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Ecumenism in Praxis

A Historical Critique of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church


Joseph Daniel

The Malankara Mar Thoma Church’s ecumenical outlook – marked by twin facets of openness and autonomy – has been the underlying ethos guiding its history, helping it to establish a unique identity. The book retells the church’s ecumenical history dating back to its founding in 52 CE. This study throws ample light on the period between the significant changes of 1889 and the present times. It deals with questions such as: How did the church start practising an ecumenical outlook even before the word ecumenism was coined? Could this have resulted from the church’s interaction with Indian culture that upholds unity in diversity?
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Chapter I


An Indian Church

Call it colonialism of the religious kind – Vasco Da Gama’s discovery of the trade route from Europe to India in 1498 saw the beginning of a Roman Catholic campaign to gain a controlling hold on the Indian church. The Malankara Church (Church of St. Thomas or Mar Thoma) roundly opposed it.

The Roman Catholic-Portuguese project was to bring Roman Catholicism to the East and to bring the Mar Thoma community wholly under its fold. Towards this end, the Pope sent Archbishop Alexis De Menezis (1559–1617) to India with the express order “to take control of the Bishopric”.

The Archbishop set up shop in Goa in 1592 and set out to bring the Mar Thoma Church in conformity with the doctrines and customs of the Roman Catholic Church. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus – there is no salvation outside the (Roman Catholic) Church – became the watchwords of the Menezis regime. This put him in direct confrontation with Archdeacon Thomas, the spiritual head of the Mar Thoma church and representative of the Persian bishop. The Archdeacon used to be then considered the “prince of all Christians” (jathikkukarthavyam) in Malabar.

Overriding the strong opposition of Archdeacon Thomas, the Pope’s agent convened a synod to separate the Malankara Church from the influence of the Persian Church and to subject it under the Roman Catholic diocese of Goa. The Synod was convened for six days in Udayamperoor (Diamper) in 1599. In the book, The History...

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