Posted by on Jun 1, 2021 in Library | Comments Off on 6/6 MISSIONARY MOVEMENT – DR. AZIZ ATIYA

In their desperate struggle against ignorance and stagnation, the Jacobites ( The Syrians ) began to look to the West for co-operative measures, and the coming of the missionary appeared at first to be a sure way of salvation – hence the early acquiescence of the church to the emergence of this new modernizing factor in the educational and spiritual life of the people. The Syrian missions came from three sources Rome, America and England. All were no doubt well- meaning at the beginning and wished to render much-needed service. The Roman Catholics were the earliest on the scene, and they were followed by many Congregationalists and Presbyterians from the United States as well as more modest numbers from the Church of England. Let us deal briefly with each of the three movements to complete the picture of the modern history of this ancient church and its difficulties with its new helpers.

As has already been stated, the eastern Monophysites, though deploring the Chalcedonian profession of faith in the West, still continued to consider Rome as one of the three leading ancient Apostolic bishoprics with which they had much in common – the others being Alexandria and Antioch. In their days of depression, the eastern Christians were not averse to sending delegations for rapprochement with Rome. The earliest of these Syrian missions occurred in 1552 when Moses of Mardin went to Rome for an attempt at reconciliation with Pope Julius III. 11 But neither party seemed to take this approach seriously. Then around the middle of the seventeenth century, one Abdul-Ghal Akhijan of Mardin, a Jacobite, was converted to Catholicism by a Catholic missionary and fled to Lebanon, whence he was sent to the Maronite Seminary in Rome for instruction. Later, on the suggestion of the French Consul Francois Piquet at Aleppo, the Maronite patriarch consecrated him as Catholic Syrian bishop of Aleppo under the name Andrew in 1656. With the glamour of diplomatics behind him and with what he could offer in the progressive services of the West, as well as his convincing learning versus limited Jacobite aptitudes, he succeeded in building up a following. Then, when the Jacobite patriarch died at Mardin and rival parties contested succession, Piquet and another French diplomat named Baron worked hard to put Andrew in possession of the vacant throne. In the words of the historian of this curious chapter who quoted the official documents, the story reads:

‘Spending very much money, he succeeded, due to the official intervention of France, to have the Sultan give in 1662, for the favor of Msgr. Andrew, an imperial commandment, the most ample they ever saw written with gold characters and another order to all the Pashas and Cadis to submit all the Syrian people under the above-said, Msgr. Andrew’s jurisdiction, in the whole Empire.12 Pope Clement IX ratified the election and sent him the pallium in 1667. Thus was born the Catholic patriarchate of the Syrians, and the Jacobites faced a new crisis in their history. It is beyond the limitations of this work to follow the details of the ensuing struggle, at times both pathetic and even scandalous. But with lavish expenditure, magnificent churches in key towns such as Mosul, profound learning, well-knit propaganda, ecclesiastical discipline, and the benefits of higher education offered by St Joseph’s University in Beirut as well as seminary foundations, the Catholic Church was destined to stay amidst the Syrians and carve a considerable congregation from the body of the old Jacobite community. In recent years their number has ranged between 6o,ooo and 65,000 13
The Romanized Syrians are designated by the firm Jacobite Syrians as Maghlubin, Arabic for ‘vanquished’. At first, the Catholics met with fierce opposition and were actually on the edge of extermination when, in 1783, Michael Jarweh, archbishop of Aleppo, turned Roman Catholic. He was followed by four Jacobite bishops: Abraham, Na’meh, Moses and George, who proclaimed him patriarch of Mardin, and Pope Pius VI hastened to his confirmation with the customary pallium in the same year. It happened that the old Jacobite patriarch had died at the time, and the Romanized Jarweh speedily moved to Mardin to seize the vacant see. But the Jacobite bishops had already elected another of their profession, and Jarweh was pursued in flight for his life, to Bagdad and then to Lebanon, where he died a hunted refugee in a Maronite village in 1800. 14

Nevertheless, the Catholic succession has been maintained to the present day, and the new line has comprised some notable Syrian scholars. Patriarch Ignatius Ephraem Rahmani (1898-I929) 15 was a man of learning who retained lively interest in Syriac letters and theology. During his tenure, he decided to transfer the Roman patriarchal residence to Beirut amongst the more friendly Maronite co-religionists in order to escape from the hostility of the more numerous Jacobites and the interference of the Turkish authorities. His successor, Ignatius Gabriel Tappuni, was raised to the cardinalate in 1936, and for the first time in history a Syrian became one of the princes of Rome. With assiduousness and tenacity the Catholics instituted missionary organizations to labour amidst the Syrians. In 1882 they created the Missionaries of St Ephraem in Mardin, who dwindled away. The movement was reinvigorated in 1935 by means of the introduction of the Rule of St Benedict at the convent of Sharfeb, from where the Church conducted seminaries, schools, publishing and active propaganda without trespassing on parochial jurisdiction. The more opulent monastery of Mar Behnam, once a Jacobite foundation, has become a stronghold of Catholic influence in the midst of the important Jacobite centre of the Mosul region. In Beirut, too, Patriarch Rahmani started a convent of St Ephraem for Syrian nuns. The adoption of the Catholic profession was made a simple affair for the Syrians. Submission to Rome was the kernel of the problem. Even since the Council of Sharfeh in 1888, enforcing celibacy on the clergy, the door was kept open with special dispensation to any married Syrian priest (khuri) who wished to turn from the Jacobite to the Catholic rite. The ancient Liturgy of St James has been adopted by Rome for the Syrians in the same original Edessene dialect of Syriac, with minor alterations and interpolations to evade the open repudiation of Chalcedon and to affirm papal supremacy. 16

The arrival of the Protestant missionary 17 on the scene in the Middle East during the nineteenth century was a different affair. From America the movement was inaugurated by a Congregational committee of the Board of Missions in 1819 at the Old South Church in Boston. Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons were selected as the first emissaries for labouring in the Turkish Near East without a preconceived plan directed to any given Oriental Church, and it is doubtful whether the Americans had any clear idea about the intricacy of the network of ancient denominations in the East. The initial offering of $290.92, which has increased to a quarter-billion dollars in our day, helped to bring those two pioneers to Smyrna to explore the possibilities of service amidst the poverty-stricken and disease-ridden peoples under the Turkish yoke. 18 The field was found to abound in opportunities.

Two others followed when the Rev. Isaac Bird and William Goodell arrived at Beirut in 1823 to concentrate on Arabic-speaking Syria and Lebanon. The Rev. Justin Perkins was assigned to Persia and devoted himself to working with the Nestorians or East Syrian Christians. In 1836, the Rev. Horatio Southgate was commissioned by the Board to make a fuller investigation of further possibilities of missionary endeavor in Turkey, Persia, Syria and Egypt. His reports commended work amongst the Eastern Christians as a preliminary measure towards dealing with non-Christians. Accordingly, the Mission to the Near East came into existence in the following year, and the Rev. John J. Robertson was chosen for the Greeks in Constantinople and Southgate for the Jacobites in Mardin. Their instructions were explicit to keep the unity of the Eastern churches and avert the evils of schism, recognizing their Apostolic character without compromising Protestant principles. When Robertson withdrew to the United States for domestic reasons in 1842, Southgate succeeded him in Constantinople and ultimately became its first Episcopal bishop in 1844. Accordingly, he was diverted from the Jacobites by the work amongst the Armenians in Anatolia; and although he maintained friendly relations with the eastern patriarchs, the nominees of the Board started proselytizing native Christians against his will and the spirit of their original instructions. This led to trouble and the frequent withdrawal of missionaries from the field, ending with the resignation of Southgate himself in 1850. 19

The failure of Southgate’s mission in the capital did not stop missionary expansion from Beirut, where the Syrian Protestant College was founded in 1866. The main legacy of the Protestant missionary in the Middle East was in the field of education, and we find the mission centres multiplying in Syria side by side with schools. Thus the Protestant Evangelical Church continued to make gains amongst the Syrians and from all the ancient churches, Jacobite and otherwise. On the whole, it was impossible for the American misionary to value the nature and traditions of those churches, which he regarded as mere fossils without hope of revival. To him Church history began with Martin Luther, and many Syrians found in this modern organization a safe shelter from Roman Catholic encroachments. Thus the number of Protestant congregations in greater Syria, comprising Transjordan, Lebanon and Palestine, reached in the end 74,700, almost exclusively drawn from the ancient churches including the Jacobite community.

From the Church of England more modest attempts were also forthcoming, but on a completely different principle. J. W. Etheridge 20 visited the Jacobites around 1840 and later published a lengthy account of the Syrian churches and their liturgies and literature. Then in 1842, G. P. Badger, 21 the representative of the archbishop of Canterbury’s mission to the As syrians or Nestorians, also examined the State of the Jacobite Church and gave an account of his enquiries. The most important of the reports on that Church, however, came towards the end of the century. A Syrian Patriarchate Education Society was founded in England, and in 1892 it selected 0. H. Parry, of Magdalen College in Oxford, 22 to travel to the Middle East on its behalf to examine the position of the Jacobite Church and to decide ways in which the English Church could help it. He was expected in particular to inspect the schools founded by the patriarch and to prescribe the means of promoting education among the Jacobites.

The outcome of the six months he spent in a Syrian monastery was a masterly account of the first direct contact with the Jacobite people and their historic Church. His outward journey encompassed Aleppo, Urfa (Edessa), Diyarbekr, Mardin, Mosul, and above all Dairm the al-Za-faran, the historic seat of the Jacobite patriarchs. In the area of Tur-Abdin, he noted that a village possessed an average of four books and that the need was pressing for educational help, which the Syrians sought from the West. This was the first element in any stable reform, which had to come from within the community itself. The Jacobite Syrians were a proud and patriotic people who had been crying for disinterested assistance in resisting the inroads made upon their Church, and it was the duty of the English Church to respond to their cry in the spirit of Christian charity without seeking converts of intercommunion. It is difficult to assess the concrete results of his enterprise. The material resources of the project in England were unequal to the goodwill of its mission.

The impact of the Protestant missionary movement in the Near East has meant essentially a remarkable awakening of the ancient churches. At the outset, the American missionary encountered no hostility from either the hierarchies or the communities of Eastern Christians, who witnessed with curiosity his new methods of worship and modern disciplines, as well as the opportunities of admirable service in the educational, medical and social fields. He was also regarded as a new ally and a true helper against the grow- ing menace of Roman inroads. The Jacobites had already been in open war- fare with the Catholics at home and entertained visions of aid and solace from the Protestant newcomer. Instead, bitter disillusionment ensued as the Protestant missionary began to change his attitude towards those venerable organizations of which he had no real understanding and which he considered to be beyond reform. Thus he embarked on forming his own Protestant Evangelical Church and took to proselytizing members of ancient congregations with lamentable consequences. The Jacobites, who sought education without the peril of divorce from their traditional churches, accordingly welcomed the disinterested tone of the English missionary.

Soon afterwards, in 1874, the Jacobite patriarch Peter III visited England by special invitation from Dr Tait, archbishop of Canterbury, and was honourably received by Queen Victoria. 23 Oswald H. Parry’s associations with those friendly Christians together with his six months stay 24 at the monastery of al-Za-faran in the summer of 1892 gave him an insight into their real needs and turned him against the Protestant activities of his day. 25 His enlightened remarks about the Christian religious tangle in the Middle Bast at the turn of the century have since been justified. On the other hand, the Protestant challenge gave the hierarchy of the old church a rude awakening to rekindle the flickering flame of a glorious past.


11-Parry, p. 302; Etheridge, p. 149.

12-P. Raphael, Role of Maronites, pp. 104-5; see p. 105, no. I, for reference to unpublished material and dispatches from the diplomatic correspondence from Turkey in the Ministere des Affairs Etrangeres in Paris (T. XXXVIII, f. 209).

13-Janin, Eglises Orientales, p. 476, gives an estimate of about 65,000, of whom 6,800 are in the U.S.A. and 8,000 in Canada, South America, France and elsewhere. Attwater, I, 157, cites 60,000 in the patriarchal territory of Syria and Iraq, but in his general table he puts the Catholic Syrians of Syria and Iraq, and the U.S.A. at 74,500.

14-P. Rapael, pp. 113-15; Attwaer, I, 154.

15-It is interesting to note that the Catholic patriarchs have adopted the name Ignatious, which the Jacobite patriarchs have consistently kept since the reign of Ignatius V (Bar Wahib) of Mardin in 1292. Fortescue, P. 338.

16-Janin, pp. 470-7; Parry, pp. 301-5; Raphael, pp. 110-23.

17-On the American Protestant missionary in this area see: R. Anderson, History of the American Board of Commission for Foreign Missions to the Oriental Churches (Boston, 1872); J. Batal, Assignment – Near East (New York, 1950); A.J. Dain, Mission Fields Today (London, 1956); Handbook on Foreign Missions of the United Presbyterian Church of North America (publised annually at Philadelphia); O.D. Morton, Momoir fo Rev, Levi Parson-First Missionary to Palestine from the United States (Burlington, Vt., 1830); J. Richter, History of Protestant Missions in the Near East (New York, 1910); P.E. Shaw, American Contacts with the Eastern Churches, 1820-70 (Chicago, 1937); P. Rondot, Les chretiens d’Orient, Cahiers de l’Afrique et de l”Asie, No. 4 (Paris, 1955); F.G. Smith, Missionary Journeys through Bible Lands – Italy, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Other Countries (Anderson, Ind., 1915). More detailed references may be found in A Selected and Annoted Bibliography of North Africa and the Near East, compiled K.E. Moyer (New York, 1957) from the contents of the Missionary Research Library at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

18-Shaw, American Cntacts, pp. 71 et seq.; Batal, Assignment, pp. 17 et seq.

19-Shaw, pp. 62-9

20-The Syrian Churches (London. 1846), pp. 135 et seq., on the Jacobites.

21-The Nestorians and their Rituals, With the Narrative of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Coordistan in 1842-44, 2 vols. (London, 1852). On the Jacobites see I, 44, 59-63, 71-2.

22-Six Months in a Syrian Monastery.

23-Ibid., p. 351.

24-Ibid., p. 105.

25-Six Months in a Syrian Monastery, p. 309, deprecates the Americans who ‘pursue a wrong policy’. Parry, p. 310, give them credit, for ‘the education which they give is the best in Turkey”. With all his understanding, however, Parry (p.312), stumbles over Chalcedon and cannot see his way to intercommunion with an excommunicated church, although the Bishop of Durham, B. F. Westcott, who introduced the book, notes (p.vii) in speaking of both Jacobites and Nestorians that ‘the accusation rests on the misunderstanding of technical terms, and can be cleared away by mutual explanations’.

* Excerpts from : A History of Eastern Christianity. By: Dr. Aziz S. Atiya. Copyright @, 1968 .Reprinted by permission of Methuen & Co Ltd.