were the Christians known as a body who had their liturgy in the Syriac language and inhabited the west coast of India, i.e. Malabar.
5.2 Latin Missionaries
The first Latin missionary who is known to have visited India was John of Monte Corvino, afterwards Archbishop of Cambalec in Cathay. Sent out by Pope Nicholas IV as a missionary to China, he on his way halted in India about the year 1291. In a letter which he wrote from Pekin in 1305 he says:- “I remained in the country of India, where stands the church of St. Thomas the Apostle, for thirteen months and in that reign baptised in different places about one hundred persons.” In a letter dated 1306 he speaks of Malabar and says:- “The people persecute much the Christians and all who bear the Christian name.
The next Latin missionary was a Dominican Friar named Jordanus, a Frenchman from near Toulouse. Perhaps as early as 1302 with other Dominican and Franciscan Friars he found his way to the Bombay coast where his companions were put to death by the Mahomedans. After various adventures Friar Jordan returned to Europe and wrote a small book called Mirabilia in which he briefly mentions the wonderful things he saw in the East. In 1328 Pope John XXII at Avignon consecrated Friar Jordan as Bishop of Quilon and sent him in 1330 with a Latin letter addressed to the chief of the Nasrani Christians at Quilon. The letter asked the goodwill of the Nasrani chief towards Bishop Jordan and his missionaries.
Another missionary , Friar Odoric, collected the bones of the martyred companions of Friar Jordan and in 1321 passed down this coast and touched at Quilon, where there were Christians, and at Mailapur, where were fifteen houses of Persian Christians.
John de Marignoli arrived at Quilon on his return journey from a mission to China. He says:- “On Palm Sunday, 1348, we arrived at a very noble city of India called Quilon, where the whole world’s pepper is produced. Now this pepper grows on a kind of vines which are planted just as in our vineyards. These vines produce clusters which at first are like those of the wild vine of a green colour and afterwards are almost like bunches of our grapes, and they have a red wine in them which I have squeezed out on my plate as a condiment.
When they have ripened they are left to dry upon the tree and when shrivelled by the excessive heat the dry clusters are knocked off with a stick and caught upon linen cloths and so the harvest is gathered.
These are things that I have seen with mine eyes and handled with my hands during the fourteen months that I stayed there. And there is no roasting of the pepper as authors have falsely asserted, nor does it grow in forests but in regular gardens, nor are the Saracens the proprietors but the Christians of St. Thomas. And these latter are the masters of the
public weighing office (qui habent stateram ponderis totius mundi ), from which I derived, as a perquisite of my office as Pope’s Legate, every month a hundred gold fanams and a thousand when I left.
6. Catholicity and Orthodoxy of Nasranis
In support of the orthodoxy of the Nasranis, George Cathanar provides a passage from the Latin narration of Cardinal Maffeus, on the state of the Chaldean Church made before the assembled Cardinals in Rome on the occasion of the conferring of the Pallium to the Patriarch, Mar Simeon Sulaca, 20th Feb. 1553 reproduced by Giamil from Baronio:-
“As a matter of fact they (Chaldeans) seem to have had but the name of ‘Nestorians’ but not to have held Nestorian errors, for I see nothing in these men that are here, which may have a bearing on that sect. Envy seems to have found its entry among the Maronites, Jacobites, Coptes and other Christians of those regions likely both on account of the name, and on account of the fact that they outnumbered the other sects in population as well as in the state and frequenting of the Churches, for down to India their Churches extend”.
The true faith which the greater part of the Christians in Malabar have preserved up to this date is a precious inheritance which their forefathers received from St. Thomas the Apostle and left to their posterity.
On account of its antiquity, its wonderful preservation of the Syriac Scriptures and Liturgy, and the persecution its bishops suffered under the Portuguese, the Church of St. Thomas Christians has at all times, attracted the interest of the historian, academia, researchers, travelers and archaist.
Over the last few decades due to the denomination politics, internal church politics and westernization, the practices and customs of these Churches are turning out a mere replication of western pieties replacing the ancient tradition of forefathers. At times it happens with out fully grasping the real significance of certain historic events.
The pain, sufferings, patience and injuries, the early prelates of Nasranis had to face for the word of Christ should stand as an eye opener for heretic proponents of inculturation. This also reminds the Nasranis to preserve the Oriental nature of these churches as a witness for Christ.