Posted by: ken98 | September 22, 2011

Asian Churches – What Happens When You’re Christian But Not Roman

Day 741 – Ken here (Th)(9-22-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.47, pp.980-990)(pages read: 2040)

Not feeling as...

Not feeling as...

Not feeling too hot today – so I’ll be brief, as you’ll see.

Feeling less grumpy also, partially because Chapter 47 is coming to an end, but partially because as I read other histories of Late Antiquity I admire and respect more and more Gibbon’s skepticism and his reluctance to accept at face value what is and what is not a heresy, and what is and what is not a siginificant Christian religious minority. Gibbon thumbs his nose at state churches and tries to tell the story of other experiences of Christianity in the Near and Far East in Late Roman (and Gibbon, 18th cent.) times.

And, yes, I guess it has been of SOME BENEFIT to go over all these so-called heresies and “other” Churches. It highlights just how narrow and parochial our understanding of Late Antiquity became in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The more I read it the more I feel this is one of Gibbon’s great chapters – The Great 47th. He makes a point of dedicating 70 pages to the untold histories of peoples whose experiences have been omitted in the accepted canon of Late Roman History. As an example, once Gaul falls out of the Roman Empire, it begins a new chapter in popular history as Early Frankish Europe – once the frontier of Asia Minor (Edessa, Amida, upper Tigris/Euphrates) fall off the Roman Empire, they disappear from popular history, as do their churches.

But, onto the reading and the next-to-last segment of Chapter 47, of Book 4, of Volume II. Tomorrow’s a big day.

Gibbon leads us through the Great Asian Churches – Churches outside of Rome – neither Catholic (Roman, the Pope), nor Orthodox (Constantinople): the Nestorian, Jacobite, Thomist, Maronite. Tomorrow we continue with the Assyrian (the Nestorian native church of Persia – which was Aramaic – East Syriac) and other Churches of the East.

With the great “Heresies” of the past couple of days: Arians, Monophysite, Nestorian, Monothelitism, Gibbon completes an overview of Christian DIVERSITY in the first five centuries or so of the Roman Empire.

The Story
The Nestorians
  • These are some of the famous Syrian churches – the churches of Asia that flourished under NON-ROMAN Rule
  • Nistorians were generally NON-MONKISH – spread from Syria to China
  • = the Persian Church (500+)
  • Great School is in Edessa – ex. Ibas of Edessa – one of the 3 men who were SENT TO HELL by Justinian’s 3 Chapters in the middle 500’s
  • Spread across the trade routes to China (500-1200) – Nestorians helped each other in trade – famous Nestorian Cosmas Indicopleustes – to port of Canton now Guangzhou China
  • Syriac is the liturgical, literary language of educated Christians during the Middle Ages in Central Asia, West Asia

    Thomas Church of India
  • India supp converted by Thomas (883)
  • Bishop of Angamala = Metropolitan of India – adhered to the Nestorians – abhor veneration of Virgin Mary, hold holy the teachings of Nestorius and Theodore
  • Portugues arrive (1500) and the Thomist Church is forced to become Catholic, Nestorius and Theodore = heretics
  • After Dutch take over (1599-1663), Thomists declare themselves under the Patriarch of Babylon (Syriac Church) as before

    Jacobite Church (Non-Roman Monophysite)
  • Strongly MONKISH
  • Defined by Severus of Antioch – hate Nestorius, hate Zeno’s Henotikon and Eutyches
  • After the great persecution of Monophysites by Justinian (518), bishops dethroned, thrown into prison
  • JAMES BARADEUS – thus Jacobites from James – a bishop organizes the Monophysite Church in exile in Syria, Upper Tigris/Euphrates
  • In direct competition with Nestorian Church in many places – they hate each other – Monophysite and Dyphysite – examples the rival Christian Patriarchs of Mosul – Jacobite and Nestorian
  • Under Persians, Arabs, Turks, this “national” church endures, another Syriac Church

    Maronite Church – Lebanon and Syria
  • On coast, Syria Lebanon – comes into being after Heraclius loses the Levant to the Arabs 630’s
  • Belief in Monothelitism – which was the imperial belief at the time they left the empire
  • Re-joined the Catholic Church as a separate “national” church in the 1100’s – their priests marry
  • National Christian Church of Lebanon



    Last Word…


    Cosmas Indicopleustes - view of the flat world by someone who knew

    Christian Nestorian merchants and sailors were all over Asia, despite the fact they were criminals within the Roman Empire - Cosmas, a sailor from the time of Justinian believed the world was flat, but sailed extensively anyway - - this, a copy of a copy of a copy (it is after all a manuscript) of a map of the world - Manuscript copy of world map of Cosmas Indicopleustes.

    The Nestorian Christian Cosmas Indicpleustes (the Sailer to India)


    This from Wiki:

    Cosmas Indicopleustes ((Greek Κοσμᾶς Ἰνδικοπλεύστης, literally “Cosmas who sailed to India”) was an Alexandrian merchant and later hermit, probably of Nestorian tendencies. He was a 6th-century traveller, who made several voyages to India during the reign of emperor Justinian. His work Christian Topography contained some of the earliest and most famous world maps.


    Around 550 Cosmas wrote the once-copiously illustrated Christian Topography, a work partly based on his personal experiences as a merchant on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the early 6th century. His description of India and Sri Lanka during the 6th century is invaluable to historians. Cosmas seems to have personally visited the Kingdom of Axum in modern Ethiopia, as well as Eritrea, India, and Sri Lanka.


    “Indicopleustes” means “Indian voyager”. While it is known from classical literature, especially the Periplus Maris Erythraei that there had been trade between the Roman Empire and India from the first century BCE onwards, Cosmas’s report is one of the few from individuals who had actually made the journey. He described and sketched some of what he saw in his Topography. Some of these have been copied into the existing manuscripts, the oldest dating to the ninth century. In 522 CE, he visited the Malabar Coast (South India). He is the first traveller to mention Syrian Christians in India. He wrote, “In the Island of Taprobane (Ceylon), there is a church of the Christians, and clerks and faithful. Likewise at Malé where the pepper grows; and in the town of Kalliana there is also a bishop consecrated in Persia.” .

    Topografia Christiana

    A major feature of his Topographia is Cosmas’ worldview that the world is flat, and that the heavens form the shape of a box with a curved lid. He was scornfull of Ptolemy and others who held that the world was spherical. Cosmas aimed to prove that pre-Christian geographers had been wrong in asserting that the earth was spherical and that it was in fact modelled on the tabernacle, the house of worship described to Moses by God during the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. However, his idea that the earth is flat has been a small minority view in educated Western opinion since the third century BCE. Cosmas’s view has never been influential even in religious circles; a near-contemporary Christian, John Philoponus, disagreed with him as did most Christian philosophers of the era.

    Cosmology aside, Cosmas proves to be an interesting and reliable guide, providinto a world that has since disappeared. He happened to be in Adulis on the Red Sea Coast of modern Eritrea at the time (ca. 525 CE) when the King of Axum was preparing a military expedition to attack the Jewish king Dhu Nuwas in Yemen, who had recently been persecuting Christians. On request of the Axumite king and in preparation for this campaign he recorded now-vanished inscriptions such as the Monumentum Adulitanum (which he mistakenly attributed to Ptolemy III Euergetes).

    A Cleaner View of Cosmas Indicopleustes's world

    A Cleaner View of Cosmas Indicopleustes's world

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