Thursday, June 20, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember a watershed moment in the history of the church in India: the Synod of Diamper.

It is the 20th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


In the aftermath of the Reformations of the 16th century one of the goals for the established churches was consolidation.

Sure, there hadn’t been much unity in the late Medieval church, but at least there was in the name- authorities existed, at least nominally. With the split, various church bodies attempted to find unity and size however possible- the new Protestants would attempt to carve out an identity by way of theological confession, whereas the older Roman church would seek out, at the very least, administrative control of a quickly splintering global church.

Amongst the Roman Catholics, the clearest example of 16th-century consolidation took place with the Council of Trent- a wholly Western Catholic council- it set the stage for the rejuvenated church post-Reformation and with a view toward the globalization of the faith.

It was the Roman Catholic missionaries- Jesuits, Franciscans, and the like who had spent the Reformation century seeking out converts in newly opened foreign lands from the Americas to the Far East.

One group that intrigued Catholics and Protestants alike was the Christians to the east- the so-called “St. Thomas” Christians on the Indian subcontinent recently “discovered” by the Portuguese.

Rumor had it that there were Christians to the east and that these would eventually unite with the West to overthrow the Muslim threat- a union with these Christians would be paramount to the church’s future.

And so it was the Roman Catholic Church, with its affinity for bureaucratic decisions that attempted to reconcile the churches via a synod- the Synod of Diamper that was convened on this, the 20th of June in 1599.

“Synod” is Greek for “meeting,” and “Diamper” is nothing but an anglicized version of Udayamperoor- the Indian location for the meeting.

The Roman Catholic church had established relations with the Indian church via the Portuguese explorers, and at first, the explorers and the church were keen on having found Christians so far East. But these Indian Christians had a long tradition of following the Chaldean/Syriac rite- that is, their worship followed the earlier traditions of the church out of Jerusalem and Antioch. These Christians were neither Catholic nor Orthodox but an ancient third thing- they followed the tradition of the Oriental Orthodox that split from the rest of the church centuries ago over a dispute regarding the two natures of Christ.

The party line in the west is that these “Oriental” Orthodox were Nestorians- that is, that they taught that Jesus had only one nature. Please hold your horses here as it is not as nefarious as made out to be: the Oriental Orthodox, including the so-called Nestorians believe Jesus to be both human and divine, but this mixture takes place in one, not two natures.

Alexis De Menezes of Goa- the Portuguese Archbishop, came to India in January of 1599. The Indian Bishop, Mar Abraham (Mar means “saint”), had died two years prior, and a bishop, George of the Cross, had assumed control of the church. But Menezes went on an ordination spree, making many Indian priests who would side with him. With formidable backing Menezes and the Catholic Church called the Synod of Diamper to open on this, the 20th of June in 1599.

The Decision of the Synod was to break from the Chaldean and Oriental Orthodox traditions and to place the Thomas Christians under the rule of the Portuguese- their leaders would no longer be native but Portuguese and Catholic.

The telling of this story by the Catholic Church was a triumph of Western Christology, with the Indian “Nestorians” brought back into the fold of the church. From the Indian perspective, this was a kind of Christian colonization that brought division to the Indian church, with some following the Catholic rites while others remaining with the traditional liturgy. For some, this is part of the story of a global Christianity in the modern age, whereas for others, this is part of the story of a “flattening” of indigenous culture and practice in favor of a uniform Catholic monoculture.

Regardless, it was a major movement in the wake of the Reformation in uniting (and dividing) the global church outside of the West- it was the Synod of Diamper which convened on this day 425 years ago today in 1599.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary- a note that the reading from Acts 20 gives us a warning about falling asleep in church, but I will read from Psalm 107 and the Scottish Metrical Psalter:

1  Praise God, for he is good: for still

       his mercies lasting be.

 2  Let God's redeemed say so, whom he

       from th' en'my's hand did free; 

 3  And gathered them out of the lands,

       from north, south, east, and west.

 4  They strayed in desert's pathless way,

       no city found to rest.

 5  For thirst and hunger in them faints

 6     their soul. When straits them press,

    They cry unto the Lord, and he

       them frees from their distress.

 7  Them also in a way to walk

       that right is he did guide,

    That they might to a city go,

       wherein they might abide.

 8  O that men to the Lord would give

       praise for his goodness then,

    And for his works of wonder done

       unto the sons of men!



This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who knows that while “oriental” is not a preferred nomenclature- the ancient orthodox movement is cool with it- he is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who could not do this show without thinking of former Pacer and Mav Eric Dampier- I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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