In The Light Of The Synod Of Diamper

Written By: on Jan 5th, 2010 and filed under Columns.

general’ of the Roman Church). He was made to obey the orders of the bishop and was paid from the Roman treasury. Gradually ~e Jesuits managed to impose the western culture and the Roman faitth on the St. Thomas Christians of Malankara.

2. Clashes begin

Occasionally clashes took place between the leadership. In December 1632 Arch deacon George convened at Edappally a meeting of the delegates of all church assemblies, which made Brito, the then archbishop, sign an agreement. According to the agreement, the Archbishop was deprived of the power to ordain ministers, to appoint or transfer vicars and to take penal steps against anybody without the consent of the Arch-deacon. This was certainly against the Roman interest, and Garcia, the next Arch bishop, even threatened to kill the Arch-deacon (obviously he had the support of the Viceroy and the Maharaja of Cochin). The agreement was repealed; Archbishop Garcia started again, with the support of the Jesuit missionaries, to impose Roman faith. The parish lost its entire autonomy, and the hierarchical system of administration was introduced. Arch-deacon George died in 1640. He was succeeded by Arch-deacon Thomas, who in his capacity as the leader of the caste, clashed with the Archbishop, on the question a to who should rule the national Church. The proud St. Thomas Christians stood united with the Arch-deacon as they were not willing to surrender their independence, (which they had enjoyed up to the 16th century). Many of the Presbyters unwilling to forfeit their salary sided with the Archbishop. The clash became intense, till Arch-deacon Thomas and majority of the people threw off the Roman Yoke by the historic oath of Coonan Cross at Mattanchery (1653). Even then most of the money-grubbing presbyters refused to come out of the Roman fold. (It should be noted that the Roman Catholic way of winning over the ministers and the believers, with financial help through the ‘Rite Movement’, continues even now.)

3. Portuguese reforms

The Portuguese did the following things to destroy the independence of our Church:-

1. The Jathikku Karthavyan was not allowed to rule the Church as the national leader. Moreover, he was reduced to Arch deacon which was equal to the Vicar General under a bishop. This led to the deprivation of nationalism, unity, and sense of independence.

2. The presbyters were made ‘vicars’ and were paid by the bishop. These ‘Vicars’ started functioning as the mere agents of the Archbishop; there occurred a wide gap between the ministers and the believers, their unity was lost, and the believers were reduced to mere ‘laity.’ The presbyters came to be known as rulers (hierarchy). Since the collective responsibility of the ministers and the believers was lost, the growth of the Church became stunted. The ‘clergy’ was concerned on y to protect their position and power, and as a result, the non-co-operation of the faithful grew to alarming proportions. The reformists exploited the situation and they encouraged the revolt of the faithful against the ministers, and thus the idea of’ Congregationalism’ developed in the Church.

3. The Portuguese, in their attempt to teach the Catholic faith to the people, stopped all other publications. They started special religious and theological institutions (Vypin Seminary) with a view to make the St. Thomas Christian owe allegiance to the Roman Church. The assembly held at Edappally in 1632 protested against this trend and recommended that the traditional theological education under the Malpan Should be re-established.4

4. Traditionally the ministers were selected by the parish assembly and they were ordained for the parish at the request of the assembly. This practice was ended, instead, persons were ordained without considering anybody’s choice or recommendation, appointed a vicars, and mad to spread the Roman faith. The participation of the believeers came to an end.

5. The true Christians of Kerala under the ‘Jathikku Karthavian’ were named “Puthenkoor” (a new set of people) and their right to ministerial see succession was thwarted in various ways. The arch deacon wrote to various Churches with the eastern tradition for help to continue the apostolic succession through proper ordination. Metropolitan Ahathulla was sent to Malankara, but the Portuguese executed him. It was then that the Malankara Christians threw off the Roman yoke by the “Oath of Coonan Cross” and ordained Archdeacon Thomas as Bishop. The Portuguese questioned the “laying on of hands” on him, and in his stead, ordained Alexander Parambil as a national Metropolitan, and there by managed to bring to the Roman fold a few people who had left it. Later, in 1665, the Malankara Church started a new chapter in foreign relations, by accepting the ‘ordination’ by Metropolitan Gregorios who came from Antioch. “Redeemed” as we were from the Roman yoke, nobody at that time thought that another epoch in slavery was being started. Subsequent history proves that the believers played a very significant role in protecting the true faith and freedom of the Church. In all the dashes against foreign domination, the ministers and the believers with a sense of freedom, stood united. These fights show that, rather than a protest of believers against the ministers, it was a question of nationalism against foreign domination.

1. Geddes, Michael “The History of the Church of Malabar and the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Diamper,” 1694, pp. 93-94.
2. Ibid p. 423 (No representatives from the Churches at Kunnamkulam
attended this Synod).
3. Kollaparambil, Fr. George. “St. Thomas Christian Revolution in 1653,” pp. 40-63.
4. Ibid. p. 55.

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7 Responses for “In The Light Of The Synod Of Diamper”

  1. Rajan Rajiv says:

    @ John Mathew
    Puthenkkor and other labels came only after the Portuguese elevated Syrian Christians from their low status. The Synod of Dampier gives the picture of the status of Syrian converts. The Portuguese priests were shocked to see the total ignorance of Syrians in matters relating to Christian doctrines, beliefs and liturgy. Since the Syrians were converted from Hinduism they were still retaining many Hindu beliefs. Persian priests were not coming regularly and illiterate, ignorant local priests were in charge of churches. What is more, the converted Syrians were following a corrupt form of Nestorianism, Alexis de Menzes wanted to train them to become real Christians by following real Christian beliefs. Till then Syrians believed in transmigration of souls, fatalism, practiced polygamy like the Hindus and kept Hindu idols in churches. Archbishop Menezes made baptism compulsory, and they were instructed to attend Mass to be attended with reverence. All heretical books were either burnt or destroyed. Book burning was not directed against Syrian Christians. It was an organized movement to stamp out heresy. Book burning was often part of the Inquisition, which was composed of ecclesiastical tribunals of the Catholic church set up to investigate heresy. In England and Europe, thousands of books, including the translated Bibles of the Protestants were burnt.
    The Portuguese were glad to see Christians in a foreign country where they were strangers. So they freed them fro Hindu rulers, Brahmins and Nayar jenmis, and made them planters by giving large estates, traders, soldiers and top officers in Portugfuese Kochi, because the Raja of Kochi was a subservient servant of the Portuguese.

  2. Diamper
    St. Thomas Christians oppose the decisions of the Synod of Diamper to claim higher caste status on par with Nairs and Nambbodiris. . There are two features of upper castes that are conspicuously absent in Syrian community to claim upper caste status at the time of the Synod. The Nairs practiced matrinelal system and their line of descent was traced from the common female ancestress, and it was not a man’s own children, but his sister’s sons who were his heirs. Syrian Christians at the time of the Synod were not practicing matrinileal system because they were all converts from various unouchable castes and subcastes. Nambudiri Brahmins are called dvijas meaning “twice born”. A Nambudiri is born once in the womb of his mother and again during the Upanayana when he learns the Gayatri Mantra. It is at this stage the sacred thread or poonool ceremony is conducted and Nambudiri boys were allowed to wear the thread. Since the Syrians at the time of the Synod were not having matrineleal system they were not Nair converts and since the Syrians were not wearing sacred thread they were not Nambudiris. So it goes without saying that all the decisions of the Synod were to remove the evil customs, beliefs and rituals of untouchable Hindus which were being followed by Syrian Christians because they were untouchable converts. . Pariahs and Pulayas believed in transmigration and they offer even today flowers and sacrifices (vavu bali) to dead souls thinking they would continue to bless them in transmigrated status ..Exorcism, astrology, marriage customs are similar to Hindu Pariahs and Pulayas and that is why the Synod wanted to civilize Syrian Christians. Christians were asked to believe in resurrection and not trtansmigration. In dress, Hindu women were not allowed to cover their breasts, and that was the common practice not merely of untouchables from whom Syrians were converted, but even among caste Hindus such as Nambbodiris and Nairs. When Syrian immigrants married lower caste women, they were almost naked except a small piece of loin cloth to cover the genital area. So, like the Arab immigrants in Malabar, they stitched a collarless shirt called Chatta (Tamil word for shirt) and a long piece of single cloth to cover the bottom portion from navel to calf called Mundu ( a Tamil word for dhoty) and the excess cloth was not cut off to avoid waste but frilled and tucked at the back. . Most of the maid servants and poor women in huts all over Kerala wear chatta and mundu, since they cannot afford a sari. Arab immigrants gave their untouchable wives of Malabar a chatta with sleeves known as kuppayam. A shawl was also given to their wives to put it on shoulder or to cover the head. . The Synod wanted to civilize Syrian Christians because they wee all from untouchable castes. In the initial stage, a few West Asia immigrants would have married some untouchable women, like Anglo-Indians, but at a later stage it was mass marriage among untouchables who had become Christians. That is why they retained all the rituals of untouchable Hindus. Read Thurston’s customs. beliefs, marriage (Tali tying) of untouchables such as Pariahs, Pulayas, Mukkuvas, Kuravas and Ezhavas. Then we will understand how the Synod wanted to civilize , modernise, and above all, Christianize them. Syrians who came from that stock. Archdeacon George and his nephew wanted to retain Church property and money under their personal control. So they instigated the illiterate Christian masses to rise agains Archbishop Menzes who wanted to regulate church adminstration and revnue by keeping proper records like othe Churches in Kochi area. Today there is a trend among a small group of Syrians to steal the identity of Namboodiris and Nairs to claim superior caste status, and with this sinister motive they attack the good deeds of Archbishop Menzes. . False identity claiming Namboodirii and Nair caste will boomerang, for Nairs and Nambbodiris do not accept Syrians as converted from their castes. They ridicule and pooh-pooh these insane claims, ignoring historical and demographic evidences.

  3. Alexis de Menzes wanted to reform the Syrian church which was in total disarray relating to true Christian doctrines, financial management and management of church properties.The crisis arose because of the selfishness and greed of Archdeacon George . He did not want to lose his power and income from Church and its properties. He instigated some families to oppose Menzes who wanted to bring Syrian churches under the international Roman Church. As a matter of fact, Menzes wanted to construct more churches and to give financial assistance to poor Syrian Christians. But George spread the rumour that Menzes would take away Church properties, and church money. Menzes did not
    know Malayalam and George fully exploited it by spreading false rumours against Menzes. That is how he rallied ignorant masses against Menzes which resulted in the Coonen Cross episode.
    The colleges set up by the Jesuits and Franciscans at Kodungalloe, Vaippicottaq and Kochi taught Latin and Portuguese to many hundreds of young Malayalis, and in this way they represent the beginning of the great educational movement which was later to make Kerala the most literate region of all India. Not only the local Christians, but also many of the Hindu prominent families were influenced by this early Western education. As K.M.Panikkar says, ” The later Rajahs of Cochin conversed fluently in Portuguese,and often corresponded directly in that language. In fact, all the establishments of British supremacy in Kerala, Portuguese continued to be the diplomatic language of the Kerala rulers.” But George using cunnig tactics caused a split in the Church. It was all his greed for position, money and church properties.The same split we see today for church properties and power.

  4. Please read the following site

    It means that before the synad of diampar There was nestorian christians in kerala

    The books reported hertic by the synad reveals that Christians in kerala including Knanaya were nestorians

    That means that Kerala christians were under nestorian belief

    The only nestorian church since 4th centuary was under the catholicos of celutia cetafone (persian church)

    The caldian petriarch was nestorian and that is why these books were live in kerala christian churches up to 1599.

    When persian church disintegrate due to muslim conquest they sought the help of Roman catholics since 1400 (about)

    that is how the caldian patriarch was consecreted by pope
    since 1400

    That was not known to kerala chridstians because, the hertic books were live since 1599.

    they were strictly nestorians still the synad of diampar (1599)

    That means the ancient st thomas christians were under the nestorian catholicos of celutia

    They were neither under pope nor under patriarch of antioch

    If we claim that kerala christians were under the patriarch of untioch since Kana thoma (3rd centuary) we may have to accept that the patriarch of antioch was under nestorian creed is it true?

    If we claim that kerala christians were under pope we may have to accept that pope was under nestorian creed. Is it true

    Then you think and come to a conclusion

  5. B.George says:

    Interesting. There is no mention of apostle Thomas in all these exchanges. Is it pertinent to ask what did he teach the folks in keralam at that time? Did he come to keralam to convert locals or he carried a message from Jesus exclusively meant for the resident trading Jews and other Romans. One seems to forget that conversion was not a Jewish idea and Thomas was a Jew to begin with. How come he converted Hindus to Christianity and that too Brahmins? Were there any Brahmins in Keralam at that time. History says that keralam was wholly or partly Buddhist and Jains and they have no Brahmins. Before commenting on the Portuguese one must get the history correct. To me the Portuguese attempted and succeeded in removing among other things the basic Jewishness of the Thomas Christian faith. Remember those were the times of inquisition in Europe and there was always an antisemitic feeling among Europeans. This needs to be studied and understood. By the by the Portuguese carried out an inquisition in Goa. Although I have no authentic texts to quote from there is a place in front of the Se Cathedral in old Goa which is reputed to be the site of inquisition and there is a strong belief that certain keralam believers were also subjected to the inquisition.
    My comments are slightly off the mark I know but these issues require to be pursued. B.George. Nagpur.

  6. Abraham says:

    @ John Mathew

    Since you basic education of Indian Church history is through English books written by Catholics, it’s of no hope lecturing to you.

    The Catholics do not divulge anything about the atrocities they have committed. To learn that first you have to learn Malayalam and start reading books written by your own faction.

    How easy it is for them to paint the arch-deacons awful, and hide the horrendous crimes committed by the Portuguese. In NSC network, the garbage committed by Portuguese, is often admitted in one-liners, and all the other rubbish about the Arch-Deacon and his party in paragraphs.

    Basically you are wasted; and only well read, what the Catholics do offer. Also not even a pinch of effort has gone into reading the Puthenkoor books like, the Niranam Ghrandavary or the Three Volume books, Malankara Nasranikal by ZM Paret.

    Read those and use common sense to discern and bisect based on your logic and then come to conclusions.

  7. John Mathew, Toronto says:

    “The true Christians of Kerala … were called Puthenkoor”.

    Please let’s have some objectivity, and more importantly, some accuracy.

    The Puthenkoor were so called because they eventually adopted a New Rite—the West Syriac one. They weren’t any “truer” than the Pazhayakoor.

    The Pazhayakoor retained the old rite (with Catholic modifications)—the East Syriac one.

    Both are Christian. And interestingly, the Pazhayakoor, even though Romanized, are closer to our Nestorian ancestors (in a Christological sense), than us miaphysite “Jacobites”. Yet, we have the gaul to claim *we’re* the original ones.

    Let’s grow up.

    It’s easy to demonize the Portuguese, but let’s remember that our native rulers (the archdeacons) were no saints (much like our current “rulers”). They took advantage of their position and power, and did not well serve the outlying dioceses. The Catholics sent priests to all dioceses, and stopped some of the corrupt practices that our priests of old had engaged in. That is they *helped* us. Of course, they also tried to control us. So they were, like the British, both good and bad. For example, black magic and other pagan influences were common in ancient times. Aren’t we glad that the Catholics helped put an end to that? Our archdeacons certainly didn’t do anything.

    Simply demonizing the Catholics of the 16/17th centuries is over-easy and lacking in substance, and ignores many of the good things they did to re-establish the faith in a people who were, in many respects, only borderline Christians (engaged in polygamy, priests who were more concerned with maintaining commerce than practicing the rites, etc.). They even built many Churches for us — in the old days, do you even know how many Churches we had? A very small number. What does that say about our ancient piety!?

    What’s the result of this anti-Catholic propaganda: to this day, Orthodox people feel more closer to the Mar Thomites (who are heretics) than to their actual brothers, the Catholics and the Jacobites.

    Let’s stop the irresponsible distortion of history.

    Let’s write in a more responsible, intellectually sophisticated manner, that amplifies truth and attenuates noise.

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