By Joy C.L. Kuriachira
Papacy and the Pope of Rome are the legacies of the Imperial State Church of the Holy Roman Empire, which had nothing to do with the Christians outside the erstwhile Oikumene (Roman Empire), till the advent of the European colonization. The Christians in Rome of the 1st century AD, which was then only a movement in Judaism, could not function as an established church due to the brutal persecution unleashed by successive Roman emperors. It could assert its identity only by 70 AD after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. By the middle of the 2nd century every important city in the Roman Empire had its own Christian community headed by a bishop. It was only in the 4th century (313 AD) that Christianity was permitted to be practised in Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine. In 380 AD, Theodosius-I decreed Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, and all other religions including the different denominations of Christianity were prohibited. Through this decree the Church became the Imperial State Church of the Holy Roman Empire, and the religious persecution in the reverse direction started. From this time onwards, the Church wielded civil authority and the Empire wielded religious authority. It was the emperors who convened the Ecumenical (inside the Oikumene) Councils to settle disputes amoung the different churches within the Empire. During this time there were Patriarchates at Constantinople, Antioch (Damascus), Alexandria and Jerusalem. These were collectively known as the Pentarchy. The Bishop of Rome being in close proximity to the imperial power centre, wielded more power. In the 5th century, Bishop Celestine of Rome, self-styled himself as Pope and claimed authority over other bishops in the Roman Empire and the Papal monarchy replaced the Pentarchy. This was the beginning of Papacy in the Roman Empire.
In the 1st century itself, Christianity spread from Palestine, the birth-place of Jesus Christ, to Syria and then to the Persian Empire. It also reached India during this time. In the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Persian Empire. By the beginning of the 5th century, Christianity became a formidable force in Persian Empire. As the official religion of the Roman Empire was Christianity, the Christians in the Persian Empire were looked down as the spies of the Roman Empire and were persecuted on this count. This was one of the reasons behind establishing a separate Patriarchate for the Church of the East (Chaldean) at Baghdad (Mesopotamia) by the beginning of the 5th century. This Church severed all its relationship with the Patriarch of Rome (presently known as the Pope). Part of this Church united with the Pope in 1553 AD. At present there are two Patriarchs for the Chaldean Church-one owing allegiance to the Pope and the other independent. At some point in history- somewhere in the 6th century-the Malabar Church came into close contact with this Church, through which the Persian liturgy (Chaldean) came to the Malabar Church. But to a great extent the customs and rituals of the soil were maintained. Till the pseudo-synod at Udayamperoor this was the state of affairs of the Malabar Church. Now the experts in the Roman Curia have discovered that the heritage of Malabar Church is Chaldean! It does not need much expertise to know that the heritage of Malabar Christians, who are all descendants of Indians, who were converted to Christianity in the 1st century, is definitely Indian.
Wherever Christianity spread, it assimilated the culture and heritage of the people of the land. At present there are 22 individual churches (Sui Iuris) in the Catholic Church, based on the cultural diversity of the people. Roman Church is one among these. There is no biblical, theological or historical reasoning for the Roman Patriarch to wield authority over other churches. It was only due to political reasons that the Bishop of Rome could become Patriarch of the Roman Church and later become the Pope-head of the churches in the Oikumene (Roman Empire). During the European colonial period the Papacy encroached on all the churches in the world by suitably manipulating history and theology, that the Bishop of Rome is the only successor to St. Peter'sthrone, and that Jesus entrusted his Church with St. Peter. This is nothing but religious imperialism.
Malabar Church and Indian Christianity are degraded to the status of religious colonies of the Roman Church. Even to appoint a local Bishop the Church has to get ratification from the Roman Curia! The Bishop elected has to kneel down and declare his faith and allegiance to the Roman pontiff in front of his representative-of course a European
Established in 52 AD by St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, the Malabar Church is one among the most ancient churches in the world-more ancient than the Roman Church. The early Malabar Church (Thomas Christians) maintained a unique identity due to geographical, historical and cultural factors. In the absence of any written documents on the history of early Malabar Christianity, we get information on these only from the oral traditions and folklores. This Church is Christian in faith and Indian in culture and heritage. This was the only Church in the whole world administered in a democratic manner right from the lowest units-parishes-each parish being a democratic republic. Thoma Margam (Law of Thomas) was the constitution and the hierarchical framework of the Church. It had definite rules and regulations for administering spiritual and temporal affairs. The supreme head of the Malabar Church-Jathikku Karthavyan- was being elected from among the lay members of the Church.
But the identity and the cultural heritage of this Church were brutally trampled by the Portuguese colonial invaders. Through the pseudo-synod convened by the Portuguese Governor-cum-Arch Bishop Dr. Dom Menezis at Udayampur in 1599 AD, the Malabar Church was annexed and made a territory of the Roman Church. All the documents pertaining to the history, heritage and liturgy of the Church were burnt and there started a gradual invasion on the tradition, heritage, hierarchical set-up and identity of Malabar Christianity. The much-cherished Indian customs and rituals were replaced by Western rituals. It was a total surrender of the Indian Christianity before the Westerners. The transformation was manifest even in the theology. According to the Book of Geneses, man is created in the image and likeness of God (Imago Dei). But according to the Western import man is categorised as ?sinner?. As the great Indian Saint Swami Vivekananda put it, ?It is a standing libel on human dignity to call him a sinner.?
During the European colonial period the Papacy encroached on all the churches in the world by suitably manipulating history and theology, that the Bishop of Rome is the only successor to St. Peter'sthrone, and that Jesus entrusted his Church with St. Peter.
Now like the other 20 churches, Malabar Church and Indian Christianity are degraded to the status of religious colonies of the Roman Church. Even to appoint a local Bishop the Church has to get ratification from the Roman Curia! The Bishop elected has to kneel down and declare his faith and allegiance to the Roman pontiff in front of his representative-of course a European-before being consecrated. What a national shame for the Indian Christianity established by one of the apostles of Jesus! The democratically elected parochial councils were replaced by ornamental advisory bodies, the majority members being nominated. The pastoral councils are degraded to assemblies of sycophants. The bishops appointed by the Roman Curia conduct like feudal lords. Even the identity and heritage of the Malabar Church are being questioned. The discovery of the Roman Curia is that the Malabar Church, established in the 1st century, is the daughter of the Chaldean Church established in the 5th century, and tries to impose the Chaldean liturgy on it. It is nothing but a historical and cultural blunder. No wonder that a Pope (John 23rd) himself had to describe the members of the Roman Curia as the ?Prophets of Doom?. The cultural and historical heritage of the Malabar Church is Indian. Its identity is Indian. What it needs is an Indian liturgy, an Indian hierarchy and an Indian theology. This church is neither Chaldean nor Roman. It is purely an Indian Church having its roots, trunk, branches and fruits in India. Let us be proud of being Indians.
(The writer can be contacted at Chettupuzhakkaran, St. Thomas Road, Kuriachira, Trichur 680006, [email protected])