Thank you, Mor. The information you've provided is very helpful and much appreciated. In the main, I agree with you, but I'd like to tease this out a bit further for my own elucidation, if you don't mind.
Rarely is there a truly "unbroken" succession, even though there is always continuity....Another issue is how you define "throne". Frankly, the entire debate, as it currently exists in India, is rather anachronistic: the apostles didn't establish cathedrals and sit in thrones to preach during the Liturgy, so in what sense can we speak of "throne" at this early stage other than "episcopal succession"? So if we're going to ask "Did St Thomas ordain a bishop to succeed him?"...
Yes, an immediate successor consecrated before St. Thomas's martyrdom, continuity, and gaps which are both infrequent and not of enormous length are what I would consider to be an "unbroken" succession.
The first is that, to the best of my knowledge, the distinction between episcopacy and presbyterate that we recognise today wasn't so clear-cut in the apostolic era. St Paul, for example, writes only of bishops and deacons, even though we accept that the presbyterate is also an "apostolic" order. So were "presbyters" simply what we would recognise as "bishops" without authority over a local Church ("general bishops", "auxiliary bishops", "titular bishops", etc. are still bishops, after all)? I'm not certain that the distinctions we recognise today applied back then, so if anyone was ordained by St Thomas who wasn't a deacon, such a person would've been ordained as what we recognise as a bishop: someone with pastoral authority over a local Church with the ability to ordain ministers for his own Church, including successors.
This is a fair point, but not entirely unassailable. St. Mark, for example, is said to have ordained (on the same occasion) his successor Pope St. Anianus as ἐπίσκοπος (with the power to ordain) along with three priests (without said power) and seven deacons. I'm not saying that this totally invalidates your assertion that the lines between bishops and priests were not as hard and fast in the first century as they are today, but merely stating that the distinction was made at least in the Alexandrian context. I think the key, as you've pointed out, is did St. Thomas ordain someone (or a group of people) who were empowered to ordain others, including successors.
The weight of the historical, patristic, and liturgical texts which touch upon St Thomas indicate that he did in fact ordain successors: why would he be the only one of twelve to spread the Gospel but not establish communities in the same pattern as the others? Why would eleven apostles establish what we recognise as Orthodox Churches and the twelfth settled for what we might call "Prayer Fellowships", "Tabernacles of Praise", etc., or Orthodox Churches that, since the leaders could not ordain successors, were destined to become like the "priestless Old Believers"?
This is a very fair point, and I agree, but, the possibility also exists that St. Thomas did establish such communities, complete with episcopal overseers, and that for whatever reason these did not endure and consequently these communities became dependant upon other sees. For example, according to his hagiography, St. Matthew established a church in Ethiopia, and, before he was martyred by a local king (whose name is Romanized as "Fulvian" in the hagiography) he ordained a successor: St. Platon. Upon St. Matthew's death, St. Platon became the bishop of Ethiopia. Then, a repentant Fulvian, absolved by the hand of St. Platon, renouncing his royal throne and taking the baptismal name of Matthew, became a celibate priest and, upon St. Platon's death, the third bishop of Ethiopia. For whatever reason, however, this line did not endure, and the Ethiopian Patriarchs of today sit on the throne of St. Tekla Haymanote, having never asserted that they sit upon the Throne of St. Matthew the Apostle.
Some argue that this is because this story took place not in Ethiopia proper (i.e. Abyssinia), but in Nubia (since the term Ethiopia was broadly applied to several African and Asiatic nations by the Graeco-Roman cultures) but even then, as with Ethiopia proper (i.e. Abyssinia) Nubia also became dependant upon Alexandria and never claimed succession from St. Matthew, St. Platon, and St. Matthew-Fulvian. As with the situation you're describing in India, the reasons as to why have been lost in the mists of time. I'm very curious as to why India eventually became dependant upon the Catholicos of the East in Persia when it had its own Apostle and, according to what you've posted here (which I don't discount) its own bishops to succeed him. (I'd also love to know why no enduring Throne of St. Matthew ever appeared in any of the "Ethiopias", and why they all became dependant upon the Throne of St. Mark for so many centuries, but that's another discussion.)
This leads to some interesting questions in itself:
Let's say for the sake of argument that at some point the line of St. Thomas was lost to the ages as was the line of St. Matthew in Ethiopia. Would it be possible for a modern bishop to claim the title anyway and "reconstitute" or "revitalize" the line of St. Thomas? In other words, to claim the title despite his own succession coming from Antioch as with the modern bishops of India?
Do any of the bishops of India today - in any faction - claim that their succession comes from St. Thomas and not from Antioch?
It is true that, AFAIK, there is no list of names, but there are a few possibilities as to why such things have not survived to this day. More below...
The "more below" is readily acknowledged and highly probable, especially the part about the brutality and destructiveness of what might be termed the Portuguese "inquisition" in India. Fair point indeed. If such records did exist, it is highly probable that they were destroyed by the Western wolves, who similarly destroyed many Orthodox manuscripts during their incursion into Ethiopia in an attempt to separate the Ethiopian Church from their Orthodoxy and force her under Rome.
The second reason why I think St Thomas actually ordained bishops is that there is an undisputed tradition that St Thomas "built" seven churches in Kerala. Much of the hagiography makes a point of the fact that he was a carpenter, that he was skilled, that he was commissioned by kings to build palaces but built churches instead (which became, for the king, a palace in heaven), etc. And we know the churches he built because they exist to this day: not that the original structures are still standing 1,900 years later, but newer structures were built on the same foundation/spot as the original churches. There has been an unbroken Christian presence in those places from the time of St Thomas. It makes no sense for him to have preached, baptised, and even gone through the trouble of building actual church buildings (however complex or primitive they might have been) but not ordain bishops who would carry on the work after him. Even if he didn't actually build the buildings, it is still clear that his reputation as a carpenter is being applied to his establishment of Churches (communities) in particular places, which have names (which we do know). He would've ordained bishops for these communities in the twenty years during which he evangelised India.
Again, a very fair point. Excellent.
I would say that a മൂപ്പൻ (mooppan) was more like an ethnarch: the head of a particular race or tribe.
Not to be confused with the Moops who once ruled Spain.
There, I got that out of the way and preemptively derailed the dicussion before anyone else could. You know, like a controlled burn in forest management.
Since the Christians in pre-Portuguese days were basically one community, they were regarded more or less like a caste. Due to the links between the Church in India and the East Syrian Church which would develop a few centuries after St Thomas' mission, links which brought the Church in India more in line with what we would recognise as regular ecclesiastical order, the leader of the community could very well have been an archdeacon. The order of deacons has always been closely linked to the bishop, and the archdeacon in particular was the right hand of the bishop. Syriac tradition allows for both deacons and priests to be elevated to the archdiaconate, and so this is one way that the leadership of the local Church in India in later centuries may have been independent in an administrative sense while being dependent on bishops from the neighbouring Church for those things which require the specific "powers" of a bishop (e.g., ordinations, chrism)...appointing a priest as archdeacon would also link that person closely with the bishop offering spiritual care.
This is fascinating. So you're saying that due to the unique circumstances in India (i.e. the caste system, endogamous groups, connections to the East Syriac Church, et cetera) that the office of the mooppan developed. He was at once a bishop/ethnarch (though not precisely in the same sense as the Eastern Orthodox ethnarchs during the Ottoman period) and an archdeacon, with the power to ordain priests, et cetera. It also leads to some additional questions (which may not be answerable due to paucity of records):
Did the Indian Church have a synod during this period?
If not, did it send bishops to participate in the synod of the East Syriac Church in Persia?
Were the mooppans regarded as bishops outside of India?
For that matter, was there a distinction in India between mooppans and bishops, or were they not seen as being distinct offices?
If the mooppans had the power to ordain, how did India become dependant upon the Catholicos of the East prior to the Portuguese invasion?
The term "Throne of St Thomas", as used in the 20th century, has a very distinct trajectory: it has precedent in history (if it did not, it would be manifestly foolish, as it is when Eastern Catholic and Protestant groups less than two hundred years old try to use it), but its recent history is inextricably linked to the internal dispute in the Orthodox Church between "autocephalous" and "autonomous" factions.
With one using it as a means to assert independence against Antioch and the other denying its existince to thwart the former, yes? Or is this incorrect?
I'm sure you can see how this can all be confusing for an outsider trying to get a clear picture here. There seems to be (possibly) three Orthodox lines of succession operating in the same Church in the same small region:
West Syrian (Antioch)
East Syrian (Seleucia-Ctesiphon/Church of the East - not to be confused with the Nestorian Church of the East in the same region)
Throne of St. Thomas
A bit hard to keep track of, especially when you've got manuscripts rotting in the humidity and the mad-dog Portuguese burning everything in sight and drowning bishops at sea.
You might find this timeline somewhat helpful and definitely interesting. It doesn't address certain questions, of course, but it's worth a good look.
Thanks. It was very interesting. It did mention the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410, but did not specify if India sent a bishop to participate.
Also, I'm hoping you'll explain this bit for me, related to the discussion of mooppans and bishops above:
The Christian community in Malabar eventually developed a model of self-governance under a native leader, who was known as the Archdeacon. The Archdeacon was the religious, social, communal and political leader of the St. Thomas Christians. All the Archdeacons we know of were also priests. In later centuries, the community is described as a 'Christian Republic'. The bishops for the most part exercised the power of order only.
What does the bolded bit - "power of order only" - mean regarding Indian bishops of the period?
Mor, do you know of anywhere I could read more about the history of Western Christianity colonizing Indian Christianity that doesn't favor the former?
One very good book (though somewhat biased) is The Indian Christians of St. Thomas
by Leslie Brown, a bishop and Oxford academic of the COE.