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Rabban Sauma

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Rabban Sauma - munkki kuin Marco Polo

Kirkon ihmeellisimmät tarinat

Kiinalainen kristitty munkki Rabban Sauma teki 1200-luvulla ällistyttävän matkan Kiinasta Bagdadiin ja sieltä Euroopan hoveihin. Vaikka hänen matkansa on yhtä ihmeellinen kuin Marco Pololla, Sauma oli lähellä joutua historiankirjoituksen unohtamaksi. Sauma kuului nestoriolaiseen eli idän kirkkoon, joka oli vielä tuohon aikaan levinnyt valtavan laajalle. Hän lähti matkalleen tarkoituksenaan tehdä pyhiinvaellus Jerusalemiin, mutta matkasta tuli todellinen vuoristorata, jonka loppuvaiheissa munkki sai tehtäväkseen houkutella Euroopan kuninkaat ja paavi sotilasliittoon mongolien kanssa. Rabban Sauman tarina kertoo myös 1200-luvun mongolien vallasta, joiden valtakunta ulottui Kiinasta Persiaan ja pohjoisessa aina Laatokalle saakka.Ehdota meille aihetta tai lähetä palautetta osoitteeseen palaute@kirkonihmeellisimmättarinat.fiFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/kirkonihmeellisimmattarinatTwitter: https://twitter.com/KirkonTarinat


12 May 2021

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Le Voyage de Rabban Sauma, avec Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet

Chrétiens d'Orient

durée : 00:22:57 - Chrétiens d'Orient - par : Sébastien de Courtois - Un « Marco Polo à l’envers ». Un moine nestorien parti de Chine vers l’Europe au XIIIe siècle arrive à Bagdad, Constantinople, Naples, Rome, Paris et Bordeaux. De culture mongole, il rencontre les grands de son époque pour une mission diplomatique. - réalisation : François Caunac - invités : Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet docteur en histoire et directrice de recherche au CNRS au laboratoire Orient et Méditerranée (CNRS, Paris IV, Paris I, École Pratique des Hautes Études). Femme scientifique de l’année 2016


4 Oct 2020

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Rabban Sauma Part 12

The History of the Christian Church

This is the last of a dozen episodes on Rabban Sauma.Having met with all the dignitaries his embassy on Arghun’s behalf required, Sauma was anxious to return home. The delay caused by the Roman Cardinals failure to appoint a new Pope had lengthened his stay beyond what he’d anticipated. Although no record of it is given, Arghun may have urged Sauma to return by a specific date. So he packed up and started the journey back to Persia. It was April 1288.And remember, accompanying him was the French king Philip’s ambassador who bore a personal letter from the King to Arghun. The one Sauma carried was an official correspondence.His route was the same as the one he took West. The only change was his trip to Veroli SW of Rome. The Cathedral of St. Andrew was an attraction he decided to include on his way home. It wasn’t much of a detour. What’s interesting about his stay in Veroli was his inclusion with several Roman church officials in the issuing of indulgences. These indulgences, usually issued in the Name of Christ, were rendered under the auspices of God the Father, indicating a nod on the part of the Catholics to The Rabban’s Nestorian emphasis. The Vatican museum has some of these indulgences granted by Sauma. They bear his seal showing a figure with a halo, left hand on chest and right holding a star. It bears the text, “Bar Sauma—Tartar—From the Orient” Tartar being the common word of Europeans for the Mongols.After Veroli, Sauma took ship and arrived back in Persia in Sept; a journey of five months. He was immediately ushered into the Ilkhan’s presence. He handed off the various gifts and correspondences he’d been given to pass along to Arghun. He then gave his report, a full account of his time in the West.Arghun was pleased that the kings of England and France were on board for an alliance against the Mamluks. Though the Pope hadn’t pledged to the alliance, he’d made clear his desire for closer relations. Stoked at that prospect, Arghun looked with great favor on the Rabban. He expressed his dismay at the hardships Sauma had endured on his journey and promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. He pledged to build the Rabban a church near the palace where he could retire to a life of quiet service of God. Sauma asked that Arghun send for his old friend Mar Yaballaha, head of the Nestorian Church, to come to court to receive the gifts and letters Western leaders had sent him. While there, he could consecrate the land for the new church. The summons was duly sent.Arghun had a special tent-church constructed in anticipation of Mar Yaballaha’s arrival. When the Catholicos did, a three-day banquet was thrown with Arghun himself serving both Sauma and the Nestorian Patriarch. He commanded the people of his realm to offer regular prayers for the health of both the Rabban and Catholicos. The favor he showered on the Nestorians led to a greater boldness on their part across Persia. In 1289, Arghun appointed a Jewish physician as his vizier or prime minister and turned over a good part of the governance of the realm to his capable leadership. With both Christianity and Judaism on the rise, unease among Muslims began to roil.Arghun remained hopeful of the alliance with the West against the Mamluks. He sent a letter by way of a Genoese merchant to Kings Edward & Philip, calling for them to make good on their promise of joining in a campaign to remove the Muslims from the Holy Land. He told them the Mongols would be attacking Damascus in January 1291. They were to attack the Mamluk headquarters in Egypt. They’d then meet in Jerusalem, where Arghun would help them conquer the City, and once secured, turn it over to Europeans control. Both Philip & Edward replied. While Philip’s letter is lost to us, Edward’s remains. He commended the Ilkhan for his zeal in wanting to rid the infidels from the Holy Land, but England wasn’t able to mount a Crusade apart from Papal blessing, which Edward encouraged Arghun to secure. But the Pope had made it clear; no such Crusade was in the offing. Gauging the political winds, Pope Nicholas sensed the monarchs of Europe were pretty much Crusaded out.Arghun’s campaign against Damascus never materialized, and not because of the failure to gain western support. In the Spring of 1290, the Mongol Golden Horde to his north began a series of raids into Persian territory. When a rebellion broke out in the important city of Khurasan at his eastern border, it meant any movement West toward the Mamluks was out of the question. A half year later, he became gravely ill and died in March of 1291. Subsequent Ilkhans gave up attempts at an alliance with the West against the Mamluks. Though Ghazan converted to Islam, he attacked Syria and was able to hand the Mamluks a temporary defeat. Not able to hold the territory, when the Mongols retreated, the Mamluks returned. They were never able to defeat the Mamluks after that.As for the Europeans, while Edward & Philip were up for a Crusade, the Pope wouldn’t sanction one. The monarchs might have pressed the issue had it not been for their issues at home. This was a time when Europe was fractured and disunited. Their inability to take advantage of the alliance Arghun offered meant the Mamluks were eventually able to conquer the last Outremer fortresses in Tripoli, then Acre.When Arghun died, Sauma’s promised church next to the palace hadn’t been built. The new Ilkhan wasn’t interested in the project, but at Sauma’s urging, he provided funds and permission for a new church to be built in the Nestorian headquarters in Maragha, next to Mar Yaballaha’s house. It took three yrs to construct the elaborate structure, which became the home for the many artifacts and relics the Rabban had collected on his travels. Now in his mid and late 60’s, Sauma settled into the life he’d lived years before as a young man; one of quiet study and personal ministry to everyday followers of Christ. He reports that this was the happiest and most fulfilling time of his long and eventful life.His health failing, Sauma was determined to see his good friend Marcos who’d become the Nestorian Patriarch under the name Mar Yaballaha, one last time. Though Marcos’ residence was in Maragha where Sauma’s church was, the headquarters of the Nestorian church was in Baghdad, so the Patriarch spent a good amount of his time there. Sauma made the journey there, the last of his many travels. After an emotional meeting between the two friends who’d shared such amazing adventures and accomplished so much, Sauma’s body, wracked by intense pain, finally gave out. In was January of 1294.Mar Yaballaha was inconsolable. He wept profusely for three straight days. That was followed by a melancholy that took months to dissipate. Then the Nestorian Catholicos engaged in a series of correspondences with the Roman Popes, following up on the lines of communication forged by Sauma.But the goodwill toward the Church launched from Arghun’s appreciation for Sauma’s embassy to the West, began to wither with the Ilkhan Ghasan’s conversion to Islam. When Mar Yaballaha died in 1317, Christianity was on the decline across Persia and Central Asia. It would never recover. The glory days of The Church of the East were now in the past, being covered by a thick dust of obscurity.Sauma’s records were discovered among his papers following his death but were lost after being translated by a Syrian scribe some 20 yrs later. THAT account, as we’ve already suggested, was most likely highly abbreviate, focusing almost entirely on the religious aspects of Sauma’s adventures, specifically the many relics he viewed. The additional information in the Syrian translation comes off as little more than a setting of context for the religious narrative. Sauma’s diplomatic activities are presented as an afterthought. But, in light of Sauma’s ground-breaking and boundary-smashing embassy to the West, surely he took pains to document more than the finger and shin bones of dead saints.The Syrian translator does include Sauma’s journals of the years he spent in Persia after his return from Europe. He even goes on to recount the persecution of Christians that took place after Sauma’s death when Ghazan became Ilkhan. The translator admitted, “it was not our intention to relate and set out in order all the unimportant things which Rabban Sauma did and saw, we have abridged very much of what he wrote, . . . and even the things which are mentioned here have been abridged, or amplified, according to necessity.” That necessity being the translator’s interest in the religious, rather than political, aspects of Sauma’s quest.And that may account for why Rabban Sauma has been largely overlooked by popular history. His political impact wasn’t recognized, subsumed as it was under the editorial bias of his early chronicler. Excised as well from his report were his observations of life in Western Europe, what would have been a tremendous boon to historians researching this period.In conclusion, while Rabban Sauma never returned to China and the court of Khubilai Khan to complete his adventure, he did accomplish most of what he’d set out to do. His original ambition, encouraged by his friendship with the young Marcos, was a religious pilgrimage to the headquarters of the Nestorian Church in Baghdad and the centers of Western Christianity. His dream of visiting Jerusalem birthplace of The Faith went unrealized because of the Mamluk domination of Palestine.Sauma as a genuine scholar who did more than read books. He went to the places they wrote about. He was a gifted linguist, a skilled theologian, an effective diplomat. He must have been an imminently likable fellow who got along with everyone. All who met him embraced him quickly and sought to include him as an ally. His immense wisdom was repeatedly demonstrated in his skill at avoiding subjects sure to arouse the ire of his hosts.Finally, let’s briefly recap his accomplishments.He began as a scholar-monk in the storied Church of the East. His life of quiet study in a tiny house in the mountains of China was interrupted by a teenager named Marcos who’d made Bar Sauma his hero. They became inseparable friends. Marcos’ itch to visit the places he and Sauma read about eventually infected Sauma with the same hunger. They appeared before the Great Khan Khubilai, asking permission to head West on a heretofore unheard pilgrimage to the birthplaces of their Nestorian Church and the Christian Faith. Khubilai not only permitted them, he endorsed them as envoys of his court to his Mongol allies in Persia, the Ilkhans.The journey West crossed some of the most inhospitable territories on the Planet. They encountered a mind-numbing plethora of different cultures, languages, customs & foods. When they arrived in Persia, the corrupt Patriarch of their church tried to turn them into political pawns. They adroitly side-stepped his shenanigans. Then, when he died, Sauma helped to have his friend Marcos elected as the new Patriarch, the Nestorian Catholicos known to history as Mar Yaballaha.After several years in Persia, the Mongol Ilkhan consented to allow Sauma to continue his trek West to visit the centers of European Christianity. He charged him with an additional task; being his official envoy asking for Christian Europe to mount another of the Crusades they’d staged over the previous couple centuries, to clear the Middle East of the Muslim Mamluks. Sauma then embarked on his second great journey, from Persia to Constantinople where he met the Emperor and Eastern Patriarch, then on to Rome where he met the dozen Cardinals meeting to select a new Pope. When they were unable to, he headed to Paris where he met with King Philip, then to Bordeaux to meet the English King Edward. Securing promises of an alliance with the Persian Mongols against the Mamluks, Sauma headed back to Rome where he met with the newly installed Pope Nicholas IV and helped serve the Easter celebrations.When the Pope proved evasive in pledging support for a new crusade, Sauma headed back to Persia where he was welcomed by a grateful Ilkhan.Every student in Western schools learns of the famous Marco Polo. Almost any account of the Age of Discovery that helped lift the Medieval world out of its moribundosity lists the adventures and of Marco Polo as one of its premier causes. His chronicle, written down by a fellow prisoner, became a best-seller in Europe and helped whet the appetite of Europeans for the exotic riches of the Far East. Rabban Sauma, who lived at about the same time, has been overlooked in the popular telling of history. Yet his travels and accomplishments far surpass those of Polo.If only that Syrian translator had translated ALL Sauma’s journals! If only . . .

5 Aug 2018

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Rabban Sauma Part 2

The History of the Christian Church

This is Part 2 of our series on Rabban Sauma.We begin with a brief review of the political scene into which Rabban Sauma’s story fits.Trade between the Roman Empire and the Far East was established as early as the First Century. But this trade was conducted by intermediaries. No single Western merchant made the entire trek to China, nor vice-versa. Goods traveled a ways from East to West or West to East by local caravans, which deposited them at a market, to be picked up by another caravan local to that region to continue the journey. After the Fall of the Han dynasty in the 3rd Century, and the ensuing chaos of the 4th thru 6th Centuries in China, trade stopped. With the emergence of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th Century, trade resumed. Goods flowed from the Middle East to China and back. But still, no Westerner met with his Chinese counterpart. The West prized Chinese silk and porcelain, while the East wanted frankincense, myrrh, jasmine, horses, and camels. Trade increased as Chinese dynasties and Islamic caliphates grew stronger. When they were in decline, trade did as well because of increased raids by brigands and the various protection schemes of money hungry local warlords.In these early centuries, trade flowed between Western and Eastern Asia. Europe wasn’t involved because Medieval Feudalism simply had no market for Eastern goods. That changed with Europe’s emergence from the Middle Ages and the new appetite for Eastern goods stimulated by the Crusades. The foothold Europeans established in the Outremer during that time opened routes between the Middle East and Europe that brought goods to the marketplace the newly emerging Middle Class were able to afford. It wasn’t long before silk began to adorn the wardrobe of the rich, and in a trend that’s existed since time immemorial, what the rich wear, the poor aspire to.The Mongol conquests of the 13th Century saw an increase in trade between East & West and the first contact between Europeans and Chinese. By the end of the 1270’s the Mongols controlled more territory than any other empire in history, from Korea and South China, large parts of what would later be Russia, all Central Asia, a large portion of the Middle East and all Persia.In the 12th Century, mythical stories of a Christian Ruler in the East named Prester John motivated a handful of Europeans to initiate contact in the hope of an alliance to back down the threat from Islam. The legend of Prester John was stoked by Christian communities in the Middle East who knew vaguely of the Nestorian Church of the East and had heard tales of a Central Asian ruler named Yelu Tashih, King of Khara Khitay who’d’ defeated the Muslims of his realm. They just assumed he must be a Christian. He wasn’t. But why let a little detail like that mess up a perfectly good story that might illicit assistance from Europeans in launching a Crusade that would lift the Muslim heel form the necks of Middle Eastern Christians?As the Mongols moved steadily westward in the early 13th Century, King Bela of Hungary sent a Dominican emissary named Julian to learn more about what was obviously a very real threat. Julian never reached the Mongol base. He was met instead by Mongol envoys dispatched by the Mongol ruler Batu with an ultimatum of unconditional surrender and the release to the envoys of several enemies of the Mongols who’d fled to Bela for refuge.Julian returned to Hungary with the ultimatum and an account of the Mongol army, which he said, was formidable due to its mobility. He reported it was the Mongol ambition to conquer all the way to Rome and add to their already ridiculous wealth by sacking the richest parts of Europe.The Mongol conquest of the cream of Hungary and Poland’s elite warriors and armies in 1240 by what was just the Mongol front screen put all Western Europe on notice about the new threat from the East. But Europe as fractured and disunited. The Pope and Holy Roman Emperor were at odds over who had supremacy. The call for yet another Crusade to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel floundered due to this disunity while the Christian cities in the Outremer pleaded for assistance.Three embassies were sent over the course of 1245 & 6 to the Mongols in an attempt to gather information about their intentions. Only one of them, lead by John of Plano Carpini was successful. He traveled all the way to the Mongol capital of Khara Khorum where he delivered a letter from the Pope, urging the Mongols to convert to Christianity and to leave off any further conquests in the West. While there, John witnessed the ascension of Genghis’ grandson Guyug to the position of Great Khan.Why the Mongols forsook their long history as a loose collection of nomadic tribes ruled by local chieftains to a massed nation under a supreme leader is a matter for a different study and podcast. Of our interest is the liberal policy the Mongols took toward religion in the years of their early expansion. The native religion of Mongolia was shamanism. Most of the tribes were originally ruled by a chieftain in conjunction with a shaman n a power-sharing mode. But shamanism wasn’t well suited to the ruling of the settled populations the Mongols began conquering in China and the Middle East. These peoples tended to be more literate and sophisticated and needed a Faith that reflected deeper interests than shamanism could address. As a result, the Khans either adopted the predominant religion of the region they conquered, or they maintained a policy of toleration that allowed several faiths to prosper. As a result, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity were all accepted forms of Faith in Mongol realms. What wasn’t appreciated by Mongol rulers were demands they embrace a particular faith. So the Pope’s demand he convert and forsake an invasion enraged the Great Khan Guyug. John of Plano was sent home with a letter to Pope Innocent and al Europe’s leaders to submit to the Mongols. If they balked, Guyug boasted, it would be a war the likes of which Europe had never seen.John’s embassy to the East was a disaster. Not only had he failed to convert the Mongols, he’d managed to alienate the very people the West had hoped to ally with in a campaign against the resurgent Muslims of the Middle East. And while his mission was unfruitful, John’s written account of what he experienced in the East proved to be a major boon as it lifted the veil of ignorance the West had to the East. If the Mongols had been shrouded in mystery up to that point, the mystery was dispelled with John’s comprehensive, though at times inaccurate, description of their way of life. After John of Plano Carpini’s mission, there were several attempts by Western rulers like France’s Monarch Louis to forge an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims. Some emissaries were official, while other missions were undertaken in a more covert fashion. Western insistence on the conversion of Mongol rulers to Christianity and Mongol intransigence on European submission were perennial sticking points. At one point Nestorian emissaries sent by The Great Khan Guyug to King Louis fabricated the lie that Guyug HAD converted and that he was married to the daughter of the fabled Prester John. Impressed, Louis sent two embassies to the Mongol court. Since Guyug was now dead, the Great Khanate became a prize rivals wrangled over; creating an impossible situation for the Western envoys when they became part of the prize being fought for.Relations between the Mongols and Europe remained unproductive until 1256 when The Great Khan Mongke’s brother Hulegu was sent on a mission to enlarge their territory at the expense of hostile Muslim dynasties in the Middle East. It was well-known that Hulegu’s wife was an ardent Nestorian who figured prominently in her husband’s counsels. With Nestorian support, the Mongols under Hulegu captured a portion of Armenia, known then as Cilicia, and two years later overthrew the Abbasid Dynasty and entered Baghdad, executing the last Caliph. The Mongols thus became the rulers of Persia and surrounding territories of the Middle East. In 1261, Hulegu took the title of Ilkhan, meaning under-khan. The Mongol rule of wider Persia became forever after known as the Ilkhanate. It was technically subservient to the domains of the Great Khans but for all practical purposes ended up becoming just another region of Mongol dominance until a resurgent Islam was able to push out the weakening Mongols.After the conquest of Baghdad, Hulegu’s forces continued Westward toward the Mediterranean. After taking territory in Syria, as so often happened in Mongol history, Hulegu was obliged to head home to Mongolia for the selection f the next Great Khan. His brother Mongke had died and as the tradition was among the Mongols, the next Khan would be selected by vote or the subordinate Mongol leaders, who themselves had all risen to position by merit, an innovation devised by the legendary Genghis. Before he departed for home, Hulegu appointed one of his commanders too continue the struggle against the Muslims by taking the key city of Damascus. Once Damascus fell, the rest of Syria would quickly follow. Up to this point, the Mongolian forces had seemed irresistible. But a change in Egypt meant a new state of affairs. In 1249, Turkish mercenaries of the Ayyubid dynasty revolted against their masters and established the Mamluk Dynasty. Fielding a far more powerful army, they set out to face the Mongols in Syria.Both armies were large and the Mongols had early success. They captured Damascus but were handed a serious defeat at the famous Battle of Ayn Jalut on Sept 3, 1260. This was the Mongols first defeat in the West. The Mongol commander was killed and the Mamluks retook Damascus. They then swept the Mongols from the rest of Syria.When word reached Hulegu of the defeat, he turned around without ever reaching Khara Khorum, rallied his defeated forces, determining to avenge his dead. Hulegu feared the Mamluk victory would embolden the Muslims under his rule in Persia to revolt. Since they were in the majority, a rebellion would prove devastating. But disunity in the Mongol world kept Hulegu from dealing with the Mamluks. To his north was his cousin Berke, ruler of the Mongol Golden Horde in what is today Russia. Berke and Hulegu were at odds with each other over the adjoining region of Azerbaijan, a rich plateau needed for the raising of their mounts, crucial for their style of warfare. Azerbaijan was also the region through which the increasingly rich East-West trade flowed, bring vast wealth. Exacerbating the tension between the cousins was Berke’s conversion to Islam. He wasn’t at all happy Hulegu had ended the Abbasid Caliphate and was now embroiled in hostilities with the Muslim Mamluks. So these two regions of Mongol dominance were at odds rather than united. With the defeat of the Ilkhanate at the Battle of Ayn Jalut, Berke allied with the Mamluk’s against Hulegu.Joining the fray against the Ilkhanate in Persia was the Mongol realm lying to the East in Central Asia, the Chaghadai Khanate. The tensions here were the same as those between Hulegu & Berke – over territory and religion.Surrounded by hostile realms, Hulegu sought allies to bolster his hold on Persia. Persia and the Middle East simply didn’t provide the pasturage the Mongol army required to wage effective warfare. Defeating the Mamluks and Golden Horde meant bolstering his forces with capable allies. His alliance with the ruler of Armenia provided some assistance, but Hulegu realized their addition could only forestall defeat, not attain the victory that would end the incessant conflicts.Hulegu’s alliance with his brother, the Great Khan Khubilai was more a thing of theory than practice. In Khubilai’s contest with their other brother, Arigh Boke, for the Khanate, Hulegu backed Khubilai, but due to the distance, wasn’t able to offer anything more than verbal support. The same as now true in reverse. While Khubilai supported Hulegu and the Ilkhanate of Persia, he wasn’t able to provide any forces to the contest. The result was Hulegu’s turn to the West for allies. To defeat the Mamluks and regain Syria, he’d need Christian Europe’s help. He figured they’d be open to such an alliance since they still possessed few holdings in the Outremer after the disasters of the Crusades and a resurgent Islam. Hulegu realized the haughty demands of his predecessors would not endear Western rulers to ally with him against the Mamluks. He’d have to appeal to them as equals.What Hulegu didn’t know about was the disunity among Europe’s rulers at the same time as such disorder in the Mongol realms. Also, the year 1260, when Hulegu began casting his net for allies to the West was only 20 years after the harrowing defeat of Hungary and Poland’s military elite at the hands of the Mongols. Europe was terrified of them. Since treachery was a standard part of Mongolian warfare, offers of an alliance would be regarded as ploys for conquest rather than sincere overtures of alliance. From Europe’s perspective, neither the Mamluks nor Mongols were a safe bet for alliance against the other. The best course was deemed as neutrality, and the hope the Mongols and Mamluks would duke it out in a war that would effectively cripple both. The Crusaders could then sweep in and take over.But Hulegu was ignorant of these Western impulses and dreamed of an alliance with the Christian West in a campaign against the Mamluks. Once the threat to his south and west was contained, the Ilkhans would be free to deal with the Golden Horde to their Northeast. While Hulegu’s dream of a Mongol-European alliance was never realized, after his death in 1265, his successor carried on the same hope, putting feet to it in the career of the remarkable Rabban Sauma, whose tale we’ll return to in our next episode.

27 May 2018

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Rabban Sauma Part 1

The History of the Christian Church

Rabban Sauma is the title of this Episode, Part 1.So --  there I was, walking through the Genghis Khan exhibit at the Reagan Library, reading the various offerings on the Great Khan and Mongols -  a subject that as a student of history I find fascinating when I came upon an offering that launched an investigation. It spoke of a Nestorian priest who was a Chinese version of the famous Marco Polo. As I read the exhibit’s terse account of Rabban Sauma, I knew I had a new investigation to make. Why had I never heard of this fascinating character before? Why haven’t YOU?The story of Marco Polo is part & parcel of the teaching of World History. His life and career are central to the prompts of what’s called the Age of Discovery. Mini-series have been made of his amazing tale. Virtually unknown to westerners is the story of an equally fascinating character of the same period. A Chinese Christian priest who ended up acting as an ambassador of the Mongols to the Pope and the kings of both France and England. Before that, Rabban Sauma was instrumental in establishing the new Patriarch of the venerable Church of the East. This man lived a truly epic life containing three separate sagas.The Ongguds were a Turkic people living just North of the Great Wall. They’d allied with their Chinese neighbors in the past, and had proven a fertile field for Nestorian missionaries. They were one of the first groups to throw in with Genghis, benefiting from the Great Khan’s liberal toleration policy. The Mongols were largely illiterate while the Onggud’s, having converted to Christianity centuries before, possessed an academic class of priests and scholars. These provided the administrative core of the emerging Mongolian Empire. To prove his loyalty, the Onggud ruler gave one of his sons in marriage to the Khan’s daughter.Shiban was an Onggud noble who married a woman of his class. Longing for a child but unable to conceive, they prayed and fasted. Their prayers were answered and a son was born, whom they named Bar Sauma – Son of the Fast. This was right around 1225. The piety of the parents was passed on to the son, who showed an extraordinary interest in spiritual things from a young age.He was given a religious education and proved so adept at his studies was entrusted with special duties at the church of his hometown. While his parents were proud of their son’s piety, they were disappointed when at the age of 20, he made a vow to abstain from meat and alcohol. They’d hoped Bar Sauma would eventually use his mental acuity as a scholar or official. His vow made it clear he planned on pursuing the life of a monk. While Nestorian monks were required to be celibate, deacons and priests were encouraged to be married. In some eras, they were even required to have a wife as the thought was it would better equip them to offer counsel and guidance. So Bar Sauma’s parents arranged a marriage for their son, hoping to steer his aspirations into a more amenable course. They requested he delay his commitment to becoming a monk, as he prayerfully pondered continuing the Chinese tradition of continuing the family line. They asked him, “How can it possibly be pleasing to you for our seed and name to be blotted out?” Who would inherit their property and wealth, a not insubstantial consideration since they were figured amount the Onggud nobility? This query reflects the assimilation of the Ongguds into the larger and far more dominant Chinese culture. Bar Sauma deferred to his parents wished and delayed his commitment for three years.He continued his education with the teachers his parents had arranged but stayed true to his earlier commitments. Rather than softening to his parents’ requests, they softened toward his and agreed that their son was destined for a religious life. The arranged marriage, part of which had already been formally conducted, was suspended and then annulled.Bar Sauma’s diligence in the study of the Bible came to the attention of the bishop of the Mongol capital at Tai-tu, the city that would eventually be known as Beijing. Mar Giwargis inducted Bar Sauma into the Nestorian clergy at the age of 25.That closes ch. 1 of Rabban Sauma’s amazing story. Before we open ch. 2, it would be wise to set the scene on two important dimensions of his story. The unique aspects of his Nestorianism, and the world scene his story is a part of.We spent some time on the tale of Nestorius and his theological and political contest with Cyril of Alexandria back in Season 1. While Nestorius was declared a Heretic by the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th Century, we saw that the man himself did NOT espouse heresy. The council’s decision was based more on the politics of the day than a careful analysis of his theology. BUT: it is certainly true those who came after Nestorius by a few generations did indeed deviate from orthodoxy. When Nestorius was banished from Constantinople, he went West to the monastery where he began in Antioch. After Chalcedon, his followers moved to Persia and gave rise to a rich religious tradition that came to be known as The Church of the East, synonymous with The Nestorian Church.Eventually, the very thing the Western Church accused Nestorius of, but he’d vehemently denied, became the doctrinal position of his followers; that Christ possessed not just two natures as God and Man, but that He was two PERSONS. In contradistinction with the West, Mary’s role was downgraded. She wasn’t Theotokos, that is, the bearer of God; she was Christotokos, the bearer of Jesus’ humanity.  If the Nestorians had stopped here, they might eventually have been understood to merely use different terminology to describe Jesus as the Son of God and Man. But they went further than Nestorius himself had by editing their view of the Trinity. Jesus wasn’t just subordinate to the Father in the teaching of the Church of the East, He was understood as produced by The Father, with the Holy Spirit then subsequently proceeding from both Father and Son. In other words, ontologically, The Father existed first, then the Son, then the Spirit. This has the Son and Spirit coming into being after the Father -an idea utterly anathema to Western Orthodoxy as it makes the Son and Spirit creations. But, it’s important to make this clear, in classic Nestorianism, the Son and Spirit are understood, not as creations, but as deity co-equal with the Father.The Church of the East retained the sacraments of the West, although as the two branches of the Faith evolved, they’d take on somewhat different expressions.Banished from Roman & Byzantine provinces int eh 5th Century, Nestorians settled in the Middle East and Central Asia. Beng highly missionary in outreach, they extended their reach all the way t the Far East and China. Their new headquarters was set up in Persia where they established a rich tradition with an emphasis on education and scholarship.From the 6th through 9th Centuries missionaries converted many of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. In the 7th Century, Nestorians reached China and established themselves amongst the Tang Dynasty, lasting into the 10th Century. In the late 11th and 12 Centuries, Nestorianism had taken root among the Mongols, with several of their elite women as adherents of the Faith. There was a Nestorian church in the Mongol capital at Khara Khorum.Almost counter-intuitively, The Church of the East was a settled feature of the religious scene in the 13th Century across Central Asia and the Middle East. That’s counter-intuitive because Islam had swept this area centuries before. Christianity would not decline in this region until the late 14th Century when Mongol influence also declined. It was then that a resurgent Islam saw both a voluntary and coerced conversion of other Faiths.It may be fairly said that Nestorianism spread much further than it’s Western Cousin over the same period because of its missionary zeal and scholarly ardor. Nestorian leaders were highly motivated to plant churches and extend the borders of the faith into new realms.Facilitating the spread of the faith eastward was the development of new trade routes that connected West & East. Today, we know these routes as the Silk Road, better understood as Roads – plural, as there wasn’t just one route. And they weren’t roads as we think of them. Don’t picture some kind of ancient highway, a wagon trail with clearly defined ruts across hundreds of miles of territory. That’s not what the Silk Roads of this time were. No map charted their course. Few guides could lead others on them. The path Marco Polo & Rabban Sauma took was little more than an idea when they traversed it. Later, their routes would indeed become those trails countless others would travel. But Polo & Sauma were trail-blazers, pioneers of commerce and Faith. It was Nestorian merchants who helped make the old Silk Roads. And everywhere they went, their churches followed.Another factor enhancing the spread of The Church of the East was the Nestorian policy of cultural adaptation. Missionaries didn’t require converts to adopt a Persian or Middle Eastern culture. The Gospel was understood as transcending culture. Even to the point where missionaries accommodated some decidedly unbiblical practices, such as polygamy, a common practice among the nobility of Central Asia. It isn’t that Nestorianism endorsed or approved of polygamy; they just would not see the reach of the Faith stalled until people accepted monogamy. Nestorian missionaries reasoned, Do we require monogamy before we preach The gospel and accept converts, or preach the Gospel, make converts, then disciple them toward a Biblical view of marriage? They decided for the second option.Because of this, not a few of the Mongol nobles were converted, especially among the women. And that insured the protection of Nestorianism as a viable faith under the Mongol policy of religious toleration in their rise to hegemony over all Central Asia, the Far East, and eventually into the Middle East.Nestorianism’s spread over such a vast area, combined with its assimilation of various cultures, resulted in the Faith’s diversification. While keeping its central doctrines intact and uniform, the WAY it was expressed and practiced, in terms of its rituals, took on different forms. So across the whole body of the Church of the East, while some churches looked very different from their Western counterparts, others look quite similar. Rabban Sauma will be asked to conduct a Mass in Italy before Western Church leaders and while his words were translated into Latin, what he said was readily understood and approved of, a remarkable thing when we realize the split between East & West was at that point 700 years old.Another factor that contributed to the success of Nestorianism’s spread across such a vast region is the looseness of its organization. The Church of the East was headquartered in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, modern day Baghdad, led by a Patriarch known as the Catholicus. He appointed archbishops called Metropolitans over the major dioceses. Because travel and communication between these dioceses were difficult and slow, the Metropolitans had considerable flexibility to lead their regions as they saw fit without much interference or guidance from the Catholicus. Each metropolitan, being highly educated and a willing adherent of the Faith, held firm to the doctrinal core of Nestorianism while adapting it to the cultural sensibilities of the locals.Eastern Christianity accommodated itself to local festivals and holidays. Nestorian priests blessed objects brought to them by commoners. Holy sites were designated and made the goal of pilgrimages. Relics took on special significance. What really enhanced the religion’s reach was the Nestorian clergy’s tendency to make medical treatment a part of their practice. This gained the Faith many converts.In part 2, we’ll take a look at the political scene into which Rabban Sauma stepped and lived his amazing life.Listeners to & subscribers of CS are encouraged to visit the FB page and leave a comment on where they live so we can see just how wide the CS family is.Since the podcast has grown tremendously, requiring a major expansion in our hosting requirements, we now want to invite donations to help support the podcast. Many thanks to those who’ve already done so. You can make a donation by going to sanctorum.us and hitting the Donate button.

20 May 2018