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Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

See a list of abbreviations used in this list.

1: Historical Background

2: Jurisdictions

1: Historical Background

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is an automous Catholic Church of the Antiochean liturgical, historical and cultural tradition, which is linked to the early Christian Patriarchate of Antiochia, the first See of St. Peter.

a) The Assyrian Church of the East

To understand this church, we need to start with another church than the Antiochene, with the Assyrian Church of the East. It is not known exactly when Christianity first took root in upper Mesopotamia (now: partly in Iraq, partly in Turkey), but a Christian presence had certainly been established there by the mid-2nd century. In the 3rd century, the area was conquered by the Persians. Although this was to be a multi-ethnic church, the Assyrian people traditionally played a central role in its ecclesial life. Its geographical location caused it to be become known simply as "The Church of the East".

Around the year 300, the bishops were first organized into an ecclesiastical structure under the leadership of a Catholicos, the bishop of the Persian royal capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. In the 5th century, the Church of the East gravitated towards the radical Antiochene form of christology that had been articulated by Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, and fell out of communion with the church of the Roman Empire.

The Church of the East was always a minority in largely Zoroastrian Persia, but nevertheless it flourished for many centuries. The church expanded through missionary activity into areas as far away as India, Tibet, China and Mongolia. This continued even after the Mesopotamian homeland was conquered by the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century.

b) The Thomas Christians

When the Portuguese arrived in India at the end of the 15th Century, they encountered a Christian community claiming to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas when he evangelized India following the death and resurrectiomn of Christ. Located in what is now Kerala state, they were fully integrated into Indian society as a separate caste. They were in full communion with the Assyrian Church of the East, which in early centuries had regularly sent bishops to India to ordain deacons and priests. In the 8th century India received its own Metropolitan who was assigned the tenth place in the Assyrian hierarchy. But because the Metropolitans generally did not speake the local language, real jurisdiction was placed in the hands of an Indian priest with the title of "Archdeacon of All India".

Portuguese colonization was the beginning of a sad history of forced latinization which caused unrest and schisms among the Thomas Christians. Today their descendants, who number more than 5,000,000, are divided into five oriental churches, including about 15,000 who still belong to the Assyrian Church of the East.

c) The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

In the mid-17th century, increasingly upset with the latinization of their church by the Portuguese, most of the Thomas Christians in India broke away from the Catholic Church. The leader of the dissidents may have attempted to reestablish communion with the Assyrian Church of the East, but in any case he did not succeed. Then in 1665, the Syrian Patriarch agreed to send a bishop to head the community on the condition that its leader and his followers agree to accept Syrian christology and follow the West Syrian rite. This group was eventually administered as an autonomous church within the Syrian Patriarchate.

d) The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

During the 18th century there were no less than four formal attempts to reconcile the Roman Catholic and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Churches, all of which failed.

In 1926, a group of five Malankara Orthodox Syrian bishops who were opposed to the jurisdiction of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch in India, commissioned one of their number, Mar Ivanios, to open negotiations with Rome with a view to reconciliation on the condition that their liturgy be preserved, and that the bishops be allowed to retain their dioceses. Rome asked that the bishops made a profession of faith, and that their baptisms and ordinations be proven valid in each case.

In the event, only two of the five bishops accepted the new arrangement with Rome, includin Mar Ivanios. These two bishops, a priest, a deacon and a layman were received into into the Catholic Church together on 20 September 1930. Later in the 1930's two more bishops, from among those who had favoured the jurisdiction of the Syrian Patriarch in India, were received into communion with Rome.

This triggered a significant movement of faithful into this new Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. By 1950 there were some 65,588 faithful, in 1960 112,478, and in 1970 183,490. Now there are four dioceses for (according to the Annuario Pontificio 2000, statistics of 31 December 1998) 445,920 faithful, all in Kerala State, India.

-CT (based on Robertson 1995, and AP 2000)

2: Jurisdictions

1932
Trivandrum [Syr.-Malank.] (Metr.) - India
1932
Tiruvalla [Syr.-Malank.] - India
1978
Battery [Syr.-Malank.] (detached from Tiruvalla [Syr.-Malank.]) - India
1996
Marthandoum [Syr.-Malank.] (detached from Trivandrum [Syr.-Malank.]) - India