Christians of St John

Christians Of St. John.

"In the middle of the 17th century certain Carmelite missionaries discovered a sect residing in the neighborhood of Basrah and Susa, calling themselves Nazoreans or Mendaeans, and called by the Mohammedans Sabians (Sabaei, a name taken probably from the Koran), to whom they gave the name of Johannites, or St. John Christians. Comp. Ignatii a Jesu narratio originis, rituum, et errorum Christianorum S. Johannis (Romans 1652, 8vo). One of their books has been published entire (Codex Nazaraeus, liber Adami appellatus, Syriace transcriptus latineque redditus a Matth. Norberg, 3 vols. Lend. 181516, 4to), and fragments of others, besides many accounts of travelers. In the Universal Encyclopaedia of Ersch und Gruber, Gesenius has given a general view of their system (art. Zabier), which he shows to be Gnostic-ascetic, and nearly related to that of Zoroaster, John being represented as an incarnated aeon. The language of their holy books is an Aramaean dialect intermediate between. Syriac and Chaldaic. They pretend to have come from the Jordan, and to have been driven thence by the Mohammedans. Some writers admit that they are really the descendants of John's disciples, or of John Baptist's. On the other side, see O. G. Tychsen in Deutschen Ziuseum, 1784, 2:414; Baumgarten Crusius, Bibl. Theol. p. 143." — Gieseler, Church History, 1, § 22; Mosheim, Commentaries (N. Y. 1851), 1:60 note; Neander, Church Histor (Torrey's), 1:376. SEE HEMERO-BAPTISTS; SEE MENDEANS; SEE SABIANS.

Christians of St. Thomas. This name is now applied only to a people residing on the Malabar coast, in the south of India. But in former centuries St. Thomas Christians were mentioned also in other Eastern countries; thus Cosmas Indicopleustes found them in Arabia before 535. The accounts of the Portuguese navigators, who first visited the Thomas Christians of India in the fifteenth century, represent them as professing to be descendants of the proselytes of the apostle Thomas, who is believed by some to have carried the Gospel into India. Other accounts represent them as the descendants of a colony of Nestorians. It seems most probable that they were originally an offshoot of the ancient Christian churches in Persia. In the sixth century they were in regular connection with the Nestorian Church of Western Asia. Under the patriarch Timotheus (778 to 820) they received a metropolitan, and thenceforth, also, their bishops were ordained by the Nestorian patriarch. The Indian princes conferred on them, especially at the beginning of the ninth century, many privileges, for which they were especially indebted to one Thomas Cananaius, also named Mar Thomas, who was probably not a bishop, but a rich and influential merchant. In consequence of the great increase of their number, they afterward formed an independent state, which, after the extinction of the royal line, fell by inheritance to the rulers of Cochin. They greatly suffered from the many contests of the Indian princes among each other, which the Mohammedans skillfully turned to their advantage. The St. Thomas Christians, therefore, offered, in 1502, the crown to Vasco de Gama. Their connection with the Nestorian patriarchate seems to have been early interrupted. Between 1120 and 1230 their ecclesiastical head, John, is said to have gone to Constantinople to ask for the episcopal consecration, and from there to Rome; later the church and the clergy became altogether extinct, so that only one deacon was left. Hence, in 1490, two delegates were sent to the Nestorian patriarch to ask for a bishop. The patriarch ordained the two delegates priests, and sent home with them two bishops, Thomas and John. John remained in India, but Thomas soon returned. Patriarch Elias († 1502) sent him again to India, with one metropolite Jaballaha, and two bishops, Jacobus and Denha. They reported that they found bishop John still alive, and 30,000 Christian families in twenty towns. Later Portuguese reports estimate the number of families at 16,000. On account of their poverty, and the oppression which they suffered from many sides, they invoked the protection of the Portuguese. The Portuguese protectorate was soon followed by the establishment of Jesuit missions among them. In 1599 the; archbishop of Goa prevailed upon them to submit to the pope, and to accept the decrees of the synod held by him at Diamper. Only a few congregations in the mountains kept aloof from this union. But in 1653 a large number of them broke off the connection with Rome, and established the independence of the Church. In 1889 the number of (non-united) Thomas Christians was estimated at 70,000; of those united with Rome, 150,000, of whom 96,000, with 97 churches, still follow their old Syrian rite, while the others have entirely identified themselves with the Latin rite. They are, under the British government, free from any ecclesiastical restraint, and form among themselves a kind of spiritual republic, under a bishop chosen by themselves, and in which the priests and elders administer justice, using excommunication as a means of punishment. They are said still to acknowledge dependence on the patriarch of Antioch. They call themselves Syrian Christians, or the Syrian Church of Malagala. They still celebrate the agapae; and their ideas respecting the Lord's Supper incline to those of the Protestants, but in preparing the bread they are said to use salt and oil. They anoint with oil the body of the infant at baptism. Their priests are distinguished by the tonsure, and are allowed to marry. Their churches contain, except the cross, no symbols or pictures. Syriac is the language employed in their liturgies and other church services, but the Scriptures are expounded in Malabar. See Herzog, Real-Encyklopädie, 10:279; Schem, Ecclesiastical Year-book for 1860. SEE NESTORIANS.

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