Chaldean Catholic Church

The Chaldean Catholic Church (Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ, ʿīdtha kaldetha qāthuliqetha; Arabic: الكنيسة الكلدانية al-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.

Chaldean Catholic Church
Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ
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)
Members628,405 (2017)[4]
Other name(s)Church of Assyria and Mosul
Chaldean Patriarchate

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, nortwest Iran, northeast Syria and southeast Turkey, with some five millenia 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, 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: founding of the Church of Assyria and Mosul by Patriarch Yohannan Sulaqa

Dissent over the practice of hereditary succession to the Patriarchate grew until 1552, at which time a group of Assyrian bishops from the northern regions of Amid and Salmas elected a priest, Mar 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, after first being refused by the Syriac Orthodox Church. In 1553 he was consecrated bishop and elevated to the rank of Patriarch taking the name of Mar Shimun VIII. He was granted the title of "Patriarch of the East Assyrians", and his Church was named the Church of Assyria ("Athura") and Mosul.[20]

Mar Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa returned to northern Mesopotamia in the same year and fixed his seat in Amid. Before being put to death by the partisans of the Assyrian Church of the East Patriarch of Alqosh,[21] he ordained five Metropolitan bishops, thus beginning a new ecclesiastical hierarchy: the patriarchal line known as the Shimun line. The area of influence of this Patriarchate soon moved from Amid east, fixing the See, after many places, in the isolated Assyrian village of Qochanis.

The connections with Rome loosened up under Sulaqa's successors: The last patriarch to be formally recognized by the Pope died in 1600, the hereditary status of the office was reintroduced and, in 1692, the communion with Rome was formally broken, with this part of the church once more rejoining the Assyrian Church of the East.

17th and 18th century turbulence

The background of the Chaldean Catholic Church is the Church of Assyria and Mosul, formed out of the Church of the East in 1552 by Patriarch Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa, recognised as "of the Chaldeans" by the Holy See. However, the connections with the Papacy loosened up under his successors, split in different lines: the last patriarch in this unbroken line to be formally recognised by the Pope died in 1600. Although communions were reinitiated in 1672 and 1681, in one line, hereditary status of the office was reintroduced and full communion with Rome formally broken in 1692, with this patriarchal line eventually forming the Assyrian Church of the East. Following this turbulence, from 1771 to 1830, two claimants to the Catholic patriarchal seat left the Catholic Church unable to recognise either until a unification of the two in Mosul in 1830. The ensuing reunification with Rome has lasted unbroken until this day.

1672: The Josephite line of Amid

After the Shimun line cut off ties with Rome and re-established itself in Qodchanis, A second so-called 'Chaldean' Patriarchate began a few decades later in 1672 when Mar Joseph I, Archbishop of Amid, entered in communion with Rome, separating from the Assyrian Church Patriarchal see of Alqosh (of which his territory was formerly a part). In 1681 the Holy See granted him the title of "Patriarch of the Chaldeans deprived of its patriarch."

All Joseph I's successors took the name of Joseph. However, the life of this patriarchate was difficult. At the beginning there were problems due to the vexations from the traditionalists, under which they were subject from a legal point of view, and later it struggled with financial difficulties due to the Jizya imposed by the Ottoman authorities upon Christian subjects.

Nevertheless, its influence expanded from its original strongholds in Amid (modern Diyarbakir) and Mardin towards the area of Mosul and the Nineveh plains. The Josephite line merged in 1830 with the Nestorian Alqosh patriarchate. In order to do this, the Alqosh patriarchate entered into full communion with Rome, and the two Chaldean patriarchates combined, and the capital was designated as Alqosh. It was from this point that the modern Chaldean Catholic Church came into being.

1830: Reunited Alqosh Patriarchate in full communion with the Holy See

The largest and oldest patriarchal see of the Assyrian Church of the East was based at the Rabban Hormizd monastery of Alqosh. It spread from Aqrah up to Seert and Nisibis, covering in the south the rich plain of Mosul. In the short period between 1610 and 1617 it entered in communion with Rome, and in 1771 the patriarch Eliya Denkha signed a Catholic confession of faith, but no formal union resulted. When Eliya Denkha died, his succession was disputed by two cousins: Eliyya Isho-Yab, who was recognized by Rome but renounced his Catholic faith, and Yohannan VIII Hormizd, who, although unrecognized by Rome, considered himself a Catholic.

In 1804, after Eliyya Isho-Yab's death, Yohannan Hormizd was made by default the patriarch of Alqosh. There were thus two patriarchates in communion with Rome now, the larger one in Alqosh, and the original one in Amid that was ruled by Joseph V Augustine Hindi. However, Rome did not want to choose between the two candidates: and granted neither the title of Patriarch, even though from 1811 it was Augustine Hindi who ruled the Church de facto. After Hindi's death, on July 5, 1830, Yohannan Hormizd of the Alqosh line was by default formally confirmed Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic church by Pope Pius VIII with the title of "Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans".[22] In this act, The merging of the patriarchates of Alqosh and Amid was completed, forming a single Chaldean Catholic Church.

On the other hand, the Shimun line of patriarchs, based in Qochanis, remained in the traditional Assyrian Church, independent of the new Chaldean Church. When the large Alqosh branch took a Catholic profession of faith, the Shimun line remained the sole remaining Nestorian patriarchate left. The Patriarchate of the present-day Assyrian Church of the East, with its See in Erbil, forms the continuation of that line.[23]

19th and 20th century: expansion and disaster

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[22] 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.[26] 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.[27] 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).[28]

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.[29]

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 reposes 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." [30] 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." [31]

Assyrians of all denominations, and other religious minorities in Iraq, have endured extensive persecution since 2003, 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.[32][33]

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.[34][35] Ganni has since been declared a Servant of God.[36]

Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted on 29 February 2008, in Mosul, and murdered a few days later.[37]

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 terrorists 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 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.[38]

In addition, the Assyrians have suffered seeing their ancient indigenous heritage desecrated, in the form of Bronze Age and Iron Age monuments and archaeological sites, as well as numerous Assyrian churches and monasteries,[38] being systematically vandalised and destroyed by ISIS. These include the ruins of Nineveh, Kalhu (Nimrud, Assur, Dur-Sharrukin and Hatra.[39][40]

Assyrians of all denominations in both northern Iraq and north east Syria[41][42] have responded by forming armed Assyrian militias to defend their territories,[43] and despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned have had success in driving ISIS from Assyrian towns and villages, and defending others from attack.[44][45] 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.

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'.[46] 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.[47]

There has been a large immigration to the United States particularly to West Bloomfield in southeast Michigan.[48] 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, Mar 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.[49]

On Friday, June 10, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI erected a new Chaldean Catholic eparchy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and named Archbishop Mar 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.[50]

The 2006 Australian census counted a total of 4,498 Chaldean Catholics in that country.[51]

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.[52]

Table 3: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1850
DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of ChurchesNo. of PriestsNo. of Families DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of ChurchesNo. of PriestsNo. of Families
Mosul915201,160 Seert11129300
Baghdad11260 Gazarta765179
ʿAmadiya16148466 Kirkuk789218
Amid224150 Salmas123150
Mardin11460 Total5561642,743

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.[53]

Table 4: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1867
DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of PriestsNo. of Believers DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of ChurchesNo. of Believers
Mosul94023,030 Mardin221,000
ʿAqra19172,718 Seert352011,000
ʿAmadiya26106,020 Salmas20108,000
Basra1,500 Sehna2211,000
Amid262,000 Zakho153,000
Gazarta20157,000 Kirkuk10104,000

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).[54]

Table 5: Population of the Chaldean Church, 1896
DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of PriestsNo. of Believers DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of ChurchesNo. of Believers
Baghdad133,000 ʿAmadiya16133,000
Mosul317123,700 ʿAqra1281,000
Basra233,000 Salmas121010,000
Amid473,000 Urmi18406,000
Kirkuk16227,000 Sehna22700
Mardin13850 Vicariates362,060
Gazarta17145,200 Missions1141,780
Seert21175,000 Zakho20153,500

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.[55][56]

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
DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of ChurchesNo. of PriestsNo. of Believers DioceseNo. of VillagesNo. of ChurchesNo. of PriestsNo. of Believers
Mosul13225639,460 ʿAmadiya1710194,970
Baghdad31117,260 Gazarta1711176,400
Vicariates134153,430 Mardin6161,670
Amid95124,180 Salmas12122410,460
Kirkuk99195,840 Sehna123900
Seert3731215,380 Van106323,850
Urmi2113437,800 Zakho1517134,880
ʿAqra1910162,390 Total199153296101,610

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) in the patriarchal seminary in Mosul.[57]

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.[58]

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

  • Mar Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon (since February 2013);
  • Mar Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch emeritus of Babylon (December 2003 – 2012)
  • Emil Shimoun Nona, Archbishop of Mosul (since November 2009);
  • 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);
  • Yohannan Zora, Archbishop of Toronto (since June 2011);
  • Jibrail Kassab, Archbishop of Sydney (since October 2006);
  • Mar 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)
  • Mar Mikha Pola Maqdassi, Bishop of Alqosh (since December 2001)
  • Mar Shlemon Warduni, curial Bishop of Babylon (since 2001).
  • Mar Saad Sirop, auxiliary Bishop of Babylon (since 2014)
  • Mar Antony Audo, Bishop of Aleppo (since January 1992);
  • Mar Michael Kassarji, Bishop of Lebanon (since 2001);
  • Mar Rabban Al-Qas, Bishop of ʿAmadiya and Zakho (since December 2001);
  • Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim, Bishop of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit (since April 1982 – 2014);
  • Mar Francis Kalabat, Bishop of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit (since June 2014)
  • Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, Bishop Emeritus of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego (2002–2016);
  • Mar Bawai Soro, Titular Bishop of Foratiana and auxiliary bishop of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego (since 2014)

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.[59]

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.[60]

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.[61][62][63] 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.[64][65][66] 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).[67] 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.[68][69][70][71][72][73][74] 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).[75][76][77][78]

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.[79][80][80][81]

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][80][82][83]

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."[84]

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."[85]

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.[86] 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.[87] In 2015, Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako proposed unifying the three modern Patriarchates into a re-established Church of the East.[88]

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