'St Thomas Christians' of India

In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese Padroado had co-opted the ancient Syro-Malabar church of the St Thomas Christians in south India and imposed on it a Latin and Latinising hierarchy. Only in the nineteenth century were efforts made to form a more effective native clergy. In 1855 a native congregation of priests, the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, was founded and flourished to became a major force for renewal. In 1858, five seminaries were established to train the native clergy previously formed by apprenticeship to a native priest or malpan.

This awakening only rendered the Latin captivity more intolerable, and the Syro-Malabar Catholics simultaneously petitioned the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Joseph VI Audo (1848-78) and Rome to send them a bishop of their own tradition. In 1861, Audo began sending bishops to Malabar despite threats of excommunication from Rome. One of the bishops, Mar Elias Mellus, proceeded to ordain priests and combat the Latin hierarchy, thereby creating the 'Mellusian schism'.34 Audo submitted to Rome in 1876, and Mellus in 1889, but the schism, from which the present Assyrian Church in India derives, endured.

Despite these contretemps, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church flourished and grew dramatically. But the crisis had exposed the need for reform, and in 1896 Leo XIII instituted a native Syro-Malabar hierarchy independent of both the Latins and the Chaldean patriarch. With this emancipation, the way opened for the remarkable renaissance of this church in the twentieth century.


The one remaining glory of old Byzantine Italy anterior to the Albanian immigration of 1467-70 is the Badia Greca di S. Maria in Grottaferrata south of Rome. Founded in 1034, this monastery is the only surviving Byzantine ecclesiastical institution in uninterrupted communion with Rome since before the east-west schism. But the emancipation of the Italo-Albanian Greek Catholics in Sicily and Calabria, long subject to the local Latin hierarchy, would come only with the creation of their own bishoprics between the World Wars.35

34 Tisserant, Eastern Christianity inIndia,pp. 111-20; Mayeur-Jacquen, 'Leschretiensd'orient', p. 824.

35 Fortescue, The Uniate Eastern churches, pp. 146-84; Gatti and Korolevsky, I riti e le chiese, pp. 474-549.

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