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Catholicos, plural Catholicoi, is a title used for the head of certain churches in some Eastern Christian traditions. The title implies autocephaly and in some cases it is the title of the head of an autonomous church. The word comes from ancient Greek καθολικός, pl. καθολικοί, derived from καθ' ὅλου (kath'olou, "generally") from κατά (kata, "down") and ὅλος (holos, "whole"), meaning "concerning the whole, universal, general"; it originally designated a financial or civil office in the Roman Empire.[1] The name of the Catholic Church comes from the same word - however, the title "Catholicos" does not exist in its hierarchy.

The Church of the East, some Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox churches, and some Eastern Catholic Churches historically use this title;[2] for example the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church. In the Church of the East, the title was given to the church's head, the Patriarch of the Church of the East. It is still used in two successor churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East, the heads of which are known as Catholicos-Patriarchs. In the Armenian Church there are two catholicoi: the supreme catholicos of Ejmiadzin and the catholicos of Cilicia. The title Catholicos-Patriarch is also used by the primate of the Armenian Catholic Church.[3] In India, head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox Church; and regional head of Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, an autonomous Church within Syriac Orthodox Church, use this title. The first is known as Catholicos of the East and the latter as Catholicos of India.

Origin of the titleEdit

The earliest ecclesiastical use of the title Catholicos was by the Bishop of Armenia, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in the 4th century[1] while still under the Patriarchate of Antioch.[4] Among the Armenians, catholicos was originally a simple title for the principal bishop of the country; he was subordinate to the See of Caesarea in Cappadocia.[4]

Sometime later, it was adopted by the bishops of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Persia, who became the designated heads of the Church of the East. The first claim that the bishop of Selucia-Ctesiphon was superior to the other bishoprics and had (using a later term) patriarchal rights was made by Patriarch Papa bar Gaggai (or Aggai, c. 317-c. 329). In the 5th century this was claim strengthened and Isaac (or Ishaq, 399-c.410), who organized the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, used the title of bishop of Selucia-Ctesiphon, Catholicos and Head over the bishops of all the Orient.[5] This line of Catholicos founded the Church of the East and the development of the East Syriac Rite.

At the beginning of the fourth century, Albania and Georgia (Iberia) were converted to Christianity, and the principal bishop of each of these countries bore the title of catholicos, although neither of them was autocephalous. They followed the Armenians in rejecting the Council of Chalcedon. At the end of the sixth, or beginning of the seventh, century the Georgian Catholicos asserted his independence and accepted Eastern Orthodoxy. Henceforward the Georgian Church underwent the same evolutions as the Greek. In 1783 Georgia was forced to abolish the office of its catholicos, and place itself under the Holy Synod of Russia, to which country it was united politically in 1801. The Albanian catholicos remained loyal to the Armenian Church, with the exception of a brief schism towards the end of the sixth century. Shortly afterwards Albania was assimilated partly with Armenia and partly with Georgia. There is no mention of any catholicos in Albania after the seventh century. It is asserted by some that the head of the Abyssinian Church, the Abuna, also bears the title of catholicos, but, although this name may have been applied to him by analogy, there is, to our knowledge, no authority for asserting that this title is used by the Abyssinian Church itself.[4]

Catholicos in various ChurchesEdit

Autocephalous churches of EastEdit

The following are autocephalous churches of East Syriac Rite that claim succession to the Catholicos of the East of Selucia-Ctesiphon from the Church of the East. Referred to as Nestorian in Western texts, the term Nestorian was formally renounced in 1976 by Dinkha IV.[citation needed]

Assyrian Church of the EastEdit

As of September 27, 2015, Gewargis III is the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East. One of the oldest Christian churches, it is a modern successor of the historical Church of the East. It traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia, which tradition holds was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle (Tooma Shlikha) as well as Saint Mari and Saint Addai in AD 33 as asserted in the Doctrine of Addai.

It is one of the three Churches of the East that hold themselves distinct from Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxy. The Assyrian Church of the East does not use the word "orthodox" in any of its service books or official correspondence, nor does it use any word which can be translated as "correct faith" or "correct doctrine," the rough translation of "orthodox". The adjectives "holy," "catholic," and "apostolic" were officially added to the Assyrian Church of the East's title in conformance with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed which declares, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." In this context, "holy" refers to being set apart for a purely sacred purpose; "apostolic" means founded by one of Jesus's own apostles; and "catholic" is the Greek word for "universal," indicating a worldwide church. In India, it is more often called the Chaldean Syrian Church. In the West it is often called the Nestorian Church, due to its historical associations with Nestorianism, though the church itself considers the term pejorative and argues that this association is incorrect. The church declares that no other church has suffered as many martyrdoms as the Assyrian Church of the East.[citation needed]

The founders of Assyrian theology were Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who taught at Antioch. The normative Christology of the Assyrian church was written by Babai the Great (551–628) and is clearly distinct from the accusations directed toward Nestorius: his main christological work is called the 'Book of the Union', and in it Babai teaches that the two qnome (essences, or hypostases) are unmingled but everlastingly united in the one parsopa (personality) of Christ.[citation needed]

Ancient Church of the EastEdit

As of February 20, 1972, Addai II is the Catholicos of the Ancient Church of the East, which split off from the Assyrian Church of the East in the 1960s.

Eastern Orthodox ChurchEdit

Georgian Orthodox ChurchEdit

The title of catholicos is also used in the Georgian Church, whose head carries the title Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

Oriental Orthodox ChurchesEdit

Armenian Apostolic ChurchEdit

In the Armenian Church there are two catholicoi: the supreme catholicos of Ejmiadzin and the catholicos of Cilicia. The Catholicos of Etchmiadzin presides over the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church and is the head of the world's 7 million Armenian Orthodox Christians. The primacy of honour of the Catholicossate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicossate of Cilicia.

  • Catholicos of Etchmiadzin (Chief Shepherd and Pontiff to all Armenians dispersed throughout the world[6]) of the Armenian Apostolic Church,
    • Karekin II is the current Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Malankara Orthodox Syrian ChurchEdit

Head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church) bears the title Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan. The church is based at Devalokam near Kottayam in Kerala State. Baselios Marthoma Paulose II is the current Catholicos

Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox ChurchEdit

Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church headquartered at Puthencruz near Kochi in Kerala is an integral branch of Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch headed by Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II based at Damascus in Syria. Regional Head of Jacobite Syrian Church uses the title Catholicos of India. Baselios Thomas I is the current Catholicos of the church.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo ChurchEdit

In 1959, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria granted autocephaly to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Abuna Basilios was consecrated the first Patriarch Catholicos of the Ethiopian Church by the Coptic Pope Cyril VI at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo on 28 June 1959. The title is "Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum".

Catholic ChurchEdit

Armenian Catholic ChurchEdit

Eastern Catholic Churches of East Syriac RiteEdit

The following are Eastern Catholic Churches of East Syriac Rite that claim succession to the Catholicos of the East of Selucia-Ctesiphon of the Church of the East:

Chaldean Catholic Church of the EastEdit

As of February 1, 2013, Louis Raphaël I Sako is the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of the East (in full Communion with the Pope.)

The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern church of the Catholic Church, maintaining full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Catholic Church. It is descended from the historical Assyrian Church of the East and emerged following a 16th-century split within the Assyrian Church, although this line drifted back to the Assyrian Church, a further split in the late 17th century proved more permanent. It was initially called The Church of Assyria and Mosul, with the modern Chaldean Catholic Church emerging in 1830. The term Chaldean is a misnomer in a historical, geographic and ethnic sense, as its members are ethnic Assyrians, the indigenous people of northern Iraq, north east Syria and south east Turkey, and descended from the ancient Upper Mesopotamians (see Assyrian continuity). The Assyrians retain north Mesopotamian dialects of Eastern Aramaic as a native tongue. The Chaldean Catholic Church presently has an estimated 500,000 members,[7] out of a general population of approximately 3,000,000 Assyrians. The other churches followed by the Assyrians include the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Assyrian Evangelical Church.

Eastern Catholic Churches of West Syriac RiteEdit

The following are Eastern Catholic Churches of West Syriac Rite that claim succession to the title of Catholicos:

Syro-Malankara Catholic ChurchEdit

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church which was raised to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church sui iuris on February 10, 2005 claims the supra archiepiscopal title of Catholicos according to the tradition of Malankara Church and according to the norms of Motu Proprio "Cleri Sanctitati" Can. 335. The Holy See of Rome has not addressed the Major Archbishop as Catholicos but has recognized the "Code of Particular Canons of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church" (2012) which very well illustrates the title Catholicos.[8]


  1. ^ a b Wigram, p. 91.
  2. ^ The Motu Proprio Cleri Sanctitati Canon 335
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Catholicos" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
  5. ^ Yar-Shater, Ehsan; Fisher, W. B. (1983). The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian periods. p. 931. ISBN 978-0-521-24693-4. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  6. ^ Official Website of the Armenian Church Archived July 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ CNEWA – Chaldean Catholic Church
  8. ^ The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, The Code of Particular Canons of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Major Archiepiscopal Curia, Trivandrum, 2012, xi