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In the present article it is intended to give a rapid survey of the geography, ethnography, political and religious history of Asia, and especially of the rise, progress, and actual condition of Asiatic Christianity and Catholicism. For further information concerning the religious conditions of the various Asiatic countries, the reader is referred to the special articles on the subject in this Encyclopedia.

Asia is the largest of the continents, having a geographic area of about 17,000,000 square miles, or about one-third of the whole of the dry land. It is also the oldest known portion of the globe, the earliest known seat of civilization, and, in all probability, the cradle of the human race, although scholars differ as to whether the primitive home of mankind should be located in South-western Asia, and more particularly in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, as the Biblical tradition of Genesis seems to indicate, or rather in Central Asia, and more particularly in the Indo-Iranian plateau. On the north, Asia is bounded by the Arctic Ocean; on the east, by the Pacific Ocean; on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the West by Europe, the Black Sea, the Greek Archipelago, the Mediterranean, and the Red Sea. It is united with Africa by the desert Isthmus of Suez, and with Europe by the Caucasus Mountains and the long Ural range.

The physical features of Asia, owing to its immense geographical area, are of great diversity. There we meet the most extensive lowlands, the most extensive table-lands, and at the same time with the highest chains of mountains, and the most elevated summits in the world. About two-thirds of its area is table-lands, and the other third mountainous regions, some of which are covered with perpetual snow. The lowland sections may be divided into six distinct regions, namely: (1) The Siberian lowland, which is by far the largest, and for the most part gloomy and barren; (2) the Bucharistan lowland, situated between the Caspian Sea and Lake Aral, a wide sterile waste; (3) the Syro-Arabian lowland, partly sterile and partly extremely productive and fertile; (4) the Hindustan lowland, of about 500,000 square miles, comprising the great valley of the Ganges, and very fertile; (5) the Indo-Chinese lowlands, including the regions of Cambodia and Siam; and (6) the Chinese lowland, extending from Peking as far as the Tropic of Cancer, with about 220,000 square miles, and extremely fertile. Asia is poor in lakes but very rich in rivers, the most famous of which are the Tigris and the Euphrates, the Indus with its many tributaries, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, the Irrawaddy, the Sal-win, the Me-nam, the Me-kong, the Hong-kiang, the Yang-tze-kiang,, the Hwang-ho, or Yellow River, the Amur, and the many river-systems of Siberia. On account of its vast extent and diversity of climate, the mineral, vegetable, and animal products of Asia are naturally varied, rich, and almost unlimited.

Geographically, Asia may be divided into four great regions: (1) Northern Asia, or Asiatic Russia, which includes Siberia, Caucasia, and the Aral-Caspian Basin, i.e., Russian Turkostan, the Turkoman country, Kiva, Bokhara, and the region of the upper Oxus; (2) Eastern Asia, comprising China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan; (3) Southern Asia, comprising India, Indo-China, and Siam; (4) South-western Asia, comprising the famous historic lands of Persia, Media, Babylonia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, and Arabia.

Politically, Asia is divided as follows: (1) Russian Empire, including Siberia and as far west as the borders of Turkey, Persia, and Turkistan, and as far south as the Chinese Empire; (2) Chinese Empire, including Mongolia, Manchuria, and Tibet; (3) Japanese Empire; (4) India proper, or British Empire; (5) Siam; (6) Indo-China under French dominion; (7) Afghanistan; (8) Persia; and (9) Asiatic Turkey, which comprises all Irak and Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, Armenia, Asia Minor, Syria and Arabia. The entire population of Asia (according to the statistics of 1900) is estimated at about 800,000,000, or more than half the entire population of the earth, and divided as follows: Asiatic Russia, 24,947,500; China, 330,829,900; Korea, 9,670,000; Japan, 46,494,000; Indo-China, 15,590,000; Siam, 6,320,000; India, 302,831,700; Afghanistan, 4,550,000; Persia, 9,000,000; Asiatic Turkey, including Arabia, 19,126,500.

Ethnographically, the population of Asia may be reduced to three great groups, or races, viz: (1) the Mongolian, or Turania, to which belong all the inhabitants of the whole Northern Asia, and as far south as the plains bordering the Caspian Sea, including China, Tibet, the Indo-Malayan peninsula, Japan, Korea, and the Archipelago, making by far the largest part of the population of Asia. The Mongolian race is characterized by its yellow skin, black eyes and hair, flat nose, oblique eyes, short stature with little hair on the body and face. (2) The Aryan, or Indo-Iranian group, to which the great majority of European peoples belong. It extends over the whole of Southern and part of Western Asia, embracing the Hindus, the Iranians, the Medo-Persians, the Armenians, the Caucasians, and the inhabitants of Asia Minor. (3) The Semitic, which extends over the whole of South-western Asia, and comprises the Arabs, the Assyro-Babylonians or Mesopotamians, the Syrians, the Jews, and the entire Mohammedan population of Asiatic Turkey.

The numerous languages spoken in Asia may be roughly classified as follows: (1) The Turanian branch, to which belong the Mongolian, the Manchu, the Chinese, the Japanese, the old Turkish, and Tatar. (2) The Aryan or Indo-Iranian, to which belong most of the hundred and twenty languages and dialects of India, especially the old Sanskrit, the Iranian, or old Persian, which is the language of the Avesta, and of the old Archemænian inscriptions, the Armenian, the Georgian, and a considerable part of modern Persian. (3) The Semitic group, to which belong the ancient languages of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the various, but mostly extinct, old Chanaanitish dialects, the Hebrew, the Phoenician, the numerous eastern and western Aramaic dialects, known as Syriac, and represented nowadays by the modern Chaldean and neo-Syrian dialects used by the Nestorians of Kurdistan, Persia, and Mesopotamia, and finally Arabic, which in various forms and dialects is spoken throughout Arabia and by the great majority of the Mohammedan populations of Hindustan, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Syria, as well as by most of the Christians of the two last-mentioned countries.

History of Asia

At what period man first made his appearance in Asia we do not know, although there have been various and conflicting theories as to when that even took place. The general opinion now entertained by scholars is that somewhere from the fifth and seventh millennium B. C., Asia was chiefly peopled by two great races, viz., the Semitic and the Mongolian or Turanian. The former occupied the southwest portion of Asia, that is to say, the lands lying on the south-east corner of the Mediterranean and contiguous to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, including Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Arabia, and the extensive regions watered by the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, afterwards composing the two mighty empires of Babylonia and Assyria; the latter occupied the regions of Northern and Eastern Asia, stretching inward from the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and including Japan, China, and the districts to the west and south contiguous to China. At about the same period some of the Turanian tribes of Northern and Central Asia pressed their way to the west, invaded Persia, and pushed as far southwest as the Persian Gulf and Babylonia, where they soon overcame the native Semites, subjugating them to their rule and power, and forcing upon them their own Turanian religion and civilization. The existence and supremacy of this Turanian element in the southern part of the Tigris-Euphrates valley is historically attested by the old Babylonian inscriptions, by their system of writing, language, civilization, and governing dynasties. Scholars have given the name Turanians, or Akkadians, or better Sumerians, to this foreign invading element, and they are all agreed that their power and authority remained uncontested for about a thousand years, i.e., till about the beginning of the third millennium B. C., when the native Semitic Babylonians, aided perhaps by numerous Semitic immigrants from Arabia and Chanaan into Babylonia, overthrew the Sumerian power, uniting North and South Babylonia into several Semitic confederations, and, later on, into one united Semitic Babylon.

At the same time various Semitic nationalities began to develop in Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Chanaan. Toward the second half of the first millennium B. C., Assyrian power made its first appearance, and successfully contested with Babylonia the supremacy over Western Asia. Toward 1200 B.C. the Israelitish tribe invaded and settled in Chanaan. In 605 B. C., Ninive, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, fell by the hands of Nabupalassar, of Babylonia, and Cyaxares, of Media; and with its fall the powerful Assyrian Empire came to an end. Less than a century later Babylon itself was captured by Cyrus (538 B. C.) and the whole of Western Asia passed under the Medo-Persian power of Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius, till the time of the triumph of the Macedonian army under Alexander the Great (330 B. C.). After the Selucidæ, Western Asia passed into the power of the Parthian, Arsacid, and Sassanian dynasties of Persia, and remained so until the advent and the seeping triumph of the Mohammedan armies in the seventh century of the Christian era. While the Sassanian kings held their power and authority over the whole region east of the Euphrates, the Romans had absolute power over Syria, parts of northern Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. Arabia, on the other hand, had successfully resisted permanent foreign encroachments, and the numerous tribes of that peninsula continued to be governed by their own sheikhs, princes, and kings. The Southern Arabia kingdoms, those of Yemen, Himyar, Saba, and Ma'an, were in continuous struggle against one another and especially against the Abyssinians of Ethiopia. Towards the middle of the seventh century of the Christian era, the Mohammedan armies, having united the numerous Arab tribes into one Mohammedan Arabia, crossed into Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Persia. In less than fifty years the whole of Western Asia was completely reduced by the Moslem armies, and remained so until about the middle of the thirteenth or the opening of the fourteenth century, when Tatar and Mongolian armies of the terrible Ghengis Khan, Temur Lang, and their successors swept over all Western Asia, overthrowing the Abbasic dynasty in Irak, and that of the Seljuks in Asia Minor. Soon after, Western Asia passed into the power of the Ottoman Turks who have succeeded in maintaining their authority intact over the same regions till our own day.

The Mongolian tribes of Northern Asia seem to have grown as early as the second millennium B.C. into various kingdoms and nationalities, such as the Chinese, the Japanese, the Tatars, with their distinct kingdoms and dynasties. The history and the development of these north and east Asiatic kingdoms are, comparatively speaking, of little importance for the international history of civilized Asia, inasmuch as their power and influence did not materially or permanently affect the development and the destinies of the near East. Even the Tatar and Turcoman hordes, who for the last six centuries have held under their sway the destinies of Western Asia, soon adopted the Mohammedan religion and civilization.

Unlike their European brethren, the Aryan tribes of Southern Asia and Iran did not play a very important part in the pages of history. With the exception of the conquest of Babylonia by the Iranian conqueror Cyrus and the supremacy of Sassanian dynasties over the east half of Western Asia the Indo-Iranian tribes of South and west-Central Asia developed no particularly remarkable kingdoms or power. The earliest event of Hindu historical chronology does not date farther back than 1400 B. C., and possibly later. It is the war of Mahabharat, the story of which is contained in a poem written about 500 B. C., that forms a part of the epic literature of ancient India. The accounts of antecedent periods are manifestly mythical, and merely indicate the probability of the gradual process of conquering Brahmanic races from west to east. From that time down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, India was governed by various native and Mogul dynasties; and toward the beginning of the last century it passed into the power of England.

Religions of Asia

The principal religions of Asia are: Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zorastrianism, Mohammedanism, Judaism and Christianity.

Mohammedism in Asia

Mohammedanism, or Islamism, is one of the three great Semitic religions, the other two being Judaism and Christianity. No accurate statistics have as yet been taken of the Mohammedan population of the world. The latest approved estimate, however, places the number at a little over two hundred millions. Of these, sixty million are in Africa, and most of the rest in Asia as follows: 18,000,000 in Asiatic Turkey; 30,000,000 in China; 60,000,000 in India and Burmah; 31,000,000 in the Malay Archipelago; and the rest in Persia, Afghanistan, Caucasia, and Russian Turkistan. In the Mindanao kingdom and in the Sulu group of the Philippine Islands there are about 360,000 and 250,000 Mohammedans, respectively. The relations of Mohammedanism to Oriental Churches and Christianity are discussed in the article MOHAMMEDANISM, and in the articles on the various Oriental Churches. (See also ARABIA.)

Judaism in Asia

Towards the twelfth century before the Christian Era, we find the Hebrews permanently settled in Palestine. The earliest known Hebrew migrations from Palestine occurred during the reign of Sargon, King of Assyria (722-705 B. C.), who having in 722 captured Sumeria, the capital of the northern Israelitish kingdom, transported 27,000 Samaritan Hebrews to Syria and the frontiers of Media. A century and a half later, Nabuchodonosor, King of Babylon (605-562 B. C.) carried off from Jerusalem into Babylonia some twenty thousand Jews. Soon after his capture of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Palestine. The poorest class returned, but the most prosperous families remained in the land of their exile, where they soon rose to great social and financial prosperity. Towards 350 B.C. Artaxerxes Ochus deported to Hyrcania a group of Jews that had revolted. Upon the triumph of the Macedonian army, and under the successors of Alexander the Great, great numbers of Jews migrated into Egypt. After the overthrow of the last Jewish kingdom, and following the fall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple at the hands of the Romans, Judaism at large passed beyond the limits of its ancient centres, and began to spread over Egypt, North Africa, and Western Asia. During the first five centuries of the Christian era, we find numerous Jewish colonies scattered all over Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, and as far as South Arabia. In the last-mentioned country they obtained political supremacy for a while, under the Himyarire King Dhú-Nuw´s. In Southern Babylonia, especially during the Sassanian dynasty of Persia, they acquired great ascendancy, with very flourishing religious and educational centres, such as the famous academies of Sura, Nehardea, Pumbadita, and Mahuza, whence sprang the Babylonian Talmud.

With the advent of Islam, however, and the rapid conquest of the Mohammedan armies, Judaism suffered greatly in Arabia, and in all the newly conquered provinces. Its followers were almost always harshly and severely dealt with by the Moslems, although under the reign of several Abbasid caliphs they were kindly treated. The Byzantine emperors, on the one hand, were anything but friendly to them; and its noteworthy that, although in the first three centuries of Christianity the Jews were the first to become Christian proselytes, nevertheless the two religions developed afterwards the most lamentable antagonism which lasted for a great many centuries. Notwithstanding the many persecutions to which they had to submit, the Jews have persevered their racial and religious unity in various countries in Asia, where they are divided as follows: 65,000 in Asia Minor; 90,000 in Syria and Palestine; 70,000 in Mesopotamia and Irak; 60,000 in Arabia; 58,000 in the Caucasus; 35,000 in Siberia; 8,000 in Ferghana; 9,000 in Bokhara; 2,000 in Khiva; 3,000 in Aden; 15,000 in British India; 2,000 in Afghanistan; 25,000 in Persia; 1,000 in China, and 500 in various other countries, making a total of about 450,000, or less than half a million.

Christianity in Asia

Asia is the cradle and the primitive home of Christianity; for it was in its extreme south-western borders, i.e., in Palestine, the home of the Chosen People, that the Founder of Christianity chose to appear, to live, and to preach the New Dispensation. Soon after Jesus' death, his Apostles and Disciples actively began the evangelization of the world, and tradition tells us that the Apostles went to different localities; some to Palestine, others to Asia Minor, some to Greece and Rome, others to Mesopotamia, Armenia, Babylonia, Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and even as far as India. Palestine and Syria, however, were naturally the first recipients of the new religion, and here, the Jewish communities furnished the first nucleus of Christian proselytes. From Syria, Christian propaganda spread into Phoenicia and Asia Minor, and through the effective preaching of St. Paul, it penetrated into the principal cities of the Mediterranean coast and Asia Minor, crossing the borders of Asia and reaching into the very heart of the Roman Empire. From the Acts of the Apostles it can be conclusively shown that as early as the second half of the first century of the Christian Era, Christian communities existed in the following Asiatic cities: Jerusalem (Acts, passim), Damascus (Acts 9), Samaria and the Samaritan villages (Acts 8), Lydda (ix), Joppe (ib.), Cæsarea in Palestine (Acts 10), Antioch in Syria (xi), Tyre (xxi), Sidon (xxvii), Tarsus (ix, xi, xv), Salamina in Cyprus (xiii), Perge in Pamphilia (xiii, xiv), Iconium (xiii, xiv), Lystra (xiv), Derbe (xiv), several unnamed localities in Galacia (Galatians 1, 1 Peter 1), in Cappadocia (1 Peter 1), Ephesus (Acts and Paul's Epistles), Laodicea (Paul's Epp.), Hierapolis in Phygia (Paul's Epp.), Smyrna (Apoc.), Sardis (ib.), Philadelphia in Lydia (ib.), Thyatira in Lydia (ib.), and very probably also in Ashdod in Philistia, Seleucia, Attalia in Pamphilia, Amphipolis, Apolonia, Assus, Malta, and other islands of the Mediterranean. From Syria and Asia Minor the activity of the early Christian missionaries spread north, south, east, and west through Edessa, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Assyria, Babylonian, Media, Persia, Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Africa, Greece, Italy,, and the West. As regards Asia, we have historical evidence that towards the middle of the second century, Christian communities were established also in Edessa, various cities of Mesopotamia, along the Tigris and the Euphrates, Melitene, Magnesia, Tralles in Caria, Philomelium in Pisidia, Parium in Mysia, Nicomedia, Otris, Hierapolis, Pepuza, Tymion, Ardaban, Apamea, Cumane, and Eumanea in Phrygia, Ancyra in Galatia, Sinope, Amastris in Pontus, Debeltum in Thrace, Larissa in Thessalia, Myra in Lycia, etc. (See Harnack, Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, II, 240, sqq.). From the signatures of the various Asiatic bishops who assisted at the Council of Nicea (325) we have conclusive evidence that towards the year 300, and in fact considerably earlier, there existed in the following Asiatic provinces and cities not only Christian communities, but also well organized churches, diocese, and ecclesiastical centres: Jerusalem, Cæsarea, Samaria-Sebaste, Lydda-Diospolis, Joppe, Saron, Emmaus-Nicopolis, Sichem-Neapolis, Scythopolis, Jamnia, Azotus, Ascalon, Gaza, Gadara, Capitolias, Bethlehem, Anea, Anim and Jattir, Bethabara, Sycar-Asker, Batanea, Pheno, and many other episcopal sees in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, Arabia, Edessa, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, etc. In the last three mentioned regions, in fact, we have positive traces of fully organized dioceses and churches as early as the first half of the third century, with many illustrious saints and martyrs.

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth, and the beginning of the seventh century, until the rise of Islam, Christianity became the dominant and generally accepted religion of Western Asia, with the exception of Arabia. The Christian Church, however, was subject politically to two mighty rival powers, the Roman and the Persian. To the first of these, the whole of Palestine, Syria, North-west Arabia, west-Euphratean Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor were subject; while to the latter belonged east-Euphratean Mesopotamia, North-east Arabia, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Media. The endless rivalries and wars of these two powers proved indeed fatal to the progress of Christianity and to the permanent unity of the two great Christian Churches, the Roman and the Persian. These obstacles notwithstanding, the Christian Church of Persia, from its very beginning down to the middle of the fifth century, was dependent on the Patriarch of Antioch and consequently in communion with Rome, although it had its own metropolitan, the great Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Babylonia. But the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies of the fifth centuries broke this union asunder. Nestorianism, unable to gain any permanent footing in Syria, Asia Minor, and the West, found a strong ally and defender in the Sassanian kings of Persia and in the Mesopotamia Church, which, towards the end of the fifth century, had already completely estranged itself from Antioch and Rome, and had become an independent national church, having as its ecclesiastical head the great Catholicos of the East, i.e., of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. In the meanwhile, Monophysitism began to rage in Syria, Armenia, Arabia, and Mesopotamia alike, forming thus another independent heretical Church. Soon after, the Nestorian and Monophysite churches of Western Asia prospered and developed to such an extent as to complete in greatness and influence with most Christian churches, the Roman excepted.

With the advent is Islam, however, and the rapid conquest of the Mohammedan armies (seventh century), Christianity in Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, Syria, and Asia Minor suffered most severely. Soon after the death of Mohammed, all these provinces fell, one after the other, into the hands of the Moslems, who threatened, for a while, the entire extinction of Christianity in Western Asia. Thanks however, to the tolerant attitude of the majority of the Umayyad, and the Abbasid caliphs of Damascus and Bagdad respectively, Christianity in the Mohammedan empire rose gradually to a new and unprecedented life and vigour, and in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries the Nestorian and Monophysite churches, but especially the first, reached their highest degree of prosperity. Nestorian and Jacobite theologians, philosophers, and men of letters soon became the teachers of the conquering Arabs, and the pioneers of Islamo-Arabic science, civilization, and learning. Nestorian physicians became the attending physicians of the court, and the Nestorian patriarch and his numerous bishops were regarded in Asia as second to none in power and authority. From Western Asia, Nestorianism spread into India, Ceylon, Socotra, and the Malabar Coast, China, Mongolia and Tatary, where it soon became extremely influential and possessed numerous churches and well-organized bishoprics. So that as early as the ninth and tenth centuries, the jurisdiction of the Nestorian Catholicos of Seleucia extended over Central, Southern, west-Central and South-western Asia, as far as Syria, Arabia, Cyprus, and Egypt, and had more than two hundred subordinate bishops and metropolitans. In the meanwhile, the Monophysite church held sway in Syria, Egypt, north Mesopotamia, and Armenia, where it developed strength, if not equal, certainly not very inferior, to that of the Nestorian.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Tatar invasions and devastations in Central and Western Asia put an end to Arabic domination, dealing, at the same time, a deadly blow to both the Nestorian and the Jacobite Churches, and causing havoc and consternation among Asiatic Christians in general. Hundreds and thousands of these Christians were massacred, their churches and monasteries ruined, and a great number of the wavering compelled to renounce their faith and embrace Mohammedanism. The weakened condition of both the Nestorian and Jacobite Churches paved the way to their return to the Catholic Faith, and many of their patriarchs and bishops, thanks to the incessant and salutary work of early Catholic missionaries, asked to be once more united with Rome as of old. The stream of conversions became more pronounced and rapid during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and has continued so till our own day. Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, and Jesuit missions were established all over Asia with the result that a large number of Nestorians and Monophysites have long since renounced their heretical creeds and embraced Catholicism. The same gratifying movement took place in the schismatic Greek Church of Syria and Asia Minor, as well as in the Monophysite Church of Armenia.

Actual condition of the Christian Church

The history of Catholicism in Asia is intimately connected with the rise and progress of the Asiatic missions. The merit of first having disclosed to the West, and to Rome in particular, the mysterious and impenetrable East as well as the conditions of Oriental Christianity undoubtedly belongs to the Crusades. Profiting by this information, and ever solicitous of the welfare of the Church of Christ, the popes were the first to seize the opportunity for a propaganda in the Far, as well as in the near East. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, Innocent IV, Gregory X, and Honorius II, sent the Franciscan missionaries, Lorenzo of Portugal, Giovanni Piano de Carpine, Wilhelm Ruysbrock (de Rubuquis), Giovanni of Cremona, and others, as their representative delegates to the great Mogul, Kublai Khan, on behalf of the Oriental Christians. In 1306, the Franciscan, Giovanni di Montecorvino, was sent by Benedict IX on a similar mission to China, where he was subsequently appointed bishop with seven auxiliary bishops by Clement V, and where he died in 1330. In 1318, the Dominican Francesco di Peruga was appointed Bishop of Sultania, in Tatary, by Pope John XXII, and in 1321-28, another Dominican missionary, Giodano Catalini, accompanied by three Franciscan friars, made two successful journeys to India, to the coast of Malabar, the Ceylon, and to China. In 1323 the Franciscan, Odorico di Pordenone, visited Ceylon, Java, Borneo, Kahn-Balikh, Tibet, and Persia, returning in 1331, after having baptized more than 20,000 pagans. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Franciscan friars who were appointed by the popes as the official guardians of the sanctuaries of Jerusalem, and of the Holy Land, began to extend their missionary activity to North Syria, North-west Mesopotamia, and Egypt, while the Carmelites advanced into Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Persia. In 1501, the Franciscan, Enrico of Coimbra, accompanied the Portuguese, Alvarez Cabral, into Calicut, Cochin, Goa, and Cranganore; and in 1521 Catholic missionaries first penetrated into the Philippine Islands. During the years 1541-45, St. Francis Xavier evangelized India, the coasts of Malabar and Travancore, and Ceylon; in 1545, Malacca; in 1546 the Moluccas; from 1549-51, Japan, and in 1551, on his way to China, he died, after an apostolic career not less wonderful and unique than successful and rich in results.

With the mission of St. Francis Xavier in India, and the founding of the Society of Jesus, there began a new era for Catholic missionary enterprise, an era of indomitable zeal and exceptional success. Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites were now eagerly vying with one another for the Christianization of Asia. Naturally enough, the numerous Nestorian, Jacobite, Armenian, and Greek schismatic communities and churches scattered through the Turkish dominion in Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and through Persia attracted their attention; and thanks to their noble missionary effort and their zeal, great numbers of schismatic Orientals with their bishops, priests, and monks joined the Catholic Church. Catholic missions and schools, seminaries and churches, hospitals, and other charitable institutions were established among all these schismatic Oriental Churches in Asiatic Turkey and Persia, as well as among the heathen in China, India, Korea, Siam, Cochin-China, and Japan. Soon after, Catholic dioceses of the Latin Rite, Apostolic Prefectures and Apostolic delegations were created and permanently established, with the gratifying result that now, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church is seen firmly established in every Asiatic region, side by side with Brahminism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, the schismatic Greek Church, and Protestantism.

The Oriental Churches of Western Asia (Turkey and Persia), however, are for us of particular interest, as they represent old and venerable national Churches, having their own hierarchy, rites, liturgical languages and usages, and ecclesiastical discipline, which had, as early as the fifth century, separated themselves from the church of Rome. They represent what we usually call the oriental churches, and are divided as follows: (1) The Nestorian church, extended over Babylonia and Chaldea, Mesopotamia and Assyria, Kurdistan, Persia, and the coast of Malabar in India. (2) The Jacobite Church (Monophysite) which extends over Syria, North-west Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Malabar. (3) The Armenian Church (Monophysite) which extends over the whole of Assyria, Persia, Asia Minor, and part of Syria. (4) The Maronite church, which is a branch of the Syrian Church, and extends over Mount Lebanon and Syria. (5) The Greek Church, scattered over Syria, Phoenicia, and Asia Minor. Another church, generally referred to as an Oriental church, is the Coptic, or Abyssinian, which, being restricted to African soil, must be here omitted. It must be noted, however, that each of the above-mentioned Oriental Churches, the Maronite excepted, which is entirely Catholic, is divided into two independent branches, or Churches; the one Catholic and in communion with Rome; the other schismatic and separated from Rome; each, however, having its own patriarch, bishops, priests, and local churches. They may be classified as follows:

The Catholic branch of each of these Oriental Churches, although united with Rome, preserves, in common with its sister schismatic branch, its own primitive, original rite, liturgy, and its own ecclesiastical discipline and privileges, the maintenance of which has been scrupulously prescribed and insisted upon by the Roman pontiffs, under penalty of suspension and excommunication; no clerical or lay member being allowed to change his rite without a special dispensation of the Holy See.

Catholicism in Asia

Asiatic Turkey

The entire Christian population of Asiatic Turkey is 3,649,882, of which 692,431 are Catholics, 97,370 Protestants, and the remaining schismatics. They may be classified as follows: Asia Minor: 6,423 Catholic Armenians; 193,416 Schismatic Armenians; 994,922 Schismatic Greeks; 2,079 Jacobites; 5,838 Latins, and 3,400 Protestants. Armenia and Kurdistan: 51,306 Catholic Armenians; 712,842 Schismatic Armenians; 8,600 Chaldeans; 92,000 Nestorians; 572 Jacobites; 353,762 Schismatic Greeks; 2 Latins, and 61,256 Protestants. Mesopotamia: 36,320 Chaldeans; 13,990 Syrians; 27,754 Jacobites; 11,670 Catholic Armenians; 61,590 Schismatic Armenians; 1,993 Latins; 340 Greek Melchites; 9,325 Schismatic Greeks, and 11,194 Protestants. There are also 308,740 Maronites; 141,219 Melchites; 304,230 Schismatic Greeks; 19,459 Catholic Armenians; 23,834 Schismatic Armenians; 1,865 Chaldeans; 25,632 Syrians; 47,805 Jacobites; 39,034 Latins; and 21,520 Protestants in Palestine, Phoenicia, and Syria as far north and west as the Euphrates, or a total of 308,740 Maronites; 141,559 Melchites; 1,662,239 Schismatic Greeks; 88,858 Catholic Armenians; 991,682 Schismatic Armenians; 46,785 Chaldeans; 92,000 Nestorians; 39,622 Syrians; 78,210 Jacobites; 46,867 Latins, and 97,370 Protestants. The population of Arabia is entirely Mohammedan, except in the sea port of Aden, where there is an Apostolic vicariate with about 1,500 Christians.


There are in Persia 20,000 Chaldeans; 50,500 Nestorians; 5,035 Catholic Armenians; 81,654 Schismatic Armenians; 200 Latins; and about 2,670 Protestants. In Afghanistan there is not a single Christian church or any organized Christian community.


The number of Catholics in India, including Ceylon, is about 2,069,791, with 4,938 churches and chapels; 105 seminaries and colleges; 2,312 schools; 37 hospitals; 2,190 European missionaries; 1 patriarch (in Goa); 7 archbishops; 26 bishops; 3 Apostolic vicars and 3 Apostolic prefects. The number of the Jacobites is about 120,000, the Chaldeans (independent of the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylonia, although formerly dependent on him) about 100,000. The number of Protestants in India is about 700,000 (1889).


The Catholic population of China is about 820,000, governed by 39 Apostolic vicars, and 2 Apostolic prefects, with 955 European missionaries, having 4,067 churches and chapels, 90 colleges and seminaries, 4,067 schools and orphan asylums, and 62 hospitals. The number of Protestants, in 1900, is given by Warneck as 200,000.


There are in Korea 45,000 Catholics with 1 bishop and 42 priests; Protestants (Methodists and Baptists) 7,000.


In Japan the Catholics number 60,500, with 1 archbishop (Tokio), 3 bishops (Nagasaki, Osaka, and Hakodate), and about 130 missionary priests. The number of Protestants is about 50,000 and that of the Orthodox Greek Russians, about 5,000 with 1 bishop.


(French Colony) 820,000 Catholics with 410 missionary priests; 3,304 churches and chapels; 24 seminaries and colleges; 2,349 schools and orphan asylums, and 38 hospitals.

Philippine Islands

(American Colony). The entire population of the Philippines Islands is estimated at about seven millions, of which about 600,000 are wild tribes and pagans, about six millions Catholics, and the rest Mohammedans and pagans. The Catholic Church is governed by an Apostolic delegate, 1 archbishop, and 4 bishops with numerous secular and regular priests.

Asiatic Russia

The Christian population of Asiatic Russia is estimated at about fourteen millions, 75,000 of whom are Catholics, and the rest schismatic Greeks (Græco-Russian Church).

All of the above statistics are only approximately correct, as the various censuses so far as published are often doubtful, contradictory, and misleading. According to P. Pisani (Vacant, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, I, coll. 2096-2097), the entire population, according to their various religions and creeds, may be approximately classified as follows:

About this page

APA citation. Oussani, G. (1907). Asia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Oussani, Gabriel. "Asia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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