Syrian Churches

Christianity was established in Syria by the end of the second century; legend links it with Jesus Himself. Its gospel was the Diatessaron of Tatian. Its mode of life included a strong emphasis upon celibacy and asceticism. Its great teachers were Afrahat and Ephraem,* its centers Edessa and Nisibis. The doctrinal division of the church after the Council of Chalcedon* (451) left its mark very clearly upon Syrian Christianity, and the number of Syrian churches still witnesses to this. Already after the Council of Ephesus* (431) the Syrian churches of East Syria and Persia adhered to the teaching of Nestorius (see Nestorianism).

The Nestorian Church flourished, was tolerated under Islam, conducted missions in central Asia, and reached China in the seventh century. From the thirteenth century, Roman Catholic overtures were made, and some part became Roman Catholic. Both churches still survive, mainly in Iraq, after dreadful persecution in the early twentieth century. Most Christians in W Syria followed the Monophysite teaching after 451 (see Monophysitism); due to the organization by Jacob Baradaeus they prospered, being called Jacobites* after him. They flourished, adopted Arabic at length as their language, and are found in great numbers in the Near East. The links of some of them with Rome date from the seventeenth century. In South India (Malabar*) are Christians using Syriac in liturgy. These are no doubt the result of Jacobite or earlier missionary endeavor. After 451 the few who remained Orthodox were called Melkites*: these too survive in small numbers, some in communion with Rome. A small Syrian group adhered to the Monothelite* formula of reunion after it had been condemned in 680; centered around the shrine of St. Maro, they are called Maronites.* They became reunited with Rome in the twelfth and fifteenth centuries and are centered in Lebanon.

F.C. Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity (1904); D. Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East (2 vols., 2nd ed., 1961); B. Spuler, Die morgenlaendischen Kirchen (1964).