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Chaldean History – Lecture 6

Formation of Ecclesiastic Center

Lecture 6

Formation of Ecclesiastic Center
The Patriarchal See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (later Babylon)

Historic development of the Patriarchal Sees: While several cities in the Roman Empire were evangelized by the Apostles, only few of them became centers of high ecclesiastic authority, mostly the capitals of Provinces: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, since the Council of Nicea (325 AD), and later Jerusalem, were recognized as major centers of patriarchal authority.

Many historians and canonists formulated their theories in regard to the formation of “particular churches”, particularly concerning the establishment of Patriarchal authority, based on theories assessing the world through the Roman Empire eyes.  Therefore, many would think that the ancient See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, which in the 14th century settled with the title of “Patriarchate of Babylon”, splintered or derived from the See of Antioch, in similarity with the Melkite, Syrian, and Maronite Patriarchates.  Others, carrying names recognized as scholars, would label a church, The Church of The East, extending from Mesopotamia to Persia, to India through China and beyond, as “East Syrian”.

This fantasy nomenclature of East Syrian, in the described sense, was originally adopted by some western writers around the middle of 19th century to facilitate the categorization of Middle-Eastern churches, with blind disregard to the identity of countries, nations, and churches, as well as to elementary knowledge of historic facts; since, to identify these nations, countries, and churches, this name never existed before.

Solidly otherwise, with expert approach to basic historic information, and to the plain meaning of nomenclature, the Code of Canons of The Eastern Churches, in cc. 27 & 28, identifies nominatim the Eastern Churches Sui Juris with their specific “rite”, arising from each one’s particular tradition; these recognized traditions, as listed alphabetically in the Code, are: Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Chaldean and Constantinopolitan.

The Rising of the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon to Leadership:

The historic process that lead to the formation of major patriarchal sees in the Christian West had a corresponding process East of Euphrates, in the Persian Empire

Four versions are provided for the events that occurred at the beginning of the 4th century among the bishops in the Sassanid kingdom:

1) The Synodicon Version (Acts of the Synod AD 424): Bishop Agabyt of Beth-Lapat stood and spoke on behalf of the College of Bishops, requesting from Catholicos Dadysho’ to remain as Head of Bishops; he made first an introduction that narrated the prior history of the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, describing how Patriarch Papa (c. 310 AD) was opposed by some bishops who were lead by Bishop Miles of Susa, and then deposed in a Synod, appointing another bishop, Simon, as Catholicos; at this synod, Papa at a moment of Anger hit with his hand the Book of Gospel, whereas instantly he was hit by unspecified physical punishment. When the adjacent “Western Fathers”, of the neighboring dioceses, heard the news, they endorsed the deposed Catholicos, ordering that Bishop Simon be as temporary Archdeacon then succeed Mar Papa after his passing.

2)  Acts of Miles Version (410-420 AD): a) No mention at all of the Western Fathers. b) Papa is not a Catholicos at first but plans to become leader of Eastern bishops; Miles opposes him in a synod with many bishops, quoting then the Gospel “whoever among you wants to become your leader let him be your servant”, he extracted from his pocket a copy of Gospel, whereas Papa hit it with his hand, and was half paralyzed with many pains.

3) Chronic of Erbil (6th century): a) Papa is not a Catholicos at first, but because many bishops needed him as bishop of the capital, he aspired to become their leader, facing opposition from many clergy, especially Mar Miles. b) Papa then asked the endorsement of Saada, bishop of Edessa, and other Western Bishops, who did endorse him writing to him a letter of recognition as General Head of all bishops and faithful of the East.

4) The Book of the Tower (12th century) Claims that: a) Papa was elected as Patriarch and approved by the Council of Nicea. b) Miles of Susa did oppose him, because Papa made two bishops for one city, against the canons. c) It was Bishop Miles who hit the Gospel and was punished for his arrogance.

Attempting to reconstruct basic facts, we may rely on the version of The Acts of Martyr Miles, together with the Chronic of Erbil, as presenting the issue as initially narrated, the Synodicon represents the matter from hierarchical point of view, and the later ecclesiastic mentality is shown in the Book of Tower.