Uniate Churches

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UNIATE CHURCHES . Uniate is the name given to former Eastern Christian or Orthodox churches that have been received under the jurisdiction of the Church of Rome and retain their own ritual, practice, and canon law. The term carries a strong negative connotation and is seldom used by these churches to describe themselves.

The term was first used by opponents to the Union of Brest-Litovsk (1595) to indicate a betrayal of Orthodoxy and a yielding to political pressure enforced by alleged violence. The problem of this terminology emerged again in the new alignment of eastern Europe after communism. Many Orthodox view these churches as an obstacle in the way of reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. They feel that their very existence constitutes a denial by Catholics of the ecclesial reality of the Orthodox Church and that these unions grew from efforts to split local Orthodox communities.

Attempts at the reunion of the Christian churches of the East and the West usually ended in failure, especially in the centuries immediately after the mutual excommunications of 1054. Later political necessity forced Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus (12341282) to seek the help of the Western powers for the support of Byzantium at the Council of Lyons (1274). Subsequently, this agreement was revoked by the new pope in Rome, Martin V (r. 12811285). In the East its acceptance was forced, and it was soon repudiated by Michael's son, Andronicus II (12601332). The Council of Florence, after long negotiations, issued a bull of reunion, Laetentur coeli, on July 6, 1439, but the Greek signatories began to deny the reunion as soon as they arrived in their home environment. Yet all these attempts at union were not futile because they kept the idea of union alive in Christian consciousness. After the initial optimism of the postWorld War II ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches in the Protestant dialogue with the Orthodox and in the Catholic International Dialogue with Orthodoxy after the Second Vatican Council, a period of retrenchment set in.

Melkite Catholics

The term Melkite refers to a Christian of the Byzantine riteCatholic or Orthodoxfrom the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, or Jerusalem. (The word derives from the Syriac word malka and the Arabic word melek, which mean "king" or "emperor." These Christians were given this name by the anti-Chalcedonian party because they adhered to the Christological position of the Byzantine emperor after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 ce.) Until the 1300s the Melkites used the Antiochene rite. In the countryside the liturgy was celebrated in West Syriac or Ararnaic and in the cities in Greek. With the advent of Islam, Arabic gradually replaced Syriac. Over the course of the fourteenth century the Byzantine rite replaced the Antiochene rite.

The Melkite faithful tried to preserve allegiance to both Rome and Constantinople. By 1724, renewed communication with Rome had resulted in the creation of a Catholic Melkite Church alongside the Orthodox Melkite Church, although no formal written agreement of union was ever drawn up. In the intervening history the Melkite Catholic patriarch of Antioch, Maximos Mazloum (18331855), added the sees of Alexandria and Jerusalem to his title. Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh (19471967) defended the traditions of the East in his patriarchate and at the Second Vatican Council. The Melkite bishops, including Patriarch Maximos IV, have supported the idea that, in the event of a reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, their church should be reintegrated into the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. A bilateral commission for dialogue between the Melkites and Antiochene Orthodox was established in 1995, and both sides expressed the firm intention to heal the schism of 1724. The Melkites have achieved the closest union with their former counterparts in practice if not yet in name. Many Melkite Catholics immigrated to North and South America at the beginning of the twentieth century and formed two eparchies (dioceses) in Newton, Massachusetts, and in São Paulo, Brazil.

Maronite Church

The Maronite Church traces its origins to the fourth century ce and the monk Maron (d. c. 423), who received a Greek and Syrian literary education and went to Antioch to complete his studies. In Antioch he met and befriended John Chrysostom (c. 347407 ce), who soon became the bishop of Constantinople. Centuries later a community of Maronites grew up around the monastery of Saint Maron on the banks of the Orontes River in northern Syria. Seeking to escape from the persecutions of the caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad, Maronites began to seek refuge in the mountains of Lebanon. Although the Maronite Church never rejected the primacy of the Roman See, communication between the two churches was interrupted for centuries, and only after 1182 and the advent of the Crusaders was Roman recognition of the Maronite rite restored. During the time of the Crusades, Maronite priests and faithful were the only Eastern Christians allowed to worship in Latin churches. Maronites had the same rights as Latins, and their own magistrates judged them according to their own customs and laws. The head of the Maronite Church began to use the title "patriarch" during the fifteenth century. The title became definitive in a bull of Pope Paul V (ruled 16051621) in 1608.

The Maronite Church is one of two Uniate churches that do not have a parallel Orthodox hierarchy. The other is the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church. The Maronite Church has undergone many influences tending to conform it to the Latin rite. The rite of the Maronite Church belongs to a group of Antiochene rites, and its liturgical language is West Syriac or Aramaic. The Maronites adopted more and more the use of Arabic as that language became the vernacular. The words of institution in the canon of the liturgy are usually sung in Syriac; the rest of the liturgy is usually recited in the vernacular language of the place. Political and economic turmoil in the Middle East has caused the immigration of a large number of Maronites to the United States, where they have established two dioceses.


The term Ruthenian designates former Orthodox who come from the region that is bounded on the north by the Vistula and Neman Rivers and on the south by the Danube and Dnieper, and that includes territories of present-day Poland, the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Ruthenian is derived from the Latin Rutheni, meaning "Russian," and is used by Western historians to designate Catholic Slavs of the Polish-Lithuanian state or of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Russian authorities preferred the term Little Russian to distinguish those people from the Russians to the north. The Ruthenians divided into two branches. To the north of the Carpathian Mountains under Polish or Russian control were the Galicians. The Subcarpathians lived on the southern side of the mountains and were influenced by Austro-Hungarian political and social conditions. The Galicians rapidly formed a church as a result of the Union of Brest-Litovsk (1595), which was signed by several bishops. The Union of Uzhgorod (1646) initiated a series of unions through the course of the next 125 years before Subcarpathian union was actually achieved and a see established at Mukacheve in 1771.

The subsequent political division of Galician territory subjected Byzantine Catholics there to persecution by their Orthodox brethren, who thought they had changed their traditions by allowing Latin rite deviations. The Catholics belonged to the peasant classes and lived in the villages, whereas the Orthodox for the most part belonged to the lesser landed nobility. Catholics were obliged to pass over to Orthodoxy under threat of violence, despite the assurances of Russian officials. In 1805 the See of Kiev was abolished. The Ruthenians were placed under the protection of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the jurisdiction of the archbishop of L'viv (Lemberg), who was recognized as the primate of the Ruthenians of Galicia, Subcarpathia, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Nascent nationalism began to divide the Galician Church. After 1848 the term Ukrainian designated the people and nation to the north of the Carpathian Mountains. The term White (Byelo) Russian meant those inhabiting the northern regions around the Pripet Marshes. The remaining Ruthenians slowly developed a national consciousness in the Subcarpathian region and continued to refer to themselves as Greek Catholics, an ethnic as well as a religious term. Those Ruthenians who assumed Hungarian culture called themselves Hungarians. The creation of the Czechoslovak state and the advent of the Soviet Union reinforced these divisions. Ruthenian immigration to Yugoslavia in the sixteenth century created a substantial community there that survived persecution after World War II.

After World War II the Soviet government actively persecuted Ruthenian Catholics to force them into the Russian Orthodox Church. The major hierarchs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church were arrested in 1945 and 1946 and exiled to Siberia or killed. In a council of reunion held at L'viv, the remaining faithful, whose families had been threatened with deportation, voted in March 1946 to abolish the union with Rome. The metropolitan see of Galicia was placed under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow. In the case of the Subcarpathian Ruthenians, the territory of the diocese of Uzhgorod was ceded to the Soviet Union by Czechoslovakia after its occupation by the Soviet army. The Orthodox began to occupy Catholic churches under the protection of the civil administration. The Ruthenian bishop, Theodore Romzha (b. 1911), died mysteriously in 1947. The abrogation of the union with Rome was signed in August 1949 in the Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Mukacheve. The underground Ukrainian Catholic Church began to reemerge even before the fall of the Soviet regime.

The liturgy and ritual of the Ruthenian Catholics remained conservative for centuries and followed the main lines of the Orthodox tradition. Ancient Greek melodies were preserved in the Ruthenian prostopenie (plainchant) at the time that the Russian Orthodox Church introduced polyphony and Renaissance melodies into their church music. The Synod of Zamość (1720) introduced a number of innovations as a result of pressure from the Polish government to conform the Ruthenian usage to the Latin. These included the addition of the phrase "and the Son" (filioque ) into the text of the creed; the commemoration of the pope; the teaching that the sacred moment of the liturgy, when the transformation of the elements occurs, was at the words of institution ("This is my body"), and not at the epiklesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit) as had been taught in the East; the prohibition of communion to infants; the prohibition against using sponges to clean the diskos (paten); the prohibition against pouring hot water into consecrated wine; and the use of only one priest as well as a shortened formula in the administration of the anointing of the sick. Western types of Marian devotion and devotion to the Sacred Heart were introduced under the influence of the Polish Jesuits. Popular hymnody was often Western-inspired or based on folk melodies.

Austro-Hungarian emigration in large numbers began in the 1870s as a result of poor distribution of agricultural land, rising expectations from industrialization, and political and social pressures. A second wave of immigrants, consisting mostly of Ukrainian professionals and intellectuals, reached the United States after World War II, but large numbers of this group settled in Europe and other countries.


The Jesuits began to work as missionaries among the Transylvanian Romanians in 1693. Their efforts, combined with the denial of full civil rights to the Orthodox and the spread of Protestantism in the area, which caused growing concern among the Orthodox clergy, contributed to the acceptance of a union with Rome by the Orthodox metropolitan Atanasie of Transylvania (Atanasie Anghel [16971713]) in 1698. He later convoked a synod that formally concluded the agreement on September 4, 1700. At first this union included most of the Romanian Orthodox in the province. But in 1744 the Orthodox monk Visarion Sarai led a popular uprising that sparked a widespread movement back to Orthodoxy. In spite of government efforts to enforce the union with Rome, even by military means, resistance was so strong that Empress Maria Theresa (17171780) reluctantly allowed the appointment of a bishop for the Romanian Orthodox in Transylvania in 1759. In the end, about half of the Transylvanian Romanians returned to Orthodoxy. It proved difficult for the new Greek Catholic community, known popularly as the United Greek Catholic Church, to obtain in practice the religious and civil rights that had been guaranteed it when the union was concluded. Bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein (16921768), head of the church from 1729 to 1751, struggled with great vigor for the rights of his church and of all Romanians within the empire. He died in exile in Rome.

Coptic Church

Despite attempts at union in the twelfth, thirteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth centuries, the numbers of Uniate Copts remained small. Pope Leo XIII (r. 18781903) created a Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria, Egypt, in 1895, and a Catholic Coptic synod elected Cyril Makarios (18671909) as patriarch in 1898. The see remained vacant from 1908 to 1947, when Mark II Khouzam (18881958) was elected patriarch. Four dioceses were erected, and the number of faithful began to increase dramatically. Upon the death of Mark II in 1958, Stephanos I Sidarouss (19041987) was elected patriarch and subsequently was made the first Coptic cardinal. After that, great progress was made on the resolution of understanding of Christological differences between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches. In no other ecumenical relationship has a dogmatic disagreement of this type been overcome so unequivocally and with such official approbation. This was achieved without any official bilateral dialogue. The interplay of unofficial theological consultations and official pronouncements made by church leaders proved to be an effective means of resolving a centuries-old problem. The solution of the ecclesiological and ministerial differences remained much more elusive.

Malabar Church of India

The Malabar Church, according to tradition, was founded by the apostle Thomas. Hence the Malabarians refer to themselves as "Thomas Christians." From remote times Malabar fostered relations with the churches of Persia and Seleucia. From the ninth century to the sixteenth century the Syro-Chaldean patriarchs alone usually sent bishops to Malabar. Little is known about the Malabar Church before the sixteenth century. Portuguese missionaries arrived in India in 1498. The Malabarians, who did not consider themselves separated from Rome, welcomed the Portuguese as brothers in the faith, but they refused to allow Latin practices into their church. After 1552, two lines of Syro-Chaldean patriarchs sent bishops to Malabar, but only the bishops of the line of Sulaqa were confirmed in office by the pope of Rome.

When Mar Abraham, the last Chaldean bishop, died in 1597, the Portuguese archbishop of Goa, Alexis de Menezes (15591617), acted against what he thought were Nestorian errors in the Malabar Church. He convoked and presided at the synod of Diamper in 1599. At the synod the Malabar liturgy was changed. The anaphoras of Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350428 ce) and of Nestorius (d. c. 451 ce) were suppressed; the formula "mother of God" was introduced wherever "mother of Christ" was discovered; the calendar of saints was rejected; and many Latin practices were introduced into the eucharistic liturgy and other sacramental rites.

Membership of Uniate Churches
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Further the creed was inserted immediately after the reading of the gospel; unleavened bread and communion of the faithful under one species only was introduced; and a consecration prayer, translated from the Latin, was inserted at the fraction rite instead of before the anamnesis and epiclesis.

Rome appointed Bishop Francis Roz (15571624), a Jesuit, as Abraham's successor in November 1599. His policy of Latinization met with great opposition. Archdeacon George, who had earlier been given the right of succession to Abraham by Rome, died in 1637. George's nephew Thomas assumed the leadership of the opposition. In 1653, when the Portuguese sent Ahattallah, a Syro-Chaldean claiming authority from Rome, to Goa, the opposition swore that they would never be under the control of the Jesuits. This was called the Coonan Cross Oath. Four months later twelve priests ordained Thomas as their bishop. Rome made efforts to heal this breach. Over the course of the next decade, eighty-four opposition congregations returned to Rome, and thirty-two remained with Thomas. This party, now called the "new party," accepted Jacobitism and the Syro-Antiochean rite, and from them descend the Malankara Catholics. Attempts at reunion made by Mar Thomas IV and Mar Thomas V in the early eighteenth century were fruitless. On September 20, 1930, Mar Ivanios George Thomas Panickerveetil (18821930), metropolitan of the Bethany congregation of Jacobite monks, Mar Theophilos James Abraham Kalapurakal (18911956), bishop of Tiruvarur, and their whole community signed a union agreement with Rome. These Malankar Catholics retain the West Syrian liturgy but use the native dialect of Malayalam as their liturgical language.

See Also

Schism, article on Christian Schism.


For an honest assessment of contemporary difficulties with Uniatism see Robert Taft's "The Problem of 'Uniatism' and the 'Healing of Memories': Anamnesis, Not Amnesia," Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 4142 (20002001): 155196. A good historical survey is Robert Roberson's The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey (Rome, 1999). An in-depth study of the Slavic unions is Oscar Halecki's From Florence to Brest, 14391596 (Rome, 1958), in which the Polish historian works almost exclusively with primary sources to debunk some established positions about the motives of those who sought union. A good case study of an individual union is Michael Lacko's The Union of Užhorod (Cleveland, Ohio, 1966). For a good treatment of Subcarpathian nationalism, politics, and intellectual life see Paul Robert Magocsi's The Shaping of a National Identity: Subcarpathian Rusʾ, 18481948 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978). A modern treatment of the complexities of Ukrainian nationalism and religion is Serhii Plokhy and Frank E. Sysyn's Religion and Nation in Modern Ukraine (Edmonton and Toronto, Canada, 2003).

Thomas F. Sable (1987 and 2005)