Aspects of Maronite History (Part Nine)
The 18th Century (continued)
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
The Emirs, who succeeded Fakhr-ed-din II who was sentenced to death in 1635, governed Lebanon with a precarious authority, under the strict surveillance of the sultan. At the time of the death of the Emir Ahmed in 1697, the Ottoman rulers were preoccupied with affairs of Europe, and thus were willing to allow the Lebanese to have a degree of autonomy, as long as the annual tribute was paid to Istanbul.
At a national assembly held in Al-Samqaniyah, the feudal lords of Lebanon chose the Druze Emir Bashir-al-Shihabi to be governor of Lebanon. The Shihab family was to rule Lebanon for almost a century and a half (1697-1842). In 1711, after the battle of Ain Dara, the new governor Haidar Shihab brought about feudal reform in Mount Lebanon and a re-distribution of the feudal districts in which the Maronites chiefs took part. Some of the Maronite leaders were chosen to take part in the direction of the country. Besides the Khazen, there were the Hobaich, the Dahdah, the Khoury, and Bitar among others. Among the Moslems and the Druzes, the Bellama were raised to the rank of emirs and installed over the Matn. The Jumblatts were in the Shouf.
The Maronite leaders worked to get the administration of the Maronite districts of North Lebanon into their hands rather than Metualis. This was achieved in 1777 when the handling of affairs was given to the sheiks of the region such as the Karams, Awads, Dahers and Abi Saabs among others. During the reign of Emir Molhem (1732-1756), the Maronites spread further to the South of Lebanon and eastward to the Biqa Valley.
In the Middle of the 18th century, the Shihab received Baptism and joined the Maronite Church. Other emirs such as the Bellama followed their example. The first Christian Emir was Yusif who was proclaimed emir of all the Mountain in the national assembly of Barouk in 1770. He ruled from 1770-80. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the Druzes he was considered officially a Druze, and the Moslems looked upon him as Moslem. It was necessary to await the coming of the Emir Bashir II (1789-1840) to have a national emir declare publicly his Christian faith. This happened during and after the Egyptian occupation of 1831- 40.
The adherence of the emirs to the Christian religion and the entry of the local feudal leaders into the government of the country contributed notably to the prosperity of the Maronite Church. The civil chiefs of the people made a large number of donations to the church and established pious foundations. However, there were times when the secular rulers tried to interfere in the affairs of the Church. The generosity of the Christian Chiefs was a great help to the various Religious Orders in Lebanon. Under the patronage of the Khazen family, the work of the Capuchins and the Jesuits spread rapidly. In 1655, Abu-Nowfel el-khazen had given land to the Jesuits in Aintura, where there they built a college and a seminary. Franciscans became established in Tripoli and Carmelites in Bsharri.
According to the Maronite historian, Bishop Pierre Dib, the Shihabi emirs, thanks to their political intelligence, acquired a strong influence with neighboring Turkish authorities. They used their prestige for the service of Lebanon which they maintained as a land of refuge. During this time, Mount Lebanon, compared with the other territories of the region, could be considered as a land of refuge. But, in reality, the peace that they enjoyed was precarious and intermittent, and at the mercy of the neighboring pashas.
The pashas always watched for an opportunity to mix in the affairs of Mount Lebanon, and their interference caused trouble and disorder. Politics, rival factions and divisions among the emirs aroused a spirit of anarchy. This situation gave rise to the extortions, affronts, turmoil of all sorts and battles among different groups. The Maronites were hardly spared; they were at times left at the mercy of their enemies.
In the latter part of the 18th century, a large controversy occurred involving the Patriarch, the Jesuits and Rome regarding the mystic nun known as Hindiyeh [Indian]. Her real name was Ann Ajami and she was born in Aleppo in 1720. Piously raised by her mother, she tended towards mysticism from her youth. At the age of twelve, she was admitted into the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart, founded in Aleppo by the Jesuits, and then directed by the Lazarist Fathers. Besides her penchant for mysticism, she acquired early on a great reputation for sanctity. Her religious practices included fasting and physical discipline. From an early age, Hindiyeh claimed to have visions of Christ, and also of the Blessed Mother and the saints.
Her Spiritual Director during her early years was the Jesuit Anthony Venturi. The Jesuits wished her to enter the convent of the Visitation, established under their direction in Aintura. However, she claimed that the Lord appeared to her many times, and that she desired to found a new congregation under the name of the Sacred Heart. This congregation was founded at Bkerke in 1750, and its rule, which was in accordance with the Synod of 1736, was approved by Patriarch Simon Awad and some Maronite Bishops.
Meanwhile, the Jesuits had become her opponents and declared that they suspected her spirituality and teachings, and recalled her Jesuit spiritual director to Europe. The Patriarch, other Christian personalities and even the Emir defended her. After an investigation, the Patriarch exonerated her, which led to a conflict between him and the Jesuits. The latter took the question to Rome, and worked against the Patriarch and the bishops before the Holy See. Things came to the point where the Patriarch was obliged to forbid Maronites to have any relations with the Jesuits under pain of excommunication.
On January 4, 1752, the Pope censured Patriarch Simon Awad for his having pronouced on an affair of such importance without having consulted the Holy See beforehand. He suppressed the Congregation of the Sacred Heart and ordered Hindiyeh transferred to another convent. He subsequently sent an apostolic legate to make a complete investigation. The legate returned to Rome with a report favorable to Hindiyeh. The Pope charged others to examine the writings relative to Hindiyeh and her congregation. Their evaluation conflicted with the report of the legate. Seeing this, the Pope called an assembly of Cardinals to settle the question. In January 1755, the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith wrote to the Patriarch concerning the "manifest illusions", ecstasies, visions and revelations of the seer and of the "credulity" of her spiritual directors. Pope Benedict XIV imposed a new spiritual director on Hindiyeh, but this arrangement did not work out.
Patriarch Tobias el-khazen
In the meantime Patriarch Simon Awad had died on February 12, 1756 and was succeeded by Tobias El-khazen. The new patriarch established his residence in Kesrawan. He was desirous to implement the decrees of the Synod of 1736. To that end he called for a synod to be held at the Monastery of St. Anthony of Beqata in Kesrawan in 1756. The synod tried to bring about the division of the eparchies as decreed by the Synod of 1736.
Patriarch Tobias El-khazen was neither an adversary nor a close follower of Hindiyeh, whose reputation had increased and whose work was growing. The theological and spiritual doctrines of which she had spoken of had gained for her popular esteem. They wondered how her knowledge could be purely human when she could hardly read Arabic. The truths she enunciated were considered by the public as affirmations of divine knowledge. According to Bishop Dib, in reality, the doctrines that Hindiyehpropagated were nothing original. They were simply an amalgam of ideas taken from various works in dogmatic and moral theology, expresed in Arabic by some students from Rome.
The convent of Hindiyeh became a site for pilgrimage. In 1759 and 1768 Pope Clement XIII accorded indulgences to the visitors of Bkerke. (It seems that Rome had forgotten the condemnation it had made some years before.)
Patriarch Joseph Estephan
Patriarch Tobias El-khazen died on May 29, 1766 and was succeeded by Joseph Estephan. The new patriarch made his residence in Ghosta. An ardent promoter of ecclesiastical discipline, Patriarch Estephan was desirous to apply the reforms of the Synod of 1736. With papal approval, he called for a synod to assemble in Ghosta in 1768. The Congregation of the Propaganda approved the text of the synod on September 4, 1769.
To ensure that the clergy be properly trained, and in spite of great difficulties, Patriarch Estephan established a national seminary at the Monastery of Ain Warqa. This seminary gained a great reputation as a center of learning. It produced a large number of patriarchs, bishops and priests.
Patriarch Estephan was also interested in the temporal interests of his people. In 1771, he named the Cure of Notre Dame of Versailles, Abbe Allard, as his representative to the King of France "in order to execute our commissions and those of our Patriarchal See of Antioch, which is placed under the protection of our great king, the most Christian King of France and Navarre." He also petitioned from King Louis XVI that the well-known Maronite Sheik Ghandour Said El-Khoury, be consul of France to Beyrouth. El-Khoury had been secretary of the Emir of Mount Lebanon, Joseph Shihab. In 1787, el-Khoury was named consul of France to Beyrouth
Patriarch Estephan's policies did cause some opposition from some bishops and monasteries. They complained first to the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, and later to the Pope himself. Joining in the opposition were some members of El-khazen family. The Pope asked the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith to make an investigation. Those opposed to the Patriarch used the controversy surrounding Hindiyeh as a weapon against him.
The Congregation of the Sacred Heart, under the auspices of the Patriarch, had risen anew. The Patriarch was an ardent apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He had made the Feast of the Sacred Heart a holy day of obligation in the Patriarchate, and ordered that it be celebrated with as much solemnity as Easter and the Ascension. In addition to approving the Congregation at Bkerke, he aggregated three other religious communities to it.
As Hindiyeh increased in reputation, so did the rumors against her. Among those opposed to her were her brother, a Jesuit, Nicholas Ahami, who had been a spiritual director and treasurer of her convent. When he was discharged, he became a violent opponent, but later retracted his position and became a defender. The accusations against the convent were also made against the Patriarch. So many complaints were sent to the Holy See that it sent two pontifical missions to investigate. Both sided with the opposition. The second legate made extreme charges against the Patriarch. On June 25, 1779, the Pope suspended the Patriarch from the powers of orders and jurisdiction, except those of priest. A Patriarchal administrator was named to handle the affairs of the Patriarchate. Bishop Dib observes that the responsibility for this decision falls heavily on the erroneous information provided by the two Roman representatives.
Rome declared Hindiyeh a victim of illusions, condemned her to retract her pretended revelations and disavow her doctrines, which were characterized as false, temerarious and touching on heresy. She was relegated to another convent, and the Congregation and Confraternity of the Sacred Heart were definitively suppressed. Hindiyeh transferred to the convent of Saidat el-Haglah, ended her days in quiet and penance, and died on February 13, 1798.
Patriarch Estephan, despite serious illness, decided to go to Rome to defend himself. However, by the time he reached the port of Jaffa, he was too ill to travel further. After being moved to Mt. Carmel, he sent representatives to the Holy See with the documents necessary for his rehabilitation. He also wrote to King Louis XVI.
In the meantime, the Patriarchal administrator, Michale El-Khazen, following the advice of the papal legate, called a synod at the monastery of Maiphouq for July 21, 1780. Five sessions were held at which the legate presided. All the decrees issued by Rome to the Maronites during the patriarchate of Joseph Estephan were solemnly promulgated.
The Holy See delayed in deciding on the rehabilitation of Patriarch Estephan, and pursued further investigation of the case. Finally, Fr. Joseph Tian, later Patriarch, was delegated by the Patriarch, bishops and clergy to represent the Maronite cause. On September 21, 1784 the congregation pronounced a definitive verdict in favor of the Patriarch.
It is difficult to evaluate the Hindiyeh controversy. It pre-occupied three different patriarchs, a number of papal representatives and often the Holy See itself. The Jesuits and certain opponents of Patriarch Estephan chose to consider her as dangerous and suspect. Her charismatic spirituality and her strong will appealed to a large number of the ordinary people, and even the Emirs of Mount Lebanon defended her. Some observers have even seen her as a symbol of national identity in opposition to the self-interest of foreigners. She still remains a mystery to historians. Some have found her teachings to be unoriginal. Others are amazed at how a person who some have considered illiterate could be said to have produced fifteen volumes of meditations, exhortations, spiritual dialogues, hymns, prayers and mystical experiences.
Patriarch Estephan convoked a synod at Ain-Shaqiq on September 6-11, 1786; however, its acts were not approved by the Pope. Pope Pius VI ordered the holding of a new synod under the presidency of Germanos Adam, Melkite Metropolitan of Aleppo, who was designated Apostolic legate. The synod met on December 3-18, 1790 at the Monastery of Bkerke. It had as its principal purpose to provide for the application of the Synod of 1736 and pontifical instructions to the Maronites. At the ninth session, the bishops decreed the transfer of the patriarchal see to the Monastery of Bkerke. The acts of the assmbly were confirmed in part by the Holy See.
(Reprinted with permission.)