Asian Christianity
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Date: February 20, 2022 07:56AM

Great Church


Parthian Empire

Ottoman Empire

The term "Great Church" (Latin: ecclesia magna) is used in the historiography of early Christianity to mean the period of about 180 to 313, between that of primitive Christianity and that of the legalization of the Christian religion in the Roman Empire, corresponding closely to what is called the Ante-Nicene Period. "It has rightly been called the period of the Great Church, in view of its numerical growth, its constitutional development and its intense theological activity."[1]

It has been defined also as meaning "the Church as defended by such as Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyprian of Carthage, and Origen of Alexandria and characterized as possessing a single teaching and communion over and against the division of the sects, e.g., gnosticism, and the heresies".[2]

By the beginning of the fourth century, the Great Church or, as it was also called, the catholic (i.e., universal) Church,[3] already formed about 15% of the population of the Roman Empire and was ready, both numerically and structurally, for its role as the church of the empire, becoming the state church of the Roman Empire in 380.[4] However, it would be wrong "to over-emphasize the new externals of the Church at the expense of historical continuity".[5] It was still the same Church.

Roger F. Olson says: "According to the Roman Catholic account of the history of Christian theology, the Great Church catholic and orthodox lived on from the apostles to today in the West and all bishops that remained in fellowship with the bishop of Rome have constituted its hierarchy";[6] or, as the Catholic Church itself has expressed it, "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure."[7]

The unbroken continuity of the Great Church is affirmed also by the Eastern Orthodox Church: "Orthodoxy regards the Great Church in antiquity (for most of the first millennium) as comprising, on one side, the Eastern Orthodox world (the Byzantine patriarchates presided over by the hierarch of the Church of Constantinople together with the Slavic Orthodox churches); and, on the other side, the Western Catholic Church, presided over by the hierarch of the Church of Rome."[8]

At the beginning of the 3rd century the Great Church that Irenaeus and Celsus had referred to had spread across a significant portion of the world, with most of its members living in cities (see early centers of Christianity).[11] The growth was less than uniform across the world. The Chronicle of Arbela stated that in 225 AD, there were 20 bishops in all of Persia, while at approximately the same time, surrounding areas of Rome had over 60 bishops.[11] But the Great Church of the 3rd century was not monolithic, consisting of a network of churches connected across cultural zones by lines of communication which at times included personal relationships.[11]

The Great Church grew in the 2nd century and entered the 3rd century mainly in two empires: the Roman and the Persian, with the network of bishops usually acting as the cohesive element across cultural zones.[12] In 313, the Edict of Milan ended the persecution of Christians, and by 380 the Great Church had gathered enough followers to become the State church of the Roman Empire by virtue of the Edict of Thessalonica.[1]

The Assyrian Church of the East

The Assyrian Church of the East considers itself as the continuation of the Church of the East, a church that originally developed among the Assyrians during the first century AD in Assyria, Upper Mesopotamia and northwestern Persia, east of the Byzantine Empire. It is an apostolic church established by Thomas the Apostle, Thaddeus of Edessa, and Bartholomew the Apostle. Saint Peter, chief of the Apostles, added his blessing to the Church of the East at the time of his visit to the See at Babylon in the earliest days of the church when stating, "The elect church which is in Babylon, salutes you; and Mark, my son." (1 Peter 5:13).[25]

The historical distinctiveness of the Assyrian Church of the East resulted from the series of complex processes and events that occurred within the Church of the East during the transitional period that started in the middle of the 16th century, and lasted until the beginning of the 19th century.[26] That turbulent period was marked by several consequent splits and mergers, resulting in the creation of separate branches and rival patriarchal lines. During the entire period, one of the main questions of dispute was the union with the Catholic Church. Ultimately, the pro-Catholic branches were consolidated as the Chaldean Catholic Church, while the traditional branches were consolidated as the Assyrian Church of the East.[27]

The Church of the East

The Church of the East (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ‎, romanized: ʿĒḏtā d-Maḏenḥā), also called the Persian Church[10][11] or the Nestorian Church,[note 1] was an Eastern Christian church of the East Syriac Rite, based in Mesopotamia. It was one of three major branches of Eastern Christianity that arose from the Christological controversies of the 5th and 6th centuries, alongside the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Chalcedonian Church. During the early modern period, a series of schisms gave rise to rival patriarchates, sometimes two, sometimes three.[12] Since the latter half of the 20th century, three churches in Iraq claim the heritage of the Church of the East. Meanwhile, the East Syriac churches in India claim the heritage of the Church of the East in India.

The Church of the East organized itself in 410 as the national church of the Sasanian Empire through the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. In 424 it declared itself independent of the church structure of the Roman Empire. The Church of the East was headed by the Patriarch of the East seated in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, continuing a line that, according to its tradition, stretched back to the Apostolic Age. According to its tradition, the Church of the East was established by Thomas the Apostle in the first century. Its liturgical rite was the East Syrian rite that employs the Divine Liturgy of Saints Addai and Mari.

The Church of the East, which was part of the Great Church, shared communion with those in the Roman Empire until the Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorius in 431.[1] Supporters of Nestorius took refuge in Sasanian Persia, where the Church refused to condemn Nestorius and became accused of Nestorianism, a heresy attributed to Nestorius. It was therefore called the Nestorian Church by all the other Eastern churches, both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian, and by the Western Church. Politically the Persian and Roman empires were at war with each other, which forced the Church of the East to distance itself from the churches within Roman territory.[13][14][15] More recently, the "Nestorian" appellation has been called "a lamentable misnomer",[16][17] and theologically incorrect by scholars.[11] The Church of the East itself started to call itself Nestorian, it anathematized the Council of Ephesus, and in its liturgy Nestorius was mentioned as a saint.[18][19] However, the christology of the Church of the East did finally gather to ratify the Council of Chalcedon at the Synod of Mar Aba I in 544.[20][2]

Continuing as a dhimmi community under the Sunni Caliphate after the Muslim conquest of Persia (633–654), the Church of the East played a major role in the history of Christianity in Asia. Between the 9th and 14th centuries, it represented the world's largest Christian denomination in terms of geographical extent. It established dioceses and communities stretching from the Mediterranean Sea and today's Iraq and Iran, to India (the Saint Thomas Syrian Christians of Kerala), the Mongol kingdoms in Central Asia, and China during the Tang dynasty (7th–9th centuries). In the 13th and 14th centuries, the church experienced a final period of expansion under the Mongol Empire, where influential Church of the East clergy sat in the Mongol court.

Even before the Church of the East underwent a rapid decline in its field of expansion in central Asia in the 14th century, it had already lost ground in its home territory. The decline is indicated by the shrinking list of active dioceses. Around the year 1000, there were more than sixty dioceses throughout the Near East, but by the middle of the 13th century there were about twenty, and after Timur Leng the number was further reduced to seven only.[21] In the aftermath of the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire, the rising Chinese and Islamic Mongol leaderships pushed out and nearly eradicated the Church of the East and its followers. Thereafter, Church of the East dioceses remained largely confined to Upper Mesopotamia and to the Saint Thomas Syrian Christians in the Malabar Coast (modern-day Kerala, India).

Divisions occurred within the church itself, but by 1830 two unified patriarchates and distinct churches remained: the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with the Holy See). The Ancient Church of the East split from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1968. In 2017, the Chaldean Catholic Church had approximately 628,405 members[22] and the Assyrian Church of the East had 323,300 to 380,000,[23][24] while the Ancient Church of the East had 100,000. This does not consider the Saint Thomas Syrian Christians, who have also fragmented into several different denominations, including two Syrian Catholic (Syro-Malabar with East Syriac rite heritage and Syro-Malankara with West Syriac rite heritage) and several other Syrian Orthodox branches.

Chaldean Church of the East

For many centuries, from at least the time of Jerome (c. 347 – 420),[13] the term "Chaldean" indicated the Chaldean (Neo-Aramaic) language[14] and was still the normal name in the nineteenth century.[15][16][17] Only in 1445 did it begin to be used to mean Aramaic speakers in communion with the Catholic Church, on the basis of a decree of the Council of Florence,[18] which accepted the profession of faith that Timothy, metropolitan of the Aramaic speakers in Cyprus, made in Aramaic, and which decreed that "nobody shall in future dare to call [...] Chaldeans, Nestorians".[19][20][21] Previously, when there were as yet no Catholic Aramaic speakers of Mesopotamian origin, the term "Chaldean" was applied with explicit reference to their "Nestorian" religion. Thus Jacques de Vitry wrote of them in 1220/1 that "they denied that Mary was the Mother of God and claimed that Christ existed in two persons. They consecrated leavened bread and used the 'Chaldean' (Syriac) language".[22] The decree of the Council of Florence was directed against use of "Chaldean" to signify "non-Catholic."

Outside of Catholic Church usage, the term "Chaldean" continued to apply to all associated with the Church of the East tradition, whether they were in communion with Rome or not. It indicated not race or nationality, but only language or religion. Throughout the 19th century, it continued to be used of East Syriac Christians, whether "Nestorian" or Catholic,[23][24][25][26][27] and this usage continued into the 20th century.[28] In 1852 George Percy Badger distinguished those whom he called Chaldeans from those whom he called Nestorians, but by religion alone, never by language, race or nationality.[29]

Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid of the Chaldean Catholic Church (1989–2003), who accepted the term Assyrian as descriptive of his nationality, commented: "When a portion of the Church of the East became Catholic in the 17th Century, the name given to the church was 'Chaldean' based on the Magi kings who were believed by some to have come from what once had been the land of the Chaldean, to Bethlehem. The name 'Chaldean' does not represent an ethnicity, just a church [...] We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion [...] I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian."[30] Earlier, he said: "Before I became a priest I was an Assyrian, before I became a bishop I was an Assyrian, I am an Assyrian today, tomorrow, forever, and I am proud of it."[31]

The Church of the East
Main article: Church of the East
The Chaldean Catholic Church traces its beginnings to the Church of the East, which was founded in the Parthian Empire. The Acts of the Apostles mentions Parthians as among those to whom the apostles preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). Thomas the Apostle, Thaddeus of Edessa, and Bartholomew the Apostle are reputed to be its founders. One of the modern Churches that boast descent from it says it is "the Church in Babylon" spoken of in 1 Peter 5:13 and that he visited it.[32]

Under the rule of the Sasanian Empire, which overthrew the Parthians in 224, the Church of the East continued to develop its distinctive identity by use of the Syriac language and Syriac script. One "Persian" bishop was at the First Council of Nicaea (325).[33] There is no mention of Persian participation in the First Council of Constantinople (381), in which also the Western part of the Roman Empire was not involved.

The Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon of 410, held in the Sasanian capital, recognized the city's bishop Isaac as Catholicos, with authority throughout the Church of the East. The persistent military conflicts between the Sasanians and the by then Christianized Roman Empire made the Persians suspect the Church of the East of sympathizing with the enemy. This in turn induced the Church of the East to distance itself increasingly from that in the Roman Empire. Although in a time of peace their 420 council explicitly accepted the decrees of some "western" councils, including that of Nicaea, in 424 they determined that thenceforth they would refer disciplinary or theological problems to no external power, especially not to any "western" bishop or council.[34][35]

The theological controversy that followed the Council of Ephesus in 431 was a turning point in the history of the Church of the East. The Council condemned as heretical the Christology of Nestorius, whose reluctance to accord the Virgin Mary the title Theotokos "God-bearer, Mother of God" was taken as evidence that he believed two separate persons (as opposed to two united natures) to be present within Christ. The Sasanian Emperor provided refuge for those who in the Nestorian Schism rejected the decrees of the Council of Ephesus enforced in the Byzantine Empire.[36] In 484 he executed the pro-Roman Catholicos Babowai. Under the influence of Barsauma, Bishop of Nisibis, the Church of the East officially accepted as normative the teaching not of Nestorius himself, but of his teacher Theodore of Mopsuestia, whose writings the 553 Second Council of Constantinople condemned as Nestorian but some modern scholars view them as orthodox.[37] The position thus assigned to Theodore in the Church of the East was reinforced in several subsequent synods in spite of the opposing teaching of Henana of Adiabeme.[38]

After its split with the West and its adoption of a theology that some called Nestorianism, the Church of the East expanded rapidly in the medieval period due to missionary work. Between 500 and 1400, its geographical horizon extended well beyond its heartland in present-day northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey, setting up communities throughout Central Asia and as far as China as witnessed by the Nestorian Stele, a Tang dynasty tablet in Chinese script dating to 781 that documented 150 years of Christian history in China.[39] Their most lasting addition was of the Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar Coast in India, where they had around 10 million followers.[40]

However, a decline had already set in at the time of Yahballaha III (1281–1317), when the Church of the East reached its greatest geographical extent, it had in south and central Iraq and in south, central and east Persia only four dioceses, where at the end of the ninth century it had at least 54,[41] and Yahballaha himself died at the hands of a Muslim mob.

Around 1400, the Turco-Mongol nomadic conqueror Timur arose out of the Eurasian Steppe to lead military campaigns across Western, Southern and Central Asia, ultimately seizing much of the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate. Timur's conquests devastated most Assyrian bishoprics and destroyed the 4000-year-old cultural and religious capital of Assur. After the destruction brought on by Timur, the massive and organized Nestorian Church structure was largely reduced to its region of origin, with the exception of the Saint Thomas Christians in India.

1552 schism
Main articles: Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa and Schism of 1552
The Church of the East has seen many disputes about the position of Catholicos. A synod in 539 decided that neither of the two claimants, Elisha and Narsai, who had been elected by rival groups of bishops in 524, was legitimate.[42] Similar conflicts occurred between Barsauma and Acacius of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and between Hnanisho I and Yohannan the Leper. The 1552 conflict was not merely between two individuals but extended to two rival lines of patriarchs, like the 1964 schism between what are now called the Assyrian and the Ancient Church of the East.

Credentials of Abdisho IV Maron, Sulaqa's successor, to the Council of Trent in 1562
Dissent over the practice of hereditary succession to the Patriarchate (usually from uncle to nephew) led to the action in 1552 by a group of bishops from the northern regions of Amid and Salmas who elected as a rival Patriarch the abbot of Rabban Hormizd Monastery (which was the Patriarch's residence) Yohannan Sulaqa. "To strengthen the position of their candidate the bishops sent him to Rome to negotiate a new union".[43] By tradition, a patriarch could be ordained only by someone of archiepiscopal (metropolitan) rank, a rank to which only members of that one family were promoted. So Sulaqa travelled to Rome, where, presented as the new patriarch elect, he entered communion with the Catholic Church and was ordained by the Pope and recognized as patriarch. The title or description under which he was recognized as patriarch is given variously as "Patriarch of Mosul in Eastern Syria";[44] "Patriarch of the Church of the Chaldeans of Mosul";[45] "Patriarch of the Chaldeans";[43][46][47] "patriarch of Mosul";[48][49][50] or "patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians", this last being the version given by Pietro Strozzi on the second-last unnumbered page before page 1 of his De Dogmatibus Chaldaeorum,[51] of which an English translation is given in Adrian Fortescue's Lesser Eastern Churches.[52][53] The "Eastern Assyrians", who, if not Catholic, were presumed to be Nestorians, were distinguished from the "Western Assyrians" (those west of the Tigris River), who were looked on as Jacobites.[54][55][56] It was as Patriarch of the "Eastern Assyrians" that Sulaqa's successor, Abdisho IV Maron, was accredited for participation in the Council of Trent.[57]

The names already in use (except that of "Nestorian") were thus applied to the existing church (not a new one) for which the request to consecrate its patriarch was made by emissaries who gave the impression that the patriarchal see was vacant.[49][47][58]

Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa returned home in the same year and, unable to take possession of the traditional patriarchal seat near Alqosh, resided in Amid. Before being put to death at the instigation of the partisans of the Patriarch from whom he had broken away,[48] he ordained two metropolitans and three other bishops,[47][49] thus initiating a new ecclesiastical hierarchy under what is known as the "Shimun line" of patriarchs, who soon moved from Amid eastward, settling, after many intervening places, in the isolated village of Qochanis under Persian rule.

Successive leaders of those in communion with Rome
Sulaqa's earliest successors entered into communion with the Catholic Church, but in the course of over a century, their link with Rome grew weak. The last to request and obtain formal papal recognition died in 1600. They adopted hereditary succession to the patriarchate, opposition to which had caused the 1552 schism. In 1672, Shimun XIII Dinkha formally broke communion with Rome, adopting a profession of faith that contradicted that of Rome, while he maintained his independence from the Alqosh-based "Eliya line" of patriarchs. The "Shimun line" eventually became the patriarchal line of what since 1976 is officially called the Assyrian Church of the East.[9][10][11][59]

Leadership of those who wished to be in communion with Rome then passed to Archbishop Joseph of Amid. In 1677 his leadership was recognized first by the Turkish civil authorities, and then in 1681 by Rome. (Until then, the authority of the Alqosh patriarch over Amid, which had been Sulaqa's residence but which his successors abandoned on having to move eastward into Safavid Iran, had been accepted by the Turkish authorities.)

All the (non-hereditary) successors in Amid of Joseph I, who in 1696 resigned for health reasons and lived on in Rome until 1707, took the name Joseph: Joseph II (1696–1713), Joseph III (1713–1757), Joseph IV (1757–1781). For that reason, they are known as the "Josephite line". Joseph IV presented his resignation in 1780 and it was accepted in 1781, after which he handed over the administration of the patriarchate to his nephew, not yet a bishop, and retired to Rome, where he lived until 1791.[60]

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/20/2022 08:06AM by administrator.

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