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In The Light Of The Synod Of Diamper

If we examine the proceedings and the decisions of the Synod of Diamper (1599) convened by the Portuguese Bishop Menezis, we can understand many things that prevailed before, among the St. Thomas Christians. 1 In fact Menezis convened the synod exploiting the autonomous Church assemblies of each locality and the participation of the believers in them. In the order issued for convening the synod, Menezis made it clear that, as was the custom of this Church from ancient days, four significant persons representing each assembly should attend the synod, and that the decisions – both spiritual and temporal _ taken by the Synod would be binding on the people. Obeying the order, 793 persons participated including 133 ministers (Presbyters) and 660 believers. 2

Menezis succeeded in bringing our Church under Portuguese control by this Synod. Before that, bishops from the Persian and the Babylonian Churches came here on request from the Indian Church to give spiritual leadership, but never with the support of the Persian Kings, whose power was declining. The freedom that they allowed in their Churches was allowed here too. But Menezis and other Portuguese bishops came here with the object of seizing all powers of the Church with the support of the Portuguese Kings. To attain that object, with the help of the native Kings, they convened the Synod of Diamper through which they attempted to make our independent Church dance to their tunes, and we see that they succeeded in their attempt to a great extent.

1. Portuguese ways imposed

Soon after the synod of Diamper, the Roman administrative system was imposed on the Malankara Church. Not only were the Church assemblies deprived of their autonomy, but they were declared as the parishes of the Roman Church, and the bishop appointed ‘Vicars’ to rule these parishes. The Portuguese bishop himself paid them a salary and the vicars started imposing the Roman faith and customs on the Malankara Church, which gradually lost its own faith and independence. The principle of collective responsibility shared by the minister and the believers gave way to the rule by the Vicars (hierarchy) of the Roman Church. Consequently the faithful became mere ‘laity’ under the ‘vicars’ and were forced to accept the Roman faith unquestioningly. The Jesuits could keep on with these Roman reforms with the support of the native Kings. They managed things in such a way that the Malankara Church became economically dependent on the Roman Church; Economic dependence infused Roman faith into the people.

Besides this, the Jathikku Karthavyan (the leader of the caste) who was accepted as the national leader, and who ruled this Church, was reduced to the position of the ‘Arch-deacon’ (equal to the Vicar 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.