Arabia, Church of

Arabia, Church Of.

The Apostle Paul, on his conversion, retired into Arabia for some two years (Ga 1:24), but whether this time was spent in preaching or in private exercises is doubtful; nor is there any authentic record of the fruits of his labors if expended there. Several other apostles, as Peter, Thomas, Bartholomew, Judas Thaddaeus, are mentioned by tradition as having preached there (see Wiltsch, 1:21 sq.). It is certain that Arabia received Christianity early. According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 6, 19), an Arab ruler sent to Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, in the beginning of the 3d century, asking for Origen as a teacher. Between 247 and 250 a synod was held, under the presidency of Origen, for the condemnation of a certain heresy. Arabia was originally a province of the patriarchate of Antioch, having Bostra for its metropolitan see; but it was separated from the Oriental diocese and added to that of Jerusalem, according to William of Tyre (De Bello Sacro, 14:14), in the 5th (Ecumenical Council. Metropolitans of Bostra, and bishops of Philadelphia and Esbus are still mentioned about the middle of the seventh century. The conversion of a Himyarite king occurred in the fourth century, and that of two kings of Hira in the sixth century. Among the Saracens and Bedouins numerous conversions took place in the fifth century. Several important bodies, as the Bahrites, Taunchites, Taglebites, and others were entirely Christian, and Cosmas Indicopleustes reported in the sixth century that he found everywhere in Arabia Christian churches. Both Nestorianism and Monophysitism found numerous adherents in Arabia; the former principally in the north and north-west, the latter in the south. The Jacobites of Arabia have been under the rule of the Maphrians since the time of the Maphrian Marutas, i.e. since about 629, and contained two bishoprics, viz.: one of Arabia, so called, of which the see was at Akula; the other of the Taalabensian Scenite Arabians, of which the see was at Hirta Naamanis. But Christianity in Arabia was nearly, if not quite, destroyed by Mohammedanism; nor has it risen since in that country to any extent. The only place where it has gained a firm footing is Aden, which, in 1839, was ceded to the English. Here both a Protestant and a Roman Catholic congregation has been collected; the membership of the latter is given by the missionaries as about 1000 (Schem, Ecclesiastical Year-book for 1859, p. 18, 19). In fact, Christianity in Arabia had become very early corrupted by an admixture of Sabaean idolatry and Persian dualism, so that Origen, in the middle of the 3d century, declared Arabia to be a "country most fruitful in heresy." The tribes which professed Christianity when Mohammed first began to promulgate Islamism appear to have paid as much attention to rabbinical legends and monkish fables as to the Scriptures. It is indeed pretty certain that the Koran contains a tolerably fair representation of the religious belief of the Arabian Christians in Mohammed's age, and from this it appears that the idle stories in the apocryphal gospels were received with as much reverence as the books of the evangelists; it is even doubtful whether they possessed any translation of the canonical books of the Bible, and this may serve to explain the facility with which they received the creed of Mohammed. — Wiltsch, Handbook of the Geogr. and Statistics of the Church, transl. by Leitsch (Lond. 1859, vol. 1, 8vo). SEE MOHAMMED.

 
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