Chaldean or Assyrian Catholics?

Fabricating Identity: Conflicting Historical Narratives in the New Chaldean Question

The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the longest enduring institutions in the world and its historical character is pivotal to its sacred identity. Sustaining full communion with the Holy See, the Chaldean uniate traces its antiquity and vernacular liturgy to one of the earliest Eastern Rites which arose during the Apostolic era. At present, the Chaldean Patriarchate has been the focus of momentous political discussion and controversy. In the summer of 2015, the Chaldean League was forged with the objective of propagating contemporary Chaldean identity, culture, and heritage. Nonetheless, the concept of a distinct Chaldean identity is complex as the chronology of the Chaldean uniate is challenged by conflicting historical narratives.

The concept of nationalism or national consciousness throughout the Ottoman Empire was highly discouraged. Non-Islamic confessional communities throughout the imperial realm employed denominational titles and or linguistic identities which in turn personified the respective populaces. In an effort to regulate the diverse confessional bodies within it's realm, Ottoman sovereigns introduced the millet system warranting respective millets the right to civic emancipation, a degree of autonomy, and inclusion within the imperial census. Indeed, the concept of the millet system initially denoted that of a confessional community. As a result of semantic change, by the dawn of the nineteenth century CE— the etymology defined that of nation. [1]

Having dissolved all ecclesiastical association with the so-called Nestorian Church or Church of the East— the newly emergent uniate styling itself 'Chaldean' would come to acquire an Ottoman mandate or millet recognising it's community with the misnomer in c. 1845 CE. Acclaimed scholar George Percy Badger informs us: "The community styling themselves 'Chaldean,' had not been recognized by the Ottoman Porte. This was the first recognition by the Ottoman Porte of the new community." [2] In the literary publication entitled Lectures on Foreign Churches, John Wilson argues: "The title which the Pope has given to them of 'Chaldean Christians,' they have no exclusive claim, not such a strong claim, indeed." [3] It is noteworthy, the term 'Chaldean' was unknown by the Sublime Porte. In fact, it was not common practice amongst the Catholic proselytes to self identify as such prior to this epoch— Badger asserts: "They call themselves Soorâyé, Nestorayé, and sometimes Christiané and Meshihâyé, but never Chaldâyé or Chaldani."

Learned men adhering to the Chaldean uniate, for instance the celebrated archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam, political envoy Yūsuf Malik, and scholar Hirmis Aboona thus acknowledged the Assyrian heritage of the proselyted community. Rassam informs us: "Another fact connected with the nationality of the Chaldeans which goes far to show they are as much entitled to Assyrian descent." [4] Malik maintains: "The term, 'Chaldean' was originally given to the members of the Church of the East. No one can coherently understand the Assyrians as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church from that which is nation.” [5] Having mastered his doctorate in historiography from the University of Exeter, Aboona asserts: “Those who had been won over to Rome were constituted as a new entity known as Chaldean Catholics. This shattered the unity of the Assyrian community.” [6]

Translation: "Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians at the Sacred Ecumenical Council of Trent. Approval, and profession, and letters of Cardinal Marco Antonio Da Mula, ambassador to the Holy Council of Trent. 1562." - Abdisu IV Maron and Cardinal Marco Antonio Da Mula, R.D. Patriarchae Orientalium Assyriorum De Sacro Oecumenico Tridentini Concilio, 1562 CE *

Translation: "Concerning the Patriarch of the Eastern Church of the Assyrians. Chapter 26. The Patriarch of the Assyrians swears obedience to the Roman Pontiff, especially about the cult images; from Onuphrius. It is our intention to prove that there were Assyrian observers of the cross too at this time, it is under Julius III... Once Simon Mama, the Metropolitan of all East across the Euphrates to the Indians was dead, the Church of Eastern Assyria had elected Simon Sulaka as Patriarch, a man distinguished for his Catholic faith, and had sent him to Rome for confirmation." - Roman Catholic Canon Lawyer, Bishop, and Author Simeone Maiolo, Episcopi Vvltvrariensis Historiarvm Totivs Orbis, 1585 CE **

Translation: "You have a Latin narration commended by Pope Pius IV unto the Council of Trent, concerning Abdisu Patriarch of the Assyrians, and all Churches under him, subjecting themselves to the Church and Pope of Rome. Our intended brevity will not permit the Repetition of so large a narration. Take unto you summarily those advertisements, which are proper to this cause in hand. It gives us to know, that the nation of the Assyrians was so far remote from Rome, that at Rome it was scarce known that there was any Church there." - Morton Thomas, The Grand Imposture of the (now) Church of Rome, 1628 CE

Translation: "Georgio Ebedjesu Khayyath, Assyrian-Chaldean Archbishop of Amadiyah." - Nestoriani Et Romanorum Pontificum Primatus, 1870 CE

Translation: "Documentation of relations between the Assyrians of the Eastern or Chaldean Church." - Roman Catholic Cardinal Niccolò Marini, Bessarione, 1896 CE

"Name and Territory of Chaldeans- Strictly, the name of Chaldeans is no longer correct; in Chaldea proper, apart from Bagdad, there are no very few adherents of this rite, most of the Chaldean population being found in the cities of Kerkuk, Arbil, and Mosul, in the heart of the Tigris valley, in the valley of the Zab, and in the mountains of Kurdistan. It is in the former ecclesiastical province of Atōr (Assyria) that are no found the most flourishing of the Catholic Chaldean communities. The native population accepts the name of Atōraya-Kaldaya (Assyro-Chaldeans), while in the neo-Syriac vernacular Christians generally are known as Syrians."
- Charles George Herbermann et al., The Catholic Encyclopedia vol 3 (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1907), 559.

The late Chaldean Catholic philosopher, theologist, and Patriarch Raphaël I Bidawid informs us: “When a portion of the Church of the East became Catholic, the name given was ‘Chaldean,’... We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion... I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian.” [7] Bidawid's successor, Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako whom in his historical anthology entitled The Chaldean Church: Story of Survival maintains: "Technically, the term 'Chaldean' was first used in the 15th century to describe those East Syriac Christians in Cyprus who came into union with the Roman Catholic Church. While in earlier centuries simply the term 'Catholic' was preferred, Later on 'Chaldean' came into common usage and became official only after 1828." [8]

[1] Christoph Marcinkowski, The Islamic World and the West: Managing Religious and Cultural Identities in the Age of Globalisation (Transaction Publishers, 2009) 114.
[2] George Percy Badger, The Nestorians and Their Rituals Vol. 1 (London: Joseph Masters, 1852) 169, 171, 179.
[3] John Wilson, Lectures on Foreign Churches: Second series (W.P. Kennedy, 1846) 68.
[4] Faith and Thought: Journal of the Victoria Institute, Vol. 30 (Victoria Institute, 1898) 48.
[5] Yūsuf Malik, The British Betrayal of the Assyrians (Assyrian National Federation and the Assyrian National League of America, 1935) 65.
[6] Hirmis Aboona, Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: Intercommunal Relations on the Periphery of the Ottoman Empire (New York: Cambria Press, 2008) 82.
[7] Simo Parpola, National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times (University of Helsinki, 2004) 22.
[8] Louis Raphaël I Sako, The Chaldean Church: Story of Survival, (2013), <>, accessed 31 08. 2016.

*Abdisu IV Maron, second Patriarch of what was to become the Chaldean Catholic Church bore the title of 'Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians.'
** Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa, first Patriarch of what was to become the Chaldean Catholic Church bore the title of 'Patriarch of the Assyrians.'

Learn More:
  1. (English) Click here to learn about the history and identity of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
  2. (Arabic) .انقر هنا للتعرف على تاريخ وهوية الكنيسة الكلدانية الكاثوليكية
  3. (English/ Arabic) Historical Documents الوثائق التاريخية


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