Call Number : RR-232

Letter of Mar Dionysius I (1759-1809)


Pope Pius VI

(Preserved Archive Copy)

Letter of Mar Dionysius I (1759-1809) to Pope Pius VI, Ernakulam MAP Syr 7, f. 516v-517r.

On the left: the Syriac text;
on the right: the Malayalam Garshuni text.

A detail from the Syriac version of the letter of Mor Dionysius I (Mar Thoma VI) to Pope Pius VI (1778 AD)

• “After the fact that they behaved despitefully and jeopardised this plan, I asked the illustrious Joseph Kariatty, from Alangad, student in the school for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, apostolic preacher in India, in my heart, in many tears and in distress <…> the Saviour may grant that I end my erring. When he saw my compunction, <…> he was inflamed by my tears, and he promised in truth <…> that “I will go to Rome and nothing happens to me on the way and I will be anxious about presenting your supplication before the feet of our Lord, the holy Pope. For it has not been heard that the Church would abandon a penitent man.” Therefore I trusted his great love <…> because he took my cause upon his shoulders in order to bring it to Rome upon my behalf…”

A detail from the Malayalam version of the letter of Mor Dionysius I (Mar Thoma VI) to Pope Pius VI (1778 AD)

• Because of these high priests and their padri’s many scandals, divisions and defections are caused among the faithful in Malabar. That is to say, the matter that one bishop binds, the other bishop unbinds; and what one bishop unbinds, the other bishop binds again. God alone knows the conditions of their acts. I very much hesitate to report all this to your Lordship.

• For this reason myself and the priests who are in the Holy Church in Malabar are describing our petitions and grievances, in order to bring them, by the grace of the almighty God, to your Throne. We are sending the venerable Kariyattil Yausep Kattanar and Paramakka Thomman Kattanar to your holy Throne, in order to have consolation and salvation by the graces that will be donated to us by your Petrine power….

• Since we, who are living under the pagan kings, are poor, it is by many of us together, meeting their expenditures, that we are sending these two people to your Lordship. Because of this, I, Metropolitan Dionysius, request from your Holiness what the priests who are sent are requesting from your Throne. (translated by Fr George Kurukkoor)

•Interestingly, the alleged Syriac translation of the letter does not correspond to its original Malayalam text. According to our reconstruction, Mor Dionysius wrote the original in order to offer a deal to the Pope: if the latter accepts that Mor Dionysius becomes the unique head (Metropolitan) of the Saint Thomas Christians of Malabar, Mor Dionysius would be ready to join the Catholic Church, together with his people, consisting of 50,000 faithful. For this reason he is sending the two priests, Joseph Kariattil and Thomas Paramakkal, to Rome. However, when Joseph Kariattil translated the letter into Syriac, he gave it a twist. He eliminated Mor Dionysius’ claim for the headship but enhanced his own role as being the only possible mediator acceptable for all the parties. Moreover, he was keen on transforming the original letter’s content so that it becomes perfectly conform with the official Catholic theology, something completely ignored by Mor Dionysius.

•At the end of the day Joseph Kariattil came back to Malabar, consecrated Metropolitan of all the Christians in Lisbon. However, he died in mysterious conditions in Goa, before reaching his people and accomplishing his mission. The Saint Thomas Christian tradition holds that he was poisoned by the Portuguese.

Keywords - Letter of Mar Dionysius , Pope Pius VI, Joseph Kariatty

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