Keikyo (Syrian Christianity) and Japan
Rev. Arimasa Kubo

"Keikyo" is a Syrian Christianity and is also called "Nestorian Christianity." The Japanese name "Keikyo "(in Chinese "Jingjiao") was used to call this teaching when it came to China and meant the "luminous teaching."

In 431 AD a religious conference, the "Council of Ephesus," was held. Within the Church , Mary the mother of Christ was already called "Mother of God (Theotokos)," the custom of praying to Mary and worshiping her had begun. Against this practice, Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, declared it not proper, because it has a danger to fall into a goddess worship. He said:

"It is adequate to call Mary Mother of Christ (Christokos). But, she is not the Mother of God. God has no mother."

He preferred calling Mary "Christokos." But, Western Church (the future Roman Catholic Church) did not understand his reasoning and branded Nestorius and his followers "heretics" and sent them into exile. Just because they were called "heretics" does not make them heretics. Roman Catholics once called Protestants "heretics". Rather, it is no exaggeration to say that their understanding was truer than Roman Catholics of those days.

In understanding of Christology, too, Nestorius admitted both the God and human nature of Christ. Having assessed the understanding of Nestorius regarding the relationship between the two persona, many of today's theologians assess him as non-heretic.

Also, it appears that schism between Nestorians and the Western Church was not due purely to doctrinal differences. Rather, there were also political and racial reasons behind it. "Sekai Hyakka Jiten (World Encyclopedia) by Heibonsha company states as follows:

"Today, the Nestorian creed is considered not to be particularly heretical when eliminating ambiguity of terms used to describe the relationship between the God nature and human nature of Christ. Their fall can be attributed to politics. Furthermore, the Nestorian is a religious order that further developed his teachings and was not the sect Netorius had set up himself."

 

Well, Nestrius and others who were banished by Roman Catholics were called "Nestorians" or the "followers of Nestorius." That is to say that Roman Catholics used the word Nestorians in a slanderous way.

They never called themselves "Nestorians." That was because it was not a new religious sect and Nestorius was not the founder of such sect. They called themselves "Eastern Christians." They were also called "Nazrani" because their faith were from "Nazareth." In China they were called Keikyoto (in Chinese "Jingjiao").

They stated that the founder of their Christianity was Jesus Christ and they also honored Apostle Thomas as having graced the East in evangelism. Nestorius was only one of the leaders in the church that believed in this tradition. So, their Christianity did not start in 431 AD but rather it rooted to the Apostolic church.

That is why I would like to call them "Eastern Christians" and "Keikyotos" rather than "Nestorians."

Keikyotos were very active in Middle and Near East and made significant contributions to medicine, astronomy, and industries. It is said that Mohamed, the founder of Islam, listened to Selgius Bahira, a Keikyoto, in his youth and believed in the "Living God."

They began their great mission work throughout the Silk Road early on. Looking at the 6-14th century map, one can tell there were Keikyo churches in many cities along the Silk Road from Near Middle East to East Asia. Bar Habraeus, another Keikyoto, records much of their evangelism.

Keikyotos came to China early. They entered China before 600 AD, but they formerly visited the emperor (Emperor Taiso of Tang Dynasty) and explained the teaching of Keikyo.

The Emperor Taiso favored the teaching and gave permission to spread the Gospel. Also, he encouraged the people to believe this faith. In this manner, Keikyo became very popular in China.

But, after about 200 years, Keikyo was persecuted and received a great damage. However, Keikyo became popular in Mongol. Mongol, in those days, was the largest empire that controlled from Near Middle East to China.

Mongolian kings issued the proclamations of freedom of religion, but they favored Keikyo most among various religions. Many Keikyoto aides and concubines surrounded the kings. The kings built churches for Keikyotos, and he worshipped in them.

Keikyotos also established the mailing system in Mongol, printed currency by wood print, compiled chronicles, built schools, built medical facilities, published papers, and built roads across the country that brought a very advanced civilization to Mongol.

Marco Polo, who came to China from Europe and lived there for 25 years, marveled at the high level of civilization he saw there.

Also, Keikyotos built facilities where they gave food and clothing to those who were in need. This, in fact, is the general practice that Keikyoto performed throughout the Silk Road. They not only built churches for missionary work but they built welfare, medical, and educational institutions along.

In fact, Shotoku Taishi (Prince Shotoku) built "Shika-in (four institutions)" first in Japan. It consisted of four institutions: "Seyaku-in (free pharmacy)," "Ryobyo-in (free hospital or clinic)," "Hiden-in (nursing home for those without relatives)," "Kyoden-in (halls for religion, academics, and music)."

That is to say that these are welfare and medical facilities and research institutions. The Japanese Buddhists claim that these actions reflect mercy of Shotoku Taishi (Prince Shotoku) who was a devout Buddhist.

However, the concept of welfare and charity was almost non-existent in Buddhism of those days; Buddhism was the religion for the country and the rulers in those days.

Further inspection of Buddhism in Korea and China revealed no such practice of welfare or charity work.

On other hand, this kind of welfare and charity work was widely practiced by Keikyotos throughout the Silk Road. They built facilities those were close analogies of "Seyaku-in," Ryobyo-in," "Hiden-in," and "Kyoden-in."

According to Professor Sakae Ikeda of Kyoto University, indeed there was a Keikyoto aide to Shotoku Taishi . During the time of Shotoku Taishi, there were some Keikyotos unofficially present in Japan.

Professor Ikeda says the name of this Keikyoto was "Maru Toma." In Aramaic "Maru" means lord and "Toma" means Thomas. So, "Lord Thomas" and this was how the Eastern Christians refer to their leaders and saints. The name was same as Apostle Thomas but it was a common name among Keikyotos.

That is to say Keikyotos influenced the welfare and charity work of Shotoku Taishi.

Also in fact, a Keikyoto, "Rimitsui" came to Japan in 736 and visited the Emperor (Shoku Nihongi). Empress Komyo was deeply influenced by Rimitsui and also built "Seyaku-in," Ryobyo-in," and "Hiden-in."

The Emress worked there as nurse. The Hokke-ji Temple in Nara still has a bathing room where the Empress Komyo is said to have cared patients by herself like Mother Terresa and Nitingale did.

The Empress Komyo, too, was advertised as a devout Buddhist in the Buddhist world, but a close inspection reveals that Keikyotos strongly influenced her. There is a researcher who claims that she was a Keikyoto.

Keikyo also touched Kukai and Shinran, who are well known names in the Japanese Buddhist world. When we read their writings, one cannot help but think that "this is close to teachings of Christianity." This is the reason why we feel this way. Also, Keikyotos have influenced Japanese culture and tradition in immeasurable way.

It is generally said that one who brought Christianity to Japan was Francisco Xavier in the 16th century. But Christianity reached Japan more that 1,000 years prior to that time. And it has deeply influenced Japan.

Now than ever, I pray for the revival of Keikyo in contemporary Japan. Keikyotos were the people who engaged in mission work with deep prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us have rejuvenation of that prayer today!

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