Christianity in India
Christianity is the religion of the followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity has the largest adherents all over the world numbering more than 1.5 billion.
Jesus Christ was born as a Jew in Bethlehem in 4 BC. He was believed to have possessed supernatural powers. He began travelling widely and preaching to people in various towns. Alarmed by the growing popularity of Jesus Christ and his preaching, some Jewish priests conspired to kill him and succeeded in having him crucified. On the third day after his Crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. He lived on earth for another 40 days and then ascended to heaven.
The incidents preceding and succeeding his birth matched the prophesies of the Old Testament, according to which, the son of God would be born on the earth to rid humanity of its sins. The followers of Jesus formed a new faith, which was named as Christianity (after Christ) and its followers, Christians.
Fundamental principles of Christianity
Christians are monotheists and insist that the originator and preserver of creation is one but is represented in the Holy Trinity, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christians see God as the Lord of Israel and the father of the divine and human figure of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, was the eternal word of God who assumed human form to serve humanity and to rescue the human beings. Jesus Christ suffered and died to redeem mankind from sin. Christians also believe that Jesus Christ now sits at the right hand of God as the final judge of the dead, and that He will return again as prophesised.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ chose 12 learned men as messengers and directed them to spread his teachings and guide the populace. The 12 apostles are Peter (Simon); his brother Andrew; James; and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, the sons of Zebedee; Thomas and Matthew; James, son of Alphaaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Patriot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ.
The holy book of the Christians is the Bible. The Bible contains a collection of writings dating from 9 BC to 1 AD written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and English. The Bible is divided into the Old Testament with 46 books and the New Testament with 27. The Old Testament is a Hebrew text, sacred to both the Jews and Christians and contains information about the creation of the world. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which form the centre of Christian belief, are recorded in the New Testament.
Christianity became the formal religion of the Roman Empire after Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, converted to Christianity in 313 AD. The religion was known as Catholic or universal, with the Roman Pope as its head. By 1054 AD many differences arose and the Church formally split into the Eastern Orthodox and the western Roman Catholic schools.
In the 15th century, a new school of philosophy began to question the supremacy of the Pope. In the 16th century Martin Luther advocated many reforms in the Church, which led to yet another split in the Christian community and the formation of Protestant churches across Northeast Europe. The Protestants disapproved of the authority of the Pope and advanced the cause of the Bible as the sole authority.
Christianity in India
By tradition, Christianity is said to have arrived in South India with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, at the Malabar Coast in 52 AD. He spent some years in South India and died near Madras. However, others believe that the first missionary to arrive in the country was Saint Bartholomew. Historically, Christian missionary activity started with the advent of St. Francis Xavier in 1544 AD.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Catholic as well as Protestant missionaries preached Christian doctrines in India and also made important contributions to social improvement and education in India.
The great period of expansion of Christianity in India began in 1858, when the British government took over rule in India from the East India Company. Christians from many countries came as missionaries.
At present Christians are scattered all across India but most of them are concentrated in the Northeast and in Kerala and other southern states. Today, there are 23 dioceses in India with 11 of them being located in Kerala.
The Syrian Church
- The Christians belonging to the Syrian Church are found in South India and claim an apostolic foundation for their Church.
- They believe that Christianity was introduced in India by St. Thomas in 52 AD at the Malabar Coast. He established seven Christian communities or churches in Kerala.
- The Malabar Church renounced the authority of the Pope and asserted its independence in 1653 AD. This is known in history as the ‘Coonen Cross Declaration’.
- The Christian communities then split into many groups – East Syrian Catholics, West Syrian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Jacobite Syrian Orthodox, Marthoma, Church of the East and the Latin Church.
- Today, the Chaldean Syrian Church is one of four archbishoprics in the Assyrian Church of the East, and has about 15,000 members in and around Thrissur City. Its cathedral is the Mart Mariam Cathedral, Thrissur City’s first Christian church.
The Roman Catholic Church
- With the arrival of the Portuguese to India, the visits of Roman Catholic Missions to India became more organised, and were initially concentrated to Goa, Cochin, Tuticorin and other coastal areas.
- Francis Xavier (1506-52 AD) became the first Jesuit missionary to arrive in India.
- In 1557 AD, Pope Paul IV declared Goa an archdiocese with its supremacy extending from the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to China, and all Christians, including the East Syrian Church, brought under its jurisdiction.
The Protestant Missions
- The first Protestant missionaries, German Lutherans, came to India in 1706 AD at Tranquebar, near Tiruchinapally, under the protection of the King of Denmark.
- By the 19th century several other missions were established in different parts of South India.
The North Indian Church
Some consider that St. Thomas had travelled to North India and introduced Christianity. Others consider it to be the influence of merchants from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.
Under the influence of the Portuguese, several missionaries began to visit North India between 16th-18th Centuries. The Jesuit missions were sent regularly to the Mughal Courts from the time of Akbar to that of Aurangzeb.
William Carey arrived in India in 1793 AD. Carey’s pioneering work in Bible translation, primary education and journalism had a profound influence in Bengal and other parts of India. Numerous other missionaries began visiting India after the passing of Charter Acts by the British Parliament in 1813 and 1833 AD.