The Thomas Christians were largely upper class, maintaining their Hindu culture while they practised the Christian faith with strong Syrian influences in their liturgy and worship. They continued to flourish in south India long after the disappearance of Christians from many other parts of Asia.

Following their first encounter with the Thomas Christians at Cranganore on the coast of Kerala, the Portuguese worked at bringing these communities more in line with the Roman Church and the Latin tradition. The Thomas Christians were initially willing to accept the primacy of the see of Rome, which they did formally at the Synod of Diamper in 1599, but great tension soon developed over the continuing attempts to alter their liturgy and remove other eastern traditions from their church life. According to the Portuguese, there could be only one law, that of Christ, and not two laws, one of St Thomas and the other of St Peter. Driven to distraction by these pressures, the majority of the Thomas priests (kattanars) met on 3 January 1653 at the ancient Coonan Cross of Mattancherry and there swore an oath never to accept the authority of the Archbishop of Cranganore, who was primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Kerala. These events led to the birth of a new Christian communion, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, sometimes referred to as 'Jacobites', a nomenclature they reject.

Rome acted promptly in response to this crisis. The Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith sent out Carmelite fathers to India to attempt to deal with the situation. This initiative was forced on the Propaganda since the Thomas Christians refused to have anything more to do with the Jesuits, with whom they hadbeen dealing. Though often high-handed, the Carmelites were able to reconcile many of the Thomas Christians so that a majority returned to communion with Rome in 1662. This move had been greatly helped by Propaganda appointing in 1661 a vicar apostolic for Kerala, which gave the Thomas Christians in communion with Rome, known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Christians, their own de facto bishop.

At that time the separatist Malankara Church attempted to re-establish its links with the East Syrian Patriarchate (sometimes referred to as the Chaldean Church) but these attempts failed. Eventually the West Syrian Patriarch, based in Damascus, made contact with them and they became an autonomous church within the Syrian Patriarchate, after having made some nominal changes in their customs to conform to the West Syrian as opposed to East Syrian traditions.

Meanwhile, the Syro-Malabar Catholics continued to complain to Rome about the Carmelites and bombarded the Holy See with requests for an Indian bishop to replace the missionary vicar apostolic. In 1780, they sent a delegation

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