This book, The Triumph and Tragedy of The Synod of Diamper, gives a modern perspective to the fascinating story of a unique Church created by a unique Apostle who believed in the Risen Lord only after physically verifying the truth. In modern times, Swami Vivekananda hailed it as "the purest of Christianity in the world."
The existential turbulence it underwent during the 16th/17th centuries under the Portuguese colonialists who sought to refashion this Church according to their western model and to reform the community's social/familial customs and their consequences, form the essence of this book. The context is made vivid by briefly describing the story of the Church from its beginning.
The Synod conducted at Diamper near Cochin in AD 1599 set in motion the reform process. It was a triumph of the Colonialists in one respect and a tragedy in several others. It triumphed in bringing two-thirds of the faithful to the Roman Church. It was also tragic in that the remaining faithful got fragmented into different denominations. Also, the social/familial reform efforts yielded but partial success.The progressive Jesuits were unfairly misunderstood, and they were replaced by traditionalist/conservative Carmelites. Malabar was the loser in that bargain.
Although the events narrated herein have become history, this is still being perpetuated as an emotive issue by sections of Christians in Malabar. Consequently, they have also created emotionally-charged versions of the subject. This author has taken an objective approach and has given the subject a modern perspective fit for the reading of a 21st-century reader.
A banker by profession, Mr. K.X.M. John is a freelance writer and an amateur student of history. His fascination for ancient civilisations took him to the histories of Egypt, Greece and Rome, besides that of his own country, India.
Some of his earlier writings include critical essays on randomly chosen Biblical themes, giving them a modern perspective. They were published by late Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy on his blog site, and they have been released for private circulation.
Mr. John has a Master's degree in Mathematics and holds Certificates in Administration from the Royal Institute of Public Administration, London and in Finance from the New York Institute of Finance, NY.
His career began at DRDL as a senior scientific assistant. But, a major part of his public service was with the erstwhile Industrial Development Bank of India during which he also served as Director/Chairman of several companies in India. Retired as Executive Director of the Bank, he was also concurrently the Director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Development Banking at Hyderabad, which used to conduct domestic and international programmes in Development Finance.
Mr. John is a recipient of the National Press India's Bharat Sarathi Award in 1995 for "Excellence in Service:'
"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed." (Luke 1: 1-4)
Evangelist Luke intended making an orderly account of the things which had been accomplished amongst him and his friends who were real-time followers of Jesus. There are critics, however, who think that in his effort at making an orderly account, Luke at times strayed from facts in favour of literary flourishes and exaggerations. If the eye-witness Luke's divinely-inspired Jesus-story was thus viewed with an element of suspicion, how greatly more susceptible to criticism would be similar efforts of ordinary men in reconstructing a cogent story of the Malabar Church from fragments of facts and legends spread over many centuries! The present writer is conscious of his own limitations in this respect. Yet he is venturing on the hazardous task of rebuilding the story of Christianity in Malabar, as the story has fascinated him for years.
A FASCINATING COMMUNITY
Yes, fascinated on several counts. Generally, the Malabar Christian community is regarded highly in India. For instance, by the turn of the 20th century, a person of the stature of Swami Vivekananda commented about the Malabar Christianity as "the purest of Christianity in the world established in India by St Thomas about 25 years after the death of Jesus." This contrasted with his general comment on Malabar as a "lunatic asylum" for its gross caste bigotry of his days and the egregious kind of ill-treatment meted out to people who were then stigmatised as of lower castes.
There are also certain intriguing aspects about this community. Although believed to be of Apostolic origin, yet, strangely, this community was unique among the Apostolic Churches worldwide, in its centuries-long dependence on foreign ecclesiastical hegemony. For more than a millennium, the Malabar Church did not have a Bishop of their own to serve the spiritual needs of the community; it was the Persian Church that chose and supplied their Bishops to Malabar. Did this mean that the Malabar Church then was an incomplete Church?
Again, the Malabar Christian community had deep moorings in the local customs and habits, some of which were patently unchristian, such as upper caste consciousness and caste-based untouchability. Instead of taking corrective steps by educating the community, the Persian ecclesiastical masters preferred to overlook them.
It might be due to such reasons that, in one of their study reports of AD 1806, the British referred to the Malabar Church as a "primitive" Church. Apparently, from the British viewpoint, the Christian formation in Malabar was yet incomplete. A strange episode occurred when the Portuguese, the new European power, landed at Cochin in AD 1502. The community had been starved of ecclesiastical support from the Persian Church for a while, and at the same time, they were being harassed by the aggressive Arab traders. In the circumstances, the community unhesitatingly submitted themselves to the new foreign Christian power from Portugal, declaring themselves to be their subjects from then on. This was indeed a strange phenomenon even in those days of perpetual political instability in the region; and patriotism, as we understand today, was unknown then.
Again, the exposure they had to the new foreign culture, and the economic gains they had from their alliance with them, eventually emboldened the ecclesiastically weakened local Christians to assert themselves even against their benefactors. The Synod of Diamper set in motion their latent spirit of ecclesiastical independence.
Soon, this led to a rebellion that eventually split the Church. Internal discords plague sections of the Church even to this day.
THE PERSPECTIVE ADOPTED IN THIS NARRATION
The perspective of the development of the Church over the past two thousand years, especially of the Synod and its aftermath, as presented in this work had evolved in the mind of this writer over the years, and it crystallised in this verbal format after he had the benefit of listening to scholarly opinions on the subject in recent times.
Herein is an attempt at providing a 21"-century layman's perspective of the story of Christianity in Malabar, especially of the watershed event of the Synod of Diamper that, while 'modernising' the Church, also caused to split and divert the community in different directions. In this sketch, we shall outline the tranquil history of the Church for the first fifteen centuries of its existence and then follow the "Road to Diamper," and then the "Roads from Diamper," and also its unintended spin-off benefits and collateral damages. No historical episode could be grasped in its completeness unless the events that led to it and its long-term consequences are also examined.
THE RAW NERVE ABOUT THE SYNOD STILL UNHEALED
The strange irony of this much-discussed 'period drama of the Synod is that despite the efflux of time, it is still being kept alive as an emotive issue as if to protect narrow interests and keep prejudices alive. This writer is of the view that it is high time for the concerned parties to keep aside the emotional dimensions of the perceived rights and wrongs of the past, and look at history through modern eyes in a detached manner. If this is done, everyone concerned will be rewarded with the realisation that the Synod in fact succeeded in bringing in the much-needed ecclesiastical discipline in the Malabar Church and, unsuccessfully though, it sought to make the kind of social changes that would bring in the true Christian spirit in the society.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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