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Chaldean Catholic Church

Coat of arms of the Chaldean Patriarchate
Chaldean Catholic Church
Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ
Baghdad Cathedral 2016, Shorja, Iraq.jpg
ClassificationEastern Catholic
OrientationSyriac Christianity
TheologyCatholic theology
GovernanceHoly Synod of the Chaldean Church[2]
PatriarchLouis Raphaël I Sako
RegionIraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, with diaspora
LanguageLiturgical: Syriac[3]
LiturgyEast Syriac Rite
HeadquartersCathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows, Baghdad, Iraq
FounderPatriarch Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa but
Traces ultimate origins to Thomas the Apostle and the Apostolic Era through Addai and Mari
Origin1552 (1830)
Amid (Mosul), Ottoman Empire
AbsorbedChurch of the East (1552)
SeparationsAssyrian Church of the East (1692)
Members616,639 (2018)[4]
Other name(s)Church of Assyria and Mosul
Chaldean Patriarchate
A historic church and community center built in Chaldean town, a Chaldean diaspora neighborhood in Detroit
The main and most historically significant monastery of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Rabban Hormizd Monastery, in the mountains northeast of Alqosh

The Chaldean Catholic Church (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ‎, ʿīdtha kaldetha qāthuliqetha; Arabic: الكنيسة الكلدانيةal-Kanīsa al-kaldāniyya; Latin: Ecclesia Chaldaeorum Catholica, lit. 'Catholic Church of the Chaldeans') is an Eastern Catholic particular church (sui juris) in full communion with the Holy See and the rest of the Catholic Church, with the Chaldean Patriarchate having been originally formed out of the Church of the East in 1552. Employing the East Syriac Rite in Syriac language in its liturgy, it is part of Syriac Christianity by heritage. Headquartered in the Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows, Baghdad, Iraq, since 1950, it is headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako. It comprises 628,405 (2017)[5] ethnic Assyrians living in northern Iraq, with smaller numbers in adjacent areas in northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, a region roughly corresponding to ancient Assyria. There are also many Assyrians-Chaldeans in diaspora in the Western world.

The background of the Chaldean Catholic Church is the Chaldean Patriarchate of the Church of Assyria and Mosul, formed out of the Assyrian Church of the East in 1552 by Patriarch Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa, recognized as "of the Chaldeans" by the Holy See in 1553. However, his successors in the 17th and 18th centuries provoked a time of turbulence, with splits of varying connections to the Papacy. More than one claimant to the Catholic patriarchal seat left the Catholic Church unable to recognise either. In one patriarchal line, hereditary status of the office was reintroduced and relations with Rome formally broken, with this line eventually forming the Assyrian Church of the East in 1692. Subsequently, however, the two then-remaining Catholic successors of the original patriarchal line unified in 1830 in Mosul, remaining in uninterrupted full communion with Rome until this day.

Despite being known as "Chaldeans", their followers are generally accepted in an ethnic, geographic and historical sense to be indigenous Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrian people of Iraq, northwest Iran, northeast Syria and southeast Turkey, with some five millennia of history in the region[6][7] although a minority of Chaldeans (particularly in the United States) have in recent times began to espouse an identity from the land of Chaldea, extant in southeast Mesopotamia between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, despite there being no accredited academic study or historical record which supports this.[8][9]

In 2015, while the Patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East was vacant following the death of Dinkha IV, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako proposed a "merger", or reunion, of the Chaldean Catholic Church with the other Churches that trace their origins to the Church of the East - namely, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East - in order to recreate one united "Church of the East" with a single Patriarch in full communion with the Pope.[10] These efforts were halted, however, when the Assyrian Church of the East decided to elect a new Patriarch.


Background: the Church of the East

The Chaldean Catholic Church traces its beginnings to the Church of the East, which it considers to have been founded between the 1st and 3rd centuries in Asōristān/Athura, in other words the province of Assyria in the Parthian Empire. In the 5th century BC, the region of Assyria was the birthplace of the Syriac language and Syriac script, the terms 'Syriac' and 'Syrian' being historically and etymologically derived from 'Assyria' (see Etymology of Syria) both of which remain important within all strands of Syriac Christianity as a liturgical language, similar to how Latin or Koine Greek may be used in the Latin Church or Greek Orthodoxy, and the Old Church Slavonic (also called Old Bulgarian) in the Slavic Orthodoxy. The Church of the East was considered an Apostolic Church established by Thomas the Apostle, Thaddeus of Edessa, and Bartholomew the Apostle. Saint Peter, chief of the Apostles, added his blessing to the Church of the East at the time of his visit to the See at Babylon in the earliest days of the Church when stating, "The elect church which is in Babylon, salutes you; and Mark, my son." (1 Peter 5:13).[11]

Although considered founded in the 1st century by the adherents of its legacy, the Church first achieved official state recognition from Sasanian Iran in the fourth century with the accession of Yazdegerd I (reigned 399–420) to the throne of the Sasanian Empire. In 410 the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, held at the Sasanian capital, allowed the Church's leading bishops to elect a formal Catholicos (leader). Catholicos Isaac was required both to lead the Assyrian Christian community, and to answer on its behalf to the Sasanian emperor.[12][13]

Under pressure from the Sasanian Emperor, the Church of the East sought to increasingly distance itself from the Greek Orthodox Church (at the time being known as the church of the Eastern Roman Empire). Therefore, in 424, the bishops of the Sasanian Empire met in council under the leadership of Catholicos Dadishoʿ (421–456) and determined that they would not, henceforth, refer disciplinary or theological problems to any external power, and especially not to any bishop or Church Council in the Roman Empire.[14]

Thus, the Mesopotamian churches did not send representatives to the various Church Councils attended by representatives of the "Western Church". Accordingly, the leaders of the Church of the East did not feel bound by any decisions of what came to be regarded as Roman Imperial Councils. Despite this, the Creed and Canons of the First Council of Nicaea of 325, affirming the full divinity of Christ, were formally accepted at the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.[15] The Church's understanding of the term hypostasis differs from the definition of the term offered at the Council of Chalcedon of 451. For this reason, the Assyrian Church has never approved the Chalcedonian definition.[15]

The theological controversy that followed the Council of Ephesus in 431 became a turning point in the Church's history. The Council condemned as heretical the Christology of Nestorius, whose reluctance to accord the Virgin Mary the title Theotokos "God-bearer, Mother of God" was taken as evidence that he believed two separate persons (as opposed to two united natures) to be present within Christ. (For the theological issues at stake, see Assyrian Church of the East and Nestorianism.)

The Sasanian Emperor, hostile to the Byzantines, saw the opportunity to ensure the loyalty of his Christian subjects and lent support to the Nestorian Schism. The Emperor took steps to cement the primacy of the Nestorian party within the Church of the East, granting its members his protection[16] and executing the pro-Roman Catholicos Babowai in 484. The Emperor replaced him with the Nestorian Bishop of Nisibis, Barsauma, and the Catholicos-Patriarch Babai (497–503) later confirmed the Church's support for Nestorianism.

After this split with the Western World and adoption of Nestorianism, the Church of the East expanded rapidly due to missionary work during the Medieval period. During the period between 500–1400 the geographical horizons of the Church of the East extended well beyond its heartland in present-day northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey. The Church went through a golden age, and held significant power and worldwide influence during this period. Assyrian communities sprang up throughout Central Asia, and missionaries from Assyria and Mesopotamia took the Christian faith as far as China. A primary indicator of their missionary work in China is the Nestorian Stele, a Tang dynasty tablet written in Chinese script found in China dating to 781 AD that documented 150 years of Christian history in China.[17] Their most important addition, however, was of the Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar Coast in India, as they are now the largest group of non-ethnically Assyrian Christians on earth, with around 10 million followers when all denominations are added together and their own diaspora is included.[18] The St Thomas Christians were believed by tradition to have been converted by St Thomas, and were in communion with the Church of the East until the end of the Medieval period.[19]

Decline of the Church of the East

Around 1400, the Turco-Mongol nomadic conqueror Timur arose out of the Eurasian Steppe to lead military campaigns across Western, Southern and Central Asia, ultimately seizing much of the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate. Timur's conquests devastated most Assyrian bishoprics and destroyed the 4000-year-old city of Assur, which was the cultural and religious capital of the Church of the East and its followers. After the destruction brought on by Timur, the massive and organized Nestorian Church structure, which at its peak extended as far as China, Central Asia, Mongolia and India, was largely reduced to its region of origin (with the exception of the Saint Thomas Christians in India), and stayed as such until the Assyrian genocide, when a large portion of this region was entirely, ethnically and culturally cleansed of its endemic population by the Ottoman empire. This in effect also ended the Shimun Branch, which had to reestablish itself in America up until 2015 when they established their new see in Erbil. Along with the destruction of the Hakkari cultural region, the Assyrians of Tur Abdin, Amid, Urfa and other regions of the southeast suffered genocide as well,[citation needed] but due to an agreement with the Turks, the Assyrian adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church were able to exist in the region after the end of the genocide, and a Syriac community still exists in Turkey until this day. It is the most geographically spread out Church still functioning in Turkey, with active churches in Adiyaman, Siirt, Istanbul, and its primary area of operation and seat at Mor Gabriel Monastery in Tur Abdin.

This blow by Timur to the structure of the Church of the East may have been one of the reasons for its decline, and the subsequent rise of what was to become the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1552, which would itself later suffer schism.

1552 schism

Dissent over the practice of hereditary succession to the Patriarchate grew until 1552, at which time a group of bishops from the northern regions of Amid and Salmas elected a priest, Yohannan Sulaqa, as a rival Patriarch. To have a bishop of Metropolitan rank consecrate him Patriarch, Sulaqa traveled to the Pope in Rome and entered into communion with the Catholic Church. In 1553 he was consecrated bishop and elevated to the rank of patriarch, taking the name of Shimun VIII. Rome recognized him as "Patriarch of the East Assyrians".[20][21][22] Accordingly, "the Chaldaean race, which up to that time had been subject to the 'patriarch at Babylon', was divided into two parts".[20]

Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa returned home in the same year and fixed his seat in Amid. Before being put to death at the instigation of the partisans of the Patriarch of Alqosh,[23] from whom he had broken away, he ordained five metropolitan bishops, thus beginning a new ecclesiastical hierarchy under the patriarchal line known as the Shimun line. The seat of this patriarchate soon moved from Amid eastward, settling, after many intervening places, in the isolated village of Qochanis under Persian rule.

17th and 18th-century turbulence

The connection of the Shimun line with Rome loosened under Sulaqa's successors, of whom the last to be formally recognized by the Pope died in 1600. They accepted hereditary succession to the patriarchate, opposition to which had been the reason for the 1552 schism, and in 1662 formally broke communion with Rome, while remaining independent of the Alqosh patriarch and eventually becoming the patriarchal line of what since 1976 is officially called the Assyrian Church of the East.[24][25]

Those who wished to retain the relationship with Rome coalesced around Archbishop Joseph of Amid. In 1677 the Turkish civil authorities recognized Joseph as an independent patriarch at the head of the Catholic party, with his seat at Amid. Until then, Rome had concentrated on seeking good relations with the Alqosh and Qochanis patriarchs, even when Joseph presented himself personally in Rome. However, it took note of Joseph's acquisition of civil authority and in 1681 granted him ecclesiastical recognition.

Meanwhile, the Alqosh patriarchal line and its followers drew closer to Rome, and the pro-Catholic faction within it became predominant. After the 1780 resignation of the fourth of the Amid line, Rome was unable, for various reasons, to choose between the resulting two rival claimants to headship of the Catholics. Finally, in 1830, it granted recognition to the Alqosh claimant, whose (non-hereditary) patriarchal succession has since then lasted unbroken in the Chaldean Catholic Church.

The Josephite line of Amid

After the Shimun line adopted in 1662 a profession of faith contrary to that of Rome, those who wished to have communion with Rome found a leader in Joseph I, Archbishop of Amid, who in 1672 publicly declared his adhesion to the faith professed in Rome. Turkish-controlled Amid had been Sulaqa's original seat, but his successors had had to move eastward into Safavid Iran and in 1672 made Qodchanis their headquarters. The Turkish authorities had declared Amid ecclesiastically subject to the patriarch at Alqosh, but in 1677 they granted Joseph independence with authority over those who shared the Roman faith. Three years later, Rome recognized him as patriarch.

Joseph I resigned for health reasons in 1696, and lived on in Rome until 1707. All his successors in Amida took the name Joseph: Joseph II (1696–1713), Joseph III (1713–1757), Joseph IV (1757–1781). Joseph IV presented his resignation in 1780 and it was accepted in 1781, after which he handed over the administration of the patriarchate to his nephew, not yet a bishop, and retired to Rome, where he lived until 1791.[26]

In 1791, the Holy See appointed as bishop of Amid and administrator of the patriarchate Yohannan VIII Hormizd, a descendant of the Alqosh patriarch line, who had declared himself a Catholic and who seemed destined to be appointed the Catholic patriarch. The violent protests of Joseph IV's nephew, who was then in Rome, and suspicions raised by others on the sincerity of his conversion prevented this from being put into effect. In 1793 it was agreed that Johannan should withdraw from Amid to Mosul, the metropolitan see that he already held, but the post of patriarch would not be conferred on Joseph IV's nephew. In 1802 the latter was appointed metropolitan bishop of Amid and administrator of the patriarchate, but not patriarch. Nonetheless, he became commonly known as Joseph V. He died in 1828.

End of the Alqosh patriarchate

While the 1552 schism diminished the authority of the previously unrivalled patriarchal family based at the Rabban Hormizd Monastery, 2 km from Alqosh and about 45 km north of Mosul, it remained largely dominant. The successors of the breakaway patriarch made their headquarters in a mountainous area in Persia. There in 1662 they renounced the connection with Rome, an action followed by widespread adoption in some areas of the christology upheld in Rome rather than the Nestorian doctrine not only in the Amid-Mardin area but also in Mosul, where by 1700 nearly all the East Syrians were Catholics.[27]

In view of this situation, the Alqosh patriarch Eliya XII wrote to the Pope in 1735, 1749 and 1756, asking for union. Then, in 1771, both he and his designated successor Ishoyabb made a profession of faith that Rome accepted, thus establishing communion. In 1775, Eliya quarrelled with Ishoyabb and replaced him as designated successor by his younger cousin, Yohannan Hormizd. However, when Eliya XII died in 1778, the metropolitans recognized as his successor Ishoyabb, who accordingly took the Eliya name (Eliya XIII). To win support, Eliya made profession of the Catholic faith, but almost immediately renounced it and declared his support of the traditionalist (Nestorian) view. His opponents then elected Yohannan Hormizd as (anti)patriarch, but this irregular election was not reognized by Rome. The subsequent rivalry between Yohannan Hormizd and Augustine Hindi of the Josephite line has been recounted above. After Augustine Hindi's, Yohannan Hormizd was recognized as patriarch of the Catholics in 1830. His Alqosh opponent Ishoyabb (Eliya XIII) died in 1804, with his followers so reduced in number that they did not elect any successor for him, thus bringing the Alqosh or Eliya line to an end.[27]

19th and 20th century: expansion and disaster

Faisal I of Iraq with all the Chaldean bishops and the Patriarch Yousef VI Emmanuel II Thomas

The following years of the Chaldean Church were marked by externally originating violence: in 1838 the monastery of Rabban Hormizd and the town of Alqosh was attacked by the Ottomans and the Kurds of Soran, and hundreds of Christian Assyrians died.[28] In 1843 the Kurds started to extort as much money as they could from Assyrian villages, killing those who refused: more than 10,000 Assyrian Christians of all denominations were killed and the icons of the Rabban Hormizd monastery defaced.[29]

In 1846 the Chaldean Church was recognized by the Ottoman Empire as a 'millet', a distinctive 'religious community' in the Empire, thus obtaining its civic emancipation.[30] The most famous patriarch of the Chaldean Church in the 19th century was Joseph VI Audo who is remembered also for his clashes with Pope Pius IX mainly about his attempts to extend the Chaldean jurisdiction over the Indian Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. This was a period of expansion for the Chaldean Catholic Church.

In the early 20th century Russian Orthodox missionaries established two dioceses in north Assyria. Many Assyrian leaders believed that the Russian Empire would be more interested in protecting them than the British Empire and the French Empire.[31] Hoping for the support of the Russians, World War I and the subsequent Assyrian Genocide (which saw the deaths of up to 300,000 Assyrians of all denominations) was seen as the right time to rebel against the Ottoman Empire. An Assyrian War of Independence was launched, led by Agha Petros and Malik Khoshaba. On 4 November 1914 the Turkish Enver Pasha announced the Jihad, the holy war, against the Christians.[32] Assyrian forces fought successfully against overwhelming odds in northern Iraq, southeast Turkey and northwest Iran for a time. However, the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the collapse of Armenian resistance left the Assyrians cut off from supplies of food and ammunition, vastly outnumbered and surrounded. Assyrian territories were overrun by the Ottoman Empire and their Kurdish and Arab allies, and the people forced to flee: most who escaped the massacres and continuation of the Assyrian Genocide died from cold in the winter or hunger. The disaster struck mainly the regions of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean dioceses in north Assyria (Amid, Siirt and Gazarta) were ruined (the Chaldeans metropolitans Addai Scher of Siirt and Philip Abraham of Gazarta were killed in 1915).[33]

A further massacre occurred in 1933 at the hands of the Iraqi Army, in the form of the Simele massacre, which resulted in thousands of deaths.[34]

A minority of Assyrians have converted to Protestantism during the 20th century, leaving the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church and Syriac Orthodox church in favour of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Assyrian Evangelical Church.

Persecution in Iraq and Syria

A 2018 Australian DFAT report highlighted that extremist Islamic terrorist organizations target non-Muslims, government officials and wealthy Christian citizens in order to reposess their wealth, but stated, "The Constitution explicitly protects Christians’ freedom of belief and practice." It also highlighted official respect for the christian community within iraq, "The inauguration of the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church attracted similarly high-level attendance. This indicates the government values Iraq’s Christian community and is willing to provide protection where it has the capacity to do so." [35] DFAT also stated in 2017, "Despite their minority status (approximately 10 per cent of the population), Christians are considered part of the elite within Syria and have enjoyed government protection....The founder of the ruling Ba’ath Party was a Christian." [36]

Assyrians of all denominations, and other religious minorities in Iraq, have endured extensive persecution since 2003[citation needed], including the abductions and murders of their religious leaders, threats of violence or death if they do not abandon their homes and businesses, and the bombing or destruction of their churches and other places of worship. All this has occurred as anti-Christian emotions rise within Iraq after the American invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rise of militant Jihadists and religious militias.[37][38]

Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, the pastor of the Chaldean Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul who graduated from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome in 2003 with a licentiate in ecumenical theology, was killed on 3 June 2007 in Mosul alongside the subdeacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed, after he celebrated mass.[39][40] Ganni has since been declared a Servant of God.[41]

Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted on 29 February 2008, in Mosul, and murdered a few days later.[42]

In recent years, particularly since 2014, the Assyrians in northern Iraq and north east Syria have become the target of unprovoked Islamic terrorism. As a result, Assyrians have taken up arms, alongside other groups (such as the Kurds, Turcomans and Armenians) in response to attacks by Al Qaeda, ISIL, Nusra Front, and other Wahhabi terrorist Islamic fundamentalist groups. In 2014 Islamic terrorists of ISIS attacked Assyrian towns and villages in the Assyrian homelands of northern Iraq and north east Syria, together with cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk and Hasakeh which have large Assyrian populations. There have been reports of a litany of religiously motivated atrocities committed by ISIS since, including; slavery, beheadings, crucifixions, child murders, rape of women and girls, torture, forced conversions, ethnic cleansing, robbery, kidnappings, theft of homes, and extortion in the form of illegal taxes levied upon non-Muslims. Assyrians were forced from their homes in cities such as Mosul have had their houses and possessions stolen, and given over to ISIS terrorists or local Sunni Arabs.[43]

Assyrians of all denominations in both northern Iraq and north east Syria[44][45] have responded by forming armed Assyrian militias to defend their territories,[46] and despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned have had success in driving ISIS from Assyrian towns and villages, and defending others from attack.[47][48] Armed Assyrian militias have also joined forces with other peoples persecuted by ISIS and Sunni Muslim extremists, including; the Kurds, Turcoman, Yezidis, Syriac-Aramean Christians, Shabaks, Armenian Christians, Kawilya, Mandeans, Circassians and Shia Muslim Arabs and Iranians.

There are thus many Chaldeans in diaspora in the Western world, primarily in the American states of Michigan, Illinois and California.[49]

21st century: international diaspora

A recent development in the Chaldean Catholic Church has been the creation in 2006 of the Eparchy of Oceania, with the title of 'St Thomas the Apostle of Sydney of the Chaldeans'.[50] This jurisdiction includes the Chaldean Catholic communities of Australia and New Zealand, and the first Bishop, named by Pope Benedict XVI on 21 October 2006, is Archbishop Djibrail (Jibrail) Kassab, until this date, Archbishop of Bassorah in Iraq.[51]

There has been a large immigration to the United States particularly to West Bloomfield in southeast Michigan.[52] Although the largest population resides in southeast Michigan, there are populations in parts of California and Arizona as well, which all fall under the Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit. Canada in recent years has shown growing communities in both eastern provinces, such as Ontario, and in western Canada, such as Saskatchewan.

In 2008, Bawai Soro of the Assyrian Church of the East and 1,000 Assyrian families were received into full communion with the Chaldean Catholic Church from the Assyrian Church of the East.[53]

On Friday, June 10, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI erected a new Chaldean Catholic eparchy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and named Archbishop Yohannan Zora, who has worked alongside four priests with Catholics in Toronto (the largest community of Chaldeans) for nearly 20 years and who was previously an ad personam Archbishop (he will retain this rank as head of the eparchy) and the Archbishop of the Archdiocese (Archeparchy) of Ahwaz, Iran (since 1974). The new eparchy, or diocese, will be known as the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai. There are 38,000 Chaldean Catholics in Canada. Archbishop Zora was born in Batnaia, Iraq, on March 15, 1939. He was ordained in 1962 and worked in Iraqi parishes before being transferred to Iran in 1969.[54]

The 2006 Australian census counted a total of 4,498 Chaldean Catholics in that country.[55]

Historic membership censuses

Despite the internal discords of the reigns of Yohannan Hormizd, Nicholas I Zayʿa and Joseph VI Audo, the second half of the 19th century was a period of considerable growth for the Chaldean church, in which its territorial jurisdiction was extended, its hierarchy strengthened and its membership nearly doubled. In 1850 the Anglican missionary George Percy Badger recorded the population of the Chaldean church as 2,743 Chaldean families, or just under 20,000 persons. Badger's figures cannot be squared with the figure of just over 4,000 Chaldean families recorded by Fulgence de Sainte Marie in 1796 nor with slightly later figures provided by Paulin Martin in 1867. Badger is known to have classified as Nestorian a considerable number of villages in the ʿAqra district which were Chaldean at this period, and he also failed to include several important Chaldean villages in other dioceses. His estimate is almost certainly far too low.[56]

Table 3: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1850
Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Priests No. of Families Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Priests No. of Families
Mosul 9 15 20 1,160 Seert 11 12 9 300
Baghdad 1 1 2 60 Gazarta 7 6 5 179
ʿAmadiya 16 14 8 466 Kirkuk 7 8 9 218
Amid 2 2 4 150 Salmas 1 2 3 150
Mardin 1 1 4 60 Total 55 61 64 2,743

Paulin Martin's statistical survey in 1867, after the creation of the dioceses of ʿAqra, Zakho, Basra and Sehna by Joseph Audo, recorded a total church membership of 70,268, more than three times higher than Badger's estimate. Most of the population figures in these statistics have been rounded up to the nearest thousand, and they may also have been exaggerated slightly, but the membership of the Chaldean church at this period was certainly closer to 70,000 than to Badger's 20,000.[57]

Table 4: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1867
Diocese No. of Villages No. of Priests No. of Believers Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Believers
Mosul 9 40 23,030 Mardin 2 2 1,000
ʿAqra 19 17 2,718 Seert 35 20 11,000
ʿAmadiya 26 10 6,020 Salmas 20 10 8,000
Basra 1,500 Sehna 22 1 1,000
Amid 2 6 2,000 Zakho 15 3,000
Gazarta 20 15 7,000 Kirkuk 10 10 4,000
Total 160 131 70,268

A statistical survey of the Chaldean church made in 1896 by J. B. Chabot included, for the first time, details of several patriarchal vicariates established in the second half of the 19th century for the small Chaldean communities in Adana, Aleppo, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Edessa, Kermanshah and Teheran; for the mission stations established in the 1890s in several towns and villages in the Qudshanis patriarchate; and for the newly created Chaldean diocese of Urmi. According to Chabot, there were mission stations in the town of Serai d’Mahmideh in Taimar and in the Hakkari villages of Mar Behıshoʿ, Sat, Zarne and 'Salamakka' (Ragula d'Salabakkan).[58]

Table 5: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1896
Diocese No. of Villages No. of Priests No. of Believers Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Believers
Baghdad 1 3 3,000 ʿAmadiya 16 13 3,000
Mosul 31 71 23,700 ʿAqra 12 8 1,000
Basra 2 3 3,000 Salmas 12 10 10,000
Amid 4 7 3,000 Urmi 18 40 6,000
Kirkuk 16 22 7,000 Sehna 2 2 700
Mardin 1 3 850 Vicariates 3 6 2,060
Gazarta 17 14 5,200 Missions 1 14 1,780
Seert 21 17 5,000 Zakho 20 15 3,500
Total 177 248 78,790

The last pre-war survey of the Chaldean church was made in 1913 by the Chaldean priest Joseph Tfinkdji, after a period of steady growth since 1896. The Chaldean church on the eve of the First World War consisted of the patriarchal archdiocese of Mosul and Baghdad, four other archdioceses (Amid, Kirkuk, Seert and Urmi), and eight dioceses (ʿAqra, ʿAmadiya, Gazarta, Mardin, Salmas, Sehna, Zakho and the newly created diocese of Van). Five more patriarchal vicariates had been established since 1896 (Ahwaz, Constantinople, Basra, Ashshar and Deir al-Zor), giving a total of twelve vicariates.[59][60]

Tfinkdji's grand total of 101,610 Catholics in 199 villages is slightly exaggerated, as his figures included 2,310 nominal Catholics in twenty-one 'newly converted' or 'semi-Nestorian' villages in the dioceses of Amid, Seert and ʿAqra, but it is clear that the Chaldean church had grown significantly since 1896. With around 100,000 believers in 1913, the membership of the Chaldean church was only slightly smaller than that of the Qudshanis patriarchate (probably 120,000 East Syriac Christians at most, including the population of the nominally Russian Orthodox villages in the Urmi district). Its congregations were concentrated in far fewer villages than those of the Qudshanis patriarchate, and with 296 priests, a ratio of roughly three priests for every thousand believers, it was rather more effectively served by its clergy. Only about a dozen Chaldean villages, mainly in the Seert and ʿAqra districts, did not have their own priests in 1913.

Table 6: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1913
Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Priests No. of Believers Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Priests No. of Believers
Mosul 13 22 56 39,460 ʿAmadiya 17 10 19 4,970
Baghdad 3 1 11 7,260 Gazarta 17 11 17 6,400
Vicariates 13 4 15 3,430 Mardin 6 1 6 1,670
Amid 9 5 12 4,180 Salmas 12 12 24 10,460
Kirkuk 9 9 19 5,840 Sehna 1 2 3 900
Seert 37 31 21 5,380 Van 10 6 32 3,850
Urmi 21 13 43 7,800 Zakho 15 17 13 4,880
ʿAqra 19 10 16 2,390 Total 199 153 296 101,610

Tfinkdji's statistics also highlight the effect on the Chaldean church of the educational reforms of the patriarch Joseph VI Audo. The Chaldean church on the eve of the First World War was becoming less dependent on the monastery of Rabban Hormizd and the College of the Propaganda for the education of its bishops. Seventeen Chaldean bishops were consecrated between 1879 and 1913, of whom only one (Stephen Yohannan Qaynaya) was entirely educated in the monastery of Rabban Hormizd. Six bishops were educated at the College of the Propaganda (Joseph Gabriel Adamo, Thomas Audo, Jeremy Timothy Maqdasi, Isaac Khudabakhash, Theodore Msayeh and Peter ʿAziz), and the future patriarch Joseph Emmanuel Thomas was trained in the seminary of Ghazir near Beirut. Of the other nine bishops, two (Addaï Scher and Francis David) were trained in the Syro-Chaldean seminary in Mosul, and seven (Philip Yaʿqob Abraham, Yaʿqob Yohannan Sahhar, Eliya Joseph Khayyat, Shlemun Sabbagh, Yaʿqob Awgin Manna, Hormizd Stephen Jibri and Israel Audo [Wikidata]) in the patriarchal seminary in Mosul.[61]

Table 1: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1928
Diocese No. of Villages No. of Priests No. of Believers
Mosul and Baghdad 10 50 18,350
ʿAmadiya 18 22 3,765
Amid 1 3 500
Kirkuk 7 18 4,800
Seert 1,600
Urmi 10 10 2,500
ʿAqra 1,000
Diocese No. of Villages No. of Churches No. of Believers
Gazarta 1,600
Mardin 1 2 400
Salmas 1 1 400
Sehna 3 5 894
Zakho 16 18 8,000
Total 137 129 43,809
Table 2: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1937
Diocese No. of Churches No. of Priests No. of Believers
Baghdad and Basra 6 13 29,578
Mosul 24 40 44,314
Kirkuk 8 18 7,620
Zakho 16 18 10,852
ʿAmadiya 16 17 5,457
ʿAqra 13 5 2,779
Urmi - - 6,000
Salmas 4 3,350
Diocese No. of Churches No. of Priests No. of Believers
Amid 1 1 315
Mardin 1 1 400
Seert 0 0 3,500
Gazarta 1 1 2,250
Syria and Lebanon 2 11 3,107
Vicariates 8 14 9,177
Emigration 0 4 9,889
Sehna 2 5 1,932
Total 98 163 140,720


The Chaldean Catholic Church has the following dioceses:

The Latin name of the church is Ecclesia Chaldaeorum Catholica.


The current Patriarch is Louis Sako, elected in January 2013. In October 2007, his predecessor, Emmanuel III Delly became the first Chaldean Catholic patriarch to be elevated to the rank of Cardinal within the Catholic Church.[62]

The present Chaldean episcopate (January 2014) is as follows:

  • Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon (since February 2013)
  • Emil Shimoun Nona, Bishop of St.Thomas the Apostle Chaldean and Assyrian Catholic Diocese of Australia and New Zeeland (since 2015);
  • Bashar Warda, Archbishop of Erbil (since July 2010)
  • Ramzi Garmou, Archbishop of Teheran (since February 1999);
  • Thomas Meram, Archbishop of Urmia and Salmas (since 1984);
  • Jibrail Kassab, Bishop Emeritus ,former Bishop of Sydney (since 2006 -2015);
  • Jacques Ishaq, Titular Archbishop of Nisibis and curial Bishop of Babylon (since December 2005);
  • Habib Al-Naufali, Archbishop of Basra (since 2014)
  • Yousif Mirkis, Archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimanya (since 2014)
  • Mikha Pola Maqdassi, Bishop of Alqosh (since December 2001)
  • Shlemon Warduni, curial Bishop of Babylon (since 2001).
  • Saad Sirop, auxiliary Bishop of Babylon (since 2014) and Apostolic Visitor of Chaldean Catholic in Europe (since 2017)
  • Antony Audo, Bishop of Aleppo (since January 1992);
  • Michael Kassarji, Bishop of Lebanon (since 2001);
  • Rabban Al-Qas, Bishop of ʿAmadiya (since December 2001);
  • Ibrahim Ibrahim,Bishop Emeritus, former Bishop of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit (April 1982 – 2014);
  • Francis Kalabat, Bishop of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit (since June 2014)
  • Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, Bishop Emeritus of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego (2002–2016);
  • Bawai Soro, Bishop of St.Addai Chaldean Eparchy of Canada (since 2017)
  • Saad Felix Shabi , Bishop of Zakho (since 2020)
  • Robert Jarjis ,Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad (since 2018) and Titular Bishop of Arsamosata (since 2019)
  • Emmanuel Shalita, Bishop of St.Peter the Apostle Chaldean Catholic (San Diego,USA) (since 2016)
  • Basel Yaldo ,Curial Bishop of Babylon and Titular Bishop of BethZabda (since 2015)

Several sees are vacant: Archeparchy of Diyarbakir, Archeparchy of Ahwaz, Eparchy of 'Aqra, Eparchy of Cairo.


The Chaldean Catholic Church uses the East Syriac Rite.

A slight reform of the liturgy was effective since 6 January 2007, and it aimed to unify the many different uses of each parish, to remove centuries-old additions that merely imitated the Roman Rite, and for pastoral reasons. The main elements of variations are: the Anaphora said aloud by the priest, the return to the ancient architecture of the churches, the restoration of the ancient use where the bread and wine are readied before a service begins, and the removal from the Creed of the Filioque clause.[63]

Naming issues

During the catholicate of Mār Shemʿōn IV Basidi (1437–97), the Church of the East or so-called “Nestorian” Church sustained its presence across the East and the Mediterranean. This extraordinary geographical expansion was a testament to the resilience of the faith of its members despite having endured significant adversities and reflected a capacity to comfortably develop in a variety of cultural contexts. The community remained quite influential particularly in Famagusta, Cyprus and enjoyed extended interactions with Latin and other Eastern Christian traditions present in the island. Due to the strenuous efforts exhausted by various Papal missions, the Church of the East's Metropolitan of Tarsus (mod. Mersin, Tur.), Timothy, recognised the authority of the Roman Pontiff at the Council of Florence on 7 July 1445. It was in this context that the historic name Chaldaeorum (lit. Chaldean) was first used to describe a bishop in union with the Roman Catholic Church.[64]

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." - Abdisho IV Maron

The choice of the illustrious name to describe the Catholic faction of the Church of the East was approved by Pope Eugene IV (1431–47) and was derived from an awareness of the community’s use of the Syriac language—referred to as Lingua Chaldaica (lit. Chaldean language)—a name from which the days of Jerome (ca. 347-420 CE) was commonly used by European authors.[65][66][67] It is noteworthy, however, the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) in Cyprus too had envoys at the Council of Florence and simultaneously identified its community with the nomenclature.[68][69][70] The usage of the term by both Christian factions evidentially demonstrates that it was erroneously employed within a linguistic sense and held no ethnic implications whatsoever. It was a trend of the time that people who professed to be Chaldeans were welcomed into the circle of the Florentine academy. Hence modern scholars are now agreed in holding that the name was employed due to the European ignorance of the linguistic and geographical reality of the East and an evident misinterpretation of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra. According to medieval East-Syriac literary works, the native population had employed familiar terms such as: Sūrith (lit. Syriac), its community styled as Sūryāyē (lit. speakers of Syriac), Msh’ḥāyē (lit. Christians), Nestōrnāyē (lit. Nestorians) and Āthōrāyē (lit. Assyrians).[71] In fact, the terms Kaldāyē (lit. Chaldeans) and Kaldāyūthā (lit. Chaldeanism) were historically associated with themes of “soothsaying”, “divination” and “astrolatry”— practices that were considered a heretical threat to the authority of the church.[72][73][74][75][76][77][78] It is worth noting, the first primates of the Chaldean Catholic Church sealed the union with Rome as Patriarchae Assyriorum (lit. Patriarch of the Assyrian).[79][80][81][81]

It was Mār Yohannan VIII Hormizd (c. 1760-1838) who applied for an Ottoman mandate recognizing this community independent from the Church of the East; its members, as Catholics, were formally recognised by the Ottoman government as “Chaldeans,” a millet (religious community and/or nation) distinct and separate from the Church of the East. In the nineteenth-century, we find references to "Patriarch of the Chaldeans", "Chaldean language", "Chaldean people" being employed by certain prelates— clearly an influence from Latin authors.

The term "Chaldean Catholic" is thus historically, usually and properly taken purely and solely as a doctrinal and theological term for Assyrian converts to Catholicism, without any ethnic and geographical implications.[82][83][83][84]

Despite this, a minority of Chaldean Catholics (particularly in the United States) have in recent times confused a purely religious term with an ethnic identity, and espoused a separate ethnic identity, despite there being no historical, academic, cultural, geographic, archaeological, linguistic, anthropological or genetic evidence supporting a link (or any sort of Chaldean continuity) to the late Iron Age Chaldean land or people, both of which wholly disappeared from history during the 6th century BC. Chaldean Catholics are generally accepted to be Assyrian people, and a part of the Assyrian continuity.[7][9][83][85][86]

Raphael Bidawid, the then patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church commented on the Assyrian name dispute in 2003 and clearly differentiated between the name of a church and the name of an ethnicity:

"I personally think that these different names serve to add confusion. The original name of our Church was the 'Church of the East' ... When a portion of the Church of the East became Catholic in the 17th Century, the name given to the church was 'Chaldean' based on the Magi kings who were believed by some to have come from what once had been the land of the Chaldean, to Bethlehem. The name 'Chaldean' does not represent an ethnicity, just a church... We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion... I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian."[87]

In an interview with the Assyrian Star in the September–October 1974 issue, he was quoted as saying:

"Before I became a priest I was an Assyrian, before I became a bishop I was an Assyrian, I am an Assyrian today, tomorrow, forever, and I am proud of it."[88]

Ecumenical relations

The Church's relations with its fellow Assyrians in the Assyrian Church of the East have improved in recent years. In 1994 Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dinkha IV of the Assyrian Church of the East signed a Common Christological Declaration.[89] On the 20 July 2001, the Holy See issued a document, in agreement with the Assyrian Church of the East, named Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, which confirmed also the validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari.[90] In 2015, Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako proposed unifying the three modern Patriarchates into a re-established Church of the East.[91]

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