Friday, June 12, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XX: The Chaldean Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Chaldean

Primary Liturgical Language: Syriac (Christian Aramaic)

Juridical Status: Patriarchal

Approximate Population: Somewhere in the vicinity of 500,000. Due to the situation in Iraq, it is difficult to be more precise.

Brief History: Two major 'superpowers' were entangled in the early days of Christianity: the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. The refusal of a large number of Persian Christians to accept the Council of Ephesus led to a slow splitting of Christians in the Persian Empire, from the those in the Roman Empire. The Persian Empire eventually became Muslim, and eventually the Ottoman Empire arose, but the Church of the East continued. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, it underwent a highly contentious internal argument. The problem arose in the fifteenth century, when the Catholicos of the Church of the East, Shemʿon IV Basidi, made the Catholicate hereditary: it was to be passed on from uncle to nephew. The dangers of this are obvious; it was difficult to guarantee that there would be any successor at all, and it subjected the position to all the problems of any ordinary blood sucession system. Mixing dynastic politics with ecclesiastical politics has never been a recipe for stability (as the history of the Church of the East has shown in spades). A sufficiently strong and popular Catholicos could certainly handle such problems, but the system was not particularly designed to guarantee strong and popular Catholicoi. Things came to a head in the reign of Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb, who managed to infuriate pretty much everybody; in 1552 the Church of the East underwent its most serious schism ever.

The rebel bishops elected Yohannan Sulaqa as their new Catholicos. There was a problem, however: while there were a lot of bishops in the rebellion, there were no metropolitan bishops. He could not be consecrated without one. Thus a fateful step was taken: Yohannan Sulaqa and a delegation approached Franciscan missionaries and asked for a letter of introduction to Pope Julius III. The Pope seems to have been rather startled at the hereditary succession of Catholicoi, and Sulaqa was willing to make a profession of faith. Thus in 1553 Sulaqa became Shimun VIII, and recognized by the Pope as patriarch of Mosul and Assyria, although he quickly came to be known as Patriarch of the Chaldeans (probably following the usage of the Council of Florence); all of his section of the Church of the East entered into communion with Rome. His reign was relatively short, however, because the Ottoman government tended not to like religious groups in the Ottoman Empire seeking Western backing. He was arrested in 1555 and apparently tortured and executed.

This line of the Chaldean Patriarchate lasted until 1600, when Shimun IX Dinkha decided to reintroduce the principle of hereditary succession again. This was absolutely unacceptable to Rome, and the Shimun line continued, no longer Catholic. It in fact became the patriarchal line of what is now known as the Assyrian Church of the East, and only ended in 1975. There were thus two Churches of the East at this point, the older one whose patriarchal line is usually called the Eliya line, and the one that had arisen from the schism of 1552, governed by the Shimun line of patriarchs.

However, in the seventeenth century the bishop of Amid, whose name was Yousip, entered into communion with Rome. Amid was in communion with the Eliya line, and the patriarch at that time was less than amused. He went personally to Amid and had Yousip imprisoned. Yousip was able to raise the money to pay a ransom and was freed; he fled to Rome, but he returned a few years later, and the Ottoman government eventually recognized him as independent. In 1681 Rome recognized him with the somewhat obscure title of 'Patriarch of the Chaldean Nation Deprived of Its Patriarch'. The resulting church was small and kept in line by the Ottoman government by the tried-and-true Islamic method of preventing religious groups from expanding: very heavy taxation.

In the 1770, Rome began corresponding with the Church of the East lines that were not in communion with it. The result was that Eliya XII Denkha, whose see was in Alqosh, made a Catholic profession of faith in 1771. Eliya XII Denkha, however, had created a problem that could not immediately be resolved. The Eliya line was hereditary, and his nephew Ishoʿyahb was originally designated his heir; however, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Eliya XII chose to switch heirs, and made his nephew Yohannan Hormizd successor. Both nephews had made a profession of Catholic faith. Ishoʿyahb became Eliya XIII, without initial opposition from Yohannan, but as soon as he was recognized by the Ottoman government, he broke communion with Rome. The bishops who still wanted to be Catholic gathered and elected another to be Patriarch; but he refused. So they fell back on Yohannan, who had been active in opposing his cousin. Thus Yohannan VIII Hormizd was elected Patriarch in 1780, and his supporters managed to get him recognition from the Ottoman government.

Rome faced a significant puzzle. It was absolutely opposed to hereditary succession, and recognizing Yohannan could be seen as condoning it. There was also the complication that there was already a Chaldean line in communion with Rome, and how the two would relate was an uncertain question. On the other hand, the attractions of another Chaldean line in communion with Rome were obvious and considerable. It seriously considered refusing recognition, but in the end Rome did what it usually does when faced with complicated political problems: it temporized. It recognized Yohannan as archbishop of Mosul and named him administrator for the Chaldean patriarchate. Thus not Patriarch, but not completely a non-Patriarch, either. Like much of Rome's temporizing, this would cause some serious headaches down the road, but it may also have given enough time for the Chaldean communion with Rome to be consolidated.

Problems began to arise between Yohannan Hormizd and Rome. In 1796, a group of Malabar Christians arrived asking for a bishop, something that they usually received from the Church of the East; Hormizd attempted to get the go-ahead from Rome, but could not get a reply since Rome was at that point under occupation by the French. So he went ahead and did it; word got back to Rome, and Rome demanded that he account for it. His explanation was accepted, and the possibility of naming him patriarch came up again, but opponents of Yohannan managed to raise questions about his orthodoxy, leading Rome to delay again. In the meantime, his cousin died, leaving Yohannan the sole heir of the Eliya line.

Over the next several years, Hormizd would end up opposing various projects on which Rome looked with favor, to such an extent that in 1812 Rome suspended him. Yohannan vehemently opposed the suspension, leading to constant struggle among Chaldean Catholics, which did not endear him any further in the eyes of Rome. However, Rome in the meantime continued to investigate, and in 1826, he was absolved he was absolved of any wrongdoing; Rome, however, wanted him to retire. The ever-active Yohannan was not the retiring kind, and he absolutely refused. However, he had managed to develop certain allies, and in 1830, Rome made him Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. Yohannan was 74 years old.

There was, remember, another Chaldean line. Joseph IV Timotheus Lazar Hindi had been Patriarch of the Chaldean Nation Deprived of Its Patriarch beginning in 1757. He was worn down by it, and resigned in 1780, appointing his nephew, Augustine Hindi. Needless to say, Rome was less than pleased with this action, and Lazar Hindi decided to withdraw his resignation. He would eventually have to flee the Ottoman authorities because of tax debts -- remember, the Ottoman authorities were taxing the Amid Chaldeans very heavily. This was in the 1790s, and Rome decided to appoint Yohannan administrator of that line of Chaldeans, as well. Lazar Hindi vehemently objected, as did many of the Amid Chaldeans, so Rome rescinded the appointment, and Augustine Hindi in 1802 was appointed administrator for that Chaldean group, a few years after the death of Lazar Hindi. During Yohannan's suspension, Augustine Hindi was appointed apostolic delegate for the entire Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans. In 1804, Augustine Hindi began calling himself the Patriarch, and was widely recognized as Patriarch. This was never officially given, but it may well have been the case that Augustine thought it had. In any case, it had the effect of uniting the Chaldean lines in communion with Rome under a popular leader, which is what Rome clearly had been hoping for all along, and may be a reason why Rome never protested the action.

Augustine died in 1827, so when Rome finally (and by every indication reluctantly) named Hormizd Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, it was a united Chaldean church; Alqosh and Amid Chaldeans were both part of it, the Eliya and Josephite lines both terminated in it, and the only Chaldean branch outside was that schismatic Shimun line.

As Yohannan's death clearly approached, Rome took steps to make sure that the hereditary principle of succession would not rise again; in particular, it named on its own authority who would be Yohannan's successor: Nicholas Zayʿa. It ended up being an error; the Chaldean metropolitan bishops were irritated at not having even been consulted, and the only thing that prevented them from electing their own patriarch was that they could not come to agreement on who it should be. Zayʿa ended up being able to do very little effectively, and he resigned in 1846.

His successor, Joseph Audo, had been one of the most active opponents of both Hormizd and Zayʿa, and he would clash with Rome even more intensely at times than Hormizd had; he was, however, strong enough to put things in order in the Chaldean Catholic Church, and under his hand it flourished. Audo also attended the First Vatican Council, where he was one of the major figures in the party opposed to definition of papal infallibility, and, after the Council, he was the very last Eastern patriarch to accept it. All of his actions irritated Pius IX so much that Pius IX devoted an entire encyclical to criticizing him. But he would never actually push Rome to the furthest limit, and seems to have been respected by the Roman Curia, albeit sometimes grudgingly.

The twentieth century would bring stormy times for Chaldean Catholics. Significant parts of the Church were swept away in the aftermath of World War I in what has often been called the Assyrian Genocide. In 1933 many Chaldean Catholics would die in the Simele Massacre in Iraq, and persecutions continued to pop at various intervals. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, would end up being perhaps the greatest disaster for the church. Chaldean Catholics became visible and easy targets for Muslim extremist groups, and they have been more recently hunted down in the expansion of ISIS. Chaldean Christians had been the primary inhabitants of the Nineveh Plains around Mosul for literally over a millenium; many of them have been forced to flee for their lives and the lives of their families. Chaldean Catholics are a significant portion of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have had to flee Iraq in the past twelve years. And the clergy in Iraq face daily risks. Their bishops and priests have often been kidnapped for ransom or murdered. The Chaldean Catholic Church is in a state of extraordinary crisis. How things will turn out, no one can say.

Notable Monuments: Church of Mary Mother of Sorrows in Baghdad, Iraq.

Notable Saints: The Chaldean Catholic Church has a number of Persian saints on its calendar from the Church of the East calendar, such as St. Shim’un Bar Sabba’e, St. Qardagh, St. Sultan Mahdokt, St. Pithyon, and St. Jacob the Mutilated. In addition, there is a large crowd of martyrs, some of whom might at some point be beatified or canonized and placed on the general calendar.

Notable Religious Institutes: Antonian Order of Saint Ormizda of the Chaldeans; Congregation of the Chaldean Daughters of Mary Immaculate.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans; nine archeparchies in Iraq (5), Iran (3), and Turkey (1); eleven eparchies around the world, including in Lebanon, Canada, the United States, and Oceania; and two patriarchal territories. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. As the Chaldean Catholic diaspora has been expanding at a prodigious rate, this is likely to become even more true of Chaldean Catholics in the future.)

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