- The Armenian
- The Coptic Catholic
- The Ethiopian
- The Syrian Catholic
- The Syro-Malankara
The split between the Latin and Byzantine churches became definitive in the
minds of the common people in the east after the Crusades and the sacking of Constantinople
by the Latins in 1204. Attempts at reunion took place at the Second Council of Lyons
in 1274 and at the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1439, but neither was successful.
Subsequently, a Roman Catholic theology of the Church continued to develop which
vigorously emphasized the necessity of the direct jurisdiction of the Pope over
all the local churches. This implied that churches not under the Popes jurisdiction
could be considered objects of missionary activity for the purpose of bringing them
into the Catholic Church. At the same time, the notion of rite developed, according
to which groups of Eastern Christians who came into union with Rome would be absorbed
into the single Church, but allowed to maintain their own liturgical tradition and
This missionary activity, which was sometimes carried out with the support of Catholic
governments of countries with Orthodox minorities, was directed towards all the
Eastern Churches. Eventually segments of all these churches came into union with
Rome. It should be recognized, however, that not all these unions were the result
of the activity of Catholic missionaries. A segment of the Armenian Church
has never been out of communion with the Universal Church. The Bulgarian Byzantine
Catholic Church, for example, was the direct result of a spontaneous movement of
Orthodox towards Rome. And the Maronites have never been out of communion with the
Inevitably, these unions resulted in a process of latinization, or the adoption
of certain practices and attitudes proper to the Latin Church. As a result, these
churches sometimes lost contact with their spiritual roots. Since the Second Vatican
Council, efforts have been made to reverse this process.
All of these churches come under the jurisdiction of the Pope through the Congregation
for Oriental Churches, one of the offices of the Roman Curia. It was created in
1862 as part of the Propaganda Fide, and was made an autonomous Congregation
by Benedict XV in 1917.
It should be mentioned that the expression uniate, often used in the past to describe
the Eastern Catholic Churches, is now generally considered derogatory and falling
One of the documents of the second Vatican Council, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, dealt
with the Eastern Catholic Churches. It affirmed their equality with the Latin Church,
and called Eastern Churches to rediscover their authentic traditions. It also affirmed
that Eastern Catholics have a special vocation to foster ecumenical relations with
The ecclesial life of the Eastern Catholic Churches is governed in accordance with
the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches which was promulgated by Pope John Paul
II on 18 October 1990 and began to have the force of law on 1 October 1991. According
to the Oriental Code, the Eastern Catholic Churches fall into four categories:
- Patriarchal (the Chaldean, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Maronite, and Melkite Churches)
- Major Archepiscopal (Ukranian, and Syro-Malabar Catholic Churches)
- Metropolitan sui iuris(the Ethiopian, Syro-Malankar, Romanian, and Ruthenian
- Other Churches sui iuris (Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, and
Slovak Churches, as well as a diocese covering all of former Yugoslavia). The Belarusian,
Albanian, Georgian and Russian Eastern Catholic Churches have no hierarchy.
Churches with no direct counterpart
These are two Eastern Catholic Churches which, because of unique historical circumstances,
do not have an immediate counterpart among the other Eastern Churches.
The Maronite Church
The Maronites of Lebanon trace their origin back to the late 4th century
when a group of disciples gathered around the charismatic figure of St. Maron. They
later founded a monastery located midway between Aleppo and Antioch. In the 5th
century the monastery vigorously supported the Christological doctrine of the Council
By the 8th century, the monks had moved with their band of followers
into the remote mountains of Lebanon, where they existed in relative isolation for
centuries. It was also during this period that they began to develop a distinct
identity as a church and to elect a bishop as their head, who took the title of
Patriarch of Antioch and the entire East.
The Maronites came into contact with the Latin Church in the 12th century,
when the Latin crusader principality of Antioch was founded. In 1182 the entire
Maronite nation formally confirmed its union with Rome.
Patriarch Jeremias II Al-Almshiti (1199-1230) became the first Maronite Patriarch
to visit Rome when he attended the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. This marked the
beginning of close relations with the Holy See and a continuing Latinizing tendency.
A major reforming synod took place at Mount Lebanon in 1736. It drafted an almost
complete Code of Canons for the Maronite Church, created a regular diocesan structure
for the first time, and established the main lines of Maronite ecclesial life that
endure to this day.
By the 19th century the western powers, especially France, began to offer
protection to the Maronites within the Ottoman Empire.
When France granted Lebanon full independence in 1944, it attempted to guarantee
the safety of the Maronite community by leaving behind a constitution guaranteeing
that the president would always be a Maronite.
The Maronite Patriarch has resided in Bkerke, about 25 miles from Beirut, since
The Maronite liturgy is of West Syrian origin, but it has been influenced by the
East Syrian and Latin traditions. The Eucharist is essentially a variation of the
Syriac liturgy of St. James. Originally celebrated in Syriac, the liturgy has been
for the most part in Arabic since the Arab invasions.
The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
Southern Italy and Sicily had a strong connection with Greece in antiquity and for
many centuries there was a large Greek-speaking population there. In the early centuries
of the Christian era, although most of the Christians were of the Byzantine tradition,
the area was included in the Roman Patriarchate, and a gradual but incomplete latinization
began. During the 8th century, Byzantine Emperor Leo III removed the
region from papal jurisdiction and placed it within the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
There followed a strong revival of the Byzantine tradition in the area. But the
Norman conquest in the early 11th century resulted in its return to the
Latin Patriarchate. The Normans discouraged Byzantine usages in their lands, and
the Greek bishops were replaced by Latin ones. This marked the beginning of a process
which led to the almost total absorption of the Byzantine faithful into the Latin
This decline was reversed in the 15th century with the arrival of two
large groups of Albanian immigrants who had fled their country following its conquest
by the Turks. Those from the northern part of Albania, where the Latin rite was
prevalent, were quickly absorbed into the local population. But those from the Orthodox
south of the country remained loyal to their Byzantine heritage. At first
they met with little understanding from the local Latin bishops. Although in the
16th century Popes intervened in favor of the Byzantines, the community
continued to decline.
The situation began to improve in the 18th century. In 1742 Pope Benedict
XIV published the bull Etsi pastoralis which was intended to buttress the
position of the Italo-Albanians in relation to the Latins. It paved the way for
more progressive legislation and recognition of the equality of the Byzantine rite
with the Latin.
From the Assyrian Church of the
The Chaldean Catholic Church
As early as the 13th century , Catholic missionaries-primarily Dominicans
and Franciscans- had been active among the faithful of the Assyrian Church of the
East. This resulted in a series of individual conversions of bishops and brief unions,
but no permanent community was formed.
In the mid-15th century a tradition of hereditary patriarchal succession
(passing from uncle to nephew) took effect in the Assyrian Church. As a result,
one family dominated the church, and untrained minors were being elected to the
When such a Patriarch was elected in 1552, a group of Assyrian bishops refused to
accept him and decided to seek union with Rome. They elected the reluctant abbot
of a monastery, Yuhannan Soulaka, as their own Patriarch and sent him to Rome to
arrange a union with the Catholic Church. In early 1553 Pope Julius III proclaimed
him in St. Peters Patriarch Simon VIII of the Chaldeans and ordained him a
bishop in St. Peters Basilica on April 9, 1553.
The new Patriarch returned to his homeland in late 1553 and began to initiate a
series of reforms. But opposition, led by the rival Assyrian Patriarch, was strong.
Simon was soon captured by the Pasha of Amadya, tortured and executed in January
1555. Eventually Sulakas group returned to the Assyrian Church of the East, but
for over 200 years, there was much turmoil and changing of sides as the action finally
stabilized only in 1830, when Pope Pius VIII confirmed Metropolitan John Hormizdas
as head of all Chaldean Catholics, with the title of Patriarch of Babylon of the
Chaldeans, with his see in Mosul. In 1950 it moved to its present location in Baghdad
after substantial migration of Chaldeans from northern Iraq to the capital city.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Members of this Church are direct descendants of the Thomas Christians that the
Portuguese encountered in 1498 while exploring the Malabar Coast of India (now the
State of Kerala). They were in full communion with the Assyrian Church in Persia.
But they greeted the Portuguese as fellow Christians and as representatives of the
Church of Rome.
The Portuguese did not accept the legitimacy of local Malabar traditions, and they
began to impose Latin usages upon the Thomas Christians. At a synod held at Diamper
in 1599 under the presidency of the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, a number of such
latinizations were adopted, including the appointment of Portuguese bishops, changes
in the Eucharistic liturgy, the use of Roman vestments, the requirement of clerical
celibacy, and the setting up of the Inquisition. This provoked widespread discontent,
which finally culminated in a decision by most Thomas Christians in 1653 to break
with Rome. In response, Pope Alexander VII sent Carmelite friars to Malabar to deal
with the situation. By 1662 the majority of the dissidents had returned to communion
with the Catholic Church.
European Carmelites would continue to serve as bishops in the Syro-Malabar Church
until 1896, when the Holy See established three Vicariates Apostolic for the Thomas
Christians (Trichur, Ernaculam and Changanacherry), under the guidance of indigenous
Syro-Malabar bishops. A fourth Vicaraiate Apostolic (Kottayam) was established in
1911. In 1923 Pope Pius XI set up a full-fledged Syro-Malabar Catholic hierarchy.
Until recently there was no single head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, but
two Metropolitan dioceses (Ernaculam and Changanacherry) of equal rank. But on December
16, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the Syro-Malabar Church to Major Archepiscopal
rank and appointed Cardinal Antony Pediyara of Ernakulam-Angamaly as the first Major
From the Oriental Orthodox Churches
The Armenian Catholic Church
Armenia was converted to Christianity by Gregory the Illuminator in 301. Tiridates
was the first Christian Armenian king. Gregory, who was consecrated bishop by the
Metropolitan Leontius in Caesarea of Cappadocia, was sent to establish a hierarchy
in Armenia under the jurisdiction of that Prelate. Tradition has it that Gregory
also went to the center of the Church in Rome to manifest his Catholic mind.
Among his successors was Nerses the Great (352-373) who, like Basil the Great,
established numerous charitable institutions and labored with apostolic zeal to
strengthen the foundations of the faith.
King Arshak (350-367) and his son and successor Pap (368-374) were displeased
by the ecclesiastical subordination of the Armenian hierarchy and favored independence
for their church to be effected by the selection of the hierarchy by themselves
without reference to the Metropolitan of Caesarea. They failed in this attempt,
however, because of the loyalty of the Armenian clergy to the Catholic Church (Catholic
as Universal). Years later, when Caesarea no longer held its position of eminence,
the Great St. Sahak recognized the See of Constantinople as Metropolitan.
Prominent in the fifth century were St. Sahak and St. Mesrob. The former was
head of the Armenian Church; the latter contributed to the world the Armenian alphabet.
These two personalities produced the Golden Age of the Armenian nation. They created
the classic litterature, the Rite, and the Liturgy. Holy Scripture and the writings
of the most prominent church leaders as Irenaus, Ephraim the Syrian, Basil, Chrysostom,
and many others were translated into classic Armenian. During this period also,
new Episcopal sees were established and many reforms effected. The country was filled
with schools and religious houses. Although St. Sahak did not participate in the
Council of Ephesus (431), he endorsed it.
The year 451 is the date of one of the most important Ecumenical Councils- that
of Chalcedon. The Armenian bishops were prevented from attending because of the
outbreak of a politico-religious war which threatened both the Christian faith and
the national culture of their country. The war of 451 under Vartan Mamikonian was
continued under Vahan Mamikonian until the Persians granted religious freedom in
In the Armenian provinces neighboring the Byzantine Empire, the majority of
the clergy leaned in favor of Chalcedon, while in the provinces that were under
the sway of the Persians or Arabs, an anti-chalcedonian majority prevailed.
Until the second half of the 11th century, these two different movements
exerted their respective influences on liturgical and dogmatic controversies, church
writings, politics, promotions to higher ecclesiastical offices, and appointments
of successors. As a result of the Seljuk occupation of Greater Armenia and of the
Eastern provinces of Asia Minor, Armenian refugees established in Cilicia first
a principality (1080), then later a kingdom (1199-1375).
These changes were not without consequences: the direct contact with the Latin
clergy and with the Crusaders who had established themselves in the Near East brought
about a bond of mutual affection.
The Latin Crusaders established close contacts with the Armenian Church in the
12th century when they passed through the Armenian kingdom in Cilicia
on their way to the Holy Land. An alliance between the Crusaders and the Armenian
king contributed to the establishment of a union between the two churches in Cilicia
in 1198. This union, which was not accepted by Armenians outside Cilicia, ended
with the conquest of the Armenian kingdom by the Mameluks in 1375.
A decree of reunion with the Armenian Church, Exultate Deo, was published
at the Council of Florence on 22 November 1439. But this decree had no concrete
In Cilicia we find from 1065 to 1441 in the Catholicate and in the Armenian
Church virtuous Patriarchs and clergy, who, as their teachings show, were in the
main pro-chalcedonian and in ecclesiastic communion with the Holy See of Rome. Prominent
among these was St. Nerses Shnorhali (1166-1173). On the other hand, in the monasteries
of Seljuk-occupied Eastern Armenia, a current had been kept alive in opposition
to the posture of the hierarchy in Cilicia.
The destruction of Latin power in the Near East and the seizure of Armenian
Cilicia by the Mamalukes of Egypt (1375) presented the anti-chalcedonian Armenian
clergy the opportunity to move the patriarchal See to Eastern Armenia. Despite the
efforts of the reigning Catholicos Grigor Mussabeghiantz, the bishops and abbots
of Greater Armenia elected in 1441 a counter-patriarch in the person of Kirakos
Virabezi (1441-1443). Thus began the existence of two patriarchal sees (See of Sis
(Cilicia) and See of Etchmiadzin).
From 1441 until the beginning of the 18th century both persuasions,
the Chalcedonian and the anti-Chalcedonian, equally had their followings in the
See of Cilicia and in that of Etchmiadzin
After subjugating Constantinople in 1453, Mehmet Fathi, on internal political
grounds, wanted to endow the Armenian bishop of the city with the same rights and
privileges that the Greek Patriarchs had possessed. From this date on, the significance
of this new patriarchal throne surpassed that of both the Etchmiazin and Cilician
Sees because the might of the state was now behind its ecclesiastic and civil jurisdiction
with extended power over all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
After the second half of the 17th century, bitter controversies erupted
over liturgical-doctrinal differences between the pro and anti-Chalcedonian Armenians,
especially in Constantinople. This kind of controversy fed on two extremes: on the
one hand the imprudence and overzealousness of the (Latin) Catholic missionaries,
and on the other hand sectarianism, xenophobia, and hatred of Latinism.
In Constantinople, the anti-Chalcedonians cleverly manipulated the Sultan and
people against the Armenian Catholics, denouncing them as spies of the Franks
and traitors of the country. With these slanderous tactics and through simony, a
number of unworthy clergymen ascended the patriarchal throne. Bolstered by worldly
might, these patriarchs handed over to the tyranny of the state powers numerous
Armenian bishops, priests, and lay notables whose only crime was their profession
of the Catholic faith. Because of their beliefs alone, many of the latter were incarcerated,
tortured, exiled, and condemned to death. It suffices here to mention the martyred
pastor Gomidas who was beatified in 1929; and the Servant of God Abbot Mekhitar,
the founder of the Armenian Mechitarist congregation.
Persecution against Armenian Catholics continued to rage in all Asia Minor.
The bishop of Aleppo, Abraham Ardzivian (1679-1749), because of his adherence to
the Catholic communion was condemned to penal servitude by the anti-Chalcedonian
patriarch. Though he was able to escape and return to his diocese, he was banished
to Cyprus. In 1710, liberated through the help of Armenian Antonians (an Armenian
Catholic Congregation), he found refuge in a convent nestled in the mountains of
Lebanon whence he continued to run his diocese. After the death of the Catholicos
of Cilicia (1737), in November of that same year, the Chalcedonian bishops Jacob
of Aleppo, Melchior Markar of Mardin, and Sahakof Chelesi in union with the priests
and monks chose as Catholicos of Cilicia bishop Abraham Ardzivian. This Catholicos
assumed the name Peter as a sign of his bond to the Holy See. Shortly thereafter
the above-named bishops wrote to Pope Benedict XIV seeking recognition of the newly
elected Catholicos and at the same time requesting he receive the Pallium.
After a grueling journey, Ardzivian reached Rome on August 13, 1742. With the
Cardinals convened in November of that year, his election was approved and the Pallium
bestowed upon him.
Back in the East, Abraham Peter I Ardzivian transferred his residence to Lebanon
to avoid the harassment of the patriarch of Constantinople.
In the Brief Quod Iambu of July 6, 1830 the Pope established
the Armenian Primatial See of Constantinople. In accordance with the desires of
the Armenian hierarchy this primatial see was joined to the Patriarchal throne of
Cilicia, and the new patriarch to be named was Anthon Peter IX Hassun (1867-1880).
This occasioned the transfer of the Patriarchate to Constantinople where it remained
until 1928, at which time it was again removed to Bzommar (Lebanon).
An important example of Armenian Catholic religious life is provided by the
Mechitarist Fathers, founded in Constantinople in 1701. It transferred to the island
of San Lazzaro, Venice, in 1717. In 1811 a second foundation of Mechitarists was
set up in Vienna. These two communities have reunited in 2000 under one Abbot with
residence in San Lazzaro.
A few months before his death, and by a pastoral letter dated August 21, 1749,
Catholicos Patriarch Abraham Peter I Ardzivian declared his plans to build a new
Patriarchal monastery on the Mount Lebanon. Under the supervision of his successor
Hagop Peter II the first part of the monastery of Bzommar was erected.
In 1866 the Patriarchal See was transferred to Constantinople for political
reasons. The monastery continued to function under the supervision of a superior
father appointed by the Patriarch himself.
In 1928, due to the Armenian genocide, the Patriarchal See moved back to the
historical monastery of Bzommar.
The main vocation of the members of the clergy of Bzommar is to serve pastorally
the Armenian Catholic Church all over the world.
The Coptic Catholic Church
A formal union between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches took place
with the signing of the document Cantate Domino by a Coptic delegation
at the Council of Florence on February 4, 1442. But, because this act was not supported
in Egypt, it had non concrete results.
Cholic missionaries were first active among the Copts in the 17th
century, with the Franciscans in the lead. A Cappuchin mission was founded in Cairo
in 1630, and in 1675 the Jesuits began missionary activity in Egypt. During the
same century a number of lengthy but fruitless theological exchanges took place
between Rome and the Coptic Church.
In 1741 a Coptic bishop in Jerusalem, Amba Athanasius, became a Catholic. Pope
Benedict XIV appointed him Vicar Apostolic of the small community of Egyptian Coptic
Catholics, which at that time numbered no more than 2000. Although Athanasius eventually
returned to the Coptic Orthodox church, a line of Catholic Vicars Apostolic continued
In 1824, under the mistaken impression that the Ottoman viceroy wished it to
do so, the Holy See erected a Patriarchate for Coptic Catholics, but it existed
only on paper. The Ottoman authorities permitted the Coptic Catholics to begin building
their own churches only in 1829.
In 1895 Leo XIII reestablished the Patriarchate and in 1899 he appointed Bishop
Cyril Makarios as patriarch Cyril II of Alexandria of the Copts. He became embroiled
in controversy and felt compelled to resign in 1908. The office remained vacant
until 1947, when a new Patriarch was finally elected.
The Ethiopian Catholic Church
Catholic missionaries arrived in Ethiopia in the 14th century, and Pope
Eugenius IV sent a letter to the Ethiopian Emperor on August 28, 1439, inviting
him to unity with the Catholic Church, but such efforts were unsuccessful. In the
16th century, Islamic attacks, culminating in 1531, threatened the very
existence of Christian Ethiopia. The Emperor appealed for assistance to the
Portuguese, who sent sufficient military support from Goa to defeat the Islamic
armies definitively in 1543.
The Portuguese in Ethiopia were accompanied by Jesuit missionaries, who began an
effort to bring the Ethiopian Orthodox Church into union with Rome. They focused
their activity on the political elite of the country including the Emperor himself.
Largely through the efforts of Fr. Pedro Paez, Emperor Susenyos converted and declared
Catholicism the state religion in 1622. The following year Pope Gregory XV appointed
another Portuguese Jesuit, Alfonso Mendez, as Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church.
A formal union was declared when Mendez arrived in the country in 1626. But this
union was to last only ten years. The Emperor Susenyos died in 1632. In 1636 his
successor expelled Mendez, dissolved the union, and either expelled or executed
the Catholic missionaries. The country was closed to Catholic missionary activity
for the next 200 years.
In 1839 limited activity was resumed by the Lazarists and Capuchins, but public
hostility was still very young. It was only with the accession of King Menelik II
to the throne in 1889 that Catholic missionaries could again work freely in the
country. Catholic missionary activities expanded in Ethiopia during the Italian
occupation from 1935 to 1941, as it had earlier in Eritrea which had been under
Italian control since 1889.
The present ecclesiastical structure of the Ethiopian Catholic Church dates back to
1961, when a metropolitan see was established at Addis Ababa with sufragan diocesed
in Asmara and Adigrat. The largest concentration of Ethiopian Catholics is in Adis
Ababa and Asmara. But with the independence of Eritrea on 24 May 1993, about half
the faithful found themselves within that new country.
The Syrian Catholic Church
During the Crusades there were many examples of many warm relations between
Catholic and Syrian Orthodox bishops. Some Syrian bishops seemed favorable to union
with Rome, but no concrete results were achieved. There was also a decree of union
between Syrian Orthodox and Rome at the Council of Florence (Multa et Admirabilia
of November 30, 1444), but this also came to nothing.
Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries began to work among the Syrian Orthodox faithful
at Aleppo in 1626. So many Syrians were received into communion with Rome in 1662,
when the Patriarchate had fallen vacant, that the catholic party was able to elect
one of its own, Andrew Akhidjan, as Patriarch. This provoked a split in the community,
and after Akhidjans death in 1677 two opposed Patriarchs were elected, an uncle
and nephew, representing the two parties. But when the Catholic Patriarch died in
1702, this brief line of Syrian Catholic Patriarchs died out with him.
The Ottoman government supported the Oriental Orthodox against the Catholics,
and throughout the 18th century the Catholic Syrians underwent much suffering
and persecution. There were long periods when no Syrian Catholic bishops were functioning,
and the community was forced underground.
In 1782 the Syrian Orthodox Synod elected Metropolitan Michael Jarweh of Aleppo
as Patriarch. Shortly after he was enthroned, he declared himself Catholic, took
refuge in Lebanon and built the monastery of Our Lady at Sharfeh. After Jarweh there
has been an unbroken succession of Syrian Catholic Patriarchs.
In 1829 the Turkish government granted legal recognition to the Syrian Catholic
Church, and the residence of the Patriarch was established at Aleppo at 1831. Catholic
missionary activity resumed. Because the Christian community at Aleppo had been
severely persecuted the Patriarchate was moved to Mardin in 1850. In the early 1920s
the Patriarchal residence was moved to Beirut, to which many Syrian Catholics had
fled from Turkey.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
During the 18th century there were no less than four formal attempts
to reconcile the Catholic and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Churches, all of which failed.
In 1926, a group of five Malankara Orthodox Syrian bishops who were opposed
to the jurisdiction of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch in India commissioned one of
their own members, Mar Ivanios, to open negotiations with Rome with a view to reconciliation.
They asked only that their liturgy be preserved and that the bishops be allowed
to retain their dioceses. After discussions, Rome required only that the bishops
make a profession of faith and that their baptisms and ordinations be proven valid
in each case.
In the event, only two of the five bishops accepted the new arrangement with
Rome, including Mar Ivanios, who had founded the first monastic communities for
men and women in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. These two bishops, a priest,
a deacon and a layman were received into the Catholic Church together on September
20, 1930. Later in the 1930s two more bishops, from among those who had favored
the jurisdiction of the Syrian Patriarch in India, were received into communion
This triggered a significant movement of faithful into the new Syro-Malankara