Saturday, May 09, 2015

Sui Juris Churches X: The Church of Malabar Syrians

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Chaldean

Primary Liturgical Languages: Syriac and Malayalam.

Juridical Status: Major Archiepiscopal

Approximate Population: 4 to 5 million

Brief History: The Mar Thoma Nasrani or St. Thomas Christian community of India is very old. By their own traditions, they were founded by no less than St. Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have taken a missionary journey to India and been martyred in Mylapore in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It's not an impossibility; trade routes would have made it possible, and it is well established that there were already Jewish communities in the area. The earliest written account we have of St. Thomas the Apostle going to India, the Acts of Thomas, goes back to the third century. It is sometimes suggested that the Mar Thoma communities were founded by someone from a later generation who was also named Thomas; and indeed there are legends of a Thomas of Cana who brought Christians to the shores of India in the fourth century or so. Regardless, it is one of the ancient churches of the world, and even if it wasn't actually founded by St. Thomas the Apostle, for practical purposes it might as well have been. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the lion's share of this community, being easily larger than its non-Catholic counterparts, which is one of the distinctive features of this Eastern Catholic church: it is the primary bearer of its tradition. It is also the third largest particular church in the Catholic communion, after the Latin and the Ukrainian churches.

To get to the Roman Empire from India, of course, would for the most part have required crossing the Persian Empire; it is thus not surprising that the Mar Thoma Christians historically have tended to be linked with the Church of the East, which was the primary Christian presence in Persia. This is simply a matter of geography; the Mar Thoma community seems to have had nothing to do with, and may indeed have had no knowledge of, any of the events that led to the split between the Catholic Orthodox in the Roman Empire and the Church of the East in the Persian Empire. Nonetheless, for well over a millenium, the Mar Thoma Christians belonged to the communion of the Church of the East, and it is because of this that they are East Syriac or Chaldean in their liturgy. But their customs and devotional life, of course, were undeniably Indian.

As the fifteenth century drew to a close, however, an event happened that would change the cultural landscape of India forever: in 1498, Vasco de Gama sailed into Calcutta. The Portuguese had arrived, casting out their far-flung trading net. This led to certain complications, as the Portuguese had difficulty understanding these Christians of the Malabar Coast, and tried to impose the Latin Rite. This led to the splitting of the Mar Thoma community, as parts Latinized and others did not, and the struggle for control became intense in the seventeenth century. Some Mar Thoma Christians cooperated with the Portuguese in latinization of their rite; these are the root of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Others linked up with the Syriac Orthodox Church out of Antioch; these became the root for the Malankara Orthodox Church. Yet others intensified ties with the Assyrian Church of the East.

In 1778, however, two members of the Catholic community, Joseph Kariattil and Paremmakkal Thomma Kathanar, traveled to Rome in order to petition for some independence on the part of their St. Thomas Christians. This they received. This breathing room for cultivation of their heritage would slowly build as the Syro-Malabar Church received first eparchial status in 1887 and then Metropolitan status in 1923. During the Metropolitan phase, the church actually existed in two parts, headed by the metropolitan archbishops of Ernakulam and Changanacherry, but in 1992, John Paul II raised the status of the church to Major Archiepiscopal.

Notable Monuments: The National Shrine of St. Thomas Basilica in Mylapore; the National Shrine of Our Lady of Velankinni, often known as the Lourdes of the East; St. Mary's Forane Church in Kuravilangad; Kottakkavu Mar Thoma Syro-Malabar Pilgrim Church in North Paravur; St. Antony's Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church in Thrissur, often known as the Little Rome of India. Throughout Kerala and the Malabar Coast there are small monuments known as St. Thomas Crosses -- ancient Christian stone crosses, some of them over a millenium and a half old, that have often had churches built in association with them. Some of these are sites held by other churches, like the Assyrian Church of the East or the Anglican Church in India, but most are Syro-Malabar Catholic.

Notable Saints: St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara (January 3); St. Thomas the Apostle (July 3); St. Alphonsa Muttathupadath (July 28) ; St. Euphrasia Eluvathingal (August 29). There is a significant number of beatified, like Bl. Thevarparampil Kunjachan or Bl. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, who may be lifted to the general calendar at some point, particularly given that the church is quite active in investigating their causes. In addition, as a Chaldean church, the Syro-Malabar celebrate and dedicate their churches to some saints not on the general calendar who are associated with the history of the Church of the East, such as Ss. Addai and Mari and St. Hormizd, although in general only if they are already recognized in the Roman Martyrology as well.

Notable Religious Institutes: The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has a very large number of religious orders and societies; communal works of mercy are a massive part of the devotional life of the church. Some that are especially notable with respect to Syro-Malabar history are: Carmelites of Mary Immaculate; Congregation of the Mother of Carmel; Sisters of the Destitute; Congregation of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; Missionary Society of St. Thomas the Apostle; Congregation of the Holy Family.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly; four Archeparchies and twenty-four eparchies in India; an eparchy in the United States; and an eparchy in Australia. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church.)

Online Sources and Resources:

(These are always only a sample, but it is perhaps worth noting that the Syro-Malabar Church has perhaps the most extensive internet presence of all of the Eastern Catholic Churches.)

Friday, May 08, 2015

Three Laws of Real Being

387. The law governing the operation of real being, considered simply as such, is that of causality, which is expressed thus: "If anything begins to exist, there must have been an entity which has made it begin" (a cause).

388. The law governing the operation of real being, in so far as it is intellectual, is that of sufficient reason, which is expressed thus: "The intellectual being does not act without an end proportionate to its action" (a reason).

389. The law governing the operation of real being, in so far as it is moral, is that of moral liberty, which may be expressed thus: "Moral being tends to unite itself to all the entity known, without being impeded therein by any partial entity."

Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, vol. 1, pp. 382-383. In each case the reduplication is important, which is why Rosmini emphasizes it. The point of the third, which might seem a little obscure, is that what we call moral life is concerned with a tendency to total good, insofar as it is known.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Three Poem Re-Drafts

The Isles

Your reason is a snowdrift-reason,
icy in and out of season,
cold and sharded frost with flakes,
a floe no grace nor fervor wakes --
but what of reason's South Sea isles,
flush and warm with solar smiles?
Golden-hearted breeze-winds sway
to charge the night and warm the day
as, by the currents warm and clear,
the joys go dancing without fear
and, on the beach-sand wet and fair,
a sunrise gilds the scented air.


The air is hot and dry,
obscured by storms of dust.
Unending realms of sand
parch with fatal thirst.
Yet even on this desert planet
water can be found:
dew in secret places,
pools by wind-worn rocks.

I dreamed.
This desert was a beach.
Mist was in the air.
Great waves of philosophy
broke against the shore.


I heard the preacher speaking,
and of miracles I heard,
the wine of revelation
from the water of our words.
I heard of men and women
in humility of ways
transfigured to the glory
of the Ancient One of Days
(first river-bathed and lustral
in the waters of the earth,
then drunken, full of Spirit,
with the Wine of heaven's birth),
of wisdom-seeking sages
who had sought the Good by star
and found it held by mother
where the Jewish peoples are,
the True in swaddled clothing --
thus their wise philosophy
was turned, like wedding-water,
to that wine, epiphany.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

One of the Highest Excellences of Human Nature

"It belongs to the perfection of a being to be itself the author of its own good."

This principle applies not to man alone, but to all things without exception; it follows from the intrinsic order of being, and is therefore one of those which we call ontological principles. It deserves to be attentively considered for this reason, that it gives rise to a new condition for the action of Divine Goodness. In fact, we can see from it that that goodness, to be supreme, must not limit itself to bestowing good on man, but must furthermore act in such a way as to enable man to become the author and cause of his own good; since if this were not so, he would be deficient in one of the highest excellences of human nature.

Bl. Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, Volume 1, p. 351.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Seneca, De Vita Beata, Books XX-XXVIII

Book XX

Seneca continues to battle the interlocutor accusing philosophers of hypocrisy for not practicing all that they teach. Perhaps philosophers sometimes fail to meet their own standards; but this does not somehow make the good they accomplish any less good, and, moreover, it is because their standards are themselves very good. People should be praised for a pursuit that seeks the best and does good, even if it fails to accomplish everything. In reality, philosophers are being attacked precisely for the greatness of their ideas and the excellence of their work. Moreover, those who make this attack show the cramped nature of their minds: a generous human spirit is always aiming for higher than it can certainly accomplish. If it fails -- it fails in a glorious pursuit. The critics are creatures of night complaining about the splendor of the light.

Book XXI

The Stoic diatribe continues with the objector still pressing the issue, complaining that Stoics say wealth, health, and the like should be despised but spend an immense part of their effort on them anyway. But, Seneca notes, the way one despises lesser things is not by eliminating them but by not grasping after them, or holding them in fear. Fleeing the thing can be as much an enslavement as pursuing it. Having wealth or good health is as much a forum for virtue as not having them.


What wealth and health do is not a matter of a virtue itself, but they do increase the opportunity for exercise of virtue. To this extent the Stoic sage will be pleased when fortune smiles on him so as to give him these things, because the whole point of the Stoic moral philosophy is that virtue is the one and only intrinsic good, so things have their value insofar as they are suitable for the use of virtue. The difference will be precisely in taking virtue as supreme: "In fine, my riches belong to me, you belong to your riches."


Nothing about wisdom requires that it be poor, but only that it strive for justice. The sage will neither be boastful of the gifts of Fortune nor ashamed of them. Instead he will use them carefully for good.


It is a mistake to think that virtue involves giving things away profligately. On the contrary, it requires giving things rationally, and this is very difficult. Benefits should be given so as to give others the possibility of giving benefits in return. Moreover, the opportunity to benefit can be found even in one's own household, because nature requires that we benefit human beings, and it does not matter whether they are one's own slaves or freeborn men; what matters is only that they are worthy of the benefit. (A full discussion of this short argument would no doubt require serious consideration of Seneca's treatise on benefits.) Moreover, the critic errs in conflating students of wisdom with the wise; the former will necessarily be imperfect. The important thing is that they value virtue above wealth.

Book XXV

If Seneca is placed in a house brimming with gold and silver, he thinks no more of himself than if he were in a hovel, because they are not part of who he is. Socrates would be the same way. The critics think that philosophers fail to meet their own standards because they have not actually understood what the standards are.


If the objector is motivated by the notion that this makes the wise man no different from the fool, he is simply wrong. The fool clings to wealth, so he thinks the wise man should cling to poverty -- but in reality, precisely the mark of the wise man is that he doesn't care enough about wealth to cling to either, choosing to regard it simply as a tool for virtue. The fool is devastated by loss of his wealth, but the sage is not harmed, merely limited. What is more, just like Socrates, the sage is not going to be bothered by this sort of objection; it is little more than useless whining.


Seneca imagines Socrates addressing the critic, admonishing them to praise good men if they can, and if they can't, to be silent; they are simply wasting their time. And harming themselves as well, because while they go about rebuking others for their failings, they spend little time rebuking themselves for their own. There is more than enough for them to do simply in improving themselves to be wasting their time attacking people better than they are.


And Seneca ends the book still addressing the critic in the person of Socrates, contrasting the smugness of their faces with the insecurity of their position.

Quotations are from the Aubrey Stewart translation, or (occasionally) directly from the Latin.

Reason, Veiled, Performed the Happy Rite

I Sought on Earth a Garden of Delight
by George Santayana

I sought on earth a garden of delight,
Or island altar to the Sea and Air,
Where gentle music were accounted prayer,
And reason, veiled, performed the happy rite.
My sad youth worshipped at the piteous height
Where God vouchsafed the death of man to share;
His love made mortal sorrow light to bear,
But his deep wounds put joy to shamèd flight.
And though his arms, outstretched upon the tree,
Were beautiful, and pleaded my embrace,
My sins were loth to look upon his face.
So came I down from Golgotha to thee,
Eternal Mother; let the sun and sea
Heal me, and keep me in thy dwelling-place.

Santayana, of course, is best known for his philosophical work. Santayana was an agnostic, and regarded the Catholic faith in which he was raised as false in the strict sense, but he had a favorable view of it on what might be called aesthetic grounds and held that it was an accurate symbolism of important facts of human life.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sui Juris Churches IX: The Belarusian Greek Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Church Slavonic and Belarusian

Juridical Status: Parishes organized into deaneries under the guidance of an apostolic visitor from Rome.

Approximate Population: A bit under 10,000.

Brief History: The Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, the third of the particular churches tracing themselves to the Ruthenian Unions, is the embers of a church. It is a tiny remnant of what was once a thriving community, one that had seemed to near the point of vanishing. But there is evidence that there is still a living fire locked away in those embers.

Belarusians (sometimes Belorussians) were the lion's share of the bishops and priests joining the Catholic Church at the Union of Brest in the 1590s; and although later unions brought in many Ukrainians and others, the united Ruthenian church was still primarily Belarusian. And it thrived; on the verge of the eighteenth century, four out of every five Belarusians were Greek Catholics. It would not last long.

At the Partition of Poland, Belarus passed into the hands of the Russian Empire, which, of course, was officially Russian Orthodox. A number of Byzantine Rite Catholics here and there broke communion with Rome in order to unite with the Russian Orthodox. After the November Uprising of 1830-1831, however, the Russian Empire began to crack down very hard on Byzantine Rite Catholics throughout its acquired territories, and the crack-down was especially fierce and effective in Belarus, where the power of the Catholic nobility was broken completely. In 1839 the bishops of the Catholic Church in Belarus held a synod became Orthodox, shifting over a million Catholics to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nonetheless, a remarkable number of Belarusian Catholics continued to exist. A number of them fled to the Austrian Empire, which at that time had a policy of supporting Byzantine Rite Catholics. In Belarus itself, Catholicism went underground and began to be practiced in secret. In 1905, Catholicism became legal again. A couple hundred thousand Belarusians converted to Catholicism in a very short period. But even though Catholicism was legal, Byzantine Rite Catholicism was not, so the Belarusians who returned to the Catholic Church did so as Latin Rite, not Byzantine Rite, Catholics.

After the First World War, West Belarus became part of largely Catholic Poland; about thirty thousand Belarusians became Catholic, again in a very short time. In 1931 they were thriving well enough that Rome sent them an Apostolic Visitor to help them organize, and an exarch was appointed for Belarusian Greek Catholics in 1940. Things seemed to be building. It would not last long.

For in 1939 the Soviet Union began annexing West Belarus. The Apostolic Exarch appointed by Rome would be arrested and die in a concentration camp. The Soviets began to suppress all Byzantine Rite Catholicism. The Iron Curtain fell and little more than rumors about the status of Belarusian Greek Catholicism managed to get through it. It was generally assumed to be largely strangled to death.

In the Belarusian diaspora, however, little indicators of the continued existence of Byzantine Rite Belarusian Catholicism occasionally arose. There were only a few scattered communities, but led by people like Father Alexander Nadman, they were very active, forming schools, starting periodicals, translating liturgical texts. Interest in Belarusian Greek Catholicism always remained quite high among Belarusian emigrants, even those who were Latin Rite Catholics or even Orthodox, because a fair amount of their heritage, before the encroachment of Russia, had been Greek Catholic. Often interest is all it was, but it meant that there was room in the Belarusian diaspora for a considerable amount of activity on the part of Byzantine Rite Catholics, however small that community might be. The community outside Belarus began to thrive, and in 1960 an Apostolic Visitor was appointed for all Belarusian Greek Catholics outside of Belarus.

As conditions began to ease in the 1980s and Belarusian Greek Catholics abroad journeyed to Belarus to bring humanitarian aid of various kinds, they discovered, somewhat to their surprise that there were still Belarusian Greek Catholics in Belarus, not merely holdovers from before the Soviet domination, but small, definite pockets of sustained and sustainable Belarusian Greek Catholic communities passing down their traditions and heritage to their children. And, what is more, there was the same interest in Byzantine Rite Catholicism in Belarus itself, and for the same reasons, that there was in the diaspora. And in 1990, Belarusian Greek Catholic parishes again began to be formed.

It is difficult to say how things will go from here. Given the history of the church, one almost fears to hope too much. And there are certainly obstacles -- Belarusians are famously understated and quiet about religious matters, and most of the interest in Belarusian Greek Catholicism is historical and cultural, not religious. The legal situation has also been somewhat difficult. Religious organizations have to be legally registered, and the church itself has no legal status in Belarus -- it is technically headquartered in Rome and headed by a non-Belarusian bishop (its Apostolic Visitor). This has caused immense problems for people trying to establish monasteries and small religious communities, and in 2003 the head of a monastery was charged with illegally running an unregistered monastery, a problem that arose because there is no way to register it given the situation of the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church and the size of the community. Not even all parishes have been able to get legal recognition. And on the other side, it has no bishops of its own and Rome has been slow to assist the church in developing a more coherent form. But the interest is undeniably there, and the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church has slowly been growing.

Notable Monuments: Church of St Cyril of Turau and all the Patron Saints in London, also known as the Belarusian Memorial Chapel, a church built in traditional wooden-church style dedicated to the memory of victims of the Chernobyl disaster.

Notable Saints: Andrew Bobola (May 16); Euphrosyne of Polotsk (May 23); Josaphat Kuntsevych (November 25). There are also many martyrs under the Russian Empire, like the Thirteen Blessed Pratulin Martyrs, or the Communists, who may one day be raised to the general calendar. As a Byzantine Rite church, Belarusian Greek Catholics have a number of Orthodox saints on their calendars.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: About twenty or so parishes in Belarus.

Online Sources and Resources:

One's Heart in One's Hands

On May 4, 1535, St. John Houghton, a Carthusian hermit, was hung and then quartered -- i.e., his body chopped up to be displayed -- at Tyburn, England. Required to take an oath in the wake of the Act of Succession, Houghton, who was prior of his community, had asked to be exempted, for which he had been imprisoned. However, after some difficult discussion, the community had concluded reluctantly that the oath could be taken, and Houghton was released. But when the Church of England broke ties with Rome through the Act of Supremacy, a new oath was required, and one that they could not in good conscience take, since doing so would be participating in schism. Houghton and several others again requested an exemption. They were arrested by Cromwell and put on trial for treason, and of course condemned to death.

Houghton was the first to die that day. According to the stories, he was not actually killed by the hanging, and so was still barely alive when they started taking out his heart. Houghton's death would be just the first of many over the next several years, so May 4 is a day for remembering all of the Martyrs of Tyburn.

In iconography Houghton is usually depicted as having a noose in one hand and his heart in another; sometimes he is giving his heart to Christ. He was beatified in 1886 and canonized in 1970.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Your Eyes Were Never Yet Let in to See

A Coronet for His Mistress, Philosophy
by George Chapman

Muses that sing Love's sensual empery,
And lovers kindling your enraged fires
At Cupid's bonfires burning in the eye,
Blown with the empty breath of vain desires,—
You that prefer the painted cabinet
Before the wealthy jewels it doth store ye,
That all your joys in dying figures set,
And stain the living substance of your glory;
Abjure those joys, abhor their memory,
And let my Love the honoured subject be
Of love, and honour's complete history;
Your eyes were never yet let in to see
The majesty and riches of the mind,
But dwell in darkness; for your god is blind.