The Reunion Initiatives of Mar Dionysius V and Fr. Emmanuel Nidiry (1882-1888): Striving for Unity in the Malankara Church


The period from 1882 to 1888 marked a significant chapter in the history of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, characterized by concerted efforts towards ecclesiastical reunification. This movement was primarily led by Mar Dionysius V, the reigning Metropolitan from 1876 to 1909, and Fr. Emmanuel Nidiry, a prominent Catholic priest and ecumenical figure.

Mar Dionysius V's Leadership

Mar Dionysius V's tenure was distinguished by his dedication to preserving the church's established hierarchy and rite. His commitment to these aspects was fundamental to his approach towards reunification with the Roman Catholic Church.

Fr. Emmanuel Nidiry: A Catalyst for Unity

Background: Emmanuel Nidiry, born on May 27, 1842, in Kuravilangadu, became a pivotal figure in the ecumenical movement among the St Thomas Christians. Ordained in 1876, he was later appointed Vicar General of the Vicariate Apostolic of Kottayam in 1889 by Bishop Charles Lavigne.

Contributions: Nidiry's vision for unity led to the formation of the Syrian National Union Association (Niizrani Jathiailda Sangham) in the 1980s. This organization aimed to bridge the divide between Catholic and native Jacobite Christians, fostering cooperation in social, cultural, educational, and economic realms.

Syrian National Union Association

Objective: The Association sought to create a platform for dialogue and collaboration between different Christian denominations within the St Thomas Christian community.

Impact: Its establishment marked a significant step towards addressing communal divisions and promoting a unified Christian identity.

Challenges from Church Hierarchies

Skepticism from Church Officials: Representatives of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, including Leonard Mellano of St Luis OCD (Vicar Apostolic and later Archbishop of Verapoly) and Charles Lavigne (Vicar Apostolic of Changanacherry), expressed reservations about the sincerity of Mar Dionysius V's intentions. They were concerned about the potential implications of collaboration between Jacobites and Catholics, and the prospect of diminished influence over the Catholic St Thomas Christians.

Propaganda Fide’s Deliberations and Resolutions (1888)

Inquiry: A general meeting on June 25, 1888, scrutinized Mar Dionysius V's conversion and proposed reunion. Nine critical questions were posed, addressing issues like the validity of Jacobite baptisms and ordinations, hierarchy, and rite preservation.

Thematic Presentation of Questions and Responses Regarding Reunion with Jacobites in Malabar:

  1. Validity of the baptism of Jacobites in Malabar: The matter, form, and application method will be examined. Essential matter and true form will be prescribed for future use.
  1. Validity of the sacred Orders conferred by Jacobite Bishops: Explore whether the present Jacobite bishops in Malabar have been validly consecrated and have duly conferred the Orders as regards substance. If some ordinations are found null or dubious, they should be repeated absolutely or conditionally for worthy subjects.
  1. Hierarchy and jurisdiction: Their hierarchy will be preserved, and the jurisdiction of bishops in their respective dioceses will be protected.
  1. Converted Jacobite priests: They will be permitted to exercise their orders, and their respective offices will be maintained following existing laws, conditions, and precautions.
  1. Syrian rite: The rite will be maintained, with any introduced modifications omitted. However, the liturgical books and ritual uses of the Jacobites will be examined.
  1. Use of leavened bread for the Eucharist: It can be permitted, provided that they confess the Body of Christ can truly be made in both leavened and unleavened bread. Efforts should be made to eliminate leavened bread, but if difficulties arise, information on the quantity of salt or oil used and the motive for such mixing should be obtained.
  1. Married priests and ecclesiastical celibacy: No problem regarding priests married before ordination, but each case of a priest married after ordination will be considered individually. Investigation into the basis of Mar Dionysius's declaration in favor of celibacy should be conducted for the future.
  1. Request for sustenance and books: After conversion, support will be provided, and some copies of books will be sent through the Apostolic Delegate.
  1. Instructions for Msgr. Aiuti: He should continue to cultivate the good dispositions of Mar Dionysius to the best of his ability.1)

Papal Endorsement: The resolutions from this meeting received immediate approval from Pope Leo XIII, signaling a cautiously optimistic stance from the Vatican.

Continued Negotiations and Stalemate

Progress Halted: Despite the positive resolutions, ongoing discussions were impeded by mutual distrust and misinterpretations. A prevalent concern was the possibility of Mar Dionysius V aiming to merge the Catholic and Jacobite factions under his leadership.

Association's Role Questioned: The role of the Syrian National Union Association in fostering Catholic-Jacobite cooperation was viewed with suspicion by ecclesiastical authorities, fueling fears of religious syncretism. Outcome: Failure to Achieve Reunification

Failed Attempts: The efforts, while rooted in genuine aspirations for unity, were ultimately unsuccessful due to complex ecclesiastical and socio-political dynamics.

Influence of Western Clergy: A significant factor in the failure was the reluctance of Western bishops and missionaries in Malabar to cede control over the St Thomas Christians, prioritizing jurisdictional authority over ecclesial unity.


The reunion endeavors led by Mar Dionysius V and Emmanuel Nidiry represent a critical yet ultimately unfulfilled phase in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church's history. Spanning six years, these efforts underscored the intricate interplay of ecclesiastical politics, doctrinal concerns, and community aspirations, culminating in a lost opportunity for comprehensive reunification of the St Thomas Christians.

Vatican City, Archives of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Acta 1888, vol. 19, f. 132; also in Prot. 82/28, MB.Jabar: Vescovi Giacobiti, Ponenza del 4 luglio 1930, Appendice al Sommario, paragrafo II-2, pp. 119-122; our own free English adaptation from the original Latin-Italian text.
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