Church of the East

The Church of the East (Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐĒdṯāʾ d-Maḏenḥā), also known as the Nestorian Church and the Persian Church, was an Eastern Christian denomination that in 410 organised itself within the Sasanian Empire and in 424 declared its leader independent of other Christian leaders. From the Persian Empire it spread to other parts of Asia in late antiquity and the Middle Ages.

It was the eastern branch of Syriac Christianity, using the East Syriac Rite in its liturgy. It developed distinctive theological and ecclesiological traditions, and played a major role in the history of Christianity in Asia.

Its schism of 1552 divided it into two patriarchates, later four, but by 1830 again two, one of which is now the Chaldean Catholic Church, while the other split further in 1968 into the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.

Church of the East
Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ
Arch of Ctesiphon (aliraqi1959bagh 0180)
Ruins of the ancient city and see of Seleucia-Ctesiphon
TypeEastern Christianity
OrientationSyriac Christianity
HeadCatholicos-Patriarchs of the East
RegionMiddle East, South India, Far East
LiturgyEast Syriac Rite
(Liturgy of Addai and Mari)
FounderThomas the Apostle, by its tradition
OriginApostolic Age, by its tradition
Nestorian Schism (431–544)
Sasanian Empire
Separated fromNicene Christianity/Chalcedonian Christianity
Branched fromImperial Roman Church
SeparationsIts schism of 1552 divided it into two patriarchates, later four, but by 1830 again two, one of which is now the Chaldean Catholic Church, while the other split further in 1968 into the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East
Merged intoChaldean Catholic Church
Other name(s)Nestorian Church, Persian Church, East Syrian Church

Summary of history

The Church of the East's declaration in 424 of the independence of its head, the Patriarch of the East, preceded by nine years the 431 Council of Ephesus, which condemned Nestorius and declared that Mary, mother of Jesus, can be described as Mother of God. Two of the generally accepted ecumenical councils were held earlier: the First Council of Nicea, in which a Persian bishop took part, in 325, and the First Council of Constantinople in 381. The Church of the East accepted the teaching of these two councils, but ignored the 431 council and those that followed, seeing them as concerning only the patriarchates of the Roman Empire − Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem − which for it were 'Western".[1]

Theologically, it adopted a dyophysite doctrine that emphasised the distinctiveness of the divine and the human natures of Jesus.

In the 6th century and thereafter, it expanded greatly, establishing communities in India (the Saint Thomas Christians), among the Mongols in Central Asia, and in China, which became home to a thriving community under the Tang dynasty from the 7th to the 9th century. At its height, between the 9th and 14th centuries, the Church of the East was the world's largest Christian church in geographical extent, with dioceses stretching from its heartland in Upper Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean Sea and as far afield as China, Mongolia, Central Asia, Anatolia, the Arabian Peninsula and India.

From its peak of geographical extent, the church entered a period of rapid decline that began in the 14th century, due largely to outside influences. The Chinese Ming dynasty overthrew the Mongols (1368) and ejected Christians and other foreign influences from China, and many Mongols in Central Asia converted to Islam. The Muslim Turco-Mongol leader Timur (1336–1405) nearly eradicated the remaining Christians in the Middle East. Nestorian Christianity remained largely confined to communities in Upper Mesopotamia and the Malabar Coast of the Indian subcontinent.

In the early modern period, its schism of 1552 led to a series of internal divisions and ultimately to its branching into three separate churches: the Chaldean Catholic Church, in full communion with the Holy See, and the independent Assyrian Church of the East and Ancient Church of the East.[2]

Description as Nestorian

Christological spectrum-o2p
Christological spectrum during the 5th–7th centuries showing the views of The Church of the East (light blue)

Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine that emphasises the distinction between the human and divine natures of Jesus. It was attributed to Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431, whose doctrine represented the culmination of a philosophical current developed by scholars at the School of Antioch, most notably Nestorius's mentor Theodore of Mopsuestia, and stirred controversy when he publicly challenged the use of the title Theotokos (literally, "Bearer of God") for Mary, mother of Jesus,[3] suggesting that it denied Christ's full humanity. He argued that Jesus had two loosely joined natures, the divine Logos and the human Jesus, and proposed Christotokos (literally, "Bearer of the Christ") as a more suitable alternative title. His statements drew criticism from other prominent churchmen, particularly from Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, who had a leading part in the Council of Ephesus of 431, which condemned Nestorius for heresy and deposed him as patriarch.[4]

After 431, the state authorities in the Roman Empire suppressed Nestorianism, a reason for Christians under Persian rule to favour it and so allay suspicion that their loyalty lay with the hostile Christian-ruled empire.[5][6]

It was in the aftermath of the slightly later Council of Chalcedon (451) that the Church of the East formulated a distinctive theology. The first such formulation was adopted at the Synod of Beth Lapat in 484. This was developed further in the early seventh century, when in an at first successful war against the Byzantine Empire the Sasanid Persian Empire incorporated broad territories populated by West Syrians, many of whom were supporters of Monophysitism, the theological view most opposed to Nestorianism. These received support from Khosrow II, influenced by his wife Shirin. Drawing inspiration from Theodore of Mopsuestia, Babai the Great (551−628) expounded, especially in his Book of Union, what became the normative Christology of the Church of the East. He affirmed that the two qnome (individual natures) of Christ are unmixed but eternally united in his single parsopa (person). As happened also with the Greek terms φύσις (physis) and ὐπόστασις (hypostasis), these Syriac words were sometimes taken to mean something other than what was intended; in particular "two qnome" was interpreted as "two individuals".[7][8][9][10] Previously, the Church of the East accepted a certain fluidity of expressions, always within a dyophysite theology, but with Babai's assembly of 612, which canonically sanctioned the "two gnome in Christ" formula, a final christological distinction was created between the Church of the East and the "western" Chalcedonian Churches. [11][12][13]

The justice of imputing Nestorianism to Nestorius, whom the Church of the East venerated as a saint, is disputed.[14][15] David Wilmshurst states that for centuries "the word 'Nestorian' was used both as a term of abuse by those who disapproved of the traditional East Syrian theology, as a term of pride by many of its defenders [...] and as a neutral and convenient descriptive term by others. Nowadays it is generally felt that the term carries a stigma".[16] Sebastian P. Brock says: "The association between the Church of the East and Nestorius is of a very tenuous nature, and to continue to call that Church 'Nestorian' is, from a historical point of view, totally misleading and incorrect – quite apart from being highly offensive and a breach of ecumenical good manners."[17]

Apart from its religious meaning, the word "Nestorian" has also been used in an ethnic sense, as shown by the phrase "Catholic Nestorians".[18][19][20]

Organisation and structure

At the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410, the Church of the East was declared to have at its head the bishop of the Persian capital Seleucia-Ctesiphon, who in the acts of the council was referred to as the Grand or Major Metropolitan, and who soon afterward was called the Catholicos of the East. Later, the title of Patriarch was used.

The Church of the East had, like other churches, an ordained clergy in the three traditional orders of bishop, priest (or presbyter), and deacon. Also like other churches, it had an episcopal polity: organisation by dioceses, each headed by a bishop and made up of several individual parish communities overseen by priests. Dioceses were organised into provinces under the authority of a metropolitan bishop. The office of metropolitan bishop was an important one, coming with additional duties and powers; canonically, only metropolitans could consecrate a patriarch.[21] The Patriarch also has the charge of the Province of the Patriarch.

For most of its history the church had six or so Interior Provinces. In 410 these were listed in the hierarchical order of: Seleucia-Ctesiphon (central Iraq), Beth Lapat (western Iran), Nisibis (on the border between Turkey and Iraq), Prat de Maishan (Basra, southern Iraq), Arbela (Erbil, Turkestan region of Iraq), and Karka de Beth Slokh (Kirkuk, northeastern Iraq]]. In addition it had an increasing number of Exterior Provinces further afield within the Sasanian Empire and soon also beyond the empire's borders. By the 10th century, the church had between 20[5] and 30 metropolitan provinces[22] According to John Foster, in the 9th century there were 25 metropolitans[23] including in China and India. The Chinese provinces were lost in the 11th century, and in the subsequent centuries, other exterior provinces went into decline as well. However, in the 13th century, during the Mongol Empire, the church added two new metropolitan provinces in North China, Tangut and Katai and Ong.[22]


The Peshitta, in some cases lightly revised and with missing books added, is the standard Syriac Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Maronites, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated from Hebrew, although the date and circumstances of this are not entirely clear. The translators may have been Syriac-speaking Jews or early Jewish converts to Christianity. The translation could have been done separately for different texts, and the whole work was probably done by the second century. Most of the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament are found in the Syriac, and the Wisdom of Sirach is held to have been translated from the Hebrew and not from the Septuagint.[24]

The New Testament of the Peshitta, which originally excluded certain disputed books (Second Epistle of Peter, Second Epistle of John, Third Epistle of John, Epistle of Jude, Book of Revelation), had become the standard by the early 5th century.


It was often said in the 19th century that the Church of the East was opposed to images of any kind. The cult of the image was never as strong in the Syriac Churches as it was in the Byzantine Church, but they were indeed present in the tradition of the Church of the East.[25] Opposition to religious images eventually became the norm due to the rise of Islam in the region, where it forbade any type of depictions of Saints and biblical prophets. As such, the Church was forced to get rid of their icons.[26]

There is both literary and archaeological evidence for the presence of images in the Church. Writing in 1248 from Samarkand, an Armenian official records visiting a local church and seeing an image of Christ and the Magi. John of Cora (Giovanni di Cori), Latin bishop of Sultaniya in Persia, writing about 1330 of the East Syrians in Khanbaliq says that they had ‘very beautiful and orderly churches with crosses and images in honour of God and of the saints’.[25] Apart from the references, there is a painting of a Nestorian Christian figure, which was discovered by Aurel Stein at the Library Cave of the Mo-kao Caves in 1908, it’s probably an image of Christ.

An illustrated 13th-century Nestorian Peshitta Gospel book written in Estrangela from northern Mesopotamia or Tur Abdin, currently in the State Library of Berlin, proves that in the 13th century the Church of the East was not yet aniconic.[27] Another Nestorian Gospel manuscript preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France contains an illustration that depicts Jesus Christ in the circle of a ringed cross surrounded by four angels.[28] Three Syriac manuscripts from early 19th century or earlier—they were published in a compilation titled The Book of Protection by Hermann Gollancz in 1912—contain some illustrations of no great artistic worth that show that use of images continued.

A life-size male stucco figure discovered in a late-6th-century church in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, beneath which were found the remains of an earlier church, also shows that the Church of the East used figurative representations.[27]

Museum für Indische Kunst Dahlem Berlin Mai 2006 061

Palm Sunday procession of Nestorian clergy in a 7th- or 8th-century wall painting from a Nestorian church in Tang China

T'ang dynasty Nestorian image of Jesus Christ (Original version)

Fragment of a Nestorian Christian figure, a late-9th-century silk painting preserved in the British Museum.

Nestorian Peshitta Gospel – Feast of the Discovery of the Cross

Feast of the Discovery of the Cross, from a 13th-century Nestorian Peshitta Gospel book written in Estrangela, preserved in the SBB.

Nestorian Peshitta Gospel – Announcement of Jesus’ Resurrection

An angel announces the resurrection of Christ to Mary and Mary Magdalene, from the Nestorian Peshitta Gospel.

Nestorian Peshitta Gospel – Pentecost

The twelve apostles are gathered around Peter at Pentecost, from the Nestorian Peshitta Gospel.

Cruz de la Iglesia del Oriente («nestoriana»)

Illustration from the Nestorian Evangelion, a Syriac gospel manuscript preserved in the BnF.

Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, with a Female Figure in T'ang Costume, Chotscho, Sinkiang

Drawing of a rider (Entry into Jerusalem), a lost wall painting from the Nestorian church at Khocho, 9th century.

Sutras on the Origin of Origins of Ta-ch‘in Luminous Religion (detail)

Detail of the rubbing of a Nestorian scriptural pillar, 9th century

Sutras on the Origin of Origins of Ta-ch‘in Luminous Religion (detail-L)

Detail of the rubbing of a Nestorian scriptural pillar, 9th century

Nestorian Christian Statuette

Nestorian Christian relic (statuette) from Imperial China

Early history

Although the Nestorian community traced their history to the 1st century AD, the Church of the East first achieved official state recognition from the Sassanid Empire in the 4th century with the accession of Yazdegerd I (reigned 399–420) to the throne of the Sasanian Empire. In 410 the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, held at the Sasanian capital, allowed the Church's leading bishops to elect a formal Catholicos (leader). Catholicos Isaac was required both to lead the Assyrian Christian community, and to answer on its behalf to the Sasanian emperor.[29][30]

Under pressure from the Sasanian Emperor, the Church of the East sought to increasingly distance itself from the Greek Orthodox Church (at the time being known as the church of the Eastern Roman Empire). Therefore, In 424, the bishops of the Sasanian Empire met in council under the leadership of Catholicos Dadishoʿ (421–456) and determined that they would not, henceforth, refer disciplinary or theological problems to any external power, and especially not to any bishop or Church Council in the Roman Empire.[31]

Thus, the Mesopotamian churches did not send representatives to the various Church Councils attended by representatives of the "Western Church". Accordingly, the leaders of the Church of the East did not feel bound by any decisions of what came to be regarded as Roman Imperial Councils. Despite this, the Creed and Canons of the First Council of Nicaea of 325, affirming the full divinity of Christ, were formally accepted at the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410.[32] The Church's understanding of the term hypostasis differs from the definition of the term offered at the Council of Chalcedon of 451. For this reason, the Assyrian Church has never approved the Chalcedonian definition.[32]

The theological controversy that followed the Council of Ephesus in 431 proved a turning point in the Church's history. 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. (For the theological issues at stake, see Assyrian Church of the East and Nestorianism.)

The Sasanian Emperor, hostile to the Byzantines, saw the opportunity to ensure the loyalty of his Christian subjects and lent support to the Nestorian Schism. The Emperor took steps to cement the primacy of the Nestorian party within the Assyrian Church of the East, granting its members his protection,[33] and executing the pro-Roman Catholicos Babowai in 484, replacing him with the Nestorian Bishop of Nisibis, Barsauma. The Catholicos-Patriarch Babai (497–503) confirmed the association of the Assyrian Church with Nestorianism.

Parthian and Sasanian periods

Christians were already forming communities in Mesopotamia as early as the 1st century under the Parthian Empire. In 266, the area was annexed by the Sasanian Empire (becoming the province of Asōristān), and there were significant Christian communities in Upper Mesopotamia, Elam, and Fars.[34] The Church of the East traced its origins ultimately to the evangelical activity of Thaddeus of Edessa, Mari and Thomas the Apostle. While under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Antioch, leadership and structure remained disorganised until 315 when Papa bar Aggai (310–329), bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, imposed the primacy of his see over the other Mesopotamian and Persian bishoprics which were grouped together into the Catholicate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon; Papa took the title of Catholicos of the East, or universal leader.[35] This position received an additional title in 410, becoming Catholicos and Patriarch of the East.[36][37]

These early Christian communities in Mesopotamia, Elam, and Fars were reinforced in the 4th and 5th centuries by large-scale deportations of Christians from the eastern Roman Empire.[38] However, the Persian Church faced several severe persecutions, notably during the reign of Shapur II (339–79), from the Zoroastrian majority who accused it of Roman leanings.[39] Shapur II attempted to dismantle the Catholicate's structure and put to death some of the clergy including the catholicoi Simeon bar Sabba'e (341),[40] Shahdost (342), and Barba'shmin (346).[41] Afterward, the office of Catholicos lay vacant nearly 20 years (346–363).[42] In 363, under the terms of a peace treaty, Nisibis was ceded to the Persians, causing Ephrem the Syrian, accompanied by a number of teachers, to leave the School of Nisibis for Edessa still in Roman territory.[43] The church grew considerably during the Sasanian period,[5] but the pressure of persecution led the Catholicos Dadisho I in 424 to convene the Synod of Markabta at Seleucia and declare the Catholicate independent from the Patriarch of Antioch.[44]

Meanwhile, in the Roman Empire, the Nestorian Schism had led many of Nestorius' supporters to relocate to the Sasanian Empire, mainly around the theological School of Nisibis. The Persian Church increasingly aligned itself with the Nestorian schismatics, a measure encouraged by the Zoroastrian ruling class. The church became increasingly Nestorian in doctrine over the next decades, furthering the divide between Roman and Nestorian Christianity. In 484 the Metropolitan of Nisibis, Barsauma, convened the Synod of Beth Lapat where he publicly accepted Nestorius' mentor, Theodore of Mopsuestia, as a spiritual authority.[13] In 489, when the School of Edessa in Mesopotamia was closed by Byzantine Emperor Zeno for its Nestorian teachings, the school relocated to its original home of Nisibis, becoming again the School of Nisibis, leading to a wave of Nestorian immigration into the Sasanian Empire.[45] The Patriarch of the East Mar Babai I (497–502) reiterated and expanded upon his predecessors' esteem for Theodore, solidifying the church's adoption of Nestorianism.[5]

Church of Saint John the Arab
A 6th century Nestorian church, St. John the Arab, in the Assyrian village of Geramon.

Now firmly established in the Persian Empire, with centres in Nisibis, Ctesiphon, and Gundeshapur, and several metropolitan sees, the Church of the East began to branch out beyond the Sasanian Empire. However, through the 6th century the church was frequently beset with internal strife and persecution from the Zoroastrians. The infighting led to a schism, which lasted from 521 until around 539, when the issues were resolved. However, immediately afterward Byzantine-Persian conflict led to a renewed persecution of the church by the Sasanian emperor Khosrau I; this ended in 545. The church survived these trials under the guidance of Patriarch Aba I, who had converted to Christianity from Zoroastrianism.[5]

By the end of the 5th century and the middle of the 6th, the area occupied by the Church of the East included "all the countries to the east and those immediately to the west of the Euphrates", including the Sasanian Empire, the Arabian Peninsula, Socotra, Mesopotamia, Media, Bactria, Hyrcania, and India; and possibly also to places called Calliana, Male, and Sielediva (Ceylon).[46] Beneath the Patriarch in the hierarchy were nine metropolitans, and clergy were recorded among the Huns, in Persarmenia, Media, and the island of Dioscoris in the Indian Ocean.[47]

The Church of the East also flourished in the kingdom of the Lakhmids until the Islamic conquest, particularly after the ruler al-Nu'man III ibn al-Mundhir officially converted in c. 592.

Islamic rule

Church of the East provinces 10 c
Ecclesiastical provinces of the Church of the East in 10th century
Mural of a Cleric of the Church of the East
A 9th-century mural of a cleric of the Church of the East from the palace of al-Mukhtar in Samarra, Iraq.

After the Sasanian Empire was conquered by Muslim Arabs in 644, the newly established Rashidun Caliphate designated the Church of the East as an official dhimmi minority group headed by the Patriarch of the East. As with all other Christian and Jewish groups given the same status, the Church was restricted within the Caliphate, but also given a degree of protection. Nestorians were not permitted to proselytise or attempt to convert Muslims, but their missionaries were otherwise given a free hand, and they increased missionary efforts farther afield. Missionaries established dioceses in India (the Saint Thomas Christians). They made some advances in Egypt, despite the strong Monophysite presence there, and they entered Central Asia, where they had significant success converting local Tartars. Nestorian missionaries were firmly established in China during the early part of the Tang dynasty (618–907); the Chinese source known as the Nestorian Stele describes a mission under a proselyte named Alopen as introducing Nestorian Christianity to China in 635. In the 7th century, the Church had grown to have two Nestorian archbishops, and over 20 bishops east of the Iranian border of the Oxus River.[48]

The patriarch Timothy I (780–823), a contemporary of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, took a particularly keen interest in the missionary expansion of the Church of the East. He is known to have consecrated metropolitans for Damascus, for Armenia, for Dailam and Gilan in Azerbaijan, for Rai in Tabaristan, for Sarbaz in Segestan, for the Turks of Central Asia, for China, and possibly also for Tibet. He also detached India from the metropolitan province of Fars and made it a separate metropolitan province, known as India.[49] By the 10th century the Church of the East had a number of dioceses stretching from across the Caliphate's territories to India and China.[5]

Nestorian Christians made substantial contributions to the Islamic Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, particularly in translating the works of the ancient Greek philosophers to Syriac and Arabic.[50] Nestorians made their own contributions to philosophy, science (such as Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Qusta ibn Luqa, Masawaiyh, Patriarch Eutychius, Jabril ibn Bukhtishu) and theology (such as Tatian, Bar Daisan, Babai the Great, Nestorius, Toma bar Yacoub). The personal physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians such as the long serving Bukhtishu dynasty.[51][52]


Church of the East in the Middle Ages
Church of the East at its largest extent during the Middle Ages.

After the split with the Western World and synthesis with Nestorianism, the Church of the East expanded rapidly due to missionary works during the medieval period. During the period between 500 and 1400 the geographical horizon of the Church of the East extended well beyond its heartland in present-day northern Iraq, north eastern Syria and south eastern Turkey. Communities sprang up throughout Central Asia, and missionaries from Assyria and Mesopotamia took the Christian faith as far as China, with a primary indicator of their missionary work being the Nestorian Stele, a Christian tablet written in Chinese script found in China dating to 781 AD. Their most important conversion, however, was of the Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar Coast in India, who alone escaped the destruction of the Church by Timur at the end of the 14th century, and the majority of whom today constitute the largest group who now use the liturgy of the Church of the East, with around 4 million followers in their homeland, in spite of the 17th-century defection to the West Syriac Rite of the Syriac Orthodox Church.[53] The St Thomas Christians were believed by tradition to have been converted by St Thomas, and were in communion with the Church of the East until the end of the medieval period.[54]


The Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala, India, who according to tradition trace their origins to the evangelising of Thomas the Apostle, had a long connection with the Church of the East. The earliest known organised Christian presence in Kerala dates to 295/300 when Nestorian Christian settlers and missionaries from Persia headed by bishop David of Basra settled in the region.[55] The Saint Thomas Christians traditionally credit the mission of Thomas of Cana, a Nestorian from the Middle East, with the further expansion of their community.[56] From at least the early 4th century, the Patriarch of the Church of the East provided the Saint Thomas Christians with clergy, holy texts, and ecclesiastical infrastructure, and around 650 Patriarch Ishoyahb III solidified the church's jurisdiction in India.[57] In the 8th century Patriarch Timothy I organised the community as the Ecclesiastical Province of India, one of the church's Provinces of the Exterior. After this point the Province of India was headed by a metropolitan bishop, provided from Persia, who oversaw a varying number of bishops as well as a native Archdeacon, who had authority over the clergy and also wielded a great amount of secular power. The metropolitan see was probably in Cranganore, or (perhaps nominally) in Mylapore, where the shrine of Thomas was located.[56]

In the 12th century Indian Nestorianism engaged the Western imagination in the figure of Prester John, supposedly a Nestorian ruler of India who held the offices of both king and priest. The geographically remote Malabar church survived the decay of the Nestorian hierarchy elsewhere, enduring until the 16th century when the Portuguese arrived in India. The Portuguese at first accepted the Nestorian sect, but by the end of the century they had determined to actively bring the Saint Thomas Christians into full communion with Rome under the Latin Rite. They installed Portuguese bishops over the local sees and made liturgical changes to accord with the Latin practice. In 1599 the Synod of Diamper, overseen by Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, led to a revolt among the Saint Thomas Christians; the majority of them broke with the Catholic Church and vowed never to submit to the Portuguese in the Coonan Cross Oath of 1653. In 1661 Pope Alexander VII responded by sending a delegation of Carmelites headed by Chaldean Catholics to re-establish the East Syriac rites under an Eastern Catholic hierarchy; by the next year, 84 of the 116 communities returned, forming the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The rest, which became known as the Malankara Church, soon entered into communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church; from the Malankara Church has also come the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.


The Nestorian Stele, created in 781, describes the introduction of Nestorian Christianity to China

Christianity reached China by 635, and its relics can still be seen in Chinese cities such as Xi'an. The Nestorian Stele, set up on 7 January 781 at the then-capital of Chang'an, attributes the introduction of Christianity to a mission under a Persian cleric named Alopen in 635, in the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang during the Tang dynasty.[58][59] The inscription on the Nestorian Stele, whose dating formula mentions the patriarch Hnanishoʿ II (773–80), gives the names of several prominent Christians in China, including the metropolitan Adam, the bishop Yohannan, the 'country-bishops' Yazdbuzid and Sargis and the archdeacons Gigoi of Khumdan (Chang'an) and Gabriel of Sarag (Loyang). The names of around seventy monks are also listed.[60]

Nestorian Christianity thrived in China for approximately 200 years, but then faced persecution from Emperor Wuzong of Tang (reigned 840–846). He suppressed all foreign religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, causing it to decline sharply in China. A Syrian monk visiting China a few decades later described many churches in ruin. The Church disappeared from China in the early 10th century, coinciding with the collapse of the Tang dynasty and the tumult of the next years (the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period).[61]

Christianity in China experienced a significant revival during the Mongol-created Yuan dynasty, established after the Mongols had conquered China in the 13th century. Marco Polo in the 13th century and other medieval Western writers described many Nestorian communities remaining in China and Mongolia; however, they clearly were not as vibrant as they had been during Tang times.

Mongolia and Central Asia

Syriac Christianity
Mongol tribes that adopted Syriac Christianity ca. 600 – 1400

The Church of the East enjoyed a final period of expansion under the Mongols. Several Mongol tribes had already been converted by Nestorian missionaries in the 7th century, and Christianity was therefore a major influence in the Mongol Empire.[62] Genghis Khan was a shamanist, but his sons took Christian wives from the powerful Kerait clan, as did their sons in turn. During the rule of Genghis's grandson, the Great Khan Mongke, Nestorian Christianity was the primary religious influence in the Empire, and this also carried over to Mongol-conquered China, during the Yuan Dynasty. It was at this point, in the late 13th century, that the Church of the East reached its greatest geographical extent. But Mongol power was already waning, as the Empire dissolved into civil war, and it reached a turning point in 1295, when Ghazan, the Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate, made a formal conversion to Islam when he took the throne.

Jerusalem and Cyprus

Rabban Bar Sauma had initially conceived of his journey to the West as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it is possible that there was a Nestorian presence in the city ca.1300. There was certainly a recognisable Nestorian presence at the Holy Sepulchre from the years 1348 through 1575, as contemporary Franciscan accounts indicate.[63] At Famagusta, Cyprus, a Nestorian community was established just before 1300, and a church was built for them ca.1339.[64][65]


The expansion was followed by a decline. There were 68 cities with resident Church of the East bishops in the year 1000; in 1238 there were only 24, and at the death of Timur in 1405, only seven. The result of some 20 years under Öljaitü, ruler of the Ilkhanate from 1304 to 1316, and to a lesser extent under his predecessor, was that "the church hierarchy had been crushed and most Church of the East buildings had been reduced to rubble".[66]

When Timur, the Turco-Mongol leader of the Timurid Empire, known also as Tamerlane, came to power in 1370, he set out to cleanse his dominions of non-Muslims. He annihilated Christianity in central Asia.[67] The Church of the East "lived on only in the mountains of Kurdistan and in India".[68] Thus, except for the Saint Thomas Christians on the Malabar Coast, the Church of the East was confined to the area in and around the rough triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia, including Amid (modern Diyarbakır), Mêrdîn (modern Mardin) and Edessa to the west, Salmas to the east, Hakkari and Harran to the north, and Mosul, Kirkuk, and Arbela (modern Erbil) to the south; a region comprising, in modern maps, northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and the northwestern fringe of Iran. Small Nestorian communities were located further west, notably in Jerusalem and Cyprus, but the Malabar Christians of India represented the only significant survival of the once-thriving exterior provinces of the Church of the East.[69]

The complete disappearance of the Nestorian dioceses in Central Asia probably stemmed from a combination of persecution, disease, and isolation: "what survived the Mongols did not survive the Black Death of the fourteenth century."[67] In many parts of Central Asia Christianity had died out decades before Timur's campaigns. The surviving evidence from Central Asia, including a large number of dated graves, indicates that the crisis for the Church of the East occurred in the 1340s rather than the 1390s. Several contemporary observers, including the papal envoy Giovanni de' Marignolli, mention the murder of a Latin bishop in 1339 or 1340 by a Muslim mob in Almaliq, the chief city of Tangut, and the forcible conversion of the city's Christians to Islam. Tombstones in two East Syriac cemeteries in Mongolia have been dated from 1342, some commemorating deaths during a Black Death outbreak in 1338. In China the last references to Nestorian and Latin Christians date from the 1350s, shortly before the replacement in 1368 of the Mongol Yuan dynasty with the xenophobic Ming dynasty and the consequent cutting off of China from the West.[70]

Schisms and divisions

From the middle of the 16th century, and throughout following two centuries, the Church of the East was affected by several internal schisms. Some of those schisms were caused by individuals or groups who chose to accept union with the Catholic Church. Other schisms were provoked by rivalry between various fractions within the Church of the East. Lack of internal unity and frequent change of allegiances led to the creation and continuation of separate patriarchal lines. In spite of many internal challenges, and external difficulties (political oppression by Ottoman authorities and frequent persecutions by local non-Christians), the traditional branches of the Church of the East managed to survive that tumultuous period, and eventually consolidate during the 19th century in form of the Assyrian Church of the East. At the same time, after many similar difficulties, groups united with the Catholic Church were finally consolidated as the Chaldean Catholic Church

Schism of 1552

Around the middle of the fifteenth century the patriarch Shemʿon IV Basidi made the patriarchal succession hereditary, normally from uncle to nephew. This practice, which resulted in a shortage of eligible heirs, eventually led to a schism in the Church of the East, creating a temporarily Catholic offshoot known as the Shimun line.[71] The patriarch Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb (1539–58) caused great offence at the beginning of his reign by designating his twelve-year-old nephew Khnanishoʿ as his successor, presumably because no older relatives were available.[72] Several years later, probably because Khnanishoʿ had died in the interim, he designated as successor his fifteen-year-old brother Eliya, the future patriarch Eliya (VI) VII (1558–91).[21] These appointments, combined with other accusations of impropriety, caused discontent throughout the church, and by 1552 Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb had become so unpopular that a group of bishops, principally from the Amid, Sirt and Salmas districts in northern Mesopotamia, chose a new patriarch, electing a monk named Yohannan Sulaqa, the former superior of Rabban Hormizd Monastery near the Assyrian town of Alqosh, which was the seat of the incumbent patriarchs.[73] However, no bishop of metropolitan rank was available to consecrate him, as canonically required. Franciscan missionaries were already at work among the Nestorians,[74] and, using them as intermediaries,[75] Sulaqa's supporters sought to legitimise their position by seeking their candidate's consecration by Pope Julius III (1550–5).[76][21]

Sulaqa went to Rome, arriving on 18 November 1552 and presented a letter, drafted by his supporters in Mosul, setting out his claim and asking that the Pope consecrate him as patriarch. On 15 February 1553 he made a twice-revised profession of faith judged to be satisfactory, and by the bull Divina disponente clementia of 20 February 1553 was appointed "Patriarch of Mosul in Eastern Syria"[77] or "Patriarch of the Church of the Chaldeans of Mosul".[78] He was consecrated bishop in St. Peter's Basilica on 9 April. On 28 April Pope Julius III gave him the pallium conferring patriarchal rank, confirmed with the bull Cum nos nuper. These events, in which Rome was led to believe that Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb was dead, created within the Church of the East a lasting schism between the Eliya line of patriarchs at Alqosh and the new line originating from Sulaqa. The latter was for half a century recognised by Rome as being in communion but that reverted to both hereditary succession and Nestorianism and has continued in the patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East.[76][79]

Sulaqa left Rome in early July and in Constantinople applied for civil recognition. After his return to Mesopotamia he received from the Ottoman authorities in December 1553 recognition as head of "the Chaldean nation after the example of all the patriarchs". In the following year, during a five-month stay in Amid (Diyarbakır), he consecrated two metropolitans and three other bishops[75](for Gazarta, Hesna d'Kifa, Amid, Mardin and Seert). For his part, Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb of the Alqosh line consecrated as metropolitans two more underage members of his patriarchal family (for Nisibis and Gazarta). He also won over the governor of ʿAmadiya, who invited Sulaqa to ʿAmadiya, imprisoned him for four months, and put him to death in January 1555.[73][79]

The Eliya and Shimun lines

This new Catholic line founded by Sulaqa maintained its seat at Amid and is known as the "Shimun" line. Wilmshurst suggests that their adoption of the name Shimun (after Simon Peter) was meant to point to the legitimacy of their Catholic line.[80] Sulaqa's successor, Abdisho IV Maron (1555–1570) visited Rome and his patriarchal title was confirmed by the pope in 1562.[81] At some point he moved to Seert.

The Eliya Patriarch Shemon VII Ishoyahb (1539–58), who resided in the Rabban Hormizd Monastery near Alqosh, continued to actively oppose union with Rome, and was succeeded by his nephew Eliya (designated as Eliya "VII" in older historiography, but renumbered as Eliya "VI" in recent scholarly works).[82] During his patriarchal tenure, from 1558 to 1591, the Church of the East preserved its traditional christology and full ecclesiastical independence.[83]

The next Shimun patriarch was likely Yahballaha V, who was elected in 1577 or 1578 and died within two years before seeking or obtaining confirmation from Rome.[80] According to Tisserant, problems posed by the "Nestorian" traditionalists and the Ottoman authorities prevented any earlier election of a successor to Abdisho.[84] David Wilmshurst and Murre-Vandenberg believe that, in the period between 1570 and the patriarchal election of Yahballaha, he or another of the same name was looked on as patriarch.[85] Yahballaha's successor, Shimun IX Dinkha (1580-1600), who moved away from Turkish rule to Salmas on Lake Urmia in Persia,[86] was officially confirmed by the pope in 1584.[87] There are theories that he appointed his nephew, Shimun X Eliyah (1600–1638) as his successor, but other argue his election was independent of any such designation[85]; regardless, from then until the 21st century the Shimun line employed a hereditary system of succession—the rejection of which was part of the reason for the creation of that line in the first place.

Two Nestorian patriarchs

The next Eliya patriarch, Eliya (VII) VIII (1591–1617), negotiated on several occasions with the Catholic Church, in 1605, 1610 and 1615–1616, but without final conclusion.[88] This likely alarmed Shimun X, who in 1616 sent to Rome a profession of faith that Rome found unsatisfactory, and another in 1619, which also failed to win him official recognition.[88] Wilmshurst says it was this Shimun patriarch who reverted to the "old faith" of Nestorianism,[89][85] leading to a shift in allegiances that won for the Eliya line control of the lowlands and of the highlands for the Shimun line. Further negotiations between the Eliya line and the Catholic Church were cancelled during the patriarchal tenure of Eliya (VIII) IX (1617–1660).[90]

The next two Shimun patriarchs, Shimun XI Eshuyow (1638–1656) and Shimun XII Yoalaha (1656–1662), wrote to the pope in 1653 and 1658 according to Wilmshurst, while Murre-Vanderberg speaks only of 1648 and 1653. Wilmshurst says Shimun XI was sent the pallium, though Murre-Vanderberg argues official recognition was given to neither. A letter suggests that one of the two was removed from office (presumably by Nestorian traditionalists) for pro-Catholic leanings: Shimun XI according to Murre-Vanderberg, probably Shimun XII according to Wilmshurst.[91][85]

Eliya (IX) X (1660–1700) was a "vigorous defender of the traditional [Nestorian] faith"[91], and simultaneously the next Shimun patriarch, Shimun XIII Dinkha (1662–1700), definitively broke with the Catholic Church. In 1670, he gave a traditionalist reply to an approach that was made from Rome, and by 1672 all connections with the pope were ended.[92][93]. There were then two traditionalist patriarchal lines, the senior Eliya line in Alqosh, and the junior Shimun line in Qochanis.[94]

The Josephite line

As the Shimun line "gradually returned to the traditional worship of the Church of the East, thereby losing the allegiance of the western regions"[95], it moved from Turkish-controlled territory to Urmia in Persia. The bishopric of Amid (Diyarbakır), the original headquarters of Shimun Sulaqa, became subject to the Alqosh patriarch. In 1667 or 1668, Bishop Joseph of that see converted to the Catholic faith. In 1677, he obtained from the Turkish authorities recognition as holding independent power in Amid and Mardin, and in 1681 he was recognised by Rome as "patriarch of the Chaldean nation deprived of its patriarch" (Amid patriarchate). Thus was instituted the Josephite line, a third line of patriarchs and the sole Catholic one at the time.[96] All Joseph I's successors took the name "Joseph". The life of this patriarchate was difficult: the leadership was continually vexed by traditionalists, while the community struggled under the tax burden imposed by the Ottoman authorities.

In 1771, Eliya (XI) XII and his designated successor (the future Eliya (XII) XIII Ishoʿyahb) made a profession of faith that was accepted by Rome, thus establishing communion. By then, acceptance of the Catholic position was general in the Mosul area. When Eliya (XI) XII died in 1778, Eliya (XII) XIII made a renewed profession of Catholic faith and was recognised by Rome as Patriarch of Mosul, but in May 1779 renounced that profession in favor of the traditional Nestorianism. His younger cousin Yohannan Hormizd was locally elected to replace him in 1780, but for various reasons was recognised by Rome only as metropolitan of Mosul and administrator of the Catholics of the Alqosh party, having the powers of a patriarch but not the title or insignia. When Joseph IV of the Amid patriarchate resigned in 1780, Rome likewise made his nephew, Augustine Hindi, whom he wished to be his successor, not patriarch but administrator. No one held the title of Chaldean Catholic patriarch for the next 47 years.

Consolidation of patriarchal lines

When Eliya (XII) XIII died in 1804, the Nestorian branch of the Eliya line died with him[97][82]; with most of his subjects won over to union with Rome by Hormizd, they did not elect a new traditionalist patriarch. In 1830, Hormizd was finally recognized as the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, marking the last straw of the hereditary system within the Chaldean Catholic Church.

This also ended the rivalry between the senior Eliya line and the junior Shimun line, as Shimun XVI Yohannan (1780–1820) became the sole primate of the traditionalist Church of the East, "the legal successor of the initially Uniate patriarchate of the [Shimun] line"[98][99]. In 1976, it adopted the name Assyrian Church of the East[100][101][102] and its patriarchate remained hereditary until the death in 1975 of Shimun XXI Eshai.

Accordingly, Joachim Jakob remarks that, ironically, "the original patriarchate of the Church of the East"—the Eliya line—"entered into union with Rome and continues down to today in the form of the Chaldean [Catholic] Church"[103][104] while the original patriarchate of the Chaldean Catholic Church—the Shimun line—continues today in the Assyrian Church of the East.

See also



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  8. '^ Philip Wood, The Chronicle of Seert (Oxford University Press 2013), p. 136
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  11. ^ Richard E. Payne, "Persecuting Heresy in Early Islamic Iraq: The Catholicos Ishoyahb III and the Elites of Nisibis" in Andrew Cain, Noel Emmanuel Lenski, The Power of Religion in Late Antiquity (Ashgate 2009), p. 398
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Ancient Church of the East

The Ancient Church of the East (Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܥܬܝܩܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ‎ ʿĒdtā ʿAttiqtā ḏMaḏnḥā, Arabic: كنيسة المشرق القديمة‎, Kanīsat al-Mašriq al-Qadīma), officially the Ancient Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East, is an Eastern Christian denomination founded by Thoma Darmo in 1968.

The Ancient Church of the East distinguished itself from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1964. It is one of the Assyrian churches that claim continuity with the historical Patriarchate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon – the Church of the East, one of the oldest Christian churches in Mesopotamia. The church is headquartered in Baghdad, Iraq. In 1970, Catholicos-Patriarch Addai II Giwargis succeeded Thoma Darmo (1968–1969).


Assyria (), also called the Assyrian Empire, was a Mesopotamian kingdom and empire of the ancient Near East and the Levant. It existed as a state from perhaps as early as the 25th century BC (in the form of the Assur city-state) until its collapse between 612 BC and 609 BC - spanning the periods of the Early to Middle Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age. From the end of the seventh century BC (when the Neo-Assyrian state fell) to the mid-seventh century AD, it survived as a geopolitical entity, for the most part ruled by foreign powers such as the Parthian and early Sasanian Empires between the mid-second century BC and late third century AD, the final part of which period saw Mesopotamia become a major centre of Syriac Christianity and the birthplace of the Church of the East.A largely Semitic-speaking realm, Assyria was centred on the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia (modern northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and the northwestern fringes of Iran). The Assyrians came to rule powerful empires in several periods. Making up a substantial part of the greater Mesopotamian "cradle of civilization", which included Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, and Babylonia, Assyria reached the height of technological, scientific and cultural achievements for its time. At its peak, the Neo-Assyrian Empire of 911 to 609 BC stretched from Cyprus and the East Mediterranean to Iran, and from present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus to the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and eastern Libya.The name "Assyria" originates with the Assyrian state's original capital, the ancient city of Aššur, which dates to c. 2600 BC - originally one of a number of Akkadian-speaking city-states in Mesopotamia. In the 25th and 24th centuries BC, Assyrian kings were pastoral leaders. From the late 24th century BC, the Assyrians became subject to Sargon of Akkad, who united all the Akkadian- and Sumerian-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia under the Akkadian Empire, which lasted from c. 2334 BC to 2154 BC. After the Assyrian Empire fell from power, the greater remaining part of Assyria formed a geopolitical region and province of other empires, although between the mid-2nd century BC and late 3rd century AD a patchwork of small independent Assyrian kingdoms arose in the form of Assur, Adiabene, Osroene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai and Hatra.

The region of Assyria fell under the successive control of the Median Empire of 678 to 549 BC, the Achaemenid Empire of 550 to 330 BC, the Macedonian Empire (late 4th century BC), the Seleucid Empire of 312 to 63 BC, the Parthian Empire of 247 BC to 224 AD, the Roman Empire (from 116 to 118 AD) and the Sasanian Empire of 224 to 651 AD. The Arab Islamic conquest of the area in the mid-seventh century finally dissolved Assyria (Assuristan) as a single entity, after which the remnants of the Assyrian people (by now Christians) gradually became an ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious minority in the Assyrian homeland, surviving there to this day as an indigenous people of the region.

Assyrian Church of the East

The Assyrian Church of the East (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ ܕܐܬܘܖ̈ܝܐ‎, romanized: ʿĒḏtā ḏ-Maḏnḥā ḏ-ʾĀṯūrāyē), officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܩܕܝܫܬܐ ܘܫܠܝܚܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ ܕܐܬܘܪ̈ܝܐ‎, romanized: ʿĒḏtā Qaddīštā wa-Šlīḥāytā Qāṯōlīqī ḏ-Maḏnḥā ḏ-ʾĀṯūrāyē), is an Eastern Christian Church that follows the traditional christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East. It belongs to the eastern branch of Syriac Christianity, and uses the Divine Liturgy of Saints Mar Addai and Mar Mari belonging to the East Syrian Rite liturgy. Its main spoken language is Syriac, a dialect of Eastern Aramaic, and the majority of its adherents are ethnic Assyrians.

The Church also has an archdiocese based in India, known as the Chaldean Syrian Church of India. The Assyrian Church of the East is officially headquartered in the city of Erbil in northern Iraq; its original area also spread into southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria and northwestern Iran, corresponding roughly to ancient Assyria. Since 2015, the primate of the Assyrian Church of the East is Catholicos-Patriarch Gewargis III.The Assyrian Church of the East claims continuity with the historical Church of the East, but it is not in communion with either Oriental Orthodoxy or the Eastern Orthodox Church. It has a traditional episcopal structure, headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch. Its hierarchy is composed of metropolitan bishops and diocesan bishops, while lower clergy consists of priests and deacons, who serve in dioceses (eparchies) and parishes throughout the Middle East, India, North America, Oceania, and Europe (including the Caucasus and Russia).


Catholicos, plural Catholicoi, is a title used for the head of certain churches in some Eastern Christian traditions. The title implies autocephaly and in some cases it is the title of the head of an autonomous church. The word comes from ancient Greek καθολικός, pl. καθολικοί, derived from καθ' ὅλου (kath'olou, "generally") from κατά (kata, "down") and ὅλος (holos, "whole"), meaning "concerning the whole, universal, general"; it originally designated a financial or civil office in the Roman Empire. The name of the Catholic Church comes from the same word - however, the title " Catholicos" does not exist in its hierarchy.

The Church of the East, some Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox churches, and some Eastern Catholic Churches historically use this title; for example the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church. In the Church of the East, the title was given to the church's head, the Patriarch of the Church of the East. It is still used in two successor churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East, the heads of which are known as Catholicos-Patriarchs. In the Armenian Church there are two catholicoi: the supreme catholicos of Ejmiadzin and the catholicos of Cilicia. The title Catholicos-Patriarch is also used by the primate of the Armenian Catholic Church. In India, head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox Church; and regional head of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, an autonomous Church within Syriac Orthodox Church, use this title. The first is known as Catholicos of the East and the latter as Catholicos of India.

Chaldean Catholic Church

The Chaldean Catholic Church (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ‎, ʿīdtha kaldetha qāthuliqetha; Arabic: الكنيسة الكلدانية al-Kanīsa al-kaldāniyya; Latin: Ecclesia Chaldaeorum Catholica, lit. 'Catholic Church of the Chaldeans') is an Eastern Catholic particular church (sui juris) in full communion with the Holy See and the rest of the Catholic Church, with the Chaldean Patriarchate having been originally formed out of the Church of the East in 1552. Employing the East Syriac Rite in Syriac language in its liturgy, it is part of Syriac Christianity by heritage. Headquartered in the Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows, Baghdad, Iraq, since 1950, it is headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako. It comprises 640,828 members, mostly Chaldean Christians living in northern Iraq, with smaller numbers in adjacent areas in northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, a region roughly corresponding to ancient Assyria. There are also many Chaldeans in diaspora in the Western world.

The background of the Chaldean Catholic Church is the Chaldean Patriarchate of the Church of Assyria and Mosul, formed out of the Church of the East in 1552 by Patriarch Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa, recognized as "of the Chaldeans" by the Holy See in 1553. However, his successors in the 17th and 18th centuries provoked a time of turbulence, with splits of varying connections to the Papacy. More than one claimant to the Catholic patriarchal seat left the Catholic Church unable to recognise either. In one patriarchal line, hereditary status of the office was reintroduced and relations with Rome formally broken, with this line eventually forming the Assyrian Church of the East in 1692. Subsequently, however, the two then-remaining Catholic successors of the original patriarchal line unified in 1830 in Mosul, remaining in uninterrupted full communion with Rome until this day.

Despite being known as "Chaldeans", their followers are generally accepted to be indigenous Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrian people, although a minority of Chaldeans (particularly in the United States) have in recent times began to espouse an identity from the land of Chaldea, extant in southeast Mesopotamia between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, despite there being no accredited academic study or historical record which supports this.In 2015, while the patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East was vacant following the death of Dinkha IV, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako proposed a "merger", or reunion, of the Chaldean Catholic Church with the other denominations that trace their origins to the Church of the East: the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East, in order to recreate one united "Church of the East" with a single patriarch in full communion with the Pope. These efforts were stranded, however, when the Assyrian Church of the East decided to elect a new patriarch.

Chaldean Catholics

Chaldean Catholics (), known simply as Chaldeans (Kaldāye; ܟܠܕܝ̈ܐ or ܟܲܠܕܵܝܹܐ), are former Nestorian adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church which originates from the Church of the East.The community formed in the Upper Mesopotamia in the 16th and 17th centuries, originating from groups of Nestorians adhering to the Church of the East that split after the schism of 1552 and entered communion with the Holy See (Catholic Church). While indigenous to the region of north Iraq, southeast Turkey and northeast Syria, many Chaldean Catholic Christians have migrated to Western countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Germany. Many of them also live in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, and Georgia. The reasons for migration are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, the poor economic conditions during the sanctions against Iraq, and poor security conditions after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Chaldean Syrian Church

The Chaldean Syrian Church of India (Malayalam: കൽദായ സുറിയാനി സഭ) is an Eastern Christian Church based in Thrissur, India. It is an archbishopric of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East and is in full communion with its patriarch, Gewargis III.

The Chaldean Syrian Church uses the Divine Liturgy of Saints Mar Addai and Mar Mari belonging to the East Syriac Rite liturgy. Its members are a part of the St. Thomas Christian community, who trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. They are almost exclusively based in the state of Kerala, with the church's cathedral, the Marth Mariam Cathedral, located in Thrissur. The Chaldean Syrian Church is the modern day continuation of the historic Church of the East in India, after the majority of its followers were converted to Catholicism and Oriental Orthodoxy. Today the Chaldean Syrian Church is one of four archbishoprics in the Assyrian Church of the East, and has about 50,000 members in and around Thrissur.

Church of the East in China

The Church of the East or Nestorian Church had a presence in China during two periods: first from the 7th through the 10th century, and later during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries. Locally, the religion was known as Jingjiao/Ching-chiao (景教), which literally means the “Luminous Religion”.

East Syriac Rite

The East Syriac Rite or East Syrian Rite, also called Assyrian Rite, Persian Rite, Chaldean Rite, or Syro-Oriental Rite is an Eastern Christian liturgical rite that uses the East Syriac dialect as its liturgical language. It is one of two main liturgical rites of Syriac Christianity.It originated in Edessa, Mesopotamia, and was historically used in the Church of the East (Nestorianism), the largest branch of Christianity which operated primarily east of the Roman Empire, with pockets of adherents as far as South India, Central and Inner Asia and strongest in the Sasanian Empire. The rite remains in use in Nestorian churches descended from it, namely the Assyrian Church of the East (including the Chaldean Syrian Church of India) and the Ancient Church of the East, as well as in the Chaldean Catholic and Syro-Malabar Catholic churches which are now Eastern Catholic in full communion with the See of Rome.

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Christianity comprises church families that developed outside the Occident, with major bodies including the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Eastern Catholic Churches (that are in communion with Rome but still maintain Eastern liturgies), and the denominations descended from the Church of the East. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church is also an Eastern Christian church that uses the Byzantine Rite. The term is used in contrast with Western Christianity (namely the Latin Church and most of Protestantism), although its scope has been one of continual discussion. Eastern Christianity consists of the Christian traditions and churches that developed distinctively over several centuries in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Malabar coast of South India, and parts of the Far East. The term does not describe a single communion or religious denomination. Some Eastern churches have more in common historically and theologically with Western Christianity than with one another. The various Eastern churches do not normally refer to themselves as "Eastern", with the exception of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.

The terms "Eastern" and "Western" in this regard originated with geographical divisions in Christianity mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic east and Latin West, and the political divide between the Western and Eastern Roman empires. Because the largest church in the East is the body currently known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the term "Orthodox" is often used in a similar fashion to "Eastern", to refer to specific historical Christian communions. However, strictly speaking, most Christian denominations, whether Eastern or Western, consider themselves to be "orthodox" (following correct beliefs) as well as "catholic" (or "universal"), as two of the Four Marks of the Church listed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" (Greek: μία, ἁγία, καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία).There are several liturgical rites in use among the Eastern churches (excepting the non-liturgical dissenting bodies). These are the Alexandrian Rite, the Antiochene Rite, the Armenian Rite, the Byzantine Rite, the East Syriac Rite and the West Syriac Rite.

Episcopal polity

An episcopal polity is a hierarchical form of church governance ("ecclesiastical polity") in which the chief local authorities are called bishops. (The word "bishop" derives, via the British Latin and Vulgar Latin term *ebiscopus/*biscopus, from the Ancient Greek ἐπίσκοπος epískopos meaning "overseer".) It is the structure used by many of the major Christian Churches and denominations, such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Anglican, and Lutheran churches or denominations, and other churches founded independently from these lineages.

Churches with an episcopal polity are governed by bishops, practicing their authorities in the dioceses and conferences or synods. Their leadership is both sacramental and constitutional; as well as performing ordinations, confirmations, and consecrations, the bishop supervises the clergy within a local jurisdiction and is the representative both to secular structures and within the hierarchy of the church. Bishops are considered to derive their authority from an unbroken, personal apostolic succession from the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Bishops with such authority are said to represent the historical episcopate or historic episcopate. Churches with this type of government usually believe that the Church requires episcopal government as described in the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 3 and 2 Timothy 1). In some systems, bishops may be subject to bishops holding a higher office (variously called archbishops, metropolitans, or patriarchs, depending upon the tradition). They also meet in councils or synods. These gatherings, subject to presidency by higher ranking bishops, usually make important decisions, though the synod or council may also be purely advisory.

For much of the written history of institutional Christianity, episcopal government was the only known form of church organization. This changed at the Reformation. Many Protestant churches are now organized by either congregational or presbyterian church polities, both descended from the writings of John Calvin, a Protestant reformer working and writing independently following the break with the Roman Catholic Church precipitated by The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther.

List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East

The Patriarch of the Church of the East (also Patriarch of Babylon or Patriarch of the East) is the patriarch, or leader and head bishop (sometimes referred to as Catholicos or universal leader) of the Assyrian Church of the East. The position dates to the early centuries of Christianity within the Sassanid Empire, and the church has been known by a variety of names, including the Church of the East, Nestorian Church, the Persian Church, the Sassanid Church, or East Syrian. In the 16th and 17th century the Church, by now restricted to its original Assyrian homeland in Upper Mesopotamia, experienced a series of splits, resulting in a series of competing patriarchs and lineages. Today, the three principal churches that emerged from these splits, the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church, each have their own patriarch, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East and the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, respectively.

Marth Mariam Cathedral

Marth Mariam Cathedral is the cathedral of the Chaldean Syrian Church of India, part of the Assyrian Church of the East. It is located in Thrissur City in the state of Kerala, It is the city's first Christian church inside the fort gates and is the fourth church in the Thrissur Municipal Corporation

The church established in 1814 by Chaldaya Suriyani (Ancient Indian Christian community) and was originally known as Our Lady of Dolours Church. Abraham Kathanar of Palai was the head of the Chaldean Syrian faction in 1814, whose headquarters was at Thrissur. The other faction of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was Roman Syrians (East Syrians Latinized as per the directions of Diamper Synod1599) whose head was Sankurickal Geevarghese Kathanar and headquarters was at Alappuzha. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Pope, the head of Catholic church).In 1860 Chaldean Catholic bishop Mar Thoma Rocos arrived in India and his headquarters was Thaikkattussery,Ernakulam Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and returned to MiddleEast in 1862. In 1874 the Chaldean Catholic bishop Elias Mellus arrived in India by the request of ChaldeanSyrian faction and convinced a large part of the Syro-Malabar Christian community to accept him as their bishop.

The group supporting Mellus was based in Our Lady of Dolours. They eventually broke with the Catholic hierarchy and formed the Chaldean Syrian Church which is part of the universal Assyrian Church of the East. They retained the Our Lady of Dolours building, but renamed it(revived the old name) Mart Mariam. In 1929 the Chaldean Syrian Catholics(Independent group) who left from Mart Mariam Church, Thrissur joined/returned Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and erected a new building, the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours.Mar Raphel Thattil belongs to this group. Mart Mariam church,Thrissur now serves as the cathedral of the Chaldean Syrian Church of India which is part of the universal Assyrian Church of the East.


Nestorianism is a Christian theological doctrine that upholds several distinctive teachings in the fields of Christology and Mariology. It opposes the concept of hypostatic union and emphasizes that the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ were joined by will rather than nature. This Christological position is defined as radical dyophisitism. Nestorianism was named after Christian theologian Nestorius (386–450), Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431, who was influenced by Christological teachings of Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch.

Nestorius' teachings brought him into conflict with other prominent church leaders, most notably Cyril of Alexandria, who criticized especially his rejection of the title Theotokos ("Mother of God") for Mary, the mother of Jesus, and issued 12 anathemas against him at a council in Rome in 430. Nestorius and his teachings were eventually condemned as heretical at the Council of Ephesus in 431, and again at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which led to the Nestorian Schism; churches supporting Nestorian teachings broke with the rest of the Christian Church.

Following that, many of Nestorius's supporters relocated to the Sasanian Empire, where they affiliated with the local Christian community, known as the Church of the East. Over the next decades the Church of the East became increasingly Nestorian in doctrine, leading to it becoming known alternatively as the Nestorian Church.


Nestorius (; in Greek: Νεστόριος; c. 386 – 450) was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to August 431, when Emperor Theodosius II confirmed his condemnation by the Council of Ephesus on 22 June.

His teachings included a rejection of the long-used title of Theotokos, "Mother of God", for Mary, mother of Jesus, and they were considered by many to imply that he did not believe that Christ was truly God. That brought him into conflict with other prominent churchmen of the time, most notably Cyril of Alexandria, who accused him of heresy.

Nestorius sought to defend himself at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 but instead found himself formally condemned for heresy by a majority of the bishops and was subsequently removed from his see. On his own request, he retired to his former monastery, in or near Antioch. In 435, Theodosius II sent him into exile in Upper Egypt, where he lived on until 450, strenuously defending his orthodoxy. His last major defender within the Roman Empire, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, finally agreed to anathematize him in 451 during the Council of Chalcedon.

From then on, he had no defenders within the empire, but the Church of the East never accepted his condemnation. That led later to western Christians giving the name Nestorian Church to the Church of the East where his teachings were deemed Orthodox and in line with its own teachings. Nestorius is revered as among three "Greek Teachers" of the Church (in addition to Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia). Parts of the Church of the East's Eucharistic Service, which is known to be among the oldest in the world, is contributed to with prayers attributed to Nestorius himself.

The Second Council of Constantinople of AD 553 confirmed the validity of the condemnation of Nestorius, refuting the letter of Ibas of Edessa that affirms that Nestorius was condemned without due inquiry.The discovery, translation and publication of his Bazaar of Heracleides at the beginning of the 20th century have led to a reassessment of his theology in western scholarship. It is now generally agreed that his ideas were not far from those that eventually emerged as orthodox, but the orthodoxy of his formulation of the doctrine of Christ is still controversial.

Patriarchs of the Church of the East

Conventional lists of Patriarchs of the Church of the East include around 130 patriarchs. A number of these patriarchs are legendary, or invented, or have been included in the standard lists on dubious evidence. This article sets out the historical evidence for the patriarchal succession in the Church of the East and its successor churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Ancient Church of the East.

Saint Thomas Christians

The Saint Thomas Christians, also called Syrian Christians of India, Nasrani or Malankara Nasrani or Nasrani Mappila, are an ethnoreligious community of Malayali Syriac Christians from Kerala, India, who trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. The terms Syrian or Syriac relate not to their ethnicity but to their historical, religious, and liturgical connection to Syriac Christianity. The term Nasrani was derived from Semitic languages like Syriac (نصرانی) and Arabic (نصارى) and refers to Christians in general.

Historically, this community was organised as the Province of India of the Church of the East in the 8th century, served by Nestorian bishops and a local dynastic Archdeacon. In the 16th century, as the Church of the East declined, the overtures of the Portuguese padroado to bring the Saint Thomas Christians into the Catholic Church led to the first of several rifts in the community. The majority joined in formal communion with Rome, forming the Syro-Malabar Church, which is distinct from the Western Latin Church but is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches; they follow the East Syriac Liturgy of the historic Church of the East, traditionally attributed to Saints Addai and Mari which dates back to 3rd-century Edessa. The remaining group resisted the Portuguese and entered into a new communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church, an Oriental Orthodox group, forming the Malankara Church; they inherited from the Syriac Orthodox Church the West Syriac Liturgy, which is traditionally attributed to Saint James and is an ancient rite of the Early Christian Church of Jerusalem.

Since that time, further splits have occurred, and the Saint Thomas Christians are now divided into several different Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Protestant, and independent bodies, each with their own liturgies and traditions.The Eastern Catholic faction is in full communion with the Holy See in Rome. This includes the aforementioned Syro-Malabar Catholic Church as well as the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, the latter arising from a Oriental Orthodox faction that entered into communion with Rome in 1930 under Bishop Mar Ivanios.

The Oriental Orthodox faction includes the Malankara Orthodox Church and the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, resulting from a split within the Malankara Church in 1912 over whether the church should be autocephalous or rather under the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch. As such, the Malankara Orthodox Church is headed by the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan in Kottayam, whereas the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church is an integral part of the Syriac Orthodox Church and is headed by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch.

Independents include the Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church and the Chaldean Syrian Church of India. The Marthoma Syrian Church were a part of the Malankara Church that went through a reformation movement under Abraham Malpan due to influence of British Anglican missionaries in the 1800s. The Mar Thoma Church follows a reformed variant of the liturgical West Syriac Rite. The Chaldean Syrian Church is an archbishopric of the Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq. They were a minority faction within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, who split off and joined with the Church of the East Bishop during the 1700s.Saint Thomas Christians represent a multi-ethnic group. Their culture is largely derived from East Syriac, Hindu, Jewish, and West Syriac influences, blended with local customs and later elements derived from indigenous Indian and European colonial contacts. Their language is Malayalam, the language of Kerala, and Syriac is used for liturgical purposes. The Saint Thomas Christians are classified as a Forward caste by the Government of India under its system of positive discrimination.

Syriac Christianity

Syriac Christianity (Syriac: ܡܫܝܚܝܘܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ‎ / Mšiḥāyuṯā Suryāyṯā) is the form of Eastern Christianity whose formative theological writings and traditional liturgy are expressed in the Syriac language.The Syriac language is a variety of Middle Aramaic that in an early form emerged in Edessa, Upper Mesopotamia in the first century AD. It is closely related to the Jewish Palestinian Aramaic spoken by Jesus. This relationship added to its prestige for Christians. The form of the language in use in Edessa predominated Christian writings and was accepted as the standard form, "a convenient vehicle for the spread of Christianity wherever there was a substrate of spoken Aramaic". The area where Syriac or Aramaic was spoken, an area of contact and conflict between the Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire, extended from around Antioch in the west to Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Sasanian capital (in Iraq), in the east and comprised the whole or parts of present-day Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

Syriac language

Syriac (; ܠܫܢܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ Leššānā Suryāyā), also known as Syrian/Syriac Aramaic, Syro-Aramaic or Classical Syriac, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic of the Northwest Semitic languages of the Afroasiatic family that is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. Having first appeared in the early first century CE in Edessa, classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries, preserved in a large body of Syriac literature. Indeed, Syriac literature comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature. Syriac was once spoken across much of the Near East as well as Anatolia and Eastern Arabia. Syriac originated in Mesopotamia and eventually spread west of Iraq in which it was became the lingua franca of the region during the Mesopotamian Neo-Assyrian period. During the establishment of the Church of the East in central-southern Iraq, speakers of Syriac split into two; those who followed the Eastern Syriac Rite and those who followed Western Syriac Rite. Syriac was the lingua franca of the entire region of Mesopotamia and the native language of the peoples of Iraq and surrounding regions until it was spread further west of the country to the entire Fertile Crescent region, as well as in parts of Eastern Arabia, becoming the dominant language for centuries, before the spread and replacement with Arabic language as the lingua franca. For this reason, Mesopotamian Iraqi Arabic being an Aramaic Syriac substratum, is said to be the most Aramaic Syriac influenced dialect of Arabic, sharing significant similarities in language structure, as well as having evident and stark influences from other ancient Mesopotamian languages of Iraq, such as Akkadian, Sumerian and Babylonian. Mesopotamian Arabic dialects developed by Iraqi Muslims, Iraqi Jews, as well as dialects by Iraqi Christians, most of whom are native ethnic Syriac speakers. Today, Syriac is the native spoken language of millions of Iraqi-Chaldo-Assyrians living in Iraq and the diaspora, and other Syriac-speaking people from Mesopotamia, such as the Mandaean people of Iraq. The dialects of Syriac spoken today include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Mandaic.The Old Aramaic language was adopted by the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC) when the Assyrians conquered the various Syro-Hittite states to its west. The Achaemenid Empire (546-332 BC), which rose after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, also retained Old Aramaic as its official language, and Old Aramaic remained the lingua franca of the region. During the course of the third and fourth centuries AD, the inhabitants of the region began to embrace Christianity. Because of theological differences, Syriac-speaking Christians bifurcated during the 5th century into the Church of the East, or East Syrians under Sasanian rule, and the Syriac Orthodox, or West Syrians under the Byzantine empire. After this separation, the two groups developed distinct dialects differing primarily in the pronunciation and written symbolisation of vowels. The modern, and vastly spoken, Syriac varieties today include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turoyo, among others, which, in turn, have their own subdialects as well.Along with Latin and Greek, Syriac became one of "the three most important Christian languages in the early centuries" of the Common Era. From the 1st century AD, Syriac became the vehicle of Syriac Christianity and culture, and the liturgical language of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Maronite Church, and the Church of the East, along with its descendants: the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and the Assyrian Pentecostal Church.

Syriac Christianity and language spread throughout Asia as far as the Indian Malabar Coast and Eastern China, and was the medium of communication and cultural dissemination for the later Arabs and, to a lesser extent, the Parthian Empire and Sasanian Empire. Primarily a Christian medium of expression, Syriac had a fundamental cultural and literary influence on the development of Arabic, which largely replaced it towards the 14th century. Syriac remains the sacred language of Syriac Christianity to this day.

West Syriac, legacy of
the Patriarchate of Antioch
East Syriac, legacy of
the Church of the East
(the "Nestorian Church")
Saint Thomas Christians,
legacy of
the Malankara Church
(1st century–1601)
in India
Key figures
See also
Patriarchs of the Church of the East
1st–4th centuries
5th–8th centuries
9th–12th centuries
13th–16th centuries
Dioceses of the Church of the East
Time periods
Interior metropolitan
provinces to 1318
Exterior metropolitan
provinces to 1318
dioceses to 1318
Post-1318 dioceses
(See also:
dioceses from 1318 to 1552
and dioceses after 1552)

Middle Ages
Syriac script
By country

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