June 11, 2012

The Mission of Saints Pantaenus and Bartholomew in India

1. Mission of Pantaenus in India

About a hundred and twenty years (ca.180 or 190) after the traditional date of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas the Apostle, a second Christian mission is reported to have reached India. The great Church in Alexandria, the center of Egyptian Christianity, sent its most famous scholar, Pantaenus, head of the theological School in that city, “to preach Christ to the Brahmans and philosophers there”, wrote Saint Jerome in the fifth century.1

A deputation from India reached Alexandria some time in 179 or 189 AD. Impressed by the erudition of Pantaenus, according to Saint Jerome, they asked Demetrius to send him to India for discussions with their own Hindu philosophers and it is to the credit of the good bishop that he judged the Christian world mission to be no less urgent a priority then the advancement of Christian learning. Without hesitation he took his most famous scholar from the theological school and sent him as a missionary to the East. Eusebius also gives an early account of this mission.

Both Eusebius and Saint Jerome have reported that Pantaenus found the Gospel of Matthew reported to have been left there in India by Saint Bartholomew. Some writers has suggested that having difficulty with the language of Saint Thomas Christians, Pantaenus misinterpreted their reference to Mar Thoma (Bishop Thomas) as Bar Tolmai (the Hebrew name of Bartholomew). Some others say Eusebius and Saint Jerome confused India with Arabia or Persia as was done by some other classical writers.

Interestignly, the pupils and successors of Pantaenus, Clement and Origen, write about India as if they know more of that land than passing myths and in no way confused it with Arabia and Persia. They may have heard this from Pantaenus himself. They speak of “Indian Brahmans” and “gymnosophists” and Clement writes discerningly of the difference between “Sarmanane” and “Brahmans” describing the former in terms that suggest the “hermits” or “holy men of India”.2

2. Mission of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle in India

Two ancient testimonies exist about the mission of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle in India. These are of Eusebius of Caesarea (early fourth century) and of Saint Jerome (late fourth century). Both these refer to this tradition while speaking of the reported visit of Pantaenus to India in the second century.

According to Eusebius, Pantaenus, “is said to have gone among the Indians, where a report is that he discovered the Gospel according to Matthew among some there who knew Christ, which had anticipated his arrival: Bartholomew, one of the Apostles, had preached to them and had left them the writings of Matthew in Hebrew letters, which writing they preserved until the aforesaid time”

Saint Jerome would have that Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, sent him to India, at the request of legates of that nation. In India Pantaenus “found that Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, had preached the advent of the Lord Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew, and on his return to Alexandria he brought this with him written in Hebrew characters.”

In these testimonies Eusebius appears to be not quite sure of what’s reported. Saint Jerome, while writing to Marcellus, acknowledges the primacy of Saint Thomas, the Apostle in India.

“He ( Jesus) was present in all places with Thomas in India, with Peter in Rome, with Paul in Illyria, with Titus in Crete, Andrew in Greece, with each apostle and apostolic man in his own separate region.“3

3. Opinion of Authors about Saint Bartholomew the Apostle's Mission in India

Previously the consensus among scholars was against the apostolate of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle in India. The majority of the scholars are skeptical about the mission of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle in India. Stililingus (1703), Neande (1853), Hunter (1886), Rae (1892), Zaleski (1915) are the authors who supported the Apostolate of Saint Bartholomew in India. Scholars such as Sollerius (1669), Carpentier (1822), Harnack (1903), Medlycott (1905), Mingana (1926), Thurston (1933), Attwater (1935) etc. do not support this hypothesis. The main argument is that the India Eusebius and Jerome refer to here should be Ethiopia or Arabia Felix.

4. Kalyan – The Field of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle's Mission

The recent studies of Perumalil and Moraes hold that the Bombay region on the Konkan coast, a region which have been known after the ancient town Kalyan, was the field of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle’s missionary activities and his martyrdom.

The town of Kalyan, was an ancient port and it is supposed to be the Kalliana, the traveler Cosmas Indicopleustes visited in the 6th century as he reports in his “Christian Typography”.

According to Pseudo-Sophronius (7th century) Saint Bartholomew preached to the “Indians who are called Happy” and according to the Greek tradition the Apostle went to ”India Felix”. The word Kalyan means “felix” or “happy” and it is argued that the Kalyna region came to be known to the foreign writers “India Felix” and its inhabitants, the Indians, “called the happy”.

Perumalil interprets the “India Citerior” of the Hieronymian Martyrology as Western India, and the “India” of the Passio Bartholmei as the Maratha Country.4

There are no local traditions about the mission of Pantaenus or the Apostolate of Bartholomew the Apostle in India. According to Moraes this is due to the fact that the history of the Christians of Bartholomew got intermingled with that of the Thomas Christians (the Syriac tradition is that Saint Bartholomew preached in Armenia). According to Perumalil, Bartholomew Christians continued as a separate community till the coming of the Portuguese and got merged with the Christians of Bombay.5


1. Jerome - Epistola LXX ad Magnum oratorem urbis Romae
2. Clement - Stromata, 15
3. Jerome – Epistola LIX ad Marcellam
4. Perimalil - The Apostles in India
5. Moraes - A History of Christianity in India AD 52-1542