Since our last cybercast critically reviewing the so-called Catholicate of the Romo-Syrians in India we have received many reactions from our readers. We do not have the time to elaborately analyze them for responses. However, we attempt to address some of the concerns.
Why did we coin the term “Romo-Syrians”, instead of “Syrian Catholic”? Actually this writer did not coin this term. British writers dealing with this group of Christians in Keralam had already used this term long before this writer was born! However, we give an honest response, and it is true.
The popes used to sign the official documents of the Roman Catholic Church with the title “Episcopus Ecclesiae Romanae Catholicae” (Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church). This used to be the official signature of the popes in the past. Here, the word Episcopus (bishop) signified not just the bishop of the Diocese of Rome, but the head (overseer) of the Roman Catholic Church including the uniates. We believe the Roman Catholic Syrians were and are members of this Church, and are under the Roman Pope? Can they deny this fact?
The Romo-Syrians do profess the faith and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Fundamental Theology textbooks of the Roman Church, the authors have always highlighted the name of the Church as Roman Catholic Church. It is reported that Father Anastasius, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Institute of Theology at Alwaye, Keralam, four decades ago, believed and taught if one deliberately avoided the word “Roman“ when referring to the Church, he would be a heretic! Further, he also condemned the Melkite Patriarch Maximos of Antioch to purgatory because the Patriarch did deliberately speak in French in disobedience to Pope John XXIII who directed participants to use Latin in the Second Vatican Council! If the Romo-Syrians accept the Pope of Rome as their supreme head and follow the Roman Faith why are they ashamed of using the term “Roman” with their name? We believe that the Orthodox are the true Catholics according to the definition of the term”Catholic” as understood by the Fathers of the Council of Nicea who identified and established the four notes of the Church. Therefore the Roman Church does not really qualify for the note of catholicity, as understood by the Council of Nicea.
In connection with this consideration, let me focus on the megalomania of Rome claiming to be the trend-setter of every area of knowledge, although on the majority of cases they were all false. There are many Roman Catholic scholars (?), who think that whatever is spit by Rome is ultimate and authentic, and many of them come from India, and they generally think that scholarship and erudition are the monopoly of the Roman Church, when the truth is that Rome accepts a scholarship that tries to vindicate its claims. In the area of fixing names for a group or a movement, Rome seems to act that it is her prerogative to set names for Churches. Until the Second Vatican Council (1960’s), the phrase “Roman Catholic” was arbitrarily imposed on a follower of the Pope of Rome, and was accepted by everyone without complaint. But the delegates from Middle Eastern and other non-pro-western countries were not happy with that phrase because it reflected a stigma attached to religious colonialism and, to an extent, political colonialism (because Roman religious colonialism is an offshoot of political colonialism). This was one of the reasons why Melkite Patriarch Maximos of Antioch refused to use Latin on the Council floor although he was fluent in that language (instead, he used a popular modern language- French). In order to eliminate the stigma of religious colonialism, justifications to avoid the phrase were found in the New Testament, such as, the Church of Corinth, Church of Galatia, Church of Colossia, Church of Philippia, Church of Smyrna, Church of Thessalonica, etc. Council members from predominantly Orthodox countries pressed this New Testament idea in name coining because they wanted to emphasize that they were still part of the national Church although not spiritually dependent on them.
The Roman Catholic Syrians of the Malankara Rite are the most recent uniate group within the Roman faith, and from its inception in 1930 Archbishop Ivanios deliberately shied away from using the word Roman to his group due to many reasons. Strictly speaking, this writer thinks that he was not dogmatically enamored of the Roman doctrines (about this fact this writer had written in 1966 with evidence as expressed in our previous section of this series). He wanted to present his group as a genuinely eastern group, but definitely needed the financial and legal back up for his personal agenda from an ancient church, which just happened to be Rome. Rome also had its agenda and it used Bishop Ivanios to realize those agenda, which still Rome continues to do through the group initiated by Ivanios. Ivanios was not unhappy about using the word “Catholic”, but was opposed to using the word “Roman”.