Clarifications Regarding the Chaldean Patriarchal Seal!

The Chaldean Patriarchal Seal was a brass device commonly used by prelates of the Chaldean Catholic Church to officiate ecclesiastical and diplomatic documents during the Ottoman Empire. The seal depicts an East-Syriac inscription which reads Mḥēlā Shemʿōn, Paṭriarʿka d’Kaldāyē (lit. Humbled Shemʿōn, Patriarch of the Chaldeans). The seal-making device is impressed directly onto either a sealing wax or ink then pressed onto a document thus resulting in a relief reproducing the said inscription.

In recent years, the Patriarchal Seal has been the subject of much controversy with some authors speculating that the device is an evident indication that the name Chaldean held national implications among prelates of both the Church of the East (so-called “Nestorian”) and its Catholic off-shoot— the "Chaldean" Catholic Church.

This notion, as controversial as it may be, is challenged due to conflicting historical narratives.

Nineteenth-Century Account
In the Nestorians and their Rituals (1852), George Percy Badger, an Orientalist who made a career as a delegate to the Christians of the Church of the East points out “It is true indeed, that the present Mār Shemʿōn (Mār Shemʿōn XVII Abraham, Patriarch of the Church of the East) styles himself in his official documents ‘Patriarch of the East,’ and ‘Patriarch of the Chaldeans.’” However [emphasises Badger], the latter title, he or his predecessors assumed “to put themselves on an equality with the Patriarchs of the plains, after they had joined the Church of Rome and taken that appellation, and as a stratagem to repel the name of ‘Nestorians,' which then more especially began to be regarded as a reproachful epithet through the aspersions cast upon it by the Latin missionaries.”

Shemʿōn, "Patriarch of the Chaldeans"
Historically, the venerated name Shemʿōn (lit. Simon), honouring Saint Peter, was assumed by various prelates of the Church of the East throughout its long history as their Patriarchal name. The earliest reference can be traced to the fourth-century CE— Mār Shemʿōn Bar Sabbaʿe, Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. It wasn't until the schism of 1552 that a Catholic prelate, Mār Yōḥannān Sulaqa (d’Bēth Bello), and his successors would too assume the venerated name Shemʿōn in an effort to assert their legitimacy. It was in this context that the Mār Sulaqa branch of Catholic patriarchs bore the title Simeonem Chaldaeorum Patriarcham (lit. Shemʿōn, Patriarch of the Chaldeans) in their official documents. This would suggest that the Patriarchal Seal's provenance may in fact be traced to the late Middle Ages and specifically to the schism of 1552. For a detailed research article regarding the origin and usage of the name "Chaldean", please click here.

Catholic Protectorate in the Ottoman Empire and French Imperial Interests
In an agreement concluded between the kings of France and the Ottoman sultans, the French Government established a 'Catholic Protectorate' during the sixteenth-century which rendered immense services to Catholic communities throughout the Ottoman Empire including to converts from the Church of the East. The Roman Catholic Church was the most authoritative body vying for supremacy in the region. Its presence served two purposes; first, to convert the Nestorians by any means, including bribery and preferential treatment for converts, as seen in the relatively poor treatment of the local Nestorians and Jacobites; and second, the Catholic missionaries endeavoured to further French imperial interests in the region in order to offset growing British authority. In a less-than-cordial reaction of the Patriarch of the Church of the East, Mār Shemʿōn XVII Abraham, to a bribe and promise to make him head of all Christians of the East should be embrace Catholicism "tell your master that I shall never become a Catholic."

With the incontrovertible evidences at hand, we can safely venture to state that politically charged statements suggesting that prelates of the Church of the East employed the Chaldean Patriarchal Seal to assert their Chaldean national identity must be rejected. Furthermore, Badger, having analysed and documented the East-Syriac community of Northern Mesopotamia in great detail explains that the seal was employed as a stratagem to repel the name of ‘Nestorians.


Popular Posts