‘Origin of Christianity in India’ by Dr.Benedict VadakkekaraAuthored by NSC- Admin on Monday, February 19, 2007 4:39 30 Comments
Note about the Author
Dr. Benedict Vadakkekara is a research scholar at the Capuchin Historical Institute, Rome and a lecturer of Franciscan Mission History at the Pontifical University Antonianum. Dr. Vadakkekara is a member of the Saint Joseph Province ( India) of the Franciscan Capuchin Order and has to his credit several publications especially in the area of Franciscan history and spirituality and Saint Thomas Christian history.1
Origin of Christianity in India
When one speaks of the origin of Christianity in India one actually refers to the establishment of that pristine Indian Christian community which has through the vicissitudes of history got spiritually and historically fused into today’s various Christian fellowships. In other words, today’s Indian Christianity has its roots deep in the ancient Christianity of Malabar. This early Christian community, which is native to Malabar, is known in historiography as Christians of St Thomas precisely because of its communal belief that its origin goes directly back to Apostle Thomas.
The Saint Thomas Christians, over two millennia, have defended that their ancestors received the Gospel brought by St. Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ in the backdrop of the pronouncements by some 19th century Western historians who tended to dismiss this connection as myth. The lack of contemporary historical documents is often cited as the ‘evidence’ of non-historicity of the belief.
Dr. Vadakkekara points out the fact that the absence of written documents has ‘to be seen in the wider context of Indian historiography itself,’ which undoubtedly is a weak spot in the otherwise humungous literary achievements in the fields metaphysics, astrology, cosmography, poetry etc. There is, however, ample documentation of the history of this tradition available to the historian.
Vadekkakara examines in detail the scholarly opinion on Acta Thomae, the phenomenon of St. Thomas’s tomb at Mylapore, and the archeological findings regarding Parthian king Gondopharnes, during whose reign, the apostle is believed to have arrived.
However, as the author avers, there is no hope of additional historical evidence coming forth. The only way out is to ‘rationally explain the tradition of the Indian Christians regarding their community’s history,’ and that is what the book is about.
Historically, it has never been fully accepted that St Thomas landed near the Cranganore sea port in Malabar and introduced Christianity to the Indians. There is no material evidence to prove it. His bones were also not found at the Mylapore tomb in Tamil Nadu, and hence, even his martyrdom there is suspect. (A version about the Portugese excavating bone parts and a spear head at the tomb is also doubted.)
However, the traditions and practices of St Thomas Indian Christians, the descendents of those whom St Thomas supposedly converted, have pointed to his being there and attaining martyrdom. The tradition was true twelve centuries prior to the arrival of the western explorers, when there was no Marco Polo to report it, the author argues. ‘The Indian Christians wrote down their first history when the westerners asked them for it.’ The living tradition of the community provides the clearest pointer to the origin of the community.
Among various other things, he bases St Thomas case on:
a) The date of arrival 52 AD tying with the disappearance of the Kingdom of Gondopharnes in North-West India and the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem two events which are now historically proven;
b) The 345 AD arrival of Thomas of Cana with a group of Christians and a bishop in India to bolster the Church of Apostle Thomas;
c) The passing interest in the visits of John of Monte Corvino, Marco Polo, Bishop David, Bishop Theophilus and the delegates of King Alfred among the then Indian Christians sworn already to the St Thomas tradition;
d) The consistent reference among Indian Christians to certain locations and certain families associated with St Thomas; and
e) The insistence of Indian Christians over centuries to visit the Mylapore tomb on the Coromandel Coast on July 3, when the Monsoon is at its peak
The book comprises three chapters, the first of which profiles early Christianity in India, namely, the community of St Thomas Christians by spelling out the constituent elements of its identity, its peculiar appellatives, and the sources available for the study of its origin. The several secessions it has suffered since the middle of the seventeenth century are also covered in this chapter.
The second chapter is dedicated to identifying and categorizing the various Interpretations given to the tradition of these Indian Christians regarding their origin.
The evaluation of the two groups of interpretations is carried out in the third chapter. It is in the light of the evaluation of the two groups that the question of the origin of Christianity in India is revisited. This reappraisal naturally conduces to a rewrite of the early history of Christianity in India, bringing into evidence the community’s social and religious structures that made it viable.
Early Christianity in India: Traits of Identity
I) . Identification of Early Indian Christianity
a. Constituent Elements of Identity
2.Way of Saint Thomas
3.Syriac language and liturgy
1.Saint Thomas Christians or Mar Thoma Christians
3. Christians of the Serra
c. Possible Sources
1. Expressions of Communal belief and experience
2. Tomb of the Apostle Thomas at Mylapore
3. Acta Thoma and Church tradition
II) Early Indian Christianity in today’s Ecclesial Fellowships
A) Catholic Thomas Christians
1) Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church
2) Syro Malankra Major Archiepiscopal Church
B) Other Fellowships of Saint Thomas Christians
1) Malankara ( Jacobite) Syrian Orthodox Church
2) Independent Syrian Church of Malankara
3) Marthomite Church
4) Saint Thomas Evangelical Church of India
5) Church of South India
6) Church of the East
C) Saint Thomas Christians outside official fellowships
Origin of Indian Christianity in Historiography
1. Origin from Apostle Thomas : Arguments and Supportive Evidences
A) Tradition of Indian Christians
1) Fact of tradition
2) Uniqueness of tradition
3) Consistency of tradition
4) Unanimity of tradition
5) Simplicity of tradition
6) South Indiana and its accessibility
B) Tomb of the Apostle Thomas at Mylapore
1) Actuality of the Tomb
2) Consensus of tradition
3) Uniqueness of the tomb
4) Relics of the tomb
C) Gondaphorus, Acta Thoma and Church tradition
1) Gondaphorus and Acta Thomas
2) Acta Thomas and Church tradition
3) Ecclesiastical tradition and liturgy
4) Church tradition, relics and pilgrimage
5) Mention of Christian presence in Ancient in India
II) Origin not from Apostle Thomas : Arguments and Supportive Evidences
A) Tradition of Indian Christians
1) Lack of contemporary documents
2) Mythification of name Thomas
3) Acta Thoma as basis of tradition
4) Migration of tradition
5) Inconsistencies and Incompatibilities in tradition
6) Established by Nestorians
7) Foundation by Manicheans
8 ) Missionaries on trail of traders
B) Tomb of the Apostle Thomas at Mylapore
1) Lack of contemporary documents
2) Inconsistencies in accounts
3) Rival claimants of tombs
4) Discovery of tomb
C) Gondaphorus, Acta Thomas and Church tradition
1) Lack of contemporary evidences
2) Unreliability of Acta Thomas
3) Ambiguity of India
Historiographical critique on Origin of Indian Christianity
1) Evaluation of sources
a) Lack of Contemporary written sources
b) Examination of traditions contents
1) Tradition as concrete reality
2) Individuality of tradition
3) Identity of Apostle Thomas
c) Tomb of Apostle Thomas at Mylapore
1) Tomb as concrete reality
2) Tomb of Apostle Thomas in tradition
3) Relics of Apostle Thomas
d) Acta Thoma and Ecclesiastical tradition
1) Convergence of evidences
2) Liturgical references
e) Evaluation- Physical possibility
II) Physical possibility and Historical Actuality
a) Viability Structures of Early Indian Christianity
1) Social Structures
b) Local Assembly
c) General Assembly
2) Religious Structures
b) Local Clergy
B) Indian Christians and East Syriac Church
C) Indian Christians and other Churches
D) Indian Christians and their Compatriots
1) Documentary Sources
Index of Names
This book is published by the New Delhi YMCA.
It is a work of history that has the backing of scholars and church leaders such as Dr K N Panikkar, Prof Scaria Zacharia, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana (Vatican Embassy) and Major Archbishop Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil (Syro-Malabar Church).
- http://www.db.ofmcap.org/pls/ofmcap/v3_s2ew_CONSULTAZIONE.mostra_pagina?id_pagina=938 [↩]
Participate – Your opinion-Leave a ResponseNSC NETWORK is a non moderated forum. All are welcome to participate in the debates. We encourage comments, critiques, questions, additional information,corrections and suggestions. We also encourage participants to provide answers/ideas to questions raised on articles or on posts/comments.Links/Videos/Pictures of value to readers are most welcome.
We request that please stay on topic, respect other people’s opinions, avoid profanity, offensive statements or anything else that might otherwise violate our policy. Please understand that we reserve the right to edit or delete posts/comments for any reason we deem appropriate. By submitting a post/comment here you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution.
Please note that NSC Network may, in our sole discretion, reject posts/comments for any reason we deem appropriate. Please try to post on relevant discussions and we may in our discretion move discussions to relevant threads.
Get NEW Articles by e-mail / Enter your e-mail
Nasrani Syrian Christians NETWORK Snapshot
- Dear Mr. Pius
I chance to read your excellent article “St. Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala" which...
- its a new knowledge for me, indo-partian king, byzantine peoples in India all these are admitted facts, but jakhs req...
- Dear readers
Jakh has nothing to do with Jacobites. Jacobite is an English word. The correct middle eastern word is y...
- Dear Jackson,
Thanks for reading the article. Your comments about Nestorianism and that these Crosses could not be ...
- Thanks Xavier Kalangara for the clarification.
Dear Mathew T George,
De Silva is a common surname in Portuguese ...
- Mr Thomas Antony has done an excellent elaboration on the usages. What he says about Malabar Christians retaining some...
- Dear Mathew T George,
Sliva/Sleeva is the correct pronunciation of the Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar. This ca...
- Kerala Christian Names: Roots. The Kerala Christian Family Tree
- Nice and informative article. By the way I have some doubts regarding your conclusions, you said that, these slibas ...
- "The entire Saint Thomas Christians were one rite and one Church till the middle of Seventeenth Century."
- Sliva /Sleeva is correct. Syriac letter 'Beth" has both hard and soft sounds corresp. to /B/ and /V/. I understand th...
- Is it silva or sliva. The cross are usually called sleeba, so was just wondering. I've seen Silva as an Anglo-Indian s...
- An excellent article. Hope the Cross will stay safe....
- Alengad Sliva- The Neglected Jewel of the ancient Christian settlement in Alengad and the most ancient Christian artefact of Malabar.
- Christian Communities of St. Thomas Tradition in Maharashtra and its Neighbourhood in Mid-Sixth Century
- Jakhs of Kutch-Were they Jacobites?
- Nazrani History and Discourse on Early Nationalism in Varthamanapusthakam
- PESAHA CELEBRATION OF NASRANIS: A SOCIO-CULTURAL ANALYSIS
- Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala
- Ikkako Kathanar -the forgotten martyr
- MS Vatican Syriac 22 & MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India
- Patriarchate Of India- An Appraisal Of The Evolution Of The Episcopal Hierarchy Among Thomas Christians Of Malabar
- Major Arch Bishop Alencheril Mar Giwargis II Bava-The Patriarch of Syro Malabar Church and The Gate of All India- A Discussion on The Historical Hierarchical Status of The Church of Saint Thomas Christians
- The Heathen and the Syrian – Syrian Christian Ritual and Tradition pre 1599 A.D.
- Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500
- Saint Thomas Cross- A Religio Cultural Logo of Saint Thomas Christians
- “THE VARTHAMANAPPUSTHAKAM” written by Cathanar Thomman Paremmakkal
- The Story of Joseph, the Indian; A Historical Appraisal of the Affairs of St Thomas’ Christians in the Pre Portuguese period
- Champakulam Kalloorkkadu St Mary’s Church- The Hidden Pearl in Nasrani History
- “Christianity in India- a History in ecumenical perspective” by HC Perumalil and ER Hambye
- “Kerala, the Cradle of Christianity in South Asia”-a DVD Documentary on the cultural interface of religion and music- An eye opener to the Religio cultural identity of the St. Thomas Christians in Kerala.