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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Catholicos (plural Catholicoi) is a title given to the head bishop of an autonomous region under the Patriarchate of Antioch in the ancient Syriac Orthodox Church. A Catholicos in all respects is equivalent to a Patriarch in powers, but, in precedence, defers to the Patriarch of Antioch. The word 'Catholicos' is a transliteration of the Greek καθολικός, pl. καθολικοί , meaning concerning the whole, universal or general.

There existed 4 Catholicoi in the ancient church:

  • Catholicos of the East in Persia/India
  • Catholicos of Etchmiadzin in Armenia
  • Catholicos of Iberia in Georgia
  • Catholicos of Caucasian Albania in Azerbaijan

All these 4 ancient catholicates were independent Autocephalous provinces under the Papal supervision of the Patriarch of Antioch prior to the creation of the Catholicos.

A Catholicate or Catholicosate (at times spelt as catholicossate) is the area of responsibility (territorial or otherwise) of the catholicos, considered a leader within any of the several churches of Eastern Christianity, especially those regarded as Oriental Orthodoxy.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches not of Byzantine Rite, Catholicos is equivalent to a Major Archbishop.[1]


Origin of the title

The title arose in the Patrarichate of Antioch sometime after the division of jurisdiction of provinces among the three Churches in the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, that with canon six confirmed the traditional jurisdition of the Church of Antioch.[2] History shows that catholicoi were created mainly to rule Eastern provinces that formed outside the Roman Empire which was part of patrarichate of Antioch as per the custom of ancient church.

The term 'Catholicos' first seems to have been applied to the churches in the Persian Empire, where it was believed that the holder was the successor of the Apostle Thomas. The first claim that the bishop of Selucia-Ctesiphon was superior to the other bishoprics and had (using a later term) patriarchal rights was made by Patriarch Papa bar Gaggai (or Aggai, c. 317-c. 329). In the 4th century this claim strengthened, and Isaac (or Ishaq, 399-c.410), who organized the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, used the title of bishop of Selucia-Ctesiphon, Catholicos and Head over the bishops of all the Orient.[3]. This line of Catholicos gave origin to the Church of the East and used the East Syrian Rite.

Catholicoi of the East


Autocephalous Churches of East Syrian Rite

The following are autocephalous Churches of East Syrian Rite that claim succession to the Catholicos of the East of Selucia-Ctesiphon of the Church of the East. These Churches were named Nestorian in the West, though the Nestorian term was formally renounced in 1976 by Dinkha IV.

Eastern Catholic Churches of East Syrian Rite

The following are Eastern Catholic Churches of East Syrian Rite that claim succession to the Catholicos of the East of Selucia-Ctesiphon of the Church of the East:

Oriental Orthodox Church

In the 6th century, on initiative of Jacob Baradaeus, a hierarchy of the Syrian Orthodox was erected in the present Iraq to serve the Christians who were not passed under the Catholicate of the Church of the East. The main See was placed in Tikrit and the rite used was the one of Antioch, i.e. the West Syrian Rite. The first head of this hierarchy was the Great Metropolitan Ahudemeh (559-575). From the 7th century the title used was Maphrian (or Maphryono). In the 12th century the See was moved to Mosul and from the 13th century the title became Catholicos of the East. After the massacres of Tamerlane, the Maphrian was forced to leave Persia and this title was used for the general vicar, with nominal right of succession, of the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church[4].

In the 17th century many Christians of the Kerala region in India decided to leave the Church of Malabar—the local Church that had been connected to the Church of the East and that from the second half of 16th century was under the control of the Portuguese—and to pass under the hierarchy of the Syriac Orthodox Church.[citation needed] They left the East Syrian Rite to adopt the West Syrian Rite. The title of Catholicos of the East for an Indian hierarchy was used from the 20th century.[citation needed] The following heads of the Orthodox Church claim succession to the Catholicos of the East.

Eastern Catholic Church of the West Syriac Rite

Assyrian Churches

Assyrian Church of the East

Mar Dinkha IV is the current Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East. The Church is a Christian particular church and one of the oldest. It is a modern successor of the historical Church of the East, also known as the Persian Church, having emerged from a split with the Chaldean Church in the 16th century. It traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia, which tradition holds was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle (Tooma Shlikha) as well as Saint Mari and Saint Addai in AD 33 as asserted in the Doctrine of Addai.

It is one of the three Churches of the East that hold themselves distinct from Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxy. The church itself does not use the word "Orthodox" in any of its service books or in any of its official correspondence, nor does it use any word which can be translated as "correct faith" or "correct doctrine", the rough translation of the word Orthodox. The Holy, Apostolic and Catholic adjectives were officially added to the Assyrian Church of the East's title in part by the general agreement with the Nicene Creed which declares that "We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church." Holy as in set apart for a purely sacred purpose. Apostolic as in founded by one of Jesus's own apostles. Catholic as in catholicos, Greek for "universal" referring to a worldwide church. In India, it is more often called the Chaldean Syrian Church. In the West it is often called the Nestorian Church, due to its historical associations with Nestorianism, though the church itself considers the term pejorative and argues that this identification is incorrect. The church declares that no other church has suffered as many martyrdoms as the Assyrian Church of the East.[4]

The founders of Assyrian theology are Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who taught at Antioch. The normative Christology of the Assyrian church was written by Babai the Great (551–628) and is clearly distinct from the accusations directed toward Nestorius: his main christological work is called the 'Book of the Union', and in it Babai teaches that the two qnome (essences, or hypostases) are unmingled but everlastingly united in the one parsopa (personality) of Christ.

Chaldean Catholic Church

The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern particular church of the Catholic Church, maintaining full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Catholic Church. It is descended from historical Church of the East, and became independent following a split with the Assyrian Church of the east in the 16th century. The Chaldean Catholic Church presently comprises an estimated 2.5 million Chaldean Christians. They are ethnically Assyrian, sometimes known as Chaldo-Assyrian, indiginous people of Iraq and descended from the ancient Mesopotamians/Assyrians. They retain Aramaic as a native tongue.

Armenian Churches

Armenian Apostolic Church

Likewise, the head of One Holy Universal Apostolic Orthodox Armenian Church also bore the title Catholicos.

The Catholicos of Etchmiadzin presides over the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church and is the head of the world's 7 million Armenian Orthodox Christians.

  • Catholicos of Etchmiadzin (Chief Shepherd and Pontiff to all Armenians dispersed throughout the world[5]) of the Armenian Apostolic Church,
    • Karekin II is the current Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

There is a Catholicos residing in Antelias, Lebanon:

The primacy of honor of the Catholicossate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicossate of Cilicia.

There once was a Catholicos in Akhtamar, a position that has since been abolished:

Armenian Catholic Church

Catholicos of Iberia

The title of catholicos is also used in the Georgian Church, whose head carries the title Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

Catholicos of Caucasian Albania

Historically, the title of Catholicos was also used by the chief bishop of Caucasian Albania. With the Islamic invasion this church deteriorated and the provinces came under the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin.

See also


External links


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