Coonan Cross Oath
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The Coonan Cross Oath (Koonan Kurishu Satyam), taken on 3 January 1653, was a public avowal by members of the Saint Thomas Christians community of modern-day Kerala, India that they would not submit to Roman Pope and Latin Catholic Portuguese Padroado dominance in ecclesiastical and secular life.
The Thomas Christians were in communion with the Church of the East (East Syriac Rite liturgy) of Persia. However, the Portuguese did not accept the legitimacy of local Malabar traditions, and they began to impose Latin usages upon the Thomas Christians. At the Synod of Diamper held in 1599 under the presidency of the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, Aleixo de Menezes, a number of such latinizations were adopted, including the appointment of Portuguese bishops, changes in the Eucharistic liturgy, the use of Roman vestments, the requirement of clerical celibacy, and the setting up of the Inquisition. After over 50 years of rule under the Latin Church, the majority of the Malabar Christians protested against Rome through the Coonan Cross Oath (1653) at Mattancherry to break off from the Catholic Church.
In response to the Coonan Cross Oath revolt, Pope Alexander VII sent Carmelite friars to the Malabar coast to deal with the Thomas Christians. With the help of the Carmelites, by 1662, the majority of the dissidents had came to communion with the Catholic Church. Pope Alexander VII established a new East Syriac Rite hierarchy in communion with Rome for the Saint Thomas Christians; this faction came to be known as the Pazhayakuttukar, or "Old Party", which would become the modern-day Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The faction that resisted Rome came to be known as the Puthenkuttukar, or "New Party", which under the leadership of Mar Thoma I sought the help of other Eastern Churches, resulting in a relationship with the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. The "New Party" faction became the Malankara Church and adopted a variant of the West Syriac Rite known as the Malankara Rite from the Syriac Orthodox Church.
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The Saint Thomas Christians remain in communion with the Church of the East. It is believed that Malabar Church was in communion with the Church of the East from CE 300 to CE 1599. With the establishment of Portuguese power in parts of India, clergy of that empire, in particular members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), attempted to Latinise the Indian Christians.
The Portuguese started a Latin Rite diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558), and sought to bring the St.Thomas Christians under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese padroado and into the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. A series of synods, including the 1585 Synod of Goa, were held, which introduced Latinized elements to the local liturgy. In 1599 Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, led the Synod of Diamper, which finally brought the Saint Thomas Christians fully under the authority of the Latin Archdiocese of Goa.
The independence of the ancient Church of Malankara was rescinded. The Padroado (Patronage) of the Portuguese Crown was only momentary for the feelings of resentment and the desire to regain independence among the St. Thomas Christians were very real and could not be contained for long.
In 1653, Ahatallah of Antioch visited Malankara and was captured by the Portuguese. He was taken on board a Portuguese ship at Madras bound for Goa and en route, it touched Cochin. Local Christians heard of the arrival of the ship at Cochin. The Archdeacon with a large number of Priests and several thousands of Saint Thomas Christians assembled at Mattancherry Cochin; their efforts to visit the Bishop when the fleet arrived in Cochin intensified but ultimately, they were not fruitful. Several letters were sent to all the civil and religious authorities in Cochin, for at least an opportunity to visit Mar Ahatallah, to examine his credentials and to verify his identity, promising that if he was found an imposter, they would be the first to press for his punishment. Due to the staunch and intransigent opposition of the Archbishop Garcia and the Jesuit fathers it did not happen. The Archbishop even refused to meet the Christians, who wanted to discuss the matter with him. What happened to Mar Ahatallah in the midst of Arabian Sea is still a mystery. Further resentment of these measures led a part of the community to take the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653 swearing "never to submit to the Portuguese". Ahatallah claimed to be the Patriarch of Antioch and hence was often called or called himself "Ignatius Aloho" which was the name of the Patriarch Ignatius Hidayat Aloho.
According to some writing on 1980s, Metropolitan Mar Ahatalla is said to have landed at Surat in 1652 and thence came to Mylapore, where he was arrested by the Jesuits on 3 August 1652. While at Mylapore, Mar Ahatalla met two Syrian Christian deacons, viz: Chengannur ltty and Kuravilangad Kizhakkedath Kurien from Malankara, who were on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Thomas and sent a letter through them to the Church of Malankara saying:
Behold, I Ignatius, Patriarch of All India and China, send to you a letter through the clerics who came here from your place. When you have read this letter diligently send me two priests and forty men. If however, you wish to send them from your place, send them cautiously, quickly and soon, so that seeing your people they would release me without hindrance. I came to the city of Mylapore thinking that many people come here, and that priests would get me to your place of the Indias. In the year 1652 of our Lord, in the month of August, on Monday, I arrived in Mylapore in the monastery of the Jesuits. In the same monastery I stay, and they help me very much; may their reward increase here and there. Peace be with them, with you, and with us now and always. Amen. I, Ignatius, Patriarch of All India and China.
When the ship carrying Mar Ahatallah reached Goa, he was handed over to the inquisition, and he was kept in close custody in the Jesuit house there. He was sent to Portugal on the ship "Nosa Senhora da Graca" from Goa and reached Lisbon on 14 July 1653. The king of Portugal decided to send him to Rome. Accordingly, while he was on his way to Rome, he died at Paris on 26 March 1654 and is buried at the Jerusalem Chapel of the Cordeliena Church. St. Vincent De Paul who met Mar Ahatallah at Paris mentions of him in the following words "There remains in this city a good old man of eighty years, a foreigner, who was lodging with the late monsignor Archbishop of Myra. They say he is the Patriarch of Antioch. Be that it may, he is alone and has no mark of prelacy". The treatment of Mar Ahatalla, however, shocked the Christian community, and their wounded feelings effervesced into a mass upsurge which heralded the breaking off from the Padroado of the Portuguese Crown and the "Paulists".
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Seeing that the Archbishop thus turned a deaf ear to their insistent pleas, the Nasranis became extremely exasperated. A rumor also was spread at this time that Mar Ahatallah was drowned by the Portuguese. Hence on 3 January 1653, Archdeacon Thomas and representatives from the community assembled at St Mary's Church (Nossa Senhora da Vida) at Mattancherry to swear what would be known as the "Coonan Cross Oath". The following oath was read aloud with lighted candles, with the Archdeacon and the leading priests touching the Bible while the people held ropes tied to a cross outside the church:
The number of people who took part in the Sathyam (Oath) was so significant that all of them could not touch the granite Cross at the same time. Therefore, they held on to ropes tied to the Cross in all directions. According to tradition, After the historic oath was read, out of a population of 200,000 St. Thomas Christians, only 400 remained loyal to the Archbishop Garcia.
They met at Edapally St George Church on 5 February 1653, on the last day of the Moonnu Noyambu (Three day fast) feast of Jona, the most solemn day of the feast, and declared that through a letter, Patriarch Ahatalla has conferred upon Archdeacon Thomas the Governorship of the Malankara Syrian Church and all the powers of Jurisdiction over the Church. Councillors were assigned to the Governor. They were Chandy Palliveettil of Kuravilangad, George Vengoor of Akaparambu, Chandy Kadavil of Kaduthuruthy. Then, according to the second letter of Mar Ahatallah produced by Ittithomman Anjilimoottil Kathanar on 22 May 1653, at St Mary's Church Alangad, during the solemn celebration of the Feast of the Ascension, the people and priests assembled there elected Archdeacon Thomas, as their Bishop and gave him the title Mar Thoma I. He was consecrated using an oriental consecration rite, but by the laying hands on him by 12 priests, instead of any bishops doing it, which was mandatory according to the Canon laws of all the Churches all over the world. Until then there was no such a tradition of consecration by priests instead of bishops in Malankara. Hence the Malankara Syrian Church adopted quite a new way of ordaining a bishop by laying hands of 12 priests (Kaiveppu) as there was no bishop in India at that time who would do it for him. All the bishops who were in India at that time were of the Latin Catholic Church and they would not do the consecration of him as it was against their bishop the said oath was made. There were no oriental or eastern church bishops in India at that time, because the Portuguese had imposed a sort of embargo on the Malankara Syrian Church, so that no such bishops would reach India. The Pope's apostolic commissary and Carmelite Fr Friar Joseph of St Mary Sebastiani arrived in Malankara in 1657 and started challenging the legitimacy of the ordination of Mar Thoma I. This led to the split of Malankara Syrian Church in two factions, one supporting Mar Thoma I and the other supporting Friar Sebastiani. This led the Mar Thoma I faction of the Malankara Syrian Church to ask for a Metropolitan Bishop from the Church of Antioch to regularize the validity of the consecration of Mar Thoma I.
in addition to its religious significance, the event broke the 54-year-old Padroado (patronage) rule of the Portuguese Crown over the Malankara Syrian Church. (Padroado supremacy of Portuguese Crown imposed at the Udayamperur Synod in 1599)
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The Malankara Syrian Catholic faction was headed by the Carmelite Fr Friar Sebastiani until 1663, when Dutch came and captured Cochin and they forced all the Europeans other than the Dutch to leave the place. Thus when he was forced to leave India he consecrated Chandy Palliveettil a cousin of Mar Thoma I as Bishop of the Syrian Catholic faction. After the Coonan Cross Oath the Portuguese missionaries attempted reconciliation with the St. Thomas Christians but they were not successful. It was as a result of this, that Pope Alexander VII sent the Italian Fr Friar Joseph of St Maria Sebastiani at the head of a Carmelite delegation who succeeded in winning over a large section of St. Thomas Christians, including three of the four councillors of Mar Thoma I: Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar, Vengoor Geevarghese Kathanar and Kadavil Chandy Kathanar to his side.
This led to the first permanent split in the Malankara Syrian Church. Thereafter, the faction affiliated with the Catholic Church under Palliveettil Mar Chandy was designated as the Pazhayakuttukar, or "Old Party", while the branch affiliated with Mar Thoma I was called as the Puthenkuttukar, or "New Party". Both groups considered themselves the true heirs to the St. Thomas tradition, and saw the other as heretical.
In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox (West Syrian) Patriarch of Antioch after the Metropolitan Mar Ahatalla arrived in India at the invitation of Mar Thoma I. This visit resulted in establishing full ecclesiastical communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Between 1657-63, 84 of the 116 Malankara Syrian churches shifted their allegiance to the Malankara Syrian Catholic faction of the East Syriac rite. This Church from 1923 is known officially as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. It is in full communion with the Latin Catholic Church. They received their own Syro-Malabar Hierarchy on 21 December 1923, with the Metropolitan Mar Augustine Kandathil as the head of their Church. The St. Thomas Christians by this process became divided into East Syrians and West Syrians. The split into Malankara Syriac Orthodox and Syro-Malabar factions would become permanent. Over the next centuries, the Malankara faction would experience further splits and schisms, and a small portion of the Syrian Catholic Church reaffirmed their ties with the Assyrian Church of the East in 1882, forming the Chaldean Syrian Church of Trissur.
Various interpretations of the events
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- Stephen Neill's version
The situation is explained by Stephen Neill (an Anglican Protestant missionary, from Scotland) in his book A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707.
- "On [sic] January 1653, priests and people assembled in the church of Our Lady at Mattancherry, and standing in front of a cross and lighted candles swore upon the holy Gospel that they would no longer obey Garcia, and that they would have nothing further to do with the Jesuits they would recognize the Archdeacon as the governor of their Church. This is the famous oath of the "Coonan Cross" (the open-air Cross which stands outside the church at Mattancherry). The Saint Thomas Christians did not at any point suggest that they wished to separate themselves from the Pope. They could no longer tolerate the arrogance of Garcia. And their detestation of the Jesuits, to whose overbearing attitude and lack of sympathy they attributed all their troubles, breathes through all the documents of the time. But let the Pope send them a true bishop not a Jesuit, and they will be pleased to receive and obey him."
It is to be noted that as said in Stephen Neill's version, the then leader Thoma Archdeacon (whom they oathed as the governor of the Church as mentioned above) and his successors and followers were not supporting Pope or Roman Catholic Church after the event but sought the support of other Eastern Churches including Antioch.
In response to the continuous appeal of the Thoma Arkadiyakon (Archdeacon), who was then given the Church leadership, Mar Ahatallah arrived in 1653. A rumour spread that the Portuguese arrested him, tied him up and cast him into the ocean. As a result, a large gathering of about 25,000 assembled at Mattancherry and took the Oath at "Koonan Cross", the historical "Koonan Kurisu Sathayam", in 1653, declaring their future generations would never adhere to the Franks (i.e. Portuguese) nor accept the faith of the Pope. Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church, Malabar Independent Syrian Church and Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, adhere to the version of Malankara Syrian Church.
- "Koonan Oath 00001" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 June 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2007.
- Roberson, Ronald. "The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church". CNEWA. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
- Gregorios & Roberson, p. 285.
- Vadakkekara, p. 91.
- Gouvea, Antonio de (1606). Jornada. Coimbra.
- I. Gillman and H.-J. Klimkeit, Christians in Asia Before 1500, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p. 177.
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Thomas Christians".
- Kollamparambil, Dr Jacob (1981). The St. Thomas Christian Revolution 1653. Catholic Bishop's House Kottayam. p. foot note 38.
- Death register Cordeliena Church Paris
- Thekkedath, Joseph (1982). History of Christianity in India. Theological Publications in India for the Church History Association of India. p. 213.
- The Troubled Days of Francis Garcia S. J. Archbp. of Cranganore by Joseph Theekkedathu S. D. B. Page 60
- Vadakkekara, p. 84; 86.
- Frykenberg, p. 361.
- Fernando, p. 79.
- Chaput, pp. 7–8.
- Vadakkekara, p. 84 and note.
- Coonan Cross Oath, chroniclesofmalabar.blogspot.com, June 2011; accessed 31 December 2015.
- Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707, pp. 326-27
- Baum, Wilhelm; Winkler, Dietmar W. (2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History. London-New York: Routledge-Curzon. ISBN 9781134430192.
- Daniel, David (2010). Koonen Cross Oath, orthodoxherald.com, 5 January 2010; accessed 31 December 2015.
- Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from the Beginnings to the Present. Oxford; ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
- Neill, Stephen (2004). A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-54885-3. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
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