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The Old Seminary and Two Centuries of Theological Education

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--- Rev. Dr. B. Varghese                              

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Seminary under Dr.John William Doran (1826-1830):


                   Dr.John William Doran, the first graduate Missionary of the CMS, was Fenn’s successor. He was an MA of Trinity College, Dublin and received a DD after his return home. Dr.Doran’s report gives us the clearest view we posses of the Seminary at its working at that time. We shall quote the summary given by Hunt:

“In Class I, the highest, were five students whose ages ranged from seventeen to twenty and who had been in the institution from 1819 or 1820. Two of them were deacons. Their Latin subjects were Virgil and Horace; their Greek ones St.John’s Gospel and Xenophon; they learnt also Syriac, English, Euclid and History.

In Class II e were seven students, studying Virgil, Greek Grammar, Sanskrit, English, Arithmetic and Geography.

In Class III there were four students, all deacons, studying Caesar, Syriac and English.

In Class IV the leading boy out of four was a Nayar of great talents and good disposition.

In Class V and VI were six and twenty-two students respectively who learnt Latin, Sanskrit, English, Arithmetic and Geography, except the deacons who learnt Syriac and English only. Their ages ranged from twenty down to eight, a heterogeneous lot suddenly promoted to the College from the grammar school and parish schools to take the places of students who had struck against a new rule as to their dress”[1].

                   Doran, like his predecessor and successors, was amazed at the ease with which most of the students memorized: “ thinking was not their strong point: whereof, they did not shine at Mathematics”[2].

There were 103 youths under Doran. Col.Welsh and Archdeacon Robinson who visited the Seminary during Doran’s time, were very much impressed with the Library and the quality of the education[3].

Doran’s successors:

                   Doran retired invalid in 1830. As Bailey left for England on furlough (1830-1833), Baker was the sole Missionary left in Kottayam. James Baker Morewood, a Missionary who had recently joined the Kottayam Mission was put in charge of the Seminary. One day a young deacon had committed some offence and he was beaten by Morewood . This provoked the students, who quitted the Seminary almost en masse. Soon Baker assumed charge, confidence was restored and the students returned to the institution. In that time out of the 100 students, 50 were deacons[4].

                   From the beginning of 1833 till November 1835, Baker also left on furlough. When Joseph Peet arrived in May 1833, no Missionary was in Kottayam until the arrival of W.J.Woodcock on July 30, 1834[5].

Seminary under Joseph Peet (1833-1836):


                   Joseph Peet was the last European Principal of the Seminary. He served for nearly three years (May 1833 to January 1836), which was, in the words of P.Cherian “ the most unfortunate period in the history of the Mission of help”[6] Peet was only thirty five years old, when he arrived at Kottayam in May 1833. For about a year, he was the only English Missionary at Kottayam, until when he was joined  in July 1834, by W.J.Woodcock, a man of about twenty five years old. Bailey returned from furlough in October 1834 and Baker in November 1835.

                   In 1833, due to the threat of Cholera, the Seminary was closed for sometime. When Peet arrived in May 1833, the Seminary was almost deserted, and his earliest efforts were to collect students and to supervise the instruction.[7]

                   The young Missionaries were dissatisfied with the progress of the reforms and were determined to speed up the process. However, the situation had been changed since the demise of Punnathara Mar Dionysius who died of Cholera in May 1825. His successor, Cheppattu Mar Dionysius (consecrated in August 1825 = Chingom 15), was not very much disposed towards the reforms. He had the support of the leading clergy, who were also unhappy with the activities of the Missionaries.

                   In 1835, Mr.J.Tucker, Secretary of the Corresponding Committee in Madras visited Travancore and it was a turning point in the relationship between the Syrian Church and the Missionaries. Tucker had long discussion with Bailey, Peet and Woodcock.[8] Collins summarizes the contents:

“ Accordingly they unanimously agreed that the time was come for some more definite attempt to be made towards reformation. And in considering to what extent the reformation ought to be attempted, it was their opinion that the things required as indispensable should be only such as are plainly contrary to Scripture, and that attempt should first be made by means of the Church herself, lawfully represented in Synod assembled. They therefore determined to urge the Metran to call a Synod of Malpans, Kathanars and laity, where they should fully and freely discuss the state of the Church, and the conditions on which the funds for the College & c., had been raised by General Munro “.[9]

                   Thus the Missionaries decided to persuade the Metran to convene a Synod as in 1818 at Mavelikara and to force the Church to accept reforms on the Protestant lines. In November 1833, J.Tucker, wrote to the Parent Committee in London that the Mission was “ fast approaching that crisis which was naturally to be expected from the constant introduction of divine truth “.[10] In their reply the Parent Committee advised the Missionaries to be prudent and to avoid “everything that is rash, precipitate, disorderly and schismatic “.[11]

                   As we have already noted, Peet and Woodcock, both young and inexperienced, were the only missionaries at Kottayam till the close of 1834. Woodcock regularly indulged in doctrinal controversies even before he picked up a few Malayalam words.[12] In the words of P.Cherian, “ He allowed himself at times to speak and write about the Kurbana Service in language that would cause the utmost pain to the Syrians”.[13]

                   Peet, who was less controversial in his conversations, was also very critical of the doctrines of the Syrian Church. In his lectures at the Seminary, he always tried to demonstrate that the doctrines and rites of the Syrians are unbiblical and superstitious. Once, as soon as Peet left the Seminary premises, Konat Abraham Malpan told the students that what Peet said was not correct. Apparently such things had been happening before. Peet suddenly returned and was much offended and the Malpan was dismissed.

                   In 1835, following the insistence of Mr.Peet, Cheppattu Mar Dionysius gave him a written undertaking regarding the future ordinations:

“ I am bound for the future not to ordain Kathanars before I get a written satisfactory testimony from Rev.Mr.Peet and the Malpan who is in the College, that they have a good knowledge of the Scripture both in Syriac and Malayalam.”[14] 

                   Such an agreement, though unwritten, existed between Punnathara Mar Dionysius and the Missionaries. The implication of a written agreement was much more important than it would appear. For the Syrian Church, it meant that the Missionaries controlled the selection and ordination of the candidates for the priesthood. Metropolitan felt offended and the leading Kathanars were quite unhappy about it. Mar Dionysius avoided confrontation and conceded to some of the demands of the Missionaries. Thus on 18th March 1835, he had signed a document stating that the property of the Seminary shall be vested in the names of the Metropolitan and the Missionaries jointly.[15]

                   By 1835, the Missionaries became impatient that the mission did not produce the expected result. Their dissatisfaction is evident in the words of Richard Collins:

“ Though five-eighths of the Kathanars had by that time (= 1835) passed through the College, not one appeared in the light of a reformer even in minor matters. Nay, it was stated by the missionaries themselves that the Kathanars who had been educated in the College, were, if any thing, more inimical to them, and to any measures of reforms, than the rest “.[16]

                   J.Tucker, who visited the Syrian Church in 1835 to get a first- hand report was also disappointed. In his report he wrote:

“ The College which was considered as the chief hope of the Mission has educated, besides many of the laity, about one hundred and fifty three who are now officiating as Kathanars in the sixty churches of the Syrians. And now let the state of things be reviewed at the end of these eighteen years. There is not known to be one single instance of the genuine conversion to God of any Syrian Kathanar or layman, through the agency of any Missionary direct or indirect (…..). Of the one hundred and fifty three Kathanars educated more or less by the Missionaries, there is not one who does not continue every Sunday performing services which are plainly contrary to the Word of God, nor could I find one who appears really willing to put them away. (…..) Which of the one hundred and fifty three Kathanars who have been taught the truth in the College is willing to obey the truth? The answer has invariably been ‘none’. The total number of Kathanars is about two hundred and fifty, so that five-eighths of them have been under the Missionary influence. Reviewing all these circumstances…… I conceive that a case is made out sufficiently strong to justify a thorough investigation of the system itself.”[17]

                   Punnathara Mar Dionysius had permitted the Missionaries to preach in the churches. His successor, Cheppattu Mar Dionysius had not withdrawn that permission. Peet visited the churches and preached doctrinally provoking sermons. This gave rise to several unpleasant scenes. In Peet’s own words: “ It grieves me to add that in the prosecution of this duty (of preaching), I have met with every kind of opposition short of personal violence from some of the leading men “.[18] Peet’s arrogance served only to create an atmosphere of antagonism.

Bishop Daniel Wilson’s Visit (1835):

                   In November 1835, Bishop Daniel Wilson of Culcutta arrived on the scene to persuade the Metran to follow the lines of reformation as proposed by the Missionaries. On 19th November he reached Kottayam and on Saturday 21st November 1835, he invited the Metran to Bailey’s residence and talked on the reforms to be introduced in the Syrian Church. The Assistant Resident Captain White was also present. Bishop Wilson suggested six points for the consideration of the Syrian Church.[19]

1.The Metran should ordain those who had passed through the Seminary and obtained certificate of good conduct and learning.

      2.Accounts of the churches should be submitted annually to the British Resident.

3.An Endowment shall be instituted so that the Kathanars may receive regular income, instead of uncertain fees from offering of Eucharist for the dead.

4.Schools should be established in every parish church.

5. The Kathanars should preach on the Gospel every Sunday during the Liturgy.

6.Liturgy shall be revised and as Syriac is not understood by  common people, it shall be celebrated in Malayalam.[20]

                   Cheppattu Mar Dionysius patiently listened to the suggestions and promised to consult his Church and make known the decision to the Bishop. We do not know whether Bishop Wilson suggested to convene a Synod to discuss the proposals.

                   The first three suggestions were absolutely unacceptable to the Syrians. The first suggestion could eventually lead to a situation in which the missionaries control the ordinations. ‘Certificate of learning and good conduct’ from the Missionaries obviously meant that the candidate is willing to serve their goals.

                   Submitting the accounts to the Resident’s office meant that the Syrian Church becomes part of the British Rule and total control by the Missionaries. Regular income for the Kathanars from an endowment controlled by the Missionaries was also aimed at putting pressure on them to accept the reforms. Bishop Wilson thought that when the Kathanars are deprived of income from the Service for the departed, gradually the practice would die out. The real intention behind the “friendly” suggestions was obvious for the Metran and the leaders of the Church.



Mavelikara Padiyola (1836):


                   Within less than six weeks after his meeting with Bishop Wilson, Cheppattu Mar Dionysius convened an assembly at Mavelikara. More than fifty Kathanars and between 700 and 800 laymen assembled there on 16th January 1836 (5th Makarom 1011). Mar Coorilos of Anjoor (who succeeded Mar Philoxenos in 1829) was also present. The assembly discussed the suggestions of Bishop Wilson and unanimously rejected them. A resolution was adopted at the Assembly, which was known as Mavelikara Padiyola (= resolution)[21].

                        On 19th January, a conference of the Missionaries received a report of the Mavelikara Assembly  from Eruthical Markose Kathanar, confident of the Missionaries.[22] The conference appointed him as “ the responsible Kathanar to communicate between the Metran and the missionaries when necessary”.[23]

                  The news reached the Madras Corresponding Committee, and its Secretary Mr.Tucker paid a hurried visit to get a first hand information. A conference was held on 22nd January 1836 and expressed the opinion: “ by the decision of the Metran, our connection with the Syrian Church is on their part virtually dissolved “.[24]

                  Following the Mavelikara Assembly, the missionaries took an attitude of confrontation. They began to organize the sympathizers of reforms. The missionaries present in Kottayam were of opinion that the break away group of the Syrians should be made part of the Anglican Church and that the Anglican Liturgy should be translated for their use. But the Madras Corresponding Committee did not approve this move. Their decision was to create a reformed Syrian Liturgy for the use of the reformed group.[25]     

                 In the Seminary, attempts were made to forbid the celebration of the Syrian Liturgy in the Chapel. On 9th March 1836, the Corresponding Committee of the CMS, Madras adopted the following resolution, asking the Missionaries not to take any hasty action:

“That the Committee entirely agree with the Rev.Missionaries that it is not right to sanction the performance of the Syrian Service, as it is at present observed, in the College Chapel; and they assure them of their purpose of taking early measures to relieve them from the difficulties in which they are involved as Trustees of the College and its property; but that they beg them not to take any step for abolishing of the service, until all the efforts of the Committee to obtain relief have failed”.[26]


                  The Committee further authorized the Missionaries to prepare a reformed liturgy for the use of the Syrians: “ Resolved that the Missionaries be requested to prepare a suitable liturgy in Malayalam for the use of the Syrians, from the different Liturgies and services now in use”.[27]

                   This resolution was adopted following the request of the Missionaries (Bailey, Baker and Peet) to approve their efforts to introduce a reformed liturgy. It seems that they had suggested to replace the Syrian Liturgy with that of the Anglicans. In his covering letter with the copy of the above quoted resolutions, J.Tucker gave the following instruction:

 “The Committee took into serious consideration, the important question whether it is desirable to introduce our Liturgy or to attempt to compose a reformed one from their own. You will see by Res.No.5 to what conclusion they came and I may add that it is at present the decided conviction to preserve their identity and not to amalgamate them with the Church of England.”[28]


                    Mean while an incident took place that discredited the Missionaries. The important documents such as the Copperplates (Cheppedu) granted to the Syrian Church by the early Kerala kings, Receipt of the Syrian Fund (Vattipanam) , documents related to the royal grants, title deed of the Seminary campus and the properties of the Seminary, Grant (Neetu) for Munro Island and the accounts of the Seminary were kept in a strong room in the Seminary with double locks and keys. One of these keys was with the Metran and the other with Mr.Peet. Peet was misinformed that the Metran had planned to remove the documents and he believed the story. 1n 1836 on Palm Sunday, when the Metran, the Kathanars and the students had left the Seminary to attend the service at the Cheriapally, Kottayam, Peet had broken into the strong room and took away the documents to his residence.

                        Regarding the date of this incident, P.Cherian insists that it took place in 1834. But this seems to be unlikely, because on March 18th 1835, Cheppattu Mar Dionysius signed a document stating that the property of the Seminary shall be vested in the names of the Metran and the Missionaries jointly. It is unlikely that the Metran had signed such a statement after the incident.[29]  Ittoop’s account gives the impression that it had taken place after BishopWilson’s visit (Nov.1835) and the Mavelikara Assembly.[30] According to Ittoop, Peet’s action was the main cause for the alienation between the Metran and the Missionaries. The issue was raised neither during Bishop Wilson’s visit, nor at the Mavelikara Assembly. On the other hand, Mavelikara Assembly would be the factor that prompted Peet to engage in an incident which, in the words of P.Cherian ‘ produced a very unfavorable impression against him and the Mission among the common people’.[31]

                 For further action, the missionaries sought the direction from the Madras Corresponding Committee and the Parent Committee in London. Naturally this was a long process. Finally on 11th January 1837, the Corresponding Committee adopted the following resolution :” That under these views the Committee approve of the Missionaries refusing to continue their connection with the College on its present footing, and to request the Resident to act as arbiter in the division of property.”