MARONITES (Arab. Mawarina), a Christian people of the Ottoman Empire in communion with the Papal Church, but forming a distinct denomination. The original seat and present home of the nucleus of the Maronites is Mt Lebanon; but they are also to be found in considerable force in Anti-Lebanon and Hermon, and more sporadically in and near Antioch, in Galilee, and on the Syrian coast. Colonies exist in Cyprus (with a large convent near Cape Kormakiti), in Alexandria, and in the United States of America. These began to be formed during the troubles of 1860. The Lebanon community numbers about 300,000, and the total of the whole denomination cannot be much under half a million.
The origin of Maronism has been much obscured by the efforts of learned Maronites like Yusuf as-Simani (Assemanus), Vatican librarian under Clement XII., Faustus Nairon, Gabriel Sionita and Abraham Ecchellensis to clear its history from all taint of heresy. We are told of an early Antiochene, Mar Marun or Maro, who died about A.D. 400 in the odour of sanctity in a convent at Ribla on the Orontes, whence orthodoxy spread over mid-Syria. But nothing sure is known of him, and not much more about a more historical personage, Yuhanna Marun (John Sirimensis of Suedia), said to have been patriarch of Antioch, to have converted Lebanon from Monothelism, and to have died in A.D. 707. It is, however, certain that the Lebanon Christians as a whole were not orthodox in the time of Justinian II., against whose supporters, the Melkites, they ranged themselves after having co-operated awhile with the emperor against the Moslems. They were then called Mardaites or rebels, and were mainly Monothelite in the 12th century, and remained largely so even a century later. The last two facts are attested by William of Tyre and Barhebraeus. It seems most probable that the Lebanon offered refuge to Antiochene Monothelites flying from the ban of the Constantinopolitan Council of A.D. 680; that these converted part of the old mountain folk, who already held some kind of Incarnationist creed; and that their first patriarch and his successors, for about 500 years at any rate, were Monothelite, and perhaps also Monophysite. It is worth noting that even as late as the close of the 16th century the Maronite patriarch found it necessary to protest by anathema against imputations of heresy. In 1182 it is said that Amaury, patriarch of Antioch, induced some Maronite bishops, who had fallen under crusading influences, to rally to Rome; and a definite acceptance of the Maronite Church into the Roman communion took place at the Council of Florence in 1445. But it is evident that the local particularism of the Lebanon was adverse to this union, and that even Gregory XIII., who sent the pallium to the patriarch Michael, and Clement VII. who in 1596 dispatched a mission to a synod convoked at Kannobin, the old patriarchal residence, did not prevail on the lower clergy or the mass of the Maronites. A century and a half later Clement XII. was more successful. He sent to Syria, Assemanus, a Maronite educated at the Roman college of Gregory XIII.; and at last, at a council held at the monastery of Lowaizi on the 30th of September 1736, the Maronite Church accepted from Rome a constitution which is still in force, and agreed to abandon some of its more incongruous usages such as mixed convents of monks and nuns. It retained, however, its Syriac liturgy and a non-celibate priesthood. The former still persists unchanged, while the Bible is read and exhortations are given in Arabic; and priests may still be ordained after marriage. But marriage is not permitted subsequent to ordination, nor does it any longer usually precede it. The tendency to a celibate clergy increases, together with other romanizing usages, promoted by the papal legate in Beirut, the Catholic missioners, and the higher native clergy who are usually educated in Rome or at St Sulpice. The legate exercises growing influence on patriarchal and other elections, and on Church government and discipline. The patriarch receives confirmation from Rome, and the political representation of the Maronites at Constantinople is in the hands of the vicar apostolic. Rome has incorporated most of the Maronite saints in her calendar, while refusing (despite their apologists) to canonize either of the reputed eponymous founders of Maronism.
While retaining many local usages, the Maronite Church does not differ now in anything essential from the Papal, either in dogma or practice. It has, like the Greek Church, two kinds of clergy parochial and monastic. The former are supported by their parishes; the latter by the revenues of the monasteries, which own about one-sixth of the Lebanon lands. There are some 1400 monks in about 120 monastic establishments (many of these being mere farms in charge of one or two monks). All are of the order of St Anthony, but divided into three congregations, the Ishaya, the Halebiyeh (Aleppine) and the Beladiyeh or Libnaniyeh (local). The distinction of the last named dates only from the early 18th century. The lower clergy are educated at the theological college of Ain Warka. There are five archbishoprics and five bishoprics under the patriarch, who alone can consecrate. The sees are Aleppo, Baalbek, Tripoli, Ehden, Damascus, Beirut, Tyre, Cyprus and Jebeil (held by the patriarch himself ex officio). There are also four prelates in partibus.
The Maronites are most numerous and unmixed in the north of Lebanon (districts of Bsherreh and Kesrawan). Formerly they were wholly organized on a clan system under feudal chiefs, of whom those of the house of Khazin were the most powerful; and these fought among themselves rather than with the Druses or other denominations down to the 18th century, when the Arab family of Shehab for its own purposes began to stir up strife between Maronites and Druses (see DRUSES). Feudalism died hard, but since 1860 has been practically extinct; and so far as the Maronites own a chief of their own people it is the " Patriarch of Antioch and the whole East," who resides at Bkerkeh near Beirut in winter, and at a hill station (Bdiman or Raifun) in summer. The latter, however, has no recognized jurisdiction except over his clergy. The Maronites have four members on the provincial council, two of whom are the sole representatives of the two mudirats of Kesrawan; and they have derived benefit from the fact that so far the governor of the privileged province has always been a Catholic (see LEBANON). The French protection of them, which dates from Louis XIV., is no longer operative but to French official representatives is still accorded a courteous precedence. The Maronite population has greatly increased at the expense of the Druses, and is now obliged to emigrate in considerable numbers. Increase of wealth and the influence of returned emigrants tend to soften Maronite character, and the last remnants of the barbarous state of the community even the obstinate blood-feud are disappearing.
See C. F. Schnurrer, De ecclesia Maronitica (1810); F. J. Bliss in Pal. Expl. Fund Quarterly Statement (1892); and authorities for DRUSES and LEBANON. (D. G. H.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)