Sages of the New Covenant
Saint Bartholomew lived in the first century AD and was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He was introduced to Christ through St. Philip and is also known as "Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee," notably in John's Gospel. St. Bartholomew is credited with many miracles related to the weight of objects. His evangelized among the people of North Konkan, before travelling to Armenia, where he was martyred - either decapitated or skinned alive.
Portuguese when they came to India, they were aware of the fact of presence of Christians who follow Latin and Syrian rites. But was a surprise for them to see Non-Latin / Syrian rites Christians in the North Konkan region, among which some were Coptic, Nestorians and the other were who spoke the local language Konkani. These Konkani speaking Christians of North Konkan region were the ones, who were converted by Apostle Bartholomew.
Roman Empire was classified into two - Western and Eastern. The Greek, Coptic and Syrian speaking people were considered the Easterners. Hence to differentiate the Christians of the North Konkan region, the Portuguese called the Christians who adhere to Latin rites as Latin Indians and other Christians ‘East Indians’, who subsequently pledged their allegiance to the Pope. Still in Maharashtra, whether these Christians are Roman Catholics or Methodists or Anglican or Pentecostals are proud to identify themselves ‘East Indians’.
According to one tradition, the Apostle Bartholomew (Barthemew) came to India in AD 55 and preached the Gospel in the area near Kalyan and was martyred in Armenia in AD 62.
It should then come as no surprise that contact between India and Israel dates as far back as the days of King Solomon. The Dominican friar Jordanus Catalani, in the 13th Century started evangelising activities in Thana and Sapora and it was the first mission work of Rome in North Konkan. Kalyan served a port city for many centuries until siltation and the rise of Bombay harbour eclipsed it and its sister ports Sopara. Sopara or Soparaka was an ancient port town and the capital of the ancient Aparanta. The site of this ancient town is located near the present day Nala Sopara town in the Thane district, now in the newly created Palghar district, of the state Maharashtra, India. The water once extended all the way to Bhayander creek thus making the whole area extending from Arnala to Bhayander an island – referred to as Salsette island.
In the time of the Buddha, Sopara (ancient Shurparaka), was an important port and a gateway settlement. Perhaps this induced Ashoka to install his edicts there. Sopara is referred in the Old Testament as Ophir, the place from which King Solomon brought gold. Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament, made for Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC) translates Ophir as Sophia, which is in Coptic [Egyptian language is in the Bohairic (Delta) dialect, and in the Sahidic (Valley) dialect] language refers India or refers to the ancient city of Soupara or Ouppara on the western coast of India. (Ref.:Thana District Gazeeteer Part – I: Popualation:Christians-History).
Apostle Bartholomew must have come to North Konkan region to do evangelical work primarily to the Hebrew traders present in Thane, Kalyan, Sopara (in the Indian State of Maharashtra) and Barkur (in Tulunadu – Indian State of Karnataka).
Saint Pantaenus the Philosopher was a Greek theologian and a significant figure in the Catechetical School of Alexandria from around AD 180. This school was the earliest catechetical school, and became influential in the development of Christian theology. We get the report of St Bartholomew’s visit connected to the testimonies of the visit of Pantaenus to India, which was reported by the following two people:
Both of them refer to Saint Bartholomew tradition while speaking of the reported visit of Pantaenus to India in the second century.
A deputation from India reached Alexandria some time in 179 or 189 AD. Because of the knowledge and learning of Pantaenus, according to Saint Jerome, they asked Demetric, Bishop of Alexandria (second largest port city of Egypt) to send Pantaenus to India for discussions with the Vedic philosophers of North Konkan region. Demetrius decided that the Christian world mission is in higher priority than the advancement of Christian learning. So without hesitation he sent his most famous scholar – Pantaenus - from the theological school as a missionary to the East.
Eusebius also gives an early account of this mission. According to Saint Jerome written in the fifth century, the great Church in Alexandria, which is the center of Egyptian Christianity sent its most famous scholar, Pantaenus, head of the theological School in that city, “ to preach Christ to the Brahmans and philosophers there”. (Ref.: Jerome- Epistola LXX ad Magnum oratorem urbis Romae)
Both Eusebius and Saint Jerome has reported that Pantaenus found manuscripts about the life of Jesus Christ in Hebrew language, which was very much similar to the Gospel according to Matthew and brought the manuscript to Alexandria, for preservation.
Interestingly, the pupils and successors of Pantaenus, Titus Flavius Clemens (known as Clement of Alexandria was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria) and his student Origen Adamantius, wrote about India. They must have heard this from Pantaenus himself. They mentioned of “Indian Brahmans” and “gymnosophists” and Clement wrote discerningly of the difference between “Sarmanane” and “Brahmans” describing the former in terms that suggest the “hermits” or “holy men of India. (Ref.: Clement- Stromata, 15)
Cosmas Indicopleustes was an 6th century Alexandrian merchant / traveller who became a hermit later. Cosmas was a pupil of the East Syrian Patriarch Aba I and was himself follower of the Church of the East. Cosmas had visited the Kingdom of Axum in modern Ethiopia, as well as Eritrea, India, and Sri Lanka. He 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. Cosmas mentioned about Kalyana in his “Christian Typography” (first attempt to draw a map of Christian population). His description of India and Sri Lanka during the 6th century is invaluable to historians.
The town of Kalyan, was an ancient port and it is supposed to be the Kalliana. There are evidences of this in the writings of Kosmas (Cosmas) Indicopleustes of his having seen in Kalyana a flourishing Christian Community in the 6th Century. In addition, the present Day Kalyan where Comas visited, there was also a bishop, who was consecrated in Persia." (Ref.: Travancore Manual, page 248).
According to Pseudo- Sophronius Saint Bartholomew preached to the “ Indians who are called Happy” and according to the Greek tradition the Apostle went to” India Felix”. The word Kalyan means “Felix” or “happy” and it is argued that the Kalyna region came to be known to the foreign writers “ India Felix” and its inhabitants, Indians “called the happy”. Perumalil interprets the “ India Citerior” of Hieronymian Martyrology as Western India, and the “India” of the Passio bartholmei as the Maratha Country. (Ref.: Perimalil “ The Apostles in India”)
The city of Kalyan (British India English "Calian") and the village of Kalyanpur, were at one time port cities, and both vie for the honor of being St. Bartholomeo's place of martyrdom.
Research Goan Historian Mascarenhas says that Barkur owes its name to the Apostle:
"In Tulunadu, in South Kanara, there is Kallianpur. Here Bartholomew, then popularly known as Bhethal, preached the Gospel. There are many names and places, words and usages in the coastal Konkan region going up to Bombay and beyond which have originated from his name Bhethal and his preaching and that Barkur which is close to Kallianpur sprung after his name Bartholomew i.e. Bar+Thulami+Ooru and so BARKURU" (Ref.: 'Konkanachem Christaunponn'-1929 - [Apostolic Christianity in Konkan] by Fr Mascarenhas, M.A.,Ph.D.,D.D.,)
William Pais and Vincent Mendonca add more background to the Kalyanpur-Barkur claims:
"Christianity has been long established in South Kanara and its adherents are more numerous here, than any other district of India. It is certain that, foreign Christian merchants were visiting the coastal town of Kanara and during that period of commerce some priests also might have accompanied them for evangelical work. According to tradition Kanara had its first missionary the Apostle St. Barthelomew, who landed on the shores of river Swarna at Colombianor Colombo village an ancient maritime port adjacent to Kallianpur, stayed there to preach. He was popularly called Bethel and so the origin of the place Barkur..." (Ref.: The land called South Kanara" (2000, Image flex Publishers) by William Pais and Vincent Mendonca)
To help the Barkur claimes, it may be noted that Msg. Denis Jeromme D'Souza built the present gothic style Church of Barkur, dedicated to St. Peter where the statue of St. Bartholomew occupies a prominent place among the statues of twelve Apostles placed in the main altar.
Right from the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD the controversies, related to Christology was on the rise. The Arian controversy was in reality a series of controversies, related to Christology, that arose between Arius, a priest and theologian, and Bishop Athanasius, a Church Father. The most important of these controversies concerned the substantial relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. These disagreements divided the Church into two opposing theological factions at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Those who refused to accept the Nicene Creed were immediately ex-communicated by the Pope. The controversies advanced by Nestorius (386–450 AD), Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431 AD, influenced by Nestorius' studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch. Nestorius's teachings brought him into conflict with other prominent church leaders, most notably Cyril of Alexandria.
As India was closer to the Byzantine Empire and Antioch the Church heads of Constantinople Antioch had more influence of the Thomasine / Bartholomew Christians, which separated them from the Papal Christianity. The East-West Schism (or Great Schism) of 1054 AD, facilitated split in the medieval Christianity, which gave room for the emergence of Orthodox churches in the East of Roman Empire. The fall of Byzantine Empire, followed by the Arab conquests of Eastern Europe, severed the connection of Indian churches with the churches of Rome, Greece, Syria, Egypt (Coptic), Antioch , and Turkey (Constantinople).
Most history of The Indian Church was lost between the 9th and the 14th Century, as Persia went over to the Nestorianism in 800 AD. Since the provision of Church offices and all the apparatus of public worship, was looked to a foreign source ; when this foreign aid was withdrawn, the Indian Christians were reduced to "nominal" Christians (Ref.: Baptista, Elsie Wilhelmina (1967). The East Indians: Catholic Community of Bombay, Salsette and Bassein. Bombay East Indian Association), before the arrival Portuguese in the North Konkan region. Some were attracted to Manichaeism and later after the advent of Adi Shakara, attracted to the religions that had emerged an off-shoot of heretical Manichaeism.
According to Moraes, Christians of Bartholomew got intermingled with that of the Thomas Christians and according to Perumalil, Bartholomew Christians continued as a separate community till the coming of the Portuguese and got merged with the Christians of Bombay (East Indians). (Ref.: Moraes “ A History of Christianity in India AD 52-1542)
India is one of the few privileged countries to get the missionary work of more than one Apostles of Jesus. The reason for the two Apostles to come to India was: India was one of the most civilized countries during the 1st Century AD and one of the leading economies of the World, with trade flourishing between India and the empires of Rome, Greece, and Babylon.
The noted Apostle was St Thomas, who did great work at Malabar and Coromandel coasts. There were several studies done on Thomasian Christians and the Evangelical Work of Apostle Thomas has long been proved, beyond the scope of any doubt. In commemoration of his visit to India, the Government of India had released two postal stamps.
One in two Indian Christians live in the South States of India - Karnataka, Kerala, Seemandra, Thamizh Nadu and Telungana. Cherala (Kerala), where St Thomas did evangelical work has 18.4 % of Christians; where as in Maharashtra, where St Bartholomew did a brief evangelical work has only 1% Christians, which is why the research on Bartholomean Christians were very much limited; and such research too were done only by the Goans, not by the Bartholomean Christians (East Indians) of Thana, Kalyan and Nala Sopara. More research would bring more light on the evangelical work of Apostle Bartholomew in India. During 1993 excavation, a ring well, fragments of Roman amphorae red polished ware and glass (all belong to the early centuries of the Common Era) were found in Nala Sopara. Christians have to be alert to look for evidences connected with St Bartholomew, when such excavations are scheduled by the Archaeological Survey of India.
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Sages of the New Covenant