The Unsuccessful Reunion Efforts of the First Five Malankara Leaders (1663-1764)

Post-Schism Scenario and Intentions

After the 1653 Coonan Cross Oath, leading to the division of the Malankara Church, the leaders of the schismatic group, from Mar Thomas I to Mar Thomas V, governed from 1653 to 1764 with an initial aim of preserving their faith and Chaldean rite. Their turn towards the Antiochene Patriarch for valid episcopal consecration was a last resort after repeated failures to reunite with the Catholic Church.

Reunion Attempts and Ecclesiastical Challenges

The main obstacle to reunion was the demand of the Malankara community leaders to be received into the Catholic Church as bishops with jurisdiction over their faithful. This demand was consistently opposed by the Carmelite vicars apostolic of Malabar, the Portuguese Padroado authorities, and the Congregation of Propaganda Fide. The reception of these leaders with episcopal jurisdiction might have led to the reunification of all St Thomas Christians under one head, thus potentially ending the Latin bishops' authority over them.

The Episcopacy of the Separated Community Leaders

Despite not being consecrated as bishops, the first five heads of the separated community performed all episcopal functions, including ordaining priests. There were concerns that some of their successors, chosen from non-validly ordained priests, were essentially laymen. Propaganda Fide, initially hesitant, considered the case of Mar Thomas V (1728-1764) with interest, despite him being viewed as an “intruder” or “laicus mitratus.”

Communications from Propaganda Fide

In a letter dated September 5, 1750, to the vicar apostolic of Malabar, Propaganda Fide expressed willingness to grant Mar Thomas V episcopal status and his priests sacred orders, conditional upon proof of their sincere reformation. However, ordinary jurisdiction was denied due to its potential harm to the authority of the vicar apostolic.

His Holiness in his usual apostolic clemency and fatherly benevolence does not refuse to grant at a more opportune time the mentioned Archdeacon the graces that he asks both for his own person and for his so-called priests, but he wants first to verify their sincere reformation and to have suitable and clear proofs for the same.1)

Change in Attitude and Final Outcome

By September 3, 1757, Propaganda Fide's stance shifted negatively as Mar Thomas V showed no signs of repentance. Instructions to the vicar apostolic emphasized Christian charity towards Mar Thomas V but clearly stated that there should be no hope of ecclesiastical rehabilitation for those he had ordained without legitimate authority. The continued resistance of Mar Thomas V led to the final failure of reconciliation efforts, prompting him to seek episcopal consecration from the Syro-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.

But since the aforesaid Archdeacon is persisting, as you have notified, in using the episcopal insignias, and in unduly usurping the power that he does not enjoy, it is the mind of the said Sacred Congregation that you continue to exercise all the obligations of Christian charity in his regard, as becomes your pastoral character, procuring as far as is possible his effective and sincere conversion. In doing this, however, you should be very careful not to give them any hope whatever of being ever raised to the ecclesiastical dignities, and of being rehabilitated by this Holy See all those persons, whom he promoted to the sacred Orders, without having any legitimate authority to do so.2)
Vatican City, Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Lettere (1750), f. 158v-159. Formerly this Archives was called Archives of the Congregation for the Propagation Faith (Archivum Congregationis de Propaganda Fide) corresponding to its previous name.
Vatican City, Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Lettere, vol. 190, f. 213r; also in Ambrosius a S. Theresia OCD, Hierarchia carmelitana seu series illustrium Praesulum ecclesiasticorum ex Ordine Carmelitarum Discalceatorum, Fasciculus IV, Romae 1939, 251.
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