Mar Abraham of Angamaly(1565-1597)

Abraham of Angamaly (Syriac: ܐܒܪܗܡ ܡܛܪܢ,Mar Abraham died c. AD 1597) was the last in the long line of Mesopotamin Bishops who governed the Church of Saint Thomas Christians. In spite of the express approbation of the Pope, he was not welcomed by the Portuguese ecclesiastical authorities.[1]

The two last two Syrian bishops of Malabar were Mar Joseph Sulaqa and Mar Abraham; both arrived in Malabar after the arrival of the Portuguese. [2]There is no doubt that Mar Joseph Sulaqa's appointment was canonical, for he, the brother of the first Chaldean patriarch Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa, was appointed by his successor Abed Jesu and sent out to Malabar. Mar Joseph was sent to India with letters of introduction from the pope to the Portuguese authorities; he was besides accompanied by Bishop Ambrose, a Dominican and papal commissary to the first patriarch, by his socius Father Anthony, and by Mar Elias Hormaz, Archbishop of Diarbekir. They arrived at Goa about 1563, and were detained at Goa for eighteen months before being allowed to enter the diocese. Proceeding to Cochin they lost Bishop Ambrose; the others travelled through Malabar for two and a half years on foot, visiting every church and detached settlement.[2]By 1567,Latin authorities asked him to make enquiries into the conduct and doctrine of the prelate suspected for propagating Nestorian error; in consequence of this the first provincial council was held and Joseph Sulaqa was sent to Portugal in 1568, thence to Rome, where he died shortly after his arrival[2].

While Joseph Sulaqa was leaving India there arrived from Mesopotemia another bishop named Abraham, sent by Shemon VII Ishoyahb the East Syrian Patriarch. He succeeded in entering Malabar undetected. At the appearance of another Chaldean who proclaimed himself a bishop the people were greatly delighted and received him with applause; he set about at once acting as bishop, holding Episcopal functions, and conferring Holy orders and quietly established himself in the diocese.[3].Later the Portuguese captured him and sent him to Portugal, but during the journey he escaped at Mozambique, found his way back to Mesopotamia, and went straight to Mar Abdisho IV Maron the Chaldean Patriarch, having realized from his Indian experience that unless he secured a nomination from him it would be difficult to establish himself in Malabar. He succeeded admirably in his devices, obtained nomination, consecration, and a letter to the pope from the patriarch. With this he proceeded to Rome, and while there at an audience with the pope he disclosed his position [4]. The pope ordered the Bishop of San Severino to give him orders from tonsure to the priesthood, and a Brief was sent to the Patriarch of Venice to consecrate Abraham the bishop. The facts were attested, both as to the lesser orders and the Episcopal consecration, by the original letters which were found in the achieves of the Church of Angamaly where he resided and where he had died [2].

Abraham succeeded also in obtaining his nomination and creation as Archdiocese of Angamaly from the Pope Pius IV, with letters to the Archbishop of Goa, and to the Bishop of Cochin dated 27 Feb., 1565. Such was the success of this daring man.[2].

On arrival at Goa he was detained in a convent, but escaped and entered Malabar. His arrival was a surprise and a joy to the people. He kept out of the reach of the Portuguese, living among the churches in the hilly parts of the country. As time passed on he was left in peaceful occupation. As is usual in such cases the old tendencies assumed once more their ascendency, and he returned to his teaching and practices, Complaints were made by Jesuits; Rome sent warnings to Abraham to allow Catholic doctrine to be preached and taught to his people. At one time he took the warning seriously to his heart. In 1583 Father Valignano, then Superior of the Jesuit Missions, devised a means of forcing a reform. He persuaded Mar Abraham to assemble a synod, and to convene the clergy and the chiefs of the laity. He also prepared a profession of faith which was to be made publicly by the bishop and all present. Moreover, urgent reforms were sanctioned and agreed to. A letter was sent by Pope Gregory XIII, 28 Nov., 1578, laying down what Abraham had to do for the improvement of his diocese; after the above-mentioned synod Abraham sent a long letter to the pope in reply, specifying all that he had been able to do by the aid of the Fathers. [2][5].

In 1595 Mar Abraham fell dangerously ill [6]. Unfortunately he survived the excellent sentiments he then had and recovered. After about two years, in 1597 he was a second time again dangerously ill; Archbishop Aleixo de Menezes wrote and exhorted him to reform his people, but for answer he had only frivolous excuses [7]. He would not even avail himself of the exhortations of the Fathers who surrounded his bed, nor did he receive the last sacraments. Thus he died. The viceroy made known his death to Archbishop Menezes, then absent on a visitation tour, by letter of 6 Feb., 1597[2].The Archdeacon during the first part of the reign of Mar Abraham was George of Christ, who was on friendly terms with the Latin missionaries and was to be appointed the successor of Mar Abraham as Metropolitan of India. Thus he should have become, according to the plans of Mar Abraham, supported by the Jesuits, the first indigenous Chaldean Metropolitan of the St Thomas Christians. However, the last letter of Mar Abraham, where he requests the Pope to confirm George’s ordination as Bishop of Palur and his successor, is dated January 13, 1584, while from another letter of the same Mar Abraham we learn that the consecration of George failed because of the latter’s death[8].



[2]Encyclopaedia of sects & religious doctrines, Volume 4 By Charles George Herbermann page 1180,1181

[3]Gouva, p. col. 2

[4]Du Jarric, "Rer. Ind. Thesaur.", tom. III, lib. II, p. 69

[5]see letter, pp. 97-99, in Giamil

[6]Du Jarric, tom. I, lib. II, p. 614

[7]Gouva, p. 2

[8]Language of religion, language of the people: medieval Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,Ernst Bremer, Susanne Röhl Page 401

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