Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Historical Validity of St.Thomas Tradition (3)

Patristic testimonies on Saint Thomas:

Early Church fathers like, Ephraem ( 300-373 ) , Origen ( 186-255) ), Eusebius ( 260-340), Jerome (345-419), Paulinus ( 353-431), Ambros (333-397 ) etc., several ecclesiastical calendars, Martirology  and other works, explicitly connects St.Thomas, with India.
Almost all of them concur in saying that after the dispersion of the Apostles, St. Thomas preached among the Parthians and Oriental Churches in Syria, and Mesopotamia. They have always attributed to St.Thomas the preaching of the Gospel in India, and even far away China.
Witness of St.Ephraem, the Syrian.
One of earliest and most authentic accounts regarding the mission and martyrdom of Saint Thomas in India, is that of the great Poet-Theologian, and Doctor of the Church, St.Ephraem,(300-373). He sings the praise of Apostle Thomas, through his several hymns, especially of his Nisibene Hymn,which he lauds India, as his field of evangelization, place of death and burial. He also refers, subsequent transfer of his mortal remains to Edessa. The Nisibene Hymn, 42, clearly high lights, the following points:
1.Thomas,the Apostle, suffered martyrdom in India (Strophe 1.)
2. His body was buried in India (Ibid).
3 His bones were thence removed by a merchant to the City of Edessa.(II –III)
4.Miracles in Mylapore and Edessa.(I-III)
In a hymn, about the relics of Thomas at Edessa,he depicts as Satan exclaiming:
The Apostle whom I killed in India,comes to meet me in Edessa.( Carmina Nisibena---Quoted by Medlycot p.31St.Gregory,Nazianzen.).
, in a homily, connects the name of the Apostle by saying, “Judaea was the country of Peter,what had Saul to do with the Gentiles, Luke with Achaia, Andrew with Epirus , Thomas, with India, Mark with Italy”.
Another Church father, St.Ambrose, in his writings,mentions nations given to the Apostles by specifying, "kingdoms that had been shut off by rugged mountains lay open to them, as India to Thomas, as Persia to Matthew.”
The 9th century Martyrology of Usuard ( Idibus Juli ) distinguishes, the India of Bartholomeo , from the India of Thomas,which latter, it says, “is on the confines of the world”, where, “ Thomas pierced through.”
In the Martyrology of St.Jerome,(4th c )and in the liturgical text Menologion of the Greek Church,there are clear references about the Apostolate of St.Thomas in India and martyrdom in Mylapore.Saint Jerome gives extensive and authentic accounts about the Apostle, by saying,
(1) “he was with Thomas in India with Peter in Rome,and with Paul in Illyricum”.
(2) “….Apostle Thomas preached the Lord’s gospel to the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians……..died at Calamina in India and was buried there" ( C.M.Agur—Church History of Travancore,p.5 ).
St.Ambrose (333-397), Bishop of Milan, asserts ‘when Lord Jesus said to Apostles ‘go and teach all nations ‘even the kingdoms that had been shut off by barbaric mountains lay upon to them ‘as India to Thomas as Persia to Matthew’. (Ambrose,Enarratio, p.45.—quoted by Mackenzie, in T S M, Vol.2 /p.136). Describing the journey of a Thebean, he says, he reached ‘Muzirim totius Indiae citra Gangem emporium’ (Muziris, the emporium of all India on the side of Ganges) ( Ibid, p.45--, quoted by George Nedungatt in ‘Quest for the Historical Thomas..p.76.) Historians are almost unanimous that Muziris is none other than Kodungalloor / Pattanam near Paravoor in Kerala.of Pantaenus to India (189- 190.A.D)
The earliest historical event, which provides authentic information about the early century Nazrani Christians, and their Apostolic origin, is the visit of Pantaenus.
It has been asserted by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and the first Church historian, (264-340, A.D. ) that,Pantaenus , of Catechetical School at Alexandria, visited India. He met Christians there, who understood to have acquired Christianity from the Apostolic period itself. He happened to see a Hebrew (Aramaic) copy of the Gospel of Matthew, with them. From his interaction with them, he concluded that it was from Bartholomew, one of the Apostles, they became Christians. He brought home Gospel of Matthew, obtained from them.
Almost a similar reference can be seen in the descriptions of another Church Father St.Jerome,(345-490). According to him,Pantaenus , a Stoic, scholar-philosopher, was sent to India by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, to preach Christ to the Brahmans and the philosophers….Clement goes on to describe some more details : the philosophers and gymnosophists with whom Pantaenus came into contact and mentions Bramanas and " Sarmane, whom are also called Hylobii ; and neither in habit of shave roofs over their heads, and know not marriage and begetting children"( Quoted in Madras State Gazetteers,1915,-- Syrian Christians I / 201 ).
Though, historians in general, admit the visit of Pantaenus as a historical reality, a section of them , doubts about the specific detail. According to them, the word India, however, of those days, has a wide meaning, a large portion of the globe, consisting, two Indias, India Major and the Indian subcontinent. Hence, which part of the India, Pantaenus visited, is not certain. Refuting this argument, eminent old generation English historian, William Logan, ( in his book, Malabar Manual, p.17 ), opines, ‘it is extremely likely that it was on the Malabar Coast’. It is certain that intercourse between Alexandria and the Malabar Coast must have been both direct and frequent , and the fact that Pantaenus went to India, Major, and to Mouziris becomes highly probable. Further, Jerome mentioned the purpose of his visit as ‘to preach Christ to Bramanas’ ( Brahmins ), who are seen in India only.
Recent historical findings:
Apart from these, we can have two recent, important, historical findings, capable of reinforcing the historicity of the visit of Pantaenus, as well as apostle Thomas.
They are:
1) the discovery of Vienna Papyrus, in 1980, ( the second century mega trade agreement, by the supplier at Muziris ( Kerala / India ) to a party in Alexandria, on account of regular shipment of merchandise to the latter.) and
2) the findings of the archeological excavations at Muziris Heritage Zone ( Pattanam), by the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) in collaboration with ASI. This papyrus document, in Vienna-museum  and large quantity of things unearthed from Muziris ( Pattanam) Excavation Sites, ( such as, large quantity of precious stones, Roman Glass, terracotta lamp, ferrous artifacts,Early Chera Copper coins, Italian gold ornaments, Pottery with Brahmi script with a Cross(10mm), Chinese ceramics,Boat (Vanchi),6mtr.,Warf with canoe (Jesus vessel, nick name), Turquois Glazed Pottery, indicating Mesopotamian links ( Parthian/ Sassanian), Mediterraean amphora shreds, Botanical remains like Frankincense (Kunthirikkam), etc.(quoted from a publication of KCHR ), proved, beyond doubt that Muziris was a great emporium, trade center and Port, having a legacy of three centuries. Astonishingly, these findings are contemporary, in all respects, and matching with descriptions of Eusebius and Jerome.
St. Thomas or St.Bartholomew ?
Then comes the question who was the Apostle, who evangelized the predecessors of the Christians, met by Pantaenus in India? St.Thomas or Batholomew?
Contrary to accounts of all authorities and Church fathers, both Eusebius and Jerome, confirm that it was Apostle Bartholomew . So long as there is no local traditions associating the event with Bartholomew or evidence from any other authorities or sources, about the coming of Bartholomew in India and evangelized Indians, this is nothing but sheer confusion of identities due to the pronunciation of the Malayalam equivalent of St. Thomas, MARTHOMA and the word, BARTHOLOMEW. Remember, there is a time gap of 100 years each between, the preaching of Gospel by the Apostle , the visit of Pantaenus ,and the reporting of this.Further, the information collected are from an unknown language-speaking people, that too after a long gap of time.Hence, there is no room for doubt that it is Apostle Thomas. Eminent secular historian, K. P. Padmanabha Menon, (History of Kerala, II / 464 ),
Church historians, E. M. Philipose, ( The Indian Church of Marthommasleeha, p.47 ), and Z. M.Paret , ( Marthomanazranikal, I / 47. ), too are fully in agreement with the view that it is result of confusion of pronunciation. 
World travelers on St.Thomas Christians :
In their travelogues, renowned World Travelers, Cosmos Indicopleustes (335 A.D.), and Marco Polo ( 1293), and Nicolo De Conti ( 1430 ), give valuable references about the flourishing Church of Malabar, said to have been established by Apostle Thomas.
The first indisputable reference to Christians in Malabar is that of Cosmos Indicopleustes, (surname, means ,the Indian Voyager ) , a clergy man of Alexandrian Church. He was specially deputed with the study of the spread of Christianity ,all over the world. He published his findings, through his voluminous work, Topographia Chrisiana ( Christian Topography ). In this book ,he describes Male ( Malabar ), as the most reputed pepper growing area, indicating ‘Male ou pousse le poivre’. Describing the vast multitude Christians in the area, he confirms that in a place called ‘Kalliana’, there is a Bishop, ordained in Persia and one likewise, on the island of Diascoria too. (Ref. Mingana.A.,Early spread of Chritianity,p.29-30 ). As per general opinion, Male is Malabar;Kalliana is, Kalyan near Mumbai. And Diascoria means, Socotra.
Maco polo, the Venetian traveler, who visited the tomb of St. Thomas in 1293, states “The body of Messer St.Thomas,the apostle, lies in the province of Maabar ( Malabar), at a little town having no great population….Both Christians and Saracens, however, greatly frequent it in pilgrimage, for the Saracens also hold the saint in great reverence” ( Henry Yule, the book of Marco Polo II / 18 )
St.Thomas and India:Evidences from Syriac liturgy.
Lex orandi, Lex credendi is a dictum in Theology,.means,Law of prayer is the Law of Faith. When a particular liturgical verse/hymn is chosen for using/reading in a particular day/occasion,(eg.Martyrdom/Death anniversary/Feast etc. ), it will be having a rational basis (e.g.history). It was the practice prevailed in the early days of Christianity, that a particular day/date, in the calendar, is set apart, in memory of the Apostles or approved Saints. “All who depart out of this world, as Martyrs, should be commemorated on the day when they were put to death”, says Canon 18 of ancient Syriac document, 'Didascalia' (Quoted by F.C. Burkitt—Kerala Society Papers, Series VI / 287 )This was the general principle, upon which, ecclesiastical calendars and were prepared and used by various Churches in the early Christianity. (Of course there are exceptions).
Readings, from the 'Liturgy of the Hours', selected for the death anniversary/birth day of Saints ( e.g. St.Thomas )must have considerations, on these lines. Thus, if we scan several ecclesiastical calendars,martyrologies and liturgical texts of Mesopotamian, Coptic, Greek, and Latin Churches, we can see some direct or indirect references about the Mission and Martyrdom of St.Thomas in India.
Dukhrana ( St.Thomas Day ),July 3rd.
Commemoration ( Dukharana), on the 3rd of Thamus, ie. 3rd July, is almost universal  in all the Syriac Churches, East Syriac( Chaldean ) as well as West Syriac ( Jacobite), at least from 4th Century,A.D. This is, said to be, in accordance with Hieronymian Martyrology and tradition.Further,July 3rd as Martyrdom day for Latin Church too, as clearly attested by Nissenus and St.Ephrem. ( Ibid, p.297. )
The under noted references from the ancient Syriac Liturgy will elucidate this point:
1) In the East Syriac (Chaldian ) Liturgy (General):
In the “Liturgy of the Hours”, Lelya (The Night Prayer) celebrates St.Thomas in India., saying”, Thomas died on a seashore in India, pierced by a lance” and in Sapra ( Morning Prayer), ‘Apostle Thomas, you built your tent on the seashore; pray to God Almighty to fill us with joy together with you in heaven’.
2) In the East Syriac ( Syro-Malabar) Liturgy :
In the “Liturgy of the Hours for priests’”,in use from early centuries, there are clear references , about the Martyrdom of St.Thomas (Dukhrana), in India:
i) In the Lelya prayer of 1st, 5th ,6th day and of St.Thomas’Day ( Dukhrana) and  in
ii) Ramsa prayer.
In the East Syriac Liturgy of Persian Churches, Dukhorana prayer is limited to one day,where as that of Malabar Church, it is for a week.
3) Jacobite/ Orthodox Syrian Liturgy (Malankara):
For Churches of Kerala, using West Syriac Liturgy and Missal of St.James, too, St.Thomas Day (Dukhrono), is a” holy day of Obligation. In various hours of “Divine Praises” from  
time immemorial, recital of verses with clear reference to the Apostle and India.
4) Antiochean (Syrian) Liturgy:
In the prayers of Sapra (Morning ) and of Dukorono (St.Thomas Day) there are references about Thomas and India.
5)Western( Latin) Liturgy:
In the Western Liturgical calendar, Sacramentanes, Missal and Roman Martyrology of St.Jerome, extensive references about the mission of Thomas in India.
6) Byzantine (Greek )Liturgy:
In the Menologion (Martyrology ), of the Greek Church,codified in the 10th Century and Liturgy Text, (Synaxarion ),of the Church of Constantinople, October 6th is the day of Martyrdom of St.Thomas.
7) Ethiopian Liturgy:
In the ancient daily prayer book of Ethiopian Church, October 6th is the feast for remembering St.Thomas.
These direct references from the ancient liturgical texts provide authentic corroborative evidence to historians and researchers.


  1. Antony's article based on the Patristic and liturgical sources is indeed an invitation to make a serious inquiry into the St. Thomas Tradition of India. These documents are undeniable historical documents supporting the 'Thomas tradition' in India.

    1. Thank you very much for your valuable comments & compliments.I solicit your patronage in future too.