Fr. Jose Yesudas OFM cap

I. St. Thomas Christians
The Saint Thomas Christians are an ancient body of Christians from Kerala, India, who trace their origins to the evangelical activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. They are also known as “Nasranis” because they are followers of “Jesus of Nazareth”.The term “Nasrani” was used here to mention them until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century. They are also called Syrian Christians because of their use of Syriac in liturgy. Their original liturgical language was Aramaic which was later changed to Syriac. They are also known as Malabar or Malankara Mar Thoma Nasranis, because these Christians are from Kerala that was also known as Malabar or Malankara. Their language is Malayalam.
A. Arrival of St. Thomas
Tradition says that, in A. D. 52, St.Thomas arrived in Kerala at Kodungallor at the ancient port of Muziris. He then went to Palayoor which was a hindu priestly community at that time. He left palayoor to the southern part of what is now kerala state, where he established the Ezharapallikal or Seven and half churches. These churches are at Kodungallor, Kollam, Niranam, Kokkamangalam, Kottackayal, Palayoor and Thiruvithancode Arappally – the half church.
B. Mission
According to the tradition, Thomas evangelized in present day Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The apostle’s ministry reputedly resulted in many conversions throughout this northern kingdom, including a king and his brother. Thomas evangelized along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India, though the various churches he founded were located mainly on the Periyar River and its tributaries and along the coast, where there were Jewish colonies. He reputedly preached to all classes of people and had about seventeen thousand converts, including members of the four principal castes. St. Thomas attained martyrdom at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai and is buried on the site of San Thome Cathedral.
C. Evidences for the Arrival of St. Thomas
We have no clear-cut historical evidences with regard to the arrival of St. Thomas. These are the evidences for the arrival of St.Thomas, the disciple of Christ.
(1) The commercial sea routs were existed between India and other countries even in the first century itself or before. India had commerce with other countries.
(2) It is clear from the records of the Jews in A. D. 68. Some Jews came to India in A. D. 68 and found some Christian communities.
(3) It is mentioned in the book called ‘Acts of Judas Thomas’ which is of 3rd century.
(4) It is also reported in the book of Panthenus of 2nd century who was a traveler.
(5) It is also clear from the accounts of Thomas of Canaanite. Thomas had fled from Persia to India during the time of persecution at A. D. 345 together with 500 people. When they reached in Kodungallor, they found a group of Christians here.
D. Christianity in India until the time of Portuguese
Till the 13th century, there are no historical accounts about Christians. They were not a prominent group in the society. But they had good relationship with Persian church until the 13th century. But during this time Persian church was corrupted with Nostorian Heresy. Nostorians argued that Mary is only the mother of Christ of human nature, but not the mother of divine nature. Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria was the chief opponent of the heresy. He said that Jesus had both divine and human nature, which cannot be separated. Thus Mary is the mother of Jesus as well as the mother of God.
E. The Synod of Diamber (the social and ecclesiastical background)
When Portuguese came in India, there were only 130 churches centered between Thrissur and Kollam which belonged to St. Thomas Christians and there were two churches in Calicut also. Each church had a priest known as ‘Kathanar or Malpan.’ Kathanar is an ordinary priest, but Malpans were of high rank and had the privilege to train the children to become priest. They had their wives and concubines. Thus the priesthood is transformed to the next generation. They were given necessary informations to perform their priestly duties like black magic, white magic, sorcery, etc. The priest imposed high fees on the people for the holy services, for they had to give a huge amount of money to the higher ranks. Baptism, marriage and ordination were the three sacraments existing that time, which were done by Bishops mostly, came from Persia. Only the bishop had the right to administer the sacraments.
There were two types of bishops: the bishop sent by the patriarch of Antioch who had no union with Rome; the bishops who had union with Rome. Often bishops sent by patriarch came to India and claimed that they are sent by Rome. Thus the people do not know whether the bishop is catholic or not. There was no such communication possible at that time and if any possible, often took longer time and by the time the bishops would have gone back to their places.
There were also other reasons such as the bishops were few in number and only the bishops had the right to administer the sacraments. Thus they never tried to question the authority of bishops. There was also no system to know whether the bishops are catholic or not. Sometimes bishops were not able to visit all the churches. They had to pay a huge amount to receive sacraments. Thus some sacraments were cancelled due to the lack of time as well as not paid enough money.
F. Customs and Practices of the Time
The practices and customs were mostly unchristian. There were mainly two types – black magic and white magic. White magic brought blessings upon faithful, but black magic created problems to the enemy. There was also untouchability existing at that time. The same practices of the society prevailed in Christian religion. The lower cast people were not accepted to enter the church. Even the slave system also was existing at that time. There also some irrational practices like palmistry, astrology, etc. One inhuman practice existed at the time was the practice of dosha: when a child is born on an inauspicious day to be killed by mother or relative. The child is killed by squeezing the head and by and by putting cloth on the face of the child.
G. Portuguese presence from Kerala to Goa
In A. D. 350, Kanayi Thomman came with 500 people. It was a huge group and thus they made a kingdom of their own. All the kings of this group received the name ‘Thoma.’ It was a dependent country of Kochi. Prior to 10 years of Portuguese arrival, there were no efficient kings for this group. The king also had to face a lot of challenges from the neighbouring countries like Kozhikode. It is at that time the arrival of Vasco de Gama taking place in Kozhikode. Gama fought against Samuthiri, the king of Kozhikode. He was defeated at first and went back to Portuguese. Second time, he came back with big troops and defeated the Samuthiri. The Kanai group found an efficient leader in Gama and approached him for help. Gama found that it was a chance for him to establish his rule to the southern part and accepted it and came to Kochi.
In 1503, Kochi was raised as a big port and the chances for the trade attracted many people. At that time, Christians from southern part of Kerala migrated to Kochi and settled there. Portuguese missionaries built two churches in Kochi – St. Francis church and Santa Cruz Basilica. After Gama’s arrival, another Portuguese came to Kochi named Kabral with two Franciscan Missionaries. They built the St. Francis Church in wood at 1503. After it was rebuilt in stones and Gama was buried there. But the body was taken to his native place next year. When the Dutch came to India, they took the charge until the arrival of British. British gave it to the CSI church. The second church was built under the protection of the king of Kochi. When the king of Kochi was defeated by Samuthiri, the king sought help from the Portuguese; they defeated the Samuthitri and reinstated the king of Kochi. As a gratitude to Portuguese, the king granted the permission to construct a church and the port. The presence of the port gave the name Fort Kochi. Portuguese wished to latinize the Indian Christians so that they may be freed from these inhuman and irrational practices.
In 1509, Alphonse de Albukar was appointed as the second Portugal Governor. He had thorough knowledge about the coastal belts of India. He found Goa as the suitable place for the capital. Mainly there were two reasons: firstly, centered in Goa, they can attain domain over the whole part of Indian subcontinent; secondly, the Hindus were facing lot of troubles from Muslims especially from the sultan of Beijapur, the king of Goa. When Portuguese reached in Goa, the Hindus approached them and promised that they would join in to Christianity. In 1510, Portuguese defeated Muslims and as a result, many received Christianity. In the beginning people were reluctant to join in Christianity but were influenced by the conversion of a Hindu leader Lochu. Still there were people remained in Hindu tradition. This lead in to a tension which resulted in to a riot and many were killed. The Portuguese understood that the minor groups are undergoing struggles. Thus they decided the minority group should be shifted to the place where the Portuguese had upper hand. Portuguese never wanted to force anyone to join in to Christianity. This also has another version that Portuguese forced everyone to join in to Christianity. But this is invalid because the minority groups are scattered and went to the place where the Portuguese had upper hand. They could have fled to other places. When Portuguese defeated Muslims, they left their wives and went away. Portuguese encouraged their army men to marry those women. They had a strong family bond.
In 1540, Portuguese made a treaty with Rome – where ever Portuguese had control, they can nominate the bishop. They had a lot of Christians under them. Thus, Pope Leo X granted the permission and that treaty is known as ‘Padruvado.’ Portuguese had a good influence on Indian subcontinent which made the Portuguese missionaries to come to India. There was a diocese in Kollam but was not functioning. Thus Portuguese shifted it to Goa in 1534 which became the first active diocese in India. In 1557, the second diocese was established in Kochi.
II. The Synod of Diamber and the After-effects
The Synod of Diamber, held at Diamber (Udayamperoor), is a diocesan synod, which is one of the most important events in the history of the Kerala church. It was convened on June 20, 1599, under the leadership of Alexio de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa. This was convoked to purify the Kerala church from schisms and heresies.
A. Background
Marthoma priests found that latinization affected their source of income and the role of priests in the society. Thus they protested against it by conscientizing people. This was a major problem faced by the Portuguese: some of the Christians never wanted to become a part of the latinization but like to be under the authority of Pope: there were also some other people remained with Marthoma Christians never wanted to come under the authority of Pope. In order to solve the problems, a synod was convoked. This synod is known by the name the Synod of Diamber. The synod consisted of 113 priests, 20 deacons and the representatives from different parishes. Around 830 people were participated in the synod. The time period of the synod was in 1599, June 20 – 26.
B. Contributions to the church and society
The synod made a tremendous change in the Kerala church. The church of Kerala was purified from stain of heresies and meaningless practices with the help of the synod and gave a specific form to the church. It removed some of the abuses arising out of the ignorance of the people. It encouraged the growth and development of the society. Most of them are even applicable even at this century. The practices existing in the Kerala church are begun properly in this synod. The Synod issued 200 decrees distributed in nine actions (sessions). There are some differences exist among the decrees of the Synod which are available today. It has been suggested that these degrees were first formulated in Portuguese language by Dom Menezes and then translated to Malayalam.
C. Major Decisions of the Synod
Altogether there were 260 decisions was taken in the synod which changed the whole outlook. Some of the important decisions are following:
(1) It decided to accept and follow all the decisions of the council of Trent.
(2) To correct the errors such as heresies from the Syrian text especially from the missal.
(3) To condemn the Nestorian heresy.
(4) To destroy all the books related to heresy.
(5) To implement seven sacraments in the Indian church also.
(6) To specify the boundaries of the parishes and appoint a priest for it.
(7) To condemn the teachings and faith against Trinitarian God.
(8) The obligatory feasts and holydays were decided.
(9) The days of fasting and abstinence were decided and also accepted 50 days fasting for the Marthoma Christians.
(10) It instructed to use palm leaves for the beginning of the Lenten season, which was used in the last year for the Palm Sunday.
(11) It instructed the youth to show their respect to elders by greeting ‘praise to be lord Jesus Christ’.
(12) The church’s can be consecrated only in the name of those saints who are accepted by Rome.
(13) To have a collection box for the poor in each churches.
(14) Sacristians were appointed and their duties were fixed.
(15) A cemetery for all the parishes and the priest should be present for the funeral function.
(16) Right to receive baptism for any poor and orphan without ant fee.
(17) Asked to render funeral services even to a sinner, if he had repented.
(18) There is no distinction between the church of Peter and the church of Thomas.
(19) Abolished polygamy among Christians.
(20) Condemned the custom of having the concubines.
(21) Stopped the practise of Dosha, and adopted those children of the Hindus.
(22) Abolished child marriage and fixed the age for marriage 14 for boys and 12 for girls.
(23) Untouchability was condemned.
(24) Condemned cheating with errored balance and measures.
(25) Prevented undue interest tax for loan and fixed the interest to one percent.
(26) Equal rights of property for men and woman.
(27) Instructed priests to keep celibacy.
(28) Christians can be given the death certificate only with the permission of bishop.
(29) Constituted Bishop’s court to settle dispute among Christians.
(30) Discouraged the use of alcohol.
D. The Great Oath of Bend- Cross
This is the after effect of the Diamber synod. People and society were renewed by the synod. But since it was an immediate change from old situations to a new situation, there were some disagreements. Main disputes were the abolition of polygamy, equality between the people, challenged the rich people, death certificate, etc. Some of the people, who disagreed with the synod of Diamber, did not want to come under the control of Roman Church. Thus they searched for a foreign support. Some of them searched for a bishop in Persia. Thus after the synod, in 1599, Portuguese appointed a special bishop for Marthoma Christians namely Francis Rose. This created a tension among the Marthoma Christians. But many were ready to accept the rule of bishop.
The bishop changed his head office from Kodungallor to Kochi. He knew well that the missionaries from Persia were coming through Kochi. Thus he wished to put a stop for that. This created tension among Malpans. It continued until the death of Francis Rose. Then a new man was appointed called Britto, who was little lenient toward Marthoma Christians. After Britto there came another one named Gaza. The tension began again. The Marthoma Christians asked for a bishop from the Eastern Church. Ignatius Ahatulla then came to India saying that he was appointed by Rome as a patriarch of all Indian church. But the Portuguese did not accept or believe him and considered to be a fake one. They thought that like the older ones, who had come here and collected money and went back to Persia. Another reason is that, it was really surprising that a patriarch for India for the first time and there was no official communication to the Portuguese.
Marthoma Christians came to know about the arrival of the bishop. Thinking that a new bishop from Persia is coming for them, they waited in the Cochin port. Portuguese did not allow him to step down in Cochin port and took him to Goa. But people thought that the Portuguese killed the bishop. Thus the crowd went to Devamatha church in Mattanchery and took the oath by placing their hands on the altar. The following oath was read aloud and the people touching a stone-cross repeated it loudly – by the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that henceforth we would not adhere to the Franks, nor accept the faith of the Pope of Rome. Since there was a huge crowd, someone tied a rope on the cross and people began to hold on the rope and took the oath. When the number of people increased, the cross got a bend. Thus this oath is known as Bend-cross Oath. It happened in 1653 January 3. On the very next day, the Archdeacon Thomas produced a certificate from patriarch with claim to become bishop. But actually it was a fake one. The 12 priests laid hands on him and ordained him as bishop.
Ignatius Ahathulla was found guilty and thus he was either sent back to Persia or killed in Goa by Portuguese. This clarified the problems with regard to the bishop. This created a division among Marthoma Christians – some wished to join back to Catholic Church. Those remained with Archdeacon were known as Pazhayakootu and those wished to join back to Catholicism were known as Puthenkootu. These Puthenkootu became the Syrian Christians. Pazhayakootu were later became the Jacobite Christinas which was divided in to Methran Kakshi and Bava Kakshi.
III. Malabar Vicariate
In order to send missionaries to all the mission lands, propaganda was instituted. It is to train the missionaries who are going to mission lands. There was already a treaty between Rome and Portuguese named Padruvado which Rome does not wish to break. So they established a new post called Vicariate in Beijapur in 1637.Matheus de Castro became the first apostolic vicar who was a Govan Brahmin. There were confusions regarding the boundaries. He had face challenges from Kochi, Goa and Padruvado People. Thus he resigned from his position and went back to Rome. But under the control of Rome the vicariate began to flourish very well. It was renamed in 1832 as Bombay Vicariate. Propaganda Began to work in India. They established Six More vicariates. In 1838, Pope Gregory XVI Restricted the Power of Padruvado only to the diocese of Goa. There after Vicariates had a surprising Growth.
A. Raising to the status of a Vicariate
In 1659, the bishop of Kochi, Gaza, Passed away. In place of him Rome appointed an apostolic vicar and Kochi was erected as a Malabar vicariate. Joseph Sebastiani was the first apostolic vicar. This is the first vicariate in Kerala. Now he was entrusted to bring back all the churches under the propaganda – it was instituted by Rome to train the missionaries to send to different mission lands in 1622. At this time, the Dutch attacked Kochi and Goa. They asked all the European missionaries to quit the place. Thus Sebastiani had to leave the place. He convened a meeting of Marthoma priests and the laity and selected another apostolic vicar, whose name was Parambil Chandy, in the meeting. In 1663, he was ordained as a bishop and thus he became the first native bishop of the Indian church. And Sebastiani went back to Rome.
Parambil Chandy was an efficient man. Parambil Chandy appointed Kadavil Chandy as a vicar general and Matheus and Cornelius as his counsellors. They made contract with Dutch Govt when the threat of the Dutch decreased the number of Christianity. Matheus was especially a good friend of Dutch Governor Van reed. He helped the governor to collect all the medicinal plants and wrote a book about them known as Hortus Malabaricus which was published in 1678 and contained twelve volumes. This helped the missionaries to do their work without any fear. Matheus built a church in Chathiath, Cochin. Parambil chandy wanted make his cousin as his successor. But Rome entrusted OCD missionaries to study about the matter. The missionaries suggested a candidate, who was an Indo- Portuguese origin named Raphael Figuretho. He was a scandal to the faithful and complaints were sent to Rome. As a result he was dethroned from the post.
B. Great Angelo Francis and his Successors
Since the appointment of the native bishop created tensions among the faithful, Rome appointed Angelo Francis as the apostolic vicar. He visited most of the churches and brought back the St.Thomas Christians to the Catholic Church. In his term, he had to face a lot of challenges such as the tension between Padruvado and Propaganda groups, Struggle for native bishops, threat from the Jacobites, etc. He made a hand written Malayalam grammer book. He gave strong foundation to the Malabar vicariate.
He was followed by another man called John Baptist Multhendi (1674 – 1750). In his time, the Syro-Malabar priest candidates were accepted to the seminary. They were studying until then in Malpan Padasala. He also printed the Syro-Malabar missal in Rome. He made so many great contributions to Syro- Malabar church. In 1773, he was expired. But the priests from the Syro-Malabar church were not permitted to hold the coffin. This made them agitated. They convened a meeting and took the decision that the priests who are formated in the Latin rite should not be appointed in the Syrian churches.
John Baptist was followed by Florentius. His main contribution was that he opened a catechism centre in Kochi to teach people. He was followed by a German named Francis de Sales in 1775. He found it very difficult to go up with the problems and adjust with missionaries. Thus he resigned from the post in 1779. In 1784, an Italian priest, Alosious Mary became the apostolic vicar. He had hard time from the Marthoma Christians and also was threatened by the attack of Tippu. He died in 1802, April 2.
C. Kochi and Krangnor under Malabar Vicariate
Beginning of the 19th century, the activities began to decrease in the Malabar vicariate. The reasons were the coming of British People, coming of the American Protestant Missionaries, inefficiency of the apostolic vicars and French revolution. There was however a spiritual renewal under the apostolic vicar. He promoted the priests to begin the religious congregation. He also gave 200 rupees for the preliminary works. Thomas Palackal and Thomas Ponnoorkara established a congregation named CMI in 11th may 1831. At the time of Vicar general, Francis Xavier Pesheto, Pope Gregory XVI produced a Bull, in which he limited the power of Padruvado only to the Diocese of Goa and all other dioceses will be joined to the nearby Vicariate. Thus by this bull, Kochi and Krangnor came under Malabar Vicariate. In 1840, the vicariate was erected as archdiocese.
D. The Division of Malabar Vicariate
Louis Martini succeeded Francis Xavier. The governance became very difficult since it was a large area. In order to make effective pastoral works, the Malabar vicariate was divided in to three in 1845 – Mangalapuram, Kollam, Verapoly. Monsignor Bernadine became the Archbishop. He closed down the Malpan Padasalas. He established a school in Koonammavu, St. Phiomina School. With the help of Chavara Kuriakose and Thomas Palackal, women religious congregations were begun and CMI gained the canonical status. Bernadine became the first vicar general of CMI and Kuriakose Elias became the first professed member. Only the Syro Malabar people were selected. Thus bishop started a congregation for Latin people, but did not last long. CTC congregation for women was established at this time in 1866 February 13.
He fought against the schism of Rockus. When Malpan Padasala was closed, there was a strong reaction among the Syro Malabar Priests. They sent a priest to Babylon and ordained him as the bishop. There were many to support him. But the preaching of Kuriakose Elias helped the church to come out of the Schism. It is in this time that the practices like 40 hours of Adoration, Retreat, etc were begun.
E. The Establishment of Archdiocese of Verapoly
Leonardo Melano became the archbishop of the Verapoly. In 1886, Rome Instituted Indian Hierarchy together with seven dioceses. Syrian Christians put a demand that they want their own diocese and their bishops. Fr. Louis pazhayaparambil and other six priests together sent a petition to Rome for a bishop. Then Rome instituted a commission to study the matter under the guidance of John Gabriel Leo. He suggested for a new diocese for Syrian Christians. Thus Rome established three dioceses in 1887 – Verapoly for Latins and Thrissur and Kottayam for Syro Malabar Christians.


About bodhicap

This is the journal-blog from the Capuchins at Bodhi Institute of Theology, Tillery, Kollam, India.
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