The Late Sixteenth to the Mid Seventeenth Century
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
The 17th century was a transitional one in Maronite Church history. While two synods were held in 1598 and 1644, they were not assembled in the presence of Papal legates, but called and presided over by the Patriarchs themselves. It was during this time that the declarations regarding liturgy and practice of previous synods and of Papal legates were either implemented or disregarded. During this period there was a steady stream of correspondence between the Holy See and the Patriarchate regarding the matters studied by the previous synods and current problems.
The Synod of 1598
Patriarch Joseph el-Ruzzi convoked a synod in 1598 which met in the village of Beit-Moussa. Besides re-affirming previous decrees regarding Baptism and Christmation, it made confession by the faithful obligatory three times a year: at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. It was not permitted to have baptismal godparents from a heretical or schismatic community, nor was one allowed to receive the Eucharist in another community. The words of institution in the Divine Liturgy were to be only those found in the Missal of 1592 (that is, the words taken from the Roman Missal).
Marriage with non-Catholics was forbidden. The Synod forbade marriage after subdiaconate, which was another imitation of the Roman practice. Maronite tradition did not forbid marriage until diaconate. In fact, this synodal canon was never put into practice.
An innovation from this synod was the canon making the vigils of Epiphany, Purification, Ascension, Pentecost, Transfiguration, Exultation of the Holy Cross, and All Saints, days of fast. Heretofore, vigils were unknown in the East as days of fast.
In addition to the above canons, Patriarch Joseph el-Ruzzi instituted other laws to correspond more closely the practice of the Roman rite. He permitted bishops to eat meat (heretofore they had abstained always), and allowed the eating of fish and drinking of wine during Lent. He also dropped the penitential week of Niniveh and shortened the fast before the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Dormition from thirty days to fifteen days, and before Christmas from forty days to twenty days.
Patriarch el-Ruzzi also promulgated the Gregorian calendar in 1606. It seems that the Roman students had something to do with its introduction into Lebanon. With its inception, the Western feasts of Corpus Christi and St. Joseph were formally accepted. However, the calendar was accepted only in Syria at first. In Cyprus and elsewhere the difficulties were such that the Julian calendar continued to be used. It was also at the beginning of the 17th century that the Maronites abandoned counting the years from the era of Alexander the Great and began dating from the Christian era.
The reaction among the Maronites against these innovations was so great that Pope Paul V in a letter in 1610 to Patriarch John Makhlouf, successor of Patriarch Joseph, declared that the Holy See permits the return of the former customs in order to pacify the spirit of the people. However,as time went on the innovations became accepted practice.
Maronite Practice in the 17th Century
The Maronite life-style of this time is reported by two Western voyagers, John Cotovicus and Francois de Breves. Cotovicus, who traveled to Jerusalem and the Middle East in 1598 and 1599, reports that the Patriarch of the Maronites has the title Patriarch of Antioch and has ten suffragan bishops, who have no dioceses of their own. He mentions that the Maronites use western practices such as bells, miter, ring and unleavened bread. But they also retain eastern customs such as married clergy, communion to infants, the faithful receive the Eucharist under the forms of bread and wine, and Easter is kept according to the ancient manner.
Francois de Breves gives us a description of a patriarchal divine liturgy at Qannoubin in 1605. He notes that the Maronite Liturgy is similar to that of the Roman, with the exception that neither the priests nor the people ever kneel during the divine service. We are told that the Patriarch lived in simple poverty , and was loved and revered as a “demi-god”, because of the candor and sanctity of his life. The monks in Lebanon never ate meat and lived on roots, beans and fruits. Also, at that time, there were 600 villages in Lebanon under the rule of the Patriarch.
In 1609, the Bishops unanimously elected John Makhlouf Patriarch. He was noted for his deep piety and heroic virtue and supposedly had a vision when he was in the province of Kesrawan. In a letter dated October 7, 1610, Pope Paul V stated that since he has heard that the Druze Emir Of Lebanon, Fakhr-ed-din II, was an enemy of the Turks and was favorable toward the Christians, the Maronites should cultivate his friendship to gain his protection.
During the time of Ottoman rule, the political fortunes of Lebanon depended on the strength of the alliances that were formed among the various Lebanese feudal families, and the power of the pashas (governors) who had jurisdiction over Lebanon, such as the pashas of Damascus and Tripoli, and later of Saida. In the latter part of the 16th century the Ma’an, a Druze family in the Shouf, increased its power base among the emirs in Lebanon. The apex of its power was reached during the reign of Fahkr-ed-din II (1598 – 1635). He extended his rule far beyond Lebanon to the prejudice of the neighboring emirs and pashas. When threatened with an attack from the pasha of Damascus, he fled to Florence in Italy where he remained with Cosmo de Medici (1613- 1618), and visited Pope Paul V. He developed ties with the Maronite scholars who resided in Italy, and later, one of the them, Abraham el-Haqlini, served as his intermediary before the court of the Medicis.
Fahkr-ed-din returned to Lebanon, consolidated his rule and increased the prosperity of Lebanon through encouraging Western culture and trade with Europe. With a prosperity and peace unknown up to that time, arts and letters flourished in Lebanon.
Fahkr-ed-din was very tolerant and favorable to the Christians. In regard to the Maronites, he left all their affairs up to the Patriarch. In fact, at times, 20,000 Maronites fought in his army. His principal adviser and aide was the Maronite, Abou-Nader el-Khazen. (There are some who claim that Fahkr-ed-din converted secretly to Christianity, but there is no factual evidence to support this).
Fahkr-ed-din aspired to achieve complete independence, but was abandoned by his allies and defeated by his enemies. He was accused of various charges by the neighboring Turkish rulers and was beheaded in Istanbul on the orders of Sultan Murad IV in 1635.
While religious tolerance and peace existed in the areas where Fahkr-ed-din had exercised his authority when he was in power, after his fall reprisals by his enemies and rivalries among his followers destroyed his work and unleashed new bloody battles in Lebanon. The Metoualis, especially, supported by the pashas of Tripoli, attacked the Christian area of North Lebanon. This situation caused more emigration of the Maronites to the South. Many settled in the midst of the Druzes and even among those Metoualis, whose sheiks were more favorable than those in the North.
Under the direction of Patriarch John Makhlouf, the Maronite Divine Office for weekdays was printed at the Maronite College in Rome in 1624. It contained hymns and homilies of St. Ephrem. Prior to this time, the Psalms were published in Syriac and Karshuni (Arabic written in Syriac letters) at Koshaya in Lebanon in 1610, and in Latin and Arabic by the Roman students in 1614. The students of the Maronite College in Rome also published a catechism in 1613. Various books dealing with Arabic and Syriac grammar and literature were also printed.
The Coming of Western Religious Orders
In 1625, Pope Urban VIII, responding to the request of the Patriarchal Vicar, Bishop George Amira, requested that three French religious communities: the Carmelites, Capuchins, and Jesuits, send missionaries to Lebanon and Syria. The situation of the Maronites outside of Northern Lebanon was rather precarious. In Aleppo, the Maronite church could seat about forty or fifty people. They did not have a bishop to serve them, and the priests were little educated. The Jesuits who were sent there in 1625, taught catechism to the children and established a sodality. The Maronite community grew to 4,000. At Damascus there were a few hundred Maronites with a small church and simple priests. The same could be said for Saida. In Tripoli there were three hundred Maronites hard pressed by the Turks.
Patriarch George Amira
Patriarch Makhlouf was succeeded in 1633 by George Amira, the first student of the Maronite College in Rome to be chosen for this position, and the first patriarch not to come from the monastery. George Amira had been sent to study in Rome in 1583 and returned to Lebanon in 1595. In 1596 he published a Syriac grammar in Latin, one of the first of its kind in all of Europe, and also a New Testament in Syriac. He had been consecrated bishop of Ehden in 1596 at the request of the Papal legate Dandini. He was given permission by the Pope to celebrate Mass in Latin as well as Syriac and Rome also assigned to him an annual pension during his whole life.
Patriarch George Amira worked to develop Catholic missions in the East. For example, he gave the Carmelites the Monastery of St. Eliseus near the Cedars in 1643.
Patriarch Joseph Aqouri (1644- 1648) and the Synod of 1644
Patriarch Joseph Aqouri succeeded Patriarch Amira in 1644. Among the many books he wrote were a defense of the Gregorian calendar against the calumnies of the Eastern nations; a Syriac grammar with interpretation in Karshuni; various hymns in Arabic, and, perhaps, a tract on the primacy of the Sovereign Pontiff.
In sharp contrast to Patriarch Joseph el-Ruzzi, Patriarch Aqouri had a strong desire to return to and preserve the ancient customs. Therefore, he convoked a synod of the clergy and people at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Harash in Lebanon. The Synod opened on December 5, 1644 and was attended by seven bishops and some priests. The Synod re-instituted the practice forbidding bishops to eat meat. It also forbade the activity of Western Missionaries and Religious Orders in Maronite parishes without the permission of the Patriarch.
The Synod of 1644 seems to have restored some of the ancient practices more by what it did not legislate than by explicit decree. For example, there is no mention made of the obligation to use the Missal of 1592 with its borrowing from the Roman Missal, nor is there any reference to fasting on the vigils of feasts. However, the Synod also repeated many of the Latinizations of the previous synods. While there was an attempt to return to ancient customs, there resulted a confirmation of many western practices. The two currents of Latinization and reaction to it were to continue to oppose each other, both in spirit and in practice until the definitive synod of 1736.
(Reprinted with permission.)