The Mar Thoma Church is one among the churches which was founded by St.Thomas, the Apostle in A.D.52. The ministry of the Church is the continuation of the ministry of the incarnated Son. To continue this ministry Christ calls many in every generation as his disciples. It needs committed training. That makes training people for ministry an integral part of Christianity. The function of the Mar Thoma Syrian Theological Seminary is to train those who are called out by Christ in this generation.
Prior to the coming of Western missionaries, theological training were carried out through Malpanate (students training under a renowned theological teacher). The Church also maintained Rambanate teaching (students learning under famous Rambans). Through these training in-depth knowledge of the Scripture, worship orders and theological vision of the Church was imparted.
Even though the Church in Malabar has a long heritage and tradition, the establishment of a formal Seminary to train the clergy emerged after the coming of the Portuguese. The first of that kind was established at Kodungalloor in 1541. The intention was to train ministers for the Malankara Church with Latin orientation. However, it failed. Another Seminary was started at Vaipikotta by the Jesuits. Following the Synod of Diamper, this seminary became the cradle for training ministers for the Malankara Church with Latin theology and practice but with Syriac language and dress. Following the Coonen Cross Oath, the Malankara Christians associated with the Mar Thoma moved away completely from this Seminary and reverted back to their Malpanate.
Vision to have a formal Seminary for the Mar Thoma section of the Malankara Church became strong following the meeting between Metropolitan Mar Dionysius and the leaders of the Church with Claudius Buchanan in 1806. Kandanad meeting of the representatives of the Malankara Church held in 1809 decided to establish two padithaveedukal to train children and Semsanos in Scripture and languages. However, after some time the intention to start two padithaveedukal shrunk into one. That created tension. One group demanded to have it in the North at Kandanad, while the other group argued for establishing it at Niranam in the South. Finally, Punnathra Kurien Kathanaar (later known as Punnathra Mar Dionysius) suggested Kottayam as a compromise place. This was accepted by all.
Pulikkottil Ramban gave leadership and Col. Munro, the British resident supported it. The foundation stone for the Seminary was laid in 1813, on a property given to the church by the Travancore Government. Munro also gave the interest of the endowment deposited by the Malankara Church with the East India Company to Pulikkottil Ramban for the building of the Seminary. This endowment is known as 'Vattipanam'. The Seminary was formally inaugurated in 1815. The first principal of the seminary was Joseph Fenn, one of the first missionaries from the 'Mission of help' sent by the Church Missionary Society of the church of England. The work and inspiration of the CMS missionaries were influential and helpful for a better understanding of the word of God which was at that time translated into Malayalam. A deeper understanding of the Bible, faith and practices of the Church resulted in a remarkable reformation in the Malankara Church. Two Syriac professors of the Seminary Palakkunnathu Abraham Malpan of Maramon and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan of Kottayam felt the need for a reformation and became pioneers to give leadership to the revival of the Malankara Church.
Following the reformation in the Malankara Church, Mathews Mar Athanasius who was the Metropolitan of the Church druing that time took charge of the Seminary. The training of the clergy of the Malankara Church had been effective and fruitful during the time of Mathews Mar Athanasius. In 1868 Thomas Mar Athansaius was consecrated at the Seminary Chapel. He stayed at the Seminary and gave leadership. However, following the demise of Mathews Mar Athanasius, Pulikkottil Mar Dionysius, the president of the Malankara Yakobaya Suriyani Kristhyani Assoication filed a case against Thomas Mar Athanasius for the custody of the properties of the Church. The Royal Court judgement of 1889, July 12 favored Pulikkottil. Thomas Mar Athanasius was sent out of the Seminary. He came and stayed at the Zion Hills (where the Mar Thoma Syrian Vaidika Seminary was established later) on that night after being ousted out of the Seminary.
The church of Malabar was divided into two sections one favouring the reformation and the other not in favour. The reformed section came to be known as the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, affirming the faith and practices of the ancient church founded by St.Thomas, the Apostle. The church lost the old seminary which is now known as the Orthodox Theological Seminary. Cherukara Philipose Malpan left the Old Seminary and stayed at Ayroor. Many deacons who were with the Mar Thoma Syrian Church went to him and continued their learning. Some few were sent to CNI (Cambridge Nicholson Institute) run by the CMS missionaries. Reason for sending them there was on account of the presence of Olaseril Youseph Malpan as the Syriac Teacher there.
The Church felt the need of a Seminary of her own. There was a common feeling to have the Seminary at Kottayam. Under the leadership of Thazhathu Chandapilla Kathanaar, the land known as Zion Hill the place where Thomas Mar Athanasius stayed the night when he was sent out of the Old Seminary was bought. During the time of Metropolitan Titus I, the foundation stone for the "Mar Thoma Syrian Seminary" building was laid at the Zion Hill Kottayam on 5th May 1896. But the church had to wait for another 30 years to start the work of the Seminary. Even though a decision to establish a "Vaidika Seminary" was made by the Samudaya Alochana Sabha in 1921, it could not be materialized due to financial constraints. However, through individual contributions and memorial funds, the "Mar Thoma Syrian Vaidika Seminary" was inaugurated along with the Mar Thoma Seminary School at Zion Hills, Kottayam on 3rd July 1926 (the St.Thomas Day) as the Episcopal Silver Jubilee Memorial of His Grace Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan. Needless to say that this was a turning point in the history of the Mar Thoma Church. Mr.K.K.Kuruvilla a former professor of the United Theological College served as its first Principal.
It is to be noted that the Seminary has been affiliated to Serampore University from the very beginning. Initially the courses were designed to fulfill the requirements of the Diploma in Licentiate in Theology (L.Th). The Seminary was upgraded to B.Th degree in 1970. The contribution and leadership of eminent leaders of the church, Most Rev.Dr.Juhanon Mar Thoma, Rt.Rev.Thomas Mar Athanasius, Rt.Rev.Dr.Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Rev.K.P.Philip, Rev.Dr.T.C.Thomas and Rev.C.V.John as Principals can never be ignored.
The Seminary was further upgraded to B.D.degree in 1974 with English as the medium of instruction. This was the fulfillment of the dream and vision of Rev.C.V.John who served as Principal until 1974. Rev.Dr.V.P.Thomas, a former professor of Leonard Theological College Jabalpur and a well known theologian of his day, assumed the role of Principal since 1974. The Seminary was further upgraded to B.D.degree in 1974 with English as the medium of instruction. The inauguration was conducted on July 03, the St. Thomas Day. This was the fulfillment of the dream and vision of Rev.C.V.John who served as Principal until 1974.
Another important stage in the growth of the Mar Thoma Theological Seminary was the introduction of Post Graduate studies in 1980. This was an ecumenical venture of three major Seminaries in Kerala, the Orthodox Theological Seminary, The Mar Thoma Theological Seminary and the Kerala United Theological Seminary, Trivandrum. This was a unique attempt in the history of the churches and theological education in India where the faculty of the three Seminaries work together to run the post graduate programme under the title Federated Faculty for Research in Religion and Culture (FFRRC). The purpose was to provide opportunities of doing biblical studies and theology in our own context. It was its goal to provide quality higher education with minimum cost. The professors of those three seminaries continue to teach courses and guide the research students with dedication without required remuneration. The formal inauguration of the programme was held on 3rd July 1980 on St.Thomas Day.
The FFRRC became a doctoral centre in 1999. Candidate from different parts of India and from different denominations make use of these facilities for M.Th and D.Th studies in various subjects such as Old Testament, New Testament, Christian Theology, Christian Ministry, Religions, Church History and Liturgical studies. Under the guidance of God and through the good will of the three churches and institutions, the FFRRC has grown as a premier post graduate centre under the Senate of Serampore College.
The Mar Thoma Theological Seminary is very ecumenical in its approach and perspectives. The Seminary is maintaining its ecumenical relationships with churches in India and abroad. We had students from CSI, CNI, Malabar Independent Church, Thozhiyoor and the church of the East in the B.D. programme. We had student exchange programmes with Princeton Theological Seminary, USA, Bishops College Culcutta, Gurukual Lutheran Theological College, Eastern Theological Seminary, Jorhat and so on. We also had several eminent scholars from abroad to teach different subjects . Dr.Charles Rayerson (Princeton) Rev.Dr.Philip L.Wickeri, Dr.Paul Younger Rev.Dr.V.T.Samuel, Dr.Brian Grant, Dr.George Zachariah (Washington) are some of them.
The Seminary celebrated its platinum Jubilee in 2001. The Senate Board meetings, the Convocation and other programmes were held at our Seminary in connection with the Jubilee celebrations. The book 'Ministry and Spirituality'was published on this joyful occasion. Mar Thoma Syrian Theological Seminary is now celebrating its Navathy (ninety years of existence with this identity).
Theological education in India should be done taking the context and challenges of our time seriously. Study and research are to be done in such a way that the findings of the future scholars may be useful to promote wider ecumenism, harmony and mutual respect among the people of India. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God and it is our responsibility to share the message of the kingdom with the people of India. We need to stand not only for the liberation of our people from various kinds of bondages but also for the liberation from narrow mindedness and selfishness. What the churches in India need today is a renewed understanding, a spirit of love and a spirit of reconciliation. It is our hope that our sharing of thought and discussions on theologies, hermeneutics and spirituality will enhance our understanding and our perspectives to achieve this goal.