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316-1850 Ethiopia-Abyssinian Church History

About A.D. 316 a certain Meropius of Tyre on a voyage of discovery to the countries south of Egypt was murdered with bis whole ship's company. Only his two nephews Frumentius and Edesius wire spared. They won the favor of the Abyssinian king and became the tutors of the heir apparent, Aizanas. Frumentius was subsequently, in A.D. 438, ordained by Athanasius bishop of the country. Aizanas was baptised, the church spread rapidly from Abyssinia to Ethiopia and Numidia. A translation of the bible into the Geez dialect, the language of the country, is attributed to Frumentius.

There is, indeed, a tradition in Ethiopia, as well as in Europe, founded in both instances perhaps on Acts viii. 27, of the Eunuch of Queen Candace having first planted the Faith among the Abyssinians ; but, as this is void of all collateral testimony, it has generally been rejected. It has also been said that St. Matthew and St. Bartholomew were the first Apostles of Ethiopia ; but the difficulty of showing that this Ethiopia is the Abyssinia of modern times, and the positive assertions of Ruffinus and Abba Gregory f to the contrary, seem sufficiently to have refuted this assertion.

The Abyssinians, it is believed, have, ever since their conversion to Christianity, received their Patriarch (or Abuna, as they call him) from Alexandria. This is sufficient to account for their creed having always been the same with that of that Church, which is, the Monophysite, or Jacobite, or Monothelite, or Eutychian, which appear to be only different names for the same thing. Closely connected with the Egyptian mother church, it fell with it into Monophysitism. The Monophysite controversy centered around the exact nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysites (mah-NOF-i-sit) maintain that Christ has one nature, partly divine and partly human. The peculiar dogma of this heresy - for such it has been called - is that of acknowledging one nature in Christ, in opposition to the Nestorians, who hold two. On examining some of the best writers, however, on both sides, it will be found very difficult to discover in what they really do differ.

So long as the Church of Alexandria remained at unity with itself and with the Greek Church, that of Abyssinia may be said to have held the same doctrines and customs : but, in the time of the Emperor Marcion, upon the disagreement of the Bishops respecting the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Council of Chalcedon, which is called the Fourth General Council, was assembled; and, in it, the dogmas of Eutyches and Dioscorus, the advocates for the Monophysite Belief, were condemned. Those who embraced the orthodox faith were, out of contempt, called Melchites, i.e. Royalists ; because they followed the faith of the Emperor. The other party, also, out of contempt, received the title of Eutychians, Jacobites f, &c Since the schism, the Armenian Apostolic Church has been in communion only with the monophysite churches of Egypt, Syria, and Ethiopia.

Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in 1554. After several years of struggle and bloodshed, the emperor abandoned the cause of Rome, and the Roman patriarch abandoned Abyssinia in 1633. This religious controversy left a legacy of deep hostility toward foreign Christians and Europeans that continued into the twentieth century. It also contributed to the isolation that followed for the next 200 years.

After this, little or nothing was heard from Abyssinia till 1763, when Bruce visited the country, and brought back with him a copy of the Ethiopic Scriptures. In 1809 Mr. Salt explored Abyssinia by order of the British government, anil described the nation and its religion as in a ruinous condition. Mr. Salt urged the British Protestants to send missionaries to Abyssinia. Portions of the Bible were translated and published in the Amharic and Tigro languages under the auspices of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

In the mid-19th Century the Christians of Abyssinia were divided into three parties ; so inimical to each other, that they curse one another, and no longer partook of the Sacrament together. It is one single point of Theology that disunites them, the unceasing dispute concerning the unction of Jesus Christ.

  1. One party was of opinion, that when it is said that Jesus Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit, it is meant that the Godhead was united with the human nature of Jesus Christ; and that, in all the passages of the Bible where the Holy Spirit is represented as having been given to Jesus Christ, the name Holy Spirit only signifies the Divinity of Christ, who had no need of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whom He could not receive, having always possessed Him. Their manner of expressing themselves was, that Jesus Christ has anointed; that He has been anointed; and that He himself is the unction. This party was chiefly in Tigre - the most exasperated one. Their doctrine was that of the last Coptic Abuna.
  2. The second opinion was, that when it is said that Jesus Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit, it is signified merely that the Holy Spirit accomplished the union of the Godhead with the human nature in the person of Christ. This party was principally to be found in the provinces of Godjam and Lasta.
  3. The third opinion, predominating in all the other provinces of Abyssinia, even in Shoa, was that Jesus Christ, as man, although united to the Godhead from the moment of His conception, received the Holy Ghost in the human part of His nature, in the same manner as believers receive Him; viz. as a gift of the Father; in order that he might be enabled to accomplish, as man, the work of our redemption : whence they conclude, that, because Jesus Christ received the Holy Spirit as we receive Him, His unction is to be called a third birth. These are the most tolerant.
It appeared that these differences of opinion were founded upon the different views they adopted of the two natures of Jesus Christ; although, according to the letter, they were all Monosophytes. They held, as all the other sects of the East, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only. Excepting the differences of opinion concerning the unction of Jesus Christ, they all had nearly the same superstition.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:58 ZULU