Synod of Diamper

The validity of the Synod of Diamper has been questioned in history by many scholars. Though Fr. George Magno Antao from the Archdiocese of Goa defended its validity in his doctoral dissertation 'The Synodus Diampertina' in 1938 at faculty of Canon Law of the Pontifical Gregorian university in Rome, it was proved invalid in 1958 by Jonas Thaliath under the title 'The synod of Diamper', and got his doctorate from the same university. Jonas Thaliath refuted categorically the arguments of Gregorian Magno Antao.

It was in 1975 that the third dissertation on the same subject with the title 'The disciplinary Legislation of Synod of Diamper' was submitted to the faculty of Canon Law of Oriental Institute, by Joseph Kuzhinjalil, treating the invalidity of the Synod of Diamper as an established fact. He further demonstrated that most of the disciplinary norms of the synod were fruit of ignorance concerning the Eastern Liturgico - sacramental discipline and the Indigeneous customs and Traditions of St. Thomas Christians. (Paul Pallath, The Synod of Diamper : valid or invalid?, The Synod of Diamper Revisited, Edited by George Nedungatt S.J., Pontifico Instituto Orientale, Rome, 2001, P. 199)

The Synod of Diamper has held in the church of Diamper ( Udayamperoor) from June 20 to 26, 1599. The latinisation of the St. Thomas Christians started by the Portuguese in the early 16 th century had been ratified and consolidated by this Synod. A glance at the Acts and decrees of the Synod would suffice to convince one what a radical change of the life pattern of the Christians was envisaged by it. "Many people nowadays shocked by the tendency to reduce everything to the standard of Roman and Portuguese customs. Was not this tendency the leading principle of Archbishop de Menezes and his collaborators? asks Cardinal Tisserant. The Cardinal after having delineated the various changes decreed by the Synod says...". What was foremost in the mind of Archbishop of Goa was to remove for good all Mesopotamian and Nestorian influence in matters of faith and church organization and in liturgical formulae. This was a somewhat delicate procedure, since it endangered that Christian edifice to which, in spite of all its imperfection, these people had been accustomed for centuries. Moreover, where they not well worth some sympathy for their ignorance and simplicity? Alexis de Menezes, born and brought up in the atmosphere of the counter reformation in Europe, was not the man however to yield even an inch when he thought something to be his duty". ( A.M Mundadan, the eastern church, in Christianity in India, edited by Perumalil and Hamleye, P.97 )

Some of the decrees insist that there was to be only one law, that of Christ, there were not to be two different laws, one of St. Thomas and the other of St. Peter, as some apparently thought. The obvious purpose was to inculcate in the Christians of St. Thomas that they should sever all ties with East-Syrian patriarch and accept only bishop appointed by Rome. Thus the longstanding hierarchical subjection of the church of India on the East-Syrian church was arbitrarily terminated.."( Ibid P.97 ) It is our duty at this juncture to make an honest and mature evaluation of the Synod of Diamper at its historical perspective, we quote from the study of George Nedungatt S.J

Revisiting Diamper Today

To revisit Diamper today, one has first of all to come alive to the truth about historical Nestorianism as different from the Nestorianism of the Catholic theological treatises Menezes had studied at Coimbra. Surely, he could not reasonably be expected to have had Pope John Paul II's positive appraisal of historical Nestorianism, anticipating four centuries. Today, in the event of union between Assyrian or East-Syrian church and the Catholic church, Patriarch Dinkha IV would not be required to correct the liturgical books of " Nestorian errors" anymore than the Pope would be asked to do likewise, reciprocally. We may fancy Menezes revisiting Kerala, like the legendry king Maveli, for the fourth centenary of Synod of Diamper. We can see him reel to here of the 1994 papal - patriarchal declaration revising the traditional condemnation of Nestorianism. After that shock he would surely not ask Mar Aprem, metropolitan of Trichur, or any other member of the Assyrian church of East, to abjure his/her " Nestorian " patriarch Dinkha IV. Nor would Menezes set up a committee to "correct" their liturgical books -- much less organize an auto-da-fe to burn them! Today Catholic canon law excludes any abjuration of any Eastern patriarch as a heretic in the event of reception into full Catholic communion of Eastern Christian faithful. But Menezes lived and died four centuries too early, for no fault of his. It was his Catholic zeal that set him on a crusade for the destruction of the heretical books, as was prescribed by the canon law of the times. So he held auto-da-fe of " Nestorian " books everywhere in Malabar with the help of two Jesuit correctors, Ros and Campori. Love's labor lost! And what a loss for the Thomas Christian church, though not perhaps for Europe's libraries! We need these distinctions to move beyond uncritical adulation and sheer vituperation.

The 1994 papal-patriarchal common declaration has of course no retroactive effect nor does it annul the mutual anathemas of the past, much less erase them from human memory. But it provides us with a valuable theological key for the interpretation of Nestorianism and its history with out judging past events in the light of present day standards or criteria. Thus, for example, the fact that in his last years Mar Abraham refused to co-operate with the Jesuit "Correctors" of his Nestorian "Errors" does not mean, as the Jesuits interpreted it then, and some writers uncritically repeat it today, relapse into Nestorian heresy. As Mar Abraham saw it, there was simply no heresy and no errors to correct! He possessed and professed the same faith as did the Jesuits. The difference was only verbal. What was really in question was the more or less apt theological expression, not faith. In condemning the faith of the "Nestorians of Malabar" expressed in their liturgical and other books as tarnished by "errors" it was Ros and Menezes who were in error!

Avowedly, this might sound shocking. It is hindsight buttressed by the 1994 papal - patriarchal declaration, which is in its turn the fruit of the post - conciliar progress of ecumenical dialogue. It enables us to see things differently today, though it does not authorize us to make judgments on Ros and Menezes from a moral point of view. That does not mean, however, that their understanding of and approach to the "Christianity of the Serra" was simply all right. Today's revised view of Nestorianism was not theirs, sure enough. But it was already the view of those whom they condemned as Nestorians! True, the view of Ros and Menezes carried the victory at Diamper. But it was not simply the victory of truth but of power.

(George Nedungatt, op. cit. PP. 34-35)