MALANKARA ORTHODOX SYRIAN CHURCH
Is the Catholicate of the Romo-Syrians in India Canonically Genuine or Bogus?
Chor-Episcopos Kuriakos Thottupuram, Ph.D.; D.D.


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.
Romo-Syrians?


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 (1960s), 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 enamoured 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".

On the contrary, the so-called Chaldean (now Malabarese) Roman Catholics were proud of calling themselves Roman Catholics (I have seen school documents of many students verifying this fact). However, Vatican II influenced them also to a new direction seeking an ethnic or national identity like any other eastern churches. In this process of seeking self-identity scholars of both the so-called Chaldean Roman Catholics and the Malankarese Syrian Catholics following Roman agenda, coined two innovative phrases to signify their groups. Although Malankara and Malabar were former names of the south-west part of India, and they both meant the same, each of these groups began to be recognized based on these names. In the mid-1960s the ecclesiastical and liturgical status of the Roman Catholic Syrians (belonging to the Nestorian rite) was restored (?). (This is a joke, readers. Some of the ancient Nestorian-based liturgical books were brought on surface, and were translated into Malayalam. Vernacularisation was the only reform that took place there. Other than that they act like Roman Catholics, their bishops and priests vest like the Romans except for the cope, they have an un-bearded clergy, their wedding has no crowning, and the church life is totally western and Roman. The Rosary, the Way of the Cross and the Eucharistic Procession and Benediction are their most important exercises of piety. Their Major Archbishop Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil was totally vested like Roman Catholic Cardinal during the recent conclave to elect the pope unlike three other Uniate cardinals who looked basically eastern in their vestments! We have to dedicate another editorial for them).
With the so-called restoration came a new name for them, probably as suggested by the scholars of liturgy and history of their Church. Thus the so-called Roman Catholic Chaldean Syrians were renamed the Syro-Malabar Catholic Rite, and the group started by Bishop Ivanios, who defected from Orthodoxy, was rechristened with the name "Syro-Malankara Catholic Rite", because its close affinity with the name Malankara. These names went through changes again. There was another movement demanding the status of a Church for them. Thus the word, Rite, was dropped, and it was replaced with the word Church. Thus we had two Roman Eastern Churches in India, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The confusion did not end there! Was the Church of Galatia or the Church of Corinth called the Catholic Church of Corinth or the Catholic Church of Galatia? No! "Let us change the names again", Rome must have mandated, or these groups must have demanded. Now these churches are without a "Catholic" character. They are now simply Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Church! God! When a church goes through such a crisis of identity, what kind of character does it possess? Is it independent, self-governed, or genuine at all? This is what happens when you submit yourself as a slave before a foreign Lord. He calls you with different names according to his pleasure and mood. Yes, Rome has the ultimate authority to give you a name, and you accept it with deep devotion.


How could these groups deny that they are “Roman” Catholics? Let me ask the following:

  • Do they not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit also from the Son (the filioque clause) as taught by the Roman Church?
  • Do they not believe that the epiklesis is not important for the elemental change in the Eucharist? Why do the Uniates still deeply bow before the elements immediately after the words of institution?
  • Do they not believe in the immaculate conception of Mary, the Mother of God?
  • Do they not believe in purgatory and indulgences?
  • Do they not follow the Roman Catholic practice of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, which are antithetical to the theology of the Eucharist according to Eastern theology?
  • Is not their spirituality fundamentally Roman, which is anchored on rosaries, the Way of Cross, Marian devotions outside the liturgy, etc.?
  • Do not they keep and encourage the Roman discipline of a celibate (?) clergy which is totally antithetical to the life of the Church according to Eastern theology?
  • Do not they give assent to the Roman heresies of Papal Primacy and Infallibility?

If these groups follow and accept the above mentioned Roman doctrines, how could they be anything but Roman Catholic? Yes, they are Roman Catholic Syrians.

Just before the new Pope, Benedict XVI, was presented to the faithful waiting in the St. Peter’s Square, the Proto-Deacon of the College of Cardinals, Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estevez, came onto the Loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica and announced in Latin:

“Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam, Eminentissimum ac Reverentissimum Dominum, Dominum Iosephum, Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger, qui sibi nomen impisuit BENEDICTUM XVI”

Do not you belong to the Holy Roman Catholic Church that Cardinal Medina Estevez is referring to? Why are you ashamed of using the word, Roman with your name? Or is there a hidden agendum for not using the word Roman with your name? There are many churches other than the Roman Catholic Church that constantly use the adjective “Catholic” with their names, including the Anglican Church which is a Protestant Church. Some orthodox churches also use “Catholic” with their names. When all these churches are claiming to be Catholic, it is ludicrous to claim that catholicity is the sole property of the Roman Church. Let us be honest: the only character the Church of Rome can claim for itself is its Roman-ness, which no other Church tries to claim for itself. When we call the follower of the Roman Church a Roman Catholic, we are indeed more charitable to o ur brother who follows the faith of the Roman Church!

June 21, 2009

*An Orthodox believer who has accepted Church Union with Rome and submitted to the pope; in most cases the popes allowed the Uniates to retain their own services.
*an Orthodox Christian or Uniate Christian belonging to the patriarchate of Alexandria or Antioch or Jerusalem
*The Chaldean Catholic Church (French: Église chaldéenne catholique) is an Eastern particular church of the Catholic Church, maintaining full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Catholic Church. It is descended from historical Church of the East, and became independent following a split with the Assyrian Church in the 16th century.
*Filioque, Latin for "and (from) the Son", was added in Western Christianity to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed. This insertion emphasizes that Jesus, the Son, is of equal divinity with God, the Father, while the absence of it in Eastern Christianity concentrates on the Father. Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. (And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.)
*The epiclesis (also spelled epiklesis; from Ancient Greek "calling down from on high") is that part of the Anaphora by which the priest invokes the Holy Spirit upon the Eucharistic bread and wine.

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