Category Archives: Indian History

#273 – The Coonan Cross Oath

During the Age of Exploration, the encounter between the Thomas Christians of India and the Portuguese led to a tragic schism whose effects are still felt today. Against the threats of Latinization, the Thomas Christians struggled to preserve their faith and traditions.

Links:
Website of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Website with much information on the Thomas Christians
Another website with much information on the Thomas Christians
A Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church site with much information on the history of the Thomas Christians
A painting of the Coonan Cross Oath can be found here.
Video of the Qurbana/Liturgy of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Video of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Liturgy
Vatican Radio program on the Syro-Malabar Church

Sources:
Frykenberg, Robert E. Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Mundadan, A Mathias. The Syro-Malabar Church: An Overview. Sacred Heart Provincial House, 1995.
Neill, Stephen. A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Tisserant, Eugène. Eastern Christianity in India: A History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Time to the Present Day. Orient Longmans, 1957.
Vadakkekara, Benedict. Origin of Christianity in India: a historiographical critique. Media House Delhi, 2007.
Vithayathil, Varkey J. The Origin and Progress of the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy. Oriental Institute of Religious Studies, 1980.

Image of St. Thomas Cross by Robin Klein
Image of the divisions of the Thomas Christians by Joehoya3

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podcasticon#273 – The Coonan Cross Oath

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Today in Catholic History – The Syro-Malankara Church enters into communion with Rome

On 20 September 1930, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church/Malankara Syrian Catholic Church entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church comes from the tradition of Thomas Christians in India, as does the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church also in communion with Rome.

In 1930, the Syro-Malankara Church broke from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church which had itself broke with the other Thomas Christians under the attempt of the Portuguese to Latinize them in the 16th century. While at the time of the union, the Syro-Malankara Church contained only Archbishop Mar Ivanios and five other members of the church – who left because of a decision giving the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch full administrative authority over the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, today there are 500,000 members of the Syro-Malankara Church. The Syro-Malankara Catholics were permitted to maintain their rite and traditions.

Today in Catholic History – Synod of Diamper

On 20 June 1599, the Synod of Diamper began in Udayamperoor/Diamper in Kerala, India] under the leadership of Archbishop Aleixi de Menezes.*

When the Portuguese encountered the Thomas Christians after the arrival of explorer Vasco de Gama in 1498, the Thomas Christians were part of the Assyrian Church of the East or Chaldean Church.* As a result of Portuguese missionary activity many Thomas Christians were influenced by the rituals and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and in 1552 a group of Thomas Christians entered into communion with the Pope.

However, the Portuguese hierarchy in India wanted to bring the Thomas Christians into closer jurisdiction of the Latin hierarchy and replace the Assyrian/Chaldean liturgy with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the local customs were condemned as heretical and many of the liturgical books of the Thomas Christians were ordered corrected or were burnt.

The Archbishop summoned all priests to the Synod of Diamper under pain of excommunication. 130 priests and 660 laymen met at the Synod which lasted until 26 June 1599. The Synod, presided by the Archbishop of Goa, condemned the Chaldean Patriarch who was in communion with Rome to be a heretic and a schismatic, Thomas Christians were not to accept any bishop except one immediately chosen by Rome, and the Latinization/adoption of Roman Catholic traditions and practices was confirmed.

More recently, the studies of Bishop Jonas Thaliath has demonstrated that the Synod of Diamper was invalid on the grounds that the Synod was convoked without the proper authority from Rome and did not follow Canon Law.

The effect of the Synod was to provide a greater push toward the further Latinization of the Thomas Christians and to separate them from their historic ties to the Chaldean Church. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “The only case in which an ancient Eastern rite has been willfully romanized is that of the Uniat Malabar Christians, where it was not Roman authority but the misguided zeal of Alexius de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, and his Portuguese advisers at the Synod of Diamper (1599) which spoiled the old Malabar Rite.”

Moreover, hostility from the Thomas Christians to the Portuguese treatment led to the Koonan Kurishu Satyam (Koonan Cross Oath) in 1653. At which some of the Thomas Christians swore that they would not obey the Portuguese bishops or the Jesuit missionaries. This will lead to a split among the Thomas Christians between the Syro Malabar Catholic Church which followed the Synod of Diamper and the Syriac Orthodox which did not.

The history of the Syro-Malabar Church

*The native Christians of India called themselves Thomas Christians because there tradition states that they were evangelized by Thomas the Apostle.