1. The Church of the East from Late Antiquity to the Arab Conquest –
2. The Period of the Arabs and the Translation Movement – 3. The Era of the Mongols and their first encounters with Latin Christianity – 4. The Foundation of the Sulaqa Lineage – 5. Three different patriarchal successions – 5. Yohannan Hormizd and the Chaldean Patriarchal Succession – 6. From the 19th century until today – 7.Liturgy and spirituality -8.Institutions – 9.Current situation
The Chaldean Catholic Church traces its origins back to the Ancient East Christianity that flourished outside the Roman Empire. It has been called the “Church of the East” or – especially during the period of Later Antiquity – the “Persian Church”. The titles: Chaldeans, Assyrians, Aramaic, and Mesopotamians are names which came into use relatively late in the history of the Church of the East. They refer to a remote past and evoke memories of very ancient civilizations. The terms refer to the same people, but look at them from different perspectives. The Aramaic dialect Syriac (sureth), which is still spoken nowadays by most of the faithful, was the language of trade and commerce throughout eastern regions. Technically, the term “Chaldean” was first used in the 15th century to describe those East Syriac Christians in Cyprus who came into union with the Roman Catholic Church. In the 18th century the East Syriac Patriarchs settled in Amid (Diyarbaker-Turkey), and soon formed a union with the Catholic Church and occasionally used the term. While in earlier centuries simply the term “Catholic” was preferred, Later on “Chaldean” came into common usage and became official only after 1828. At that time, two of the then three jurisdictions of the “Church of the East” – the Amid and the Mosul patriarchates – reunited and since then have been in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church of the East from Late Antiquity to the Arab Conquest
The sources that treat the origins of the Church of the East – i.e. east of the Euphrates, are scanty. One can assume that Christianity spread from the Osrohene and its capital Edessa (Urfa), from the regions surrounding Nisibis (Nusaybin) and Palmira – Hatra into the Persian Empire as early as the beginning of the Second Century. The first Christian congregations emerged in the Jewish communities, which had been present in Mesopotamia at least since the Nineveh and Babylon exile, and among other Aramaic speaking Semites of the Parthian Empire, where the attitude towards Christians was tolerant or at least indifferent.
This is also reflected in the ancient yet often historically conflicting missionary traditions of the Church of the East. According to the best-known and most widely disseminated version, the Apostle Thomas was the first one to evangelize those regions in his travels through Mesopotamia, Persia and Media to India. He was followed by Addai, one of the seventy disciples, and Mari. They came from Edessa, and particularly Mari is seen as the one who establishes the (patriarchal) See at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire.
Another set of traditions refers to the first converts to Christianity who came from among the Jews. According to living tradition, the family of Jesus was among those who reached Mesopotamia after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in the year 70. Four names in the list of the early bishops are members of the family of the Lord (cfr Mari Gismondi p.4-6). And many others came after the second Jewish revolt under the leadership of Bar kaukba in132-135.
Beginning with the early third century, Christianity can be well explored in both literary and archeological sources. An additional factor to the development of Christianity was the expanding movement of refugees and war-time deportations, because of the perpetual conflict between the Persian and the Roman Empires. When King Shahpur I (240-272) and his army advanced far into Roman territory and captured Antioch, many Christians from that area – Syria, Cappadocia, Cilicia – were deported to Persian provinces and this helped to spread Christianity.
In the times of Shahpur I. the Church of the East already had an Episcopal structure. Under Shahpur II (309-79) violent persecutions afflicted Christians in the Persian Empire. The major developments of the Church of the Roman Empire since the Edict of Milan had no positive impact on the Persian Church; the first systematic persecutions started in Mesopotamia.
Sassanian King Yazdgird I (399-421) sought to ease political tensions with the Romans and began to integrate Christians into imperial politics. Thus began a period of diplomatic exchanges in which the Christian hierarchy of Persia played an essential role as heads of Persian diplomatic missions because of their fidelity and knowledge of languages. They were mainly clerics from the border cities. Likewise, the Roman Emperor was represented by delegates at Persian courts. The influence of the Roman envoy Marutha, the bishop of the Roman border city Maipherkat led to the first East Syriac Council under the “Grand Metropolitan” Isaac of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (410), was convoked by Yazdgird I. The synod of forty bishops provided an essential contribution to the organization of the Church of the East, which had spread as far as Merv, as well as to the primacy of the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Furthermore, the conformity of the Persian Church with the Nicene faith was firmly established.
The unity of the Church of the East under its own single head was stressed also in the following synods of 420 and 424. It was especially the Synod of Markabta (424) under Catholicos Dadisho which emphasized that the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, subsequently called Catholicos-Patriarch, as its head in the same sense that Peter was the head of the apostles. With these three synods the Church of the East presents itself as a well structured and organized autonomous Church. However, contact with the Roman imperial Church was in no way broken off. Especially, through the School of Edessa and Nisibis, “Western” theological developments entered the Persian Church.
When the Romans had ceded Nisibis to the Persians in 363, the so-called School of Nisibis, established at the time of Bishop Jacob (+ 338) with its most prominent teacher Ephrem (+ 373), was transferred to Edessa. Since about 430 the “School of the Persians” in Edessa had stood under the theological influence of Theodore of Mopsuestia (+ 428), whose works were translated into Syriac.
In the ongoing Christological struggles of the fifth century, the school stood firm to its Antiochene tradition with an ascendant concept: from man to God. In the late fifth century, the then dean Narsai (+ 503) had to flee across the border to Nisibis. There, Bishop Barsauma (+ 496) made him the founder of a new School. Emperor Zeno closed the school of Edessa in 489 and expelled its teachers, while Narsai transformed the school of Nisibis into the intellectual and theological center of the Church of the East.
The synods of Beth L
apat (484) and of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (486) have been seen as those at which the Church of the East officially adopted Nestorian’s line. However, the creeds of the synods of the fifth and sixth century can be identified only as a strict but orthodox Antiochene Christology. While the teachings of Nestorius, who appears in the syndic records for the first time only in 612, seem to have had no theological significance for the official church, Theodore of Mopsuestia became the most influential of all Greek Fathers. The Church of the East considered itself as an integral part of the catholic (universal) Church, but the political circumstances made it impossible for it to take part in councils held in the Roman Empire. This Church Outside the Roman Empire was isolated throughout its history!
In the fifth century, East Syriac Christianity had spread across Mesopotamia, expanded into the Arabian Peninsula, and among nomadic and semi-nomadic Arab and Turkish tribes in Central Asia. The Church was strengthened under the outstanding Catholicos Aba I (540-552), who reorganized the Church after renewed persecutions due to the Persian Roman war (540-545).
The sixth century witnessed a reform and revival of monasticism with Abraham of Kashkar (+ 588) as its central figure and a heavy dispute on the theological authority of Theodore of Mospuestia. The then director of the school of Nisibis, Henana of Adiabene, a highly respected monk and exceptional teacher, opposed his exegetical authority. The debate escalated at the school, and approximately three hundred students left Nisibis. As a consequence the Synod of Catholicos Sabrisho (596) anathematized all who rejected the interpretations, commentaries and teachings of Theodore and especially the synod of Gregory I (605) which proclaimed him as the irrefutable standard of East Syriac orthodoxy.
Another problem arose with the West Syriac Miaphysites (non-Chalcedonians) who were gaining strength in the Persian Empire with their metropolitan (“Maprian”) of Takrit. This forced the Church of the East to define its Christology more precisely. In 612, King Chosroes II (591-628) arranged for a religious debate between East and West Syrians. At that time the Shah forbade further occupation of the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. During this period of vacancy (608-28), Babai the Great (551-628) and Archdeacon Aba of Seleucia led the Church of the East. Babai became the most outstanding theological figure of the East Syriac Church at the turn of the seventh century. His Christology clarified Theodore and his terminology was adopted by the Church of the East at the theological debate of 612.
Until 618/19 Chosroes II had expanded the Persian Empire to the West and conquered Palestine and Egypt. The following military successes of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610-641) finally resulted in a revolt against Chosroes II, who was murdered in a plot. With his death, the vacancy of the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon also came to an end. Queen Bôrân wanted a definitive peace treaty, and in 630, she sent an official delegation to Emperor Heraclius with this goal. The diplomatic mission, led by Catholicos Ishoyahb II of Gdala was crowned with political success and brought the region a few more years of peace. But a new power was already advancing from the south.
When the Arabs captured Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 637, Shah Yazdgird III fled to the area around Merv. In 651 the Sassanian Empire vanished from history. Catholicos Ishoyahb moved his see to Beth Garmai whose capital was what now Kirkuk is. He died in 646 being the last Catholicos under the Sassanians and the first one in the era of the Arabs.
The Period of the Arabs and the translation movement
At the time of the Arab conquest, about one half of the population of what is now Iraq and a great part of Iran was Christian. The 781 stele of Si-ngan-fu, the capital of the Tang dynasty, records that a group of missionaries guided by the monk Alopen had reached China in 653. Additional metropolitan sees were subsequently founded by Ishoyahb II at Hulwan (Iran), Herat (Afghanistan), Samarkand (Uzbekistan), China and India.
In the conquered lands – dar al-Islam – Arabic became established fairly quickly. The Umayyad caliph Walid (705-715) decreed it to be the official language of public administration. The new socio-economical environment made it necessary for Christians to use the language of the conqueror. Syriac nevertheless remained a literary and liturgical language.
The “People of the Book” (Jews, Christians, but also Zoroastrians) were tolerated and treated as religious minorities under the protection of Islam (dhimmis). They were recognized as believers in God despite their refusal to accept the prophet Muhammad. Adult male Christians were thus not required to convert, although that option was always open to them, but had to pay a poll tax (djizya) as the price for this protection. Moreover, certain conditions, like distinctive dress or girdle etc., were eventually imposed on the Christians. In Islam’s second century, the laws became more stringent.
At the beginning of the Umayyad period, the great Catholicos Ishoyahb III of Adiabene (650-58) led the Church of the East. He strengthened the primacy of his office and thus is primarily known because of his liturgical reform. He selected three anaphors – those which bear the names of Addai and Mari, of Theodore, and of Nestorius – and at the same time banned all the others. Together with the monk Henanisho he is also responsible for the final redaction of the choral book Hudra (Liturgical cycle).
After the Abbasid revolution, the caliphate was shifted from Damascus to Iraq. Baghdad was erected as the new capital and center of Islamic power in 762. At the court of the Abbasid caliphs (750-1258) one of the most spectacular and momentous movements in the history of thought took place. Almost all secular Greek books in philosophy, sciences and medicine that were available throughout the former Eastern Roman and Persian empires were translated into Arabic. East Syriac Christians played a fundamental role in this translation movement, as translators came overwhelmingly from within their ranks since they tended to know at least three languages: Syriac, Greek and Arabic. In that way, the intellectual heritage of antiquity was transmitted to the blossoming Arab scholarship and thereby provided the basis for a philosophical terminology for Islam. This is of paramount cultural and historical significance also for the West, as works translated – via Syriac into Arabic – entered Europe through Spain and Sicily even before the Greek originals were known.
Among the translators was the eminent Catholicos Timothy I (780-832), who is also supposed to have had a religious discussion with the Caliph al-Mahdi. Timothy was allowed to transfer the See of the Catholicos to Baghdad, an honor permitted to the East Syriac Church alone. His extensive collection of letters shows him to be a natural administrator and a staunch advocate of the Church of the East.
Not only clerics produced literature, but also educated laypersons and physicians. Among them were the famous Bokhtiso and his family, a Christian physician dynasty at the school of Medicine in Gundishapur, who served the caliphs. The best-known translator was Hunain b. Ishaq (+ 873), an East Syriac Christian Arab from Hira, who translated medical texts (Galen), mathematical works (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy), and philosophical texts (in par
ticular Aristotle). These authors were theologians at the same time. The Arabs used the term: “lm al Kalam which means the science of speaking about God.
Although the politics of the Abbasid Caliphs caused massive conversions of Christians to Islam, the Church of the East could expand within the Muslim Empire towards the West. Among others we find bishoprics in Damascus, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and the Gulf, especially Qatar where we find eminent authors like Isaac of Nineveh, Gabriel and Job. Even more significant is the well organized missionary enterprise towards the East. Monks, sent by Timothy I along the Silk Road, spread the Gospel together with their culture and liturgy among peoples of Persia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Mongolia, China, Tibet, and India.
The Church of the East became increasingly inculturated in the seventh century. Christianity was called the religion of the light and Christ was presented as an absolute illuminated ( Buddha)!
The age of the Mongols and first encounters with Latin Christianity
The missionary efforts of the Church of the East came to an end in the middle of the ninth century, when the Chinese Emperor of that time opposed foreign religions. At about the same time, Christianity in Central Asia, especially in Tibet declined on account of strong Buddhist influence.
In a new missionary period, the Church of the East succeeded in bringing Christianity to the Turco-Mongol people. In the 11th century the Kerait south of Lake Baykal were converted. When Genghis-Khan established power in this area in the 13th century, Christianity had already spread among other Mongolian tribes, e.g. Naiman, Uighurs, Tangut, and Ongut. When the Mongols conquered China, Christianity came back, this time not as a foreign religion but as part of the new ruling class of the Empire.
The further conquest of the Mongols in the West strengthened Central Asian Christianity. When the Mongols captured Baghdad in 1258, missions flourished along the Silk Road from the Oxus to the Yellow Sea. The 13th and 14th centuries were the heyday of the Church of the East. Abdisho of Nisibis (+ 1318) listed about twenty metropolitan sees with 200 bishoprics.
As Christians were fighting in the Mongolian army the legend of the Christ king “Prester John” reached the Occident, which reflects the desires of the hard-pressed Crusaders. At that time the first contacts with Latin Christianity appear. Franciscans and Dominicans reached the lands of the Mongols. Best known among them are William of Rubruck (+1270), Ricoldo de Monte Croce (+ 1320), and Giovanni da Montecorvino
(+ c. 1328).
In 1340 other contacts were geographically closer: A group of the Church of the East in Cyprus placed themselves under the Catholic Church. They were called “Chaldeans”. This union was successfully renewed in 1445, when the whole community in Cyprus with their bishop, Timothy of Tarsus, established union with the Catholic Church during the reign of Pope Eugene IV (1431-47) and the council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–45). Timothy got the title “Archiepiscoporum Chaldeorum, qui in Cypro sunt”. However, little by little the Chaldeans of Cyprus had already dissolved into local Maronite and Latin communities by 1489.
In 1280, Marcus, a young monk with his friend Uighur monk Bar Sauma came to Mesopotamia on their way to visit the Holy Sepulcher in Palestine. Both were from China. Having arrived in Baghdad, Marcus was consecrated bishop and Sauma nominated Visitor General. They were back home to start their mission when they learnt of the death of patriarch Dinkha I. They came back to Baghdad and in a surprise move, the synod of bishops elected Marcus as the new patriarch, and he took the name of Yahbaha III.
Bar Sauma was sent by the Mongolian Il-Khan Argun to the King of Byzantium, Andronicus II, the King of France, Philip IV, to the King of England, Edward I, and to Pope Nicholas IV (1288-92). Bar Sauma celebrated the East Syriac Liturgy in one of the papal Churches (Saint John in Lateran according to his journal) and finally received the Eucharist from the hands of the pope. It was through Bar Sauma’s journey that the Roman Curia became acquainted with what was only vaguely known as the Church of the East.
Under Yahballaha III the boundaries of the Church of the East reached their furthest extent – from Jerusalem to China and India. Its center was in Baghdad, where the Patriarch was allowed to occupy one of the former Abbasid’s palaces. The tolerant attitude towards Christians all changed when Argun’s son, Ghazan, became Il-Khan and officially professed Islam. Christians were attacked by the Muslims, Churches were destroyed or turned into mosques, and the Patriarch’s residence was pillaged. Thus began the rapid decline of the most important missionary Church of the Middle Ages. Yahballaha’s III successor, Timothy II (1318-31), held the last East Syrian synod before the 19th century. Its acts still survive.
In the last decades of the 14th century the cruel campaigns of the armies of Tamerlane (1336-1405) nearly wiped out the Church of the East in the Middle East. The communities beyond the Oxus became cut off from mother Church and disappeared after 1368 when the Mongol rule in China broke down.
The foundation of the Sulaqa-line
In the 15th century only a handful of Churches in northern Mesopotamia and the remote Hakkari Mountains of Kurdistan still survived. Around 1450 Catholicos-Patriarch Shimon IV Basidi (+ 1497) reserved the patriarchal office for members of his own family (nepotism). The tradition of hereditary patriarchal succession therefore had as a result that one family dominated the church. This led to schism especially when untrained minors were being elected to the patriarchal throne.
In 1539 Catholicos-Patriarch Shemun VII Bar Mama (1538-58) was obliged to consecrate a twelve-year-old nephew as metropolitan, as not enough suitable family members were available to fill the vacant positions in the dioceses. Some years later he consecrated a second nephew, aged fifteen. In 1552, the Catholicos-Patriarch had become so unpopular that numerous opponents, especially from Amid and Seert regions, met in an anti-synod at Mosul. They elected as patriarch, Yohannan Sulaqa, superior of the monastery Rabban Hormizd. As no bishop of metropolitan rank was available to consecrate him, he traveled to Rome to seek his consecration and recognition from Pope Julius III. His profession of faith was recognized on February 20th . Believing that Shemun Bar Mama had died, Rome confirmed Sulaqa as “Patriarch of Mosul” on April 28, 1553 by the bull Divina disponente clementia.
When Patriarch Yohannan Sulaqua returned to Mesopotamia, he established himself in Amid (Diyarbakir) and strengthened his position. He ordained two metropolitans and three bishops. Furthermore, he obtained documents from the Ottoman authorities in 1553 that recognized his status. However, Catholicos-Patriarch Shemun Bar Mama won over the Pasha (governor) of Amadiyia, who invited Sulaqa, imprisoned and tortured him for four months, and finally put him to death in January 1555. The Chaldean Church regards him as a martyr of union with Rome.
The five bishops consecrated by Su
laqa elected as his successor Abdisho IV Abdisho (1553-1570). He traveled to Rome and obtained recognition by Pope Pius IV in 1562. He resided in a monastery near Seert, where he remained until his death. The succeeding Patriarchs resided for security and pastoral reasons in Seert, Salmas, Khosrowa and Urmia. They remained in communion with Rome until the 17th century, but none of them traveled to Rome again in person to seek papal confirmation. Some of them never did obtain official recognition; others sent a profession of faith and were confirmed by Rome. This happened to Patriarch Shemun IX Dinkha (1580-1600) whose letter of confirmation (1581) was brought to Aleppo by the papal envoy Leonard Abel and delivered to the Patriarch in 1585.
When Shemun XIII Dinkha (1662-1700) definitively moved his see to Qudshanis in the remote Hakkari Mountains, this patriarchal line gradually returned to the traditional Doctrine. The patriarchate remained relatively isolated. Rome lost contact with Qudshanis. It is unclear when the Patriarchate became hereditary again; a principle that only ended in 1974. The present Assyrian Church of the East descends from this line and is the continuation of the Sulaqa line, and the Chaldean line is the continuation of Qudshanis Patriarchate.
Three different patriarchal successions
When Shemun VII Bar Mama died in 1558, he was succeeded by his nephew Eliya VI Bar Giwargis (1559-91). Although he and his successors resided in the monastery Rabban Hormizd near Mosul, their strength made it impossible for the Sulaqa-line to remain in Amid. His successor, Eliya VII (1591-1617), possibly influenced by numerous East Syriac pilgrims who had converted to Catholicism in Jerusalem, sent emissaries to Rome in 1606/07 and 1611. Under the impression of the Franciscan Tommaso Obicini of Novara, Custody of the holy Land, Eliya VII held a synod (1616), which affirmed the Catholic Christological faith but did not result in a union. At the same time Rome received also a profession of faith from Shemun XX of the Sulaqa line. Although the Franciscan monks tried to negotiate between the two successions and to reach church union with Rome, formal links with the Vatican and the Mosul patriarchate in Rabban Hormizd broke down during the reign of Eliya VIII Shemun (1617-60). Thus both Patriarchates – Qudshanis and Mosul (Rabban Hormizd) – were not in communion with Rome in the second half of the seventeenth century.
In 1667 Capuchin missionary Jean-Baptist de St-Aignan worked among the Church of the East in Amid and convinced their metropolitan Joseph in 1672 to become Catholic. In 1677 he gained recognition by the civil authorities as an independent archbishop with jurisdiction over Amid and Mardin. Rome confirmed him in 1681 as Joseph I, “Patriarch of the Chaldean nation deprived of its patriarch”. Thus a third patriarchal line had been established in Amid.
The successors in the patriarchal line of Amid had significant success in spreading the Catholic faith in their jurisdiction and also in the territories of the Mosul patriarchate. In the following decades, this led to severe conflicts between these two Patriarchates which involved even the civil authorities.
In 1804 Augustine Hindi became bishop of Amid and patriarchal administrator. He was not given the title patriarch because at that time Rome saw the possibility of uniting the Amid and Mosul patriarchates. Although never fully recognized by the Pope, Hindi’s service was rewarded with the pallium in 1818 which he interpreted as a confirmation of his patriarchal status. For the rest of his life he used the title Joseph V. With his death in 1828, the patriarchate of Amid expired. It had existed in communion with Rome for 146 years.
Yohannan Hormizd and the Chaldean patriarchal succession
Although the Mosul Patriarchate had lost its influence in the Amid and Mardin regions, as well as in the Hakkari, it retained the influential monastery Rabban Hormizd. Furthermore its patriarchs were descendents from the old patriarchal line (Abouna). Thereby it had legitimacy in the eyes of many East Syrians, the Amid Patriarchate could never have. Rome supported the Amid patriarchs as its Catholic bridgehead in the East Syriac Church, but the goal was to gain the line of the Mosul Patriarchate for communion with the Catholic Church. This was finally achieved early in the 19th century in the person of Yohannan Hormizd from an old patriarchal family.
By the end of the eighteenth century, under the influence of the Amid patriarchate and with the help of Capuchins and Dominicans nearly all the East Syrians of the Mosul region were in communion with the Catholic Church. Catholicos-Patriarch Eliya XII Dinkha (1722-1778) in Rabban Hormizd realized the growing strength of the Catholic movement and wrote several letters to Rome expressing the desire for union. Because of the intervention of the Joseph III, Patriarch of Amid, this did not become reality. When the nephew of the Catholicos took office as Eliya XIII Ishoyahb (1778-1804), his cousin Yohannan Hormizd, Metropolitan of Mosul, vehemently opposed him. Most of their conflicts concerned their connections to Rome. Hormizd considered himself a Catholic from 1778 onwards, however, the Catholic church did not as yet recognize him as patriarch, confirming him only as metropolitan of Mosul and patriarchal administrator. The reason was a doubt in the sincerity of his conversion, and opposition from the patriarchal line of Amid under Augustine Hindi.
In 1804 Patriarch Eliya XIII Ishoyahb died, unreconciled with Hormizd, and without having a nephew to succeed him. However, opposition against Yohannan Hormizd came now from the monks of Rabban Hormizd and the newly established seminary under Gabriel Dambo. They accepted Augustine Hindi, as the “Patriarch” of Amid. However, Latin missionaries began to report disquieting rumors about the performance of Hormizd’s duties. The precarious relations with the Vatican resulted in his suspension in 1812, when Augustine Hindi was appointed apostolic delegate for the “Patriarchate of Babylon”. This suspension lasted for six years and was renewed in 1818. The conflict only came to an end after Joseph V Hindi died. Yohannan Hormizd was finally confirmed by Pope Pius VIII as the only “Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans” on July 5, 1830. Thus the patriarchates of Amid and Mosul were reunited. Since then the old patriarchal line of the Church of the East has been in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
From the 19th century until today
To prevent Yohannan Hormizd’s attempt to preserve the patriarchal succession in his family, Rome appointed the metropolitan of Salmas, Nicholas Zayia (1838-48), as his coadjutor with the right of succession. In 1844 Nicholas I was the first to obtain an Ottoman imperial firman recognizing him as Patriarch of the “Chaldeans”. Thus the Chaldean Church was legally recognized as a nation (millet).
Nicholas was succeeded by Joseph VI Audo, the most notable and energetic chaldean patriarch of the 19th century, and his stormy period in office spanned from 1846 to 1878. He was a staunch defender of the Oriental Patriarch’s rights at the First Vatican Council (1870) and was known for his attempts to assert the Chaldean right to send bishops to the Malabar Christians. Audo laid the foundations for the remarkable growth of the Chaldean Church in the decades before the First World War. He wa
s convinced that the Chaldean Church needed educated priests and bishops. Therefore he established the Chaldean Patriarchal St Peter Seminary in Mosul in 1866 and supported the monks of Notre Dame des Semences near Alqosh (1859) and the Syro-Chaldean Seminary of St John (1878) also in Mosul.
At the end of the long rule of his successor, Patriarch Emanuel II Thomas (1900-1947). the majority of the East Syriac Christians were in the Chaldean Church. This was the result of intense missionary work among families in the villages (as well as of the American Protestant, Anglican and Russian Orthodox missionary efforts that reduced the Patriarchate in Qudshanis)
During the traumatic events of the First World War (1914-18) the Qudshanis Patriarchate lost its homeland and about a third of its population. Also thousands of Chaldeans in Seert, Diarbekir, Jezireh, the Lake of Van and Mardin were victims of massacres by the Ottoman troops. The Chaldean dioceses of Seert, Jezireh, Diyarbakir and Van were ruined. Among the victims was the eminent scholar and metropolitan of Seert, Addai Scher. However, the Mosul region and other Chaldean regions were not affected, thanks to the efforts of Patriarch Emmanuel II.
In 1947, Joseph VII Ghanima (1947-1958) transferred the Patriarchate to Baghdad, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom, to be closer to the key offices and to his flock. Many families had left their villages and moved to Baghdad looking for jobs, security and education for their children in the universities. His successor, Paul Cheiko (1958-1989), was elected patriarch at the time of political upheavals in Iraq. During his nearly thirty years of tenure he had to guide the Chaldean Church through three revolutions (1958, 1963, 1968), three regimes, the Kurdish uprising and the long Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). During the conflicts between the Kurds and the Iraqi army, which lasted until 1975, many Christian villages were burned down and churches were destroyed. In 1969 the monastery of Rabban Hormizd was plundered. The dramatic movement of Christians from the north of Iraq to large cities in the south dominated this period. Patriarch Paul Cheiko constructed some twenty-five churches in Baghdad to serve the needs of the Chaldean community. The number of Chaldeans in Northern Iraq dwindled from one million to about 150,000 between 1961 and 1995.
In 1989 the Chaldean Synod elected Raphael Bidawid (1989-2003) as Patriarch, who became the head of the Church after the exhausting Iraq-Iran war. But his patriarchate also saw the times of the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait and the defeat of Iraq in the first Gulf war (1990-91), the regime of Saddam Hussein, the hopeless economic situation of the times of the embargo, the destruction of the Iraqi society, and the second Gulf war in 2003 with the removal of the Ba’ath party from power. The emigration of Christians and the geographical shift changed the configuration of the Christian communities. The Chaldean diaspora now represents a significant part of the church with bishops in the Middle East for the refugees in the region, and in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America for the emigrants.
A landmark of ecumenism was set by the Common Christological Declaration, signed by the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Dinkha IV Khananya and Pope John Paul II on November 11, 1994. This led to a basis for bilateral relations between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Dinkha IV and Raphael I signed a Joined Patriarchal Statement (1996) which should have initiated a new common process of dialogue and cooperation. In October 2001 the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published “Guidelines for the Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East” reacting to a pastoral necessity as a result of the emigration.
In December 2003, Emmanuel-Karim Delly was elected Patriarch for the about 750,000 Chaldean Christians faithful worldwide. Most of them are still living in Iraq, 75% of them in Baghdad. In Iraq they are the third largest group after the Arabs and the Kurds. They are working in education and business, and although they are a small group, their presence is very appreciated. They are generally enlightened and open-minded and a factor of the sincere understanding and harmony between different religious and ethnic groups of Iraqi society.
The Chaldean Church has eight dioceses in Iraq including the Patriarchal See in Baghdad, Bassorah, Kirkuk, Mosul, Erbil, Zakho, Alkosh and Amedyia. Two other dioceses are in Iran Teheran and Urmia , one each in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Turkey, two in the United States: Michigan and California, one in Canada and one in Australia.
-8. Spirituality and Liturgy
a- Fathers and Schools
The Syriac Prominent fathers are Aphraate (+346) Ephrem (+373) Narsai (+503), Babai the great (551-628), Sahdona(7th century) Isaac of Nineveh (7th century and John of Dalyatha( 8th century) They are widely known through their writings. The opening of the school of Nisibis with a young Deacon St. Ephrem as a teacher is a sign of concern of the Church of the East for theological formation and researches. When the Romans had ceded Nisibis in 363 to Persians, the School was transferred to Edessa. When in 484 Zeno closed the school because of religious controversies, the Professors in the leadership of Narsai opened it in Nisibis.
Edessa and Nisibis played an active and efficient contribution in progressing theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonic matters, as well as in keeping communion between Western and Eastern Christianity.
According to Scripture, the history of salvation “Mdabranutha oikonomia”climaxes with Jesus Christ becoming the head of the Church (Communtiy) and dwelling within each person. This experience is realised in particular through the liturgy, where the various stages of salvation history are presented in a gradual, realistic and practical manner (theological and ethical), and finally in an eternal vision (eschatological) through constant meditation and through individual and collective prayer.. The development of a catechetical program can stimulate thinking and reflection on the core issues and crucial components of the Christian community. It can also build awareness of the mystery of each person’s vocation, and help them discern their future path of life. The Chaldean liturgy puts a burning lamp in the middle of the temple sheds light on two tables of the Eucharist and the Bible helping the faithful to worship.
Every Christian needs to go through a mystical experience. Spirituality means to have the “Holy Spirit”, that lives in us and lets us pray and introduces us to the mystery of God…
There are two essential elements in the Chaldean tradition’s understanding of the spiritual life:
1 – A genuine commitment to Christ, each one according to his own circumstances. It is based on a spiritual sense of absolute love (in a drastic example of wedding).
2 – The practice of deep prayer, “Love Divine – and mystical heart,” as found in many spiritual easterners: John of dalyata , Simon de Taibotha, and Isaac of Nineveh and sahdona-Martyros. This practicencourages the union with God in worship,and thanksgiving and brings strength, light and peace amid th
e daily struggle. Connections are made here with the prayer of Jesus.
Liturgy reflects the Church’s faith, tradition and education, and helps establish its identity and personality. The chaldean church uses the Syriac word “Taxa order but also testmista service” which refers to this process of deepening the Christian’s life of prayer so that it become a fountain of life within them. Hence their lives become a permanent liturgy.
The Chaldean liturgy is one of the oldest liturgies of the church. It is simple and clear. It is a liturgy of the people. The liturgy is very influenced by the Jewish liturgy of Jerusalem. To be precise, it is a Judeo–Christian liturgy and it holds one of the oldest anaphora ( liturgical prayer): the anaphora of Addai and Mary (3rd century). The structure of their churches is similar to the temple of Jerusalem: Bema, veil and a sense of respect for mystery.
To deepen the spirit of prayer and its place in the life of the faithful and to render the liturgy a source of hope and joy, the Chaldean liturgical cycle is divided into sections reflecting the life of Jesus and the Church: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost- Period of the Church-Mission. Summer, Elijah, Cross and Moses are seasons of penance and the conclusion is the sanctification of the Church. Each season contains 7 Sundays. In between are memorials for saints. The objective is to help people to focus on eternity. Chaldeans believe that if they follow Christ and the Sainst, they can look forward to having the same destiny as Jesus. Chaldeans have three Eucharistic prayers.
The Church of the East considered itself as an integral part of the catholic (universal) Church. It was wrongly called Nestorian. For political reason this church was isolated from the church of the Roman Empire and therefore did not take part in ecumenical councils held in the Roman Empire (Okumene). This Church accepted the Antiochene Christology as a valid expression of the common faith. This Ascendant theology is helpful in developing the spirituality of faithful. It encourages them to grow in the life of divine childhood, following the perfect model of Jesus Christ. (Luke 2/52). Generally, the theology of the Church of the East is based on the Economy of Salvation “Mdabranoutha” in which the role of the Holy Spirit is emphasized and also the Resurrection. For this reason, the classic Chaldean symbol is a cross rather than a crucifix (i.e. The cross is bare and does not have a corpus). According to Mdabranoutha, faithful should look at the image – the Model – and learn from Him little by little in order to be incorporated into Him. The ecclesiastical divisions were essentially a question of different terminology and so Pope John Paul II and Mar Khananinsho Dinkha IV, the Assyrian Patriarch, signed a Common Christological declaration in Rome on November 11th 1994. “ The Lord’s Spirit permits us to understand better today that divisions brought in this way were due in large part to misunderstandings. Whatever our christological divergences have been, we are united today in the confession of the same faith in the Son of God.” (Common Declaration 6-7)
-9. Christian Muslim relation
From its very beginning, Islam came into close contact with a Christianity of the Syro-Aramaic heritage and tradition.
The early Umayyad period is marked by an open and tolerant attitude towards Christians. One of the main reasons might have been that the Muslims needed the Christians’ administrative and economic knowledge as well as experience to rule and organize the newly conquered territories (for instance St John damascene an his father).
In the attitude of Muslims towards Christians, very soon one can sense a certain ambivalence for social and political reasons. At times, the Muslims were more open and tolerant, at times more aggressive and even oppressive. This ambivalence is easily justified by different Koranic verses. About 20 Islamic texts written in Syriac were mainly intended for Christians to use within their own communities, encouraging them in their faith and helping them to respond to certain questions and objections raised by Muslims. Those written in Arabic presented Christian dogmas and morals to Muslims. Some of them are of an apologetic nature, and others are clearly polemical.
The Abbasid period inaugurates a time of wide and fertile cultural exchange as a consequence of the spread of the Arabic language. Commissioned by the caliphs (bayt al-hikma-house of wisdom), mainly Christians of the Syriac tradition undertook huge systematic translations – especially in the fields of Science, Philosophy, and Medicine – from Greek via Syriac into Arabic. In this way the knowledge of the Greco-Roman world was made available as one of the foundations for the development of the Arabo-Islamic culture. Through the Arabic presence in Spain this heritage was transmitted to the European Christian Middle Ages.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, after having contributed to the development of the Arabic culture, Christians and Muslims lived in a common cultural world of which they shared the values and achievements. For instance, the most famous West-Syriac scholar of the time, Bar Hebraeus, was capable of distinguishing between Islam as a set of believes, and as a cultural and spiritual tradition.
During the Ottoman period the focus of discussion was on the application of the Millet-system as a new concept defining the status of non-Muslim religious communities. The Millet-system had a very profound impact on the identity of the various Christian communities. It left lasting marks on the minds of the people and even on institutions. Many problems which Christians face today in the Islamic world cannot be understood if one does not take into account the experience of the Millet-system, which has survived in one or other way in modern states with a Muslim majority. Its real impact remains ambiguous and needs further research.
For the important issue of the relations between Christians and Muslims in our times, it is worthwhile to take into account the experience of the past and the present Syriac communities, who were capable of developing a form of encounter with their Muslim neighbours in the field of dialogue, Christian witness, coexistence and cooperation. It is hoped that this endeavour may help the Syriac Christians to preserve and their rich heritage and offer their unique contribution to the search for Christian unity and to the building of a better and more fraternal relationship with their Muslims neighbours.
a. Antonine Order of St Hormisdas of the Chaldeans
The monastic tradition in the Church goes back to the Persian Empire. The Sons and daughters of the Convent are mentioned in the writings of the early Syriac Father Aphraat (+346). Later, in sixth century Mesopotamia, monastic life was revived and provided with a set of rules by Abraham of Kashkar (+ 586). There have been all forms of religious life (asceticism and monasticism), and the spiritual monastic writings of Isaac, Bishop of Nineveh, Martyrios Sahdona, and John of Delyatha are well known and have been translated into many European languages.
In the seventh century pilgrims from the Monasteries of Mount Izla found several Monasteries in the plains of Mosul such as Mar Elia, Mar Michael near Mosul, and Mar Abraham in Batnya. St. Hormizd founded a monastery near Alqosh which subsequently adopted his name.
The monastic life flourished during the Abbasid period. The monks educated the faithful, transmitted scholarship and kept the Chaldean tradition alive through thousands of manuscripts. During the Mongol and the Ottoman periods monastic life declined.
In the 19th century a Chaldean merchant from Mardin entered a Maronite monastery in Lebanon. He was the visionary, Gabriel Dambo, who, after a few years, left Lebanon and come to Iraq. In 1808 he revived Chaldean monastic life in the monastery of Rabban Hormizd in Alqosh near Mosul. On the basis of his experience, Maronite Antonians in Lebanon made use of the rule of Anthony. Dambo’s revival of monasticism had been partly intended to supply the Church with well-educated clergy. He established a seminary in the historic monastery, which attracted many young men from the surrounding villages. Already in the 1820s several monks of the monastery became bishops and others were sent out as priests to the Chaldean villages. Later monks were scribes and copied manuscripts preserving the East Syriac heritage.
In its earliest years, the community was troubled because of the internal feuds of the Church of the East during the times of Yohannan Hormizd whom Gabriel Dambo opposed. The disputes were resolved by the settlement of 1830 in which Hormizd was recognized as patriarch. However, over the following years, the monastery had to suffer attacks by the Kurds. Dambo, who had returned from Rome where he sought approval for his community, was among hundreds of Chaldeans killed during the massacre of the Pasha of Rawanduz in 1834. His body, initially buried in the church of Mar Mikha in Alqosh, was transferred to the monastery of Rabban Hormizd in 1843.
On September 28, 1845, Pope Gregory XVI finally approved the Constitutions of the Order in the form of the Monachorum instituta.
In 1968, because of the unstable political situation, the monks built the new monastery of St Anthony in Baghdad. The young brothers received their theological formation in Babel College. Since 1999 the Chaldean Monks have been publishing the magazine “Rabbanoutha”, dealing with monastic and historic subjects.
b. Chaldean Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate
After the arrival of Islam, Chaldeans no longer had a congregation of women. However, at the end of the 19th century, Dominican nuns from Tour in France came to Mesopotamia as missionaries and nurses. In the years after communion with Rome was established, there was a wish to have local Chaldean nuns, but political circumstances prevented this project. Finally, two Chaldean priests, Antoine Zoobuni and Philippe Shauriz, founded the first religious congregation for women in Baghdad: The congregation’s purpose was to take care of education, run schools and orphanages as well as provide religious instruction in the parishes. With the blessing of Patriarch Emanuel II Thomas the patriarchal congregation of women religious began on August 7, 1922. The number of nuns increased with missions all over Iraq as well as among the Diaspora.
c. Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
In 1911 in a remote village in northern Iraq, a pious priest, Fr. Ablahad Raes, took the initiative to found a female congregation with the aim of taking care of women in the many villages of the diocese of Amadiyia. The nuns were to teach the women religion, help them to educate their children and promote the welfare of women in that mountainous area. Bishop Francis Daowd approved the constitutions that same year.
In 1961 they had to leave the diocese together with many Christians because of the Kurdish war. They settled in the edifices of St Peter seminary in Mosul. Their number steadily increased. In 1984 Saddam Hussein built them a proper house near St George monastery in the Alarabi Quarter.
On January 6, 1998, Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid proclaimed the community as a patriarchal congregation. They have three houses in Baghdad, two in Amadiyia and one each in Mosul, Erbil, and in France.
a. St Peter Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad
The Founder of this vital institute was the Chaldean Lazarist Raphael Petros Al Maziji from Diyarbakir (Turkey). As most of the married parish priests were without appropriate theological and pastoral formation, he was aware of the need for proper education of the local clergy. He founded the institute in 1866 in Mosul in the times of Patriarch Joseph Audo. Al Maziji brought also a press and published many liturgical and religious books. The seminary gave the Chaldean Church most of its Bishops and priests.
In 1960, the Patriarchal synod with Paul II Cheikho decided to transfer the seminary to Baghdad for political and economic reasons. The Seminary has a big building in Al Mikanik. From 1960 to 1963 Indian Malabar Carmelite Fathers took care of student formation. American Jesuits took over until 1968 when they were expelled by Baath regime. Since that time the local clergy have run the Minor (now closed) and Major Seminary. Today the seminary moved to new building in Ainkawa- Erbil in Kurdistan.
b. Babel College
In 1990 Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid founded the Faculty of Theology “Babel College” in front of the Major Seminary in order to give a good, deep and open formation to the seminarians, monks, nuns and lay people working for religious instruction in the parishes. Because of the Gulf war the academic year started only in 1991.
Students are required to complete high school before entering the College. The curriculum includes two years of philosophy and four years of theology before graduating with a bachelor degree. In 1998 the faculty became a Pontifical Faculty of Theology and Philosophy. Nowadays the faculty is in Ankawa – Erbil.
Baghdad ( patriarcate)
Zakho Amadyia ( the see in Dohok)
Teheran ( Iran)
Urmia ( Iran)
Aleppo ( Syria)
Lebanon ( Beirut )
Egypt and Turkey ( sede vacante)