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The Nestorians, Missionaries in China and A Power Under the Abassides

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Nestorianism, strictly, is an heresy from Christendom, which originated in the 5th century through the attempt of the Church to rationally explain and understand the nature of Christ, and arguing that Jesus has two natures, one like the Son of God, and other like a man solely and questioning Mary named under the terms 'Mother of God.' This view was presented by Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople, as it was condemned during the Council of Ephesus in 431. That brought to a schism. The followers of Nestorius, in the Syriac-speaking world, with their bishopric located in Seleucia-Ctesiphon (modern days Irak) became an independent church. They called themselves 'Chaldeans' as the Christians in the West called them 'Nestorians'. The Sassanids, that dynasty which reigned in Persia (current Iran) and a part of the Middle East between 226 and 651 A.D. , were constantly at war with the Byzantine Empire and they saw in the schisme a mean to fortify their stance, related to their Christian subjects, and expelling the pro-Byzantine catholics from their empire. The doctrine of nestorianism was further developed -and milded in a sense- by a bishop of them, Babai the Great, by the end of the 6th century, as the Nestorians proselyted too among the Jews of the region, who had not returned to Israel following the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Nestorians, generally, were more inclined to the Jews than other Christians and their priests and scholars, in that Sassanid Persia where the great Talmudic schools were found, maintained excellent relations with them. It is from the example of Nestorians that Jews more attentively studied the Torah as Nestorians are too at the origin of the work of renovation of the Hebrew language used in the Torah through a system of punctuation

The Nestorians in China under the Tang

Nestorians, zealous missionaries and traders, traveled and preached, reaching to India, Central and Eastern Asia during the 7th and 8th centuries. China was reached by 635 as the religion reached Mongolia too in that year, and then expanded until Korea and maybe Japan. Some think that China might already had been reached by St. Thomas -who had be in India too- or St. Barthelemew and that Arnobius, in the 3rd century, mention the Chinese like one the Eastern people christianized at the time, and some think further that a bishopry had already been founded in 411, from the Byzantine Church. The Nestorians in Persia had welcomed the Arab conquerors like liberators and that was the epoch when they missionarized in Asia, like in China where emperors T'ai Tsung (627-649) and Kao Tsung (650-683) granted them concessions, monasteries and getting into civil service. By the end of the 8th century A.D., Nestorian Yask-bozèd was a mandarin, in charge of northern China and inspector to imperial examinations. Nestorians also made converts in India and Central Asia. Jacobites, the monophysites that is, other heretic Christians (believing in one nature of Christ only), are thought to have visited China at about the same time than Nestorians, although their traces are about inextent. The new religion was well tolerated in China beginning under the Tang dynasty (618-declining since 860). Christianity was known in China under the name of the 'Luminous Religion' as the Christian, Nestorian communities and monasteries thrieved at the time in the country, according to the choices of the rulers of toleration and fostering foreign religions, like Islam, Zoroastrism, or Turkish religions. As far as the Nestorians are concerned, a Persian bishop, Alopen lived in China under the Tang since 635 and he was commissioned by the emperor to translate the Nestorian tenets into Chinese. Mostly reknown for their medical and surgical skills, Nestorians however, like most of the other 'foreign' religions, kept beeing mostly related to the foreign trading communities which were active and tolerated in China at the time. Due to their doctrine, Nestorians, on the other hand, are often described like the Protestants of Asia at that time. The peak of the Nestorians in China thus matched the time of the Carolingians. The peak of the Nestorians in China thus matched the time of the Carolingians. That time of tolerance eventually ended by the mid-9th century A.D. when the Tang dynasty faded, and when the Taoist and Confucianist opponents to the foreign religions won over. Nestorians by that time, had tended to succumb to syncretistic tendencies. In that region however, Nestorian missionarism kept, even in China, and among such northern tribes like the Uyghurs, Turks and Mongols. At the same time they had settled in China, the Nestorians too became potent in Tibet in the 8th century, having reached there since the 6th and 7th centuries

The Nestorians Under the Arab Caliphate

The land of the Sassanid dynasty, the home to the Nestorians, meanwhile, had changed hands, when the Arab conquerors had eventually overpowered the Sassanids in 637 and their territories passing to the Islamic Caliphate. It is reported that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, had contacts with Nestorians at the occasion of his journeys in Syria with the caravans of his uncle, Bahira, a Nestorian monk having had the premonition of the fate of Muhammad like a prophet, as the Christendom-linkened passages of the Qur'an seems to be related to such encounters. Some even find similarities between the Nestorian prayer performed during Lent and the Muslim ritual prayer, or 'raka'ah'. After the Arab conquest, Nestorians, compared to the Monophysites or Byzantine Christians, were relatively favoured by the conquerors. The fate of all Christians in the Middle East now under Muslim domination however worsened by the year 700. It's eventually under the Abassides, at the time of the Carolingians, that the Nestorians became too an important part there, constituting a large part of the civil servants, as their medics were part of the court. The Abassids had allowed many of the communities of the Middle East, this surely leading to the cultural renaissance in Baghdad. The Jewish Geonim were too part of such communities

Nestorians, thus, seem to be another group by which the knowledge of various people, knowledges and skills, may have found its way to the borders of the Carolingian and Byzantine words. Those roads of knowledge however might not have been innocent in some way, as it seems, that in Spain under Arabic rule, uncontrolled relations between the communities there have led to that documents, which today would be called 'classified', reached possible unfriendly countries. Thus, the Muslim historian and geographer al-Masudi, in the 9th century in Egypt, found a copy of a list of Frankish kings, from Clovis to Louis IV, as written by a Spanish bishop

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 12/28/2010. contact us at
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