Social Structure of the Ethiopian Church

By Ephraim Isaac


  Right at the outset, I wish to appeal to my readers to understand two points: first, this work is merely an outline, and I would be the first person to claim that it is in anyway conclusive or even adequate; secondly, the work is not meant to be a dogmatic expression of my personal views, or one that should be quoted like a gospel. On the contrary, in the absence of a study of this nature, which I believe to be necessary, I have revised a paper which I wrote when I was a graduate student at Harvard University for a Church History reading course under the auspices of Professor George H. Williams and have presented it as a working hypothesis on the important subject of the social structure of the Ethiopian Church, with view to creating a wide range of exchange of opinions that may eventually culminate in a more substantial conclusive work. Beyond what many people think, the Ethiopian Church is one of the most sophisticated and complex social and religious institutions to be found anywhere, and no schematic work like this one can measure to the scholarly standards necessary to do justice to the subject on a more exhaustive basis.

  I am not trying to be only self-critical, but I am making these statements in order to express my hope that my readers will take full advantage of my feelings to criticize me constructively knowing well that their suggestions will contribute to the revision and improvement of a future edition of this work.


Religions of Ethiopia

  Three of the great world religions are represented in Ethiopia: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In addition, nature religions are adhered to by about 15 per cent of the population. These nature religions are remnants of the ancient Ethiopian religions and cults associated with the worship of trees and water, a serpent-king, the sun and the moon, and a goddess called Astarte. Some of these ancient cults produced an unusually impressive type of art and architecture such as we see in ancient temples and palaces and the outstanding monolithic stelae of Axum.

  The roots of Ethiopian Judaism go back to the ancient beginnings of the country, probably antedating Christianity. The faith has retained some of the original forms of the ancient Biblical religion of Israel, besides taking on many indigenous peculiarities. It is, therefore, substantially different from normative Judaism elsewhere. Its adherents, called Falashas (meaning " migrants "), are not at all distinguishable from other Ethiopians, except in their religious practices.

  Islam is an important religion in Ethiopia, claiming about 35 per cent of the population. It took root in Ethiopia in the time of its founder (c. 570-632 a.d.), for it was in this country that many early disciples of Mohammed, following his advice to go to the " land of righteousness," found religious tolerance and refuge. Taking this fact into account, the prophet issued a special decree that there should be no holy war against the Ethiopians. However, subsequent developments had different repercussions, and Islam was spread to Ethiopia through jihad as well as by migrants. Of the three major religions, Islam conforms most to its counterpart outside of Ethiopia; for both Ethiopian Judaism and Christianity have developed numerous indigenous peculiarities, and from antiquity until recent times had hardly any contact with their coreligionists abroad.

  Christianity is the State religion of Ethiopia. Professed by an estimated 50 per cent of the population, it is the most influential religion in the country.

  It is interesting to note that the three great monotheistic religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, can be characterized as the national religions of three branches of the Semitic linguistic groups: Jews, Ethiopians and Arabs respectively. The Ethiopians are the only people of Semitic speech who hold Christianity as their national religion.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church: Name and Origin

  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is popularly, but inaccurately known as " Coptic." The word " Coptic," by way of Greek and Arabic, means " Egyptian." In modern times, the term is used to designate pre-Moslem Egyptian culture and language as well as the Egyptian Christian Church. Although the Ethiopian Church is in communion with the Coptic Church (of Egypt), and its spiritual head was regularly a Copt until 1950, the two churches are quite separate bodies.

  Legend traces Ethiopian Christianity back to the time of the Apostles. Some trace its origins to the meeting of Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, recorded in Chapter Eight of the Book of Acts in the New Testament. Other stories say that on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached to the mixed crowd in Jerusalem, Ethiopian Jewish pilgrims, who had come for the Passover, heard of the new religion and were converted. Tradition holds that one-half of the Ethiopian population professed Judaism before Christianity came to the country. Since the pilgrims spoke their native Ge’ez, the ancient Semitic language of Ethiopia, they understood the sermon of Peter in Hebrew (Aramaic), made clearer to them by the Holy Spirit. These converts then returned to Ethiopia as missionaries. Still other stories tell that Matthew, Bartholomew, or other disciples of Jesus travelled to Axum to preach Christianity.

  All these legends contain some truth about the relation of Ethiopian Christianity to the early days of the Church; for some form of Christianity must have come to the country as early as the first century with the well-known Red Sea traders. However, no Ethiopian or foreign historical records regarding the presence of Christianity in Ethiopia lead us further back than 330 a.d. About this time, two Syrian Christians, Aedesius and Frumentius, appeared in the Emperor’s court at Axum. They are supposed to have been survivors of a Syrian merchant vessel that had put in for water on the Ethiopian coast of the Red Sea, where its crew was attacked and killed. The young survivors, finding favour in the sight of the Emperor, became his trusted servants and advisors and eventually acquired great influence in the country. Aedesius went back to Tyre, where he became a priest, and reported the Ethiopian incident. Frumentius succeeded in converting the imperial family. According to various traditions he travelled to Alexandria, where he was subsequently made the first Bishop of Ethiopia by Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria; and, upon his return to Axum, was named by the people Abuna Salama, " Our Father of Peace."

History of the Ethiopian Church

  The Emperor Ezana at Axum (c. 325-250) was the first of the royal dynasty to be converted by Frumentius. Early Ethiopia is believed to have been ruled by governor-high priests (mukaribs) like the Melchisedek of the Bible (Genesis 14 : 18 ff.), then by malkanas (kings); the kings later probably adapted the title negashi (originally " treasurer " or " tax-collector," which came to mean simply " king " or " ruler "). The imperial title ‘* king of kings" (negus negast), still used by the rulers of Ethiopia, makes its first appearance in a possibly second century inscription. Ezana is among the greatest of Ethiopian emperors of antiquity. He collaborated with Abuna Salama in completing the evangelization of the country, which no doubt was facilitated by the fact that Christianity had already taken root among the people. By the time of the Emperor’s death, Christianity was not only the official religion of Ethiopia, but it was also firmly rooted in the national conscience. As far as we know, since the church was established, no substantial doctrinal change took place after Ezana. It can, in this respect, be said that the theology of the Ethiopian Church today is the theology of the first major councils of Christendom—most of which took place before 451. The important Council of Chalcedon (451), which gave official approval to the doctrine of the two natures of Christ and was rejected by the Coptic Church had no direct effect on Ethiopia before 1270.* The doctrinal position said to be held by the Ethiopians since then (following the Copts against the decision of the Council of Chalcedon) is generally known as Monophysitism the doctrine that in the person of the incarnate Christ there was but a single, and that a divine, nature. Interestingly, however, the Ethiopian Church in conformity with the decision of the Council of Chalcedon condemns Eutyches, the archimandrite of a monastery near Constantinople, who had made the real formulation of this doctrine, as a heretic; but it regards as a saint, Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who was the chief exponent of Monophysitism at the Council of Chalcedon and who was banished as a heretic. (Dioscorus is still commemorated in the Ethiopian liturgical calendar on September 4 and October 14).

The most important development that occurred after Ezana’s reign was the introduction of monasticism into Ethiopia around 480. It is believed that at this time a party of nine monks, traditionally known as the " Nine Saints," headed by Abba Aragawi, a disciple of the Coptic abbot, Pachomius, arrived in Ethiopia. They founded the still existing cliff monastery of Debre Damo in Tigre province. These monks and other saints flocked into Ethiopia in the fifth and sixth centuries, contributing to the monastic tradition which is still strong in the Ethiopian Church.

  By the sixth century the schism in Eastern Christendom over the two natures of Christ, as defined by the imperial Council of Chalcedon had led to severe persecution of Monophysites. The Orthodox Emperors of Byzantium, especially Justin I the Elder (518-527), led the persecutions. It was in the Ethiopian Church that many of these persecuted Monophysite saints found refuge and rehabilitation during two centuries. The Byzantine Emperors, however, maintained friendly relations with distant Ethiopia, possibly because it lay beyond the boundary of the Byzantine Empire. Because of the exception they had made, Justin I and his nephew Justinian I, the Great (527-565), indeed sided with Ethiopia in fighting opposition from another quarter, a Jewish king named Dhu Nawwas, who was reported to be in conflict with the Christians of South Arabia. Upon the intervention of Emperor Justinian on behalf of the latter, the Ethiopian Emperor Kaleb (514-543) crossed the Red Sea and waged war against Dhu Nawwas and his company. In 525, the army of Dhu Nawwas was completely suppressed under the leadership of the Emperor Kaleb (or Elasbah), who later was made a saint of the Ethiopian Church. Under his other name, Elasbah, Kaleb is still honoured in the Roman calendar on October 27. According to Kebre Negast (see below), Emperor Kaleb of Ethiopia and Emperor Justinian of Rome (Byzantium) were destined by God to meet in Jerusalem and divide the earth between them – Rome and Ethiopia. For 70 years the Ethiopian Church had jurisdiction over the Christians of South Arabia. Abraha, Kaleb’s successor in South Arabia, had a plan to convert all of Arabia to Christianity, but after having successfully approached Mecca in 570 (year of Mohammed’s birth) riding on an elephant, his army succumbed to a smallpox epidemic and his campaign (compare the Moslem story of am-al-fil – Year of the Elephant).

  After the reign of Kaleb and his son Atse Gebre Masqal (c. 550-580), the Ethiopian Church entered upon a gradual decline. The eclipse became complete with the rise of Islam. The constant threats against the church caused it to turn inward and break its ties with the world body of Christianity. Ethiopia became a Christian island, holding out particularly against Islam, first to the east and eventually to the north and the northwest. From the beginning of the seventh century to the end of the 13th, very little is known of the history of the Ethiopian Church.

  However, two developments from this obscure era are upheld by elaborate oral and literary traditions – one from Ethiopia itself, the other from Europe. The Ethiopian tradition is quite detailed in accounts of the religious and political conflicts caused by the rise of the so-called "non-Solomonic" Zagwe Dynasty (c. 1137-1270). According to one legend, a Jewish queen, called Yodit (Gudit, Isato, etc.), founded this dynasty. Heretofore, tradition holds, an uninterrupted line of kings descending from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (cf. 1 Kings 10 : 1 ff.) ruled in Ethiopia. The elaborate story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon is told in a sacred book of the Ethiopian Church, called the Kebra Negast (Glory of the Kings). As alluded to above, the Kebra Negast relates how the Queen of Sheba had relations with King Solomon and gave birth to a son, Menelik (cf. Ben-Melek – Son of the King) who became the founder of the Solomonic Royal Dynasty (c. 900 bc). Moreover, tradition holds that Menelik also brought to Ethiopia the religion of Israel, which was later to shape the form of Ethiopian Christianity. Though this powerful national saga cannot furnish a historical proof for the existence of a Solomonic Royal House antedating the Zagwe Dynasty, its use in religio-political propaganda by the leading Ethiopian churchman, Takla-Haimanot, who later became probably the first Itchege (see below), proved to be highly effective in leading to the overthrow of the Zagwe Dynasty and the accession or restoration of the supposedly Solomonic Dynasty, under Emperor Yekuno Amlak (1270-1285). With the rise of the Solomonic Dynasty the total fusion of Church and State was achieved. The Zagwe line itself ruled from the 10th century to the end of the 13th. There is a legend that the Zagwe contenders also actually descended from King Solomon but through the line of the Queen of Sheba’s royal handmaid. It was probably during this period that the famous monolithic churches of Ethiopia, the best examples of which are attributed to King Lalibella (c. 1167-1207), were built.

The other clue to Ethiopian history during this period of eclipse comes from European legendary literature. One of the widespread stories in Europe from the 12th to 14th century was the legend of the magnificent Christian Emperor, Prester John. At a period when the failure of the crusades had brought European Christianity to a state of depression, the rumour of a powerful Christian Emperor in an eastern land helped sustain European hope that Christianity would someday triumph over Islam. The legend of Prester John and the search for his Empire inspired the Portuguese explorations of the Age of Discovery and ended the isolation of Ethiopia. In 1439, Ethiopia sent delegates to the Council of Florence. Following these first envoys, other Ethiopian pilgrims visited the Holy See, and some even settled in Rome providing Europeans with further information about their Christian country. Soon afterwards, Portuguese envoys were received in the Ethiopian Court, and explorers, ambassadors, soldiers, and Roman Catholic missionaries flowed in for more than two centuries.

  Portuguese-Ethiopian relations (1520-1632) revolved about two important religio-political developments in Ethiopia. The first was occasioned by the invasion of Ethiopia and the harassment of its established Church by the Ottoman instigated warrior, Ahmed ibn Ibrahim el Ghazi, the Amir of Harrar, nicknamed Gragn, that is the left-handed (died 1544). Upon the plea of Emperor Lebna-Dengel (1508-1540) to Christian Portugal for help, a contingent of Portuguese fighters arrived in Ethiopia in 1542, but perhaps too late. Between 1528 and 1544, the Ethiopian Church lost not only many of its great teachers, writers and leaders, but also many of its literary and artistic treasures. It was this second phase of foreign Moslem onslaught that brought the golden age of monastic life in Ethiopia to a close. Once again, as after the Islamic pressure of the seventh century, the Ethiopian Church sank into an eclipse marked by internal instability and religious controversy.

  The second development of Luso-Ethiopian relations, characterized by Portuguese-Catholic penetration after the setback of Ottoman-Moslem challenge., is the direct result of the first. By the 17th century Portuguese influence had found a foothold in the controversy over monasticism and Christology, adding fuel to the fire. The Portuguese missionaries were so popular for a time that they succeeded in converting many of the people including Emperor Susenyos (1607-1632) to Roman Catholic obedience. In 1626, they almost succeeded in winning over the whole royal family. The masses of the people, however, would not forsake their ancient rituals. Presently, the Portuguese were forced to leave, but the theological debates which they had introduced and initiated continued. Finally, the Ethiopian Church regained its stability under the able leadership of Emperor Fasilades (1632-1667). From then on, it again emerged from controversy and foreign penetration as the symbol of national unity even during subsequent periods of political upheaval and foreign assault.

  In the 19th century the flow of Western missionaries, including Protestants this time, resumed. But the Ethiopian Church has remained basically undisturbed in its liturgy and theology from its origin to the present. All the intermittent events and controversies have not changed the basic characteristics of the Church. Under completely indigenous leadership since 1954 ? the Ethiopian Church is today moving into the era of fresh ecumenical contacts on the basis at once of full autonomy and Christian irenicism. It has become a member of the World Council of Churches (1955), and was represented by observers at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Its relations with nationals under the jurisdiction of Rome and adherents to Protestant faiths are gradually broadening along the line of the present ecumenical dialogue which may lead to now unpredictable new developments. Teaching of the Ethiopian Church The Ethiopian Orthodox Church accepts the teachings of the first three ecumenical councils of Christendom: Nicea (325), Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (431). It adheres, therefore, to the Nicene Creed and the Nicene formula of the Trinity – One in Three, Three in One. But it rejects, as we observed earlier, the Council of Chalce-don (451), in which both the Eastern and Western Churches formulated the concept of the two natures in the one Person of Christ – human and divine. The Ethiopian Church holds that there were, to be sure, two natures before the incarnation, but only one after the union: the humanity being absorbed in the divinity. Hence, the Ethiopian Church, is characterized as mono-physite (worshipping Christ as one person and of one nature) along with the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Jacobite Church of Syria, the Armenian Orthodox Church and a few others.

  The internal stability of Ethiopian theology was not interrupted until the coming of the Portuguese Jesuits in the 16th century. Their influence brought fresh controversies concerning Christology. Thus, though there is still one official doctrine, called Tawahedo (Monophysite), stating the concept of the perfect unity of the divine and the human Christ, other formulations are now strongly supported.

  Two of these, Qebat (Anointing) and Tsega (Grace), are especially significant. The first, associated with the Gojjam (Province of Gojjam) teachers, states that Jesus became a perfect man and perfect Saviour by the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the River Jordan. The other doctrine, associated with Gondar (the 17th-century capital founded by Emperor Fasilades, nicknamed " town of 44 churches ") and other monastic centres, holds that Christ was human by nature until he was changed at Jordan through a special act of Divine Grace. In the circles of sophisticated churchmen these formulations can become very important.

The other dogmatic principles of the Ethiopian Church may be briefly summarized as follows: God is the Eternal Creator and Ruler of the Universe. The world is created through the Son (God’s Word). The original good creation was corrupted through the Fall -" because of the sins of our Father Adam and our Mother Eve . . . We believe that we take all their sins upon us." In actual practice, however, very little emphasis is put on the concept of original sin, and man is blamed for his own committed sins. God sent his Son into the world to save man from eternal condemnation. But, in reality, the Church insists, salvation comes by keeping the Ten Commandments. Christ will come again in the last days " to judge the living and the dead." The dead will be raised, and sinners will be punished according to their deeds. Like the Greek Orthodox, the Ethiopian Church does not believe in Purgatory (a place where those who have died in faith will receive proportional punishment until they are purged for their sins). The souls of the dead are believed to be confined in a separate place called Seol (the Scriptural Sheol). Intercession may be sought in prayer to the dead. Prayers offered by and to Mary, the saints, and the angels are believed to be potent.

  The Ethiopian Church has seven sacraments, known as " mysteries." These sacraments do not work ex opere operate: they do not function miraculously regardless of the recipient’s attitude as in the Catholic Church. Whoever receives them must be pure and have a worthy faith in their effectiveness. Among these, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are familiar to most Christians. In addition there are Penance (confession of sin to the Church and repentance through fasting and humiliation); Unction (for the sick or dying); Holy Orders (ordination of bishops and priests and other church officials); and Holy Matrimony (the covenant of marriage).


  Until the introduction of modern secular education at the end of the last century, church schools were the only educational institutions in Ethiopia. Some writers have seen pre-Christian origins of such schools in the gatherings of learned men in the synagogues of Ethiopian Jews. 1 The primary purpose of these schools was to instruct children in Christian religion and literature and to recruit and prepare likely candidates for the priesthood. Generally, the most qualified students pursued their studies, sometimes for twenty years or so, in the most famous centres of learning, the churches and monasteries of Northern Ethiopia. Their education continued until they became publicly recognized as Likawount (scholars, most learned) or as debterras (scribes), the well-known ecclesiastical cantors, teachers and copyists of sacred literature. 2 As well as being the institution through which religious continuity was maintained, the Ethiopian church school served as the main instrument for the development and propagation of a national culture, and for the creation of a national literature. 3

  Traditionally, every village had within the outer walls of its enclosure a church, which also served as the school. Or, the priests would gather groups of small boys 4 outside the village church and drill them in the rudiments of the Geez syllabary. 5 There was no fixed place of learning; instruction might sometimes take place in the house of the priest or in the churchyard or under a tree. But in all cases, both students and teachers laboured under the most difficult conditions. Books and writing materials were very scarce, and seats and desks were for the most part non-existent. Yet the average teaching priest and pupil were earnest and painstaking. Sincere desire for knowledge was especially evident in the many who sacrificed home and comfort to attend school in a distant village or monastery. There they had virtually no means of substance, even when they worked as part-time servants for their teachers, or lived by " begging." What they achieved under these conditions was remarkable.

  Lessons were largely oral, and degree of memorization was the measure of ability and accomplishment. Generally, the students recited their daily lessons in unison to rhythmic tunes. The structure of Ethiopian Church education is sketched below.

  There are roughly four levels of Church education. For the sake of convenience, I shall call them the Institute of Reading (for Deacons), the Institute of Singing and Dancing (for Priests), the Institute of Creative Writing (for Scribes), and the Institute of Literature (for Scholars) The Institute of Reading (for Deacons) is the traditional elementary school. It generally covers six or seven years for pupils ranging in age from five to twelve. There are our stages in the School of Reading. The fidel sllya-bary. 6 After having learned the alphabets, the student passes on to the second level of study called Fidel Hawaria (the Apostles Syllabary), which includes reading and memorizing 1 John I, 2. The third stage is the learning by heart of portions of the New Testament called Gabata Hawaria and the Apostles Creed. The fourth, highly respected stage, called Dawit,7 involves memorization of the Psalms as well as proper intonation in reciting. Graduation is celebrated by a feast. A graduate of the School of Reading can read and recite fluently, but he is hardly at home in writing; he can serve as a good deacon in the church. Those who have the opportunity and the inclination for more than an elementary education will pass on to the higher schools. The three other institutes are schools for highly advanced levels of study. The first of these is the School of Music (for Priests). It is traditionally known as the House of Melody (Chant) (Zema Beit), as it is the place where priests go to learn how to chant in church services. Nearly all Ethiopian religious poetry and prose were intended to be sung, and it is interesting to note that a student goes not to a theological seminary but rather to a music school to qualify for priesthood.

  One line of Ethiopian tradition holds that music was introduced to Ethiopia by the Levites, the musicians and choristers of Solomon’s Temples in Jerusalem, who came to Ethiopia with the Queen of Sheba. 8 But the more common tradition holds that a learned Ethiopian saint named Yared, who lived in the time of Emperor Gebre Meskal (550-564), invented and coded Ethiopian church music. However, the History of Kings, Tarike Negast, ascribes to Geza and Raguel the invention of the notation, in the time of Glaudius (1540-1559). Some ascribe to Yared a supernatural revelation, in which he was taken to heaven by angels to learn the plainsong of Paradise. In Ethiopian church paintings, the saint is usually depicted with singing doves of Paradise that sing divine music to him:

  O Yared Priest of the altar on high in the Heavenly Places; whither the glorious hand of the Father hath led thee; Lead thou me also with thee that with thee I may chant together. 9

  Others hold that Yared invented or learned by revelation the notation for writing Ethiopian music, which previously was transmitted orally from generation to generation. These notations (called seraye) consist of Geez syllabic characters and numbers of curving and waving signs, lines, and points. They are small symbols, generally placed above the words to be sung and sometimes written in red, indicating the melody and rhythm of the music. In effect, they are abbreviations that indicate musical phrases, groups of notes, or rhythmic values. Dynamics, modes and tempo are indicated by written signs. The modes may be Geez (forte), E’zel (legato cantabile and piano), Ararat (plaintive con moto). The tempo may be Mergd (largo), Nius mergd (andante), Abiye Tsefat (allegro), and Tsefat (presto). Anyone who has received church musical education is expected to know how to sing correctly using the traditional notation. There are three departments of music each taking about three years to complete: (1) Degguwa – in Bethlehem, near Gondar; (2) Zimare and Mewaset – in Zurum-ba, Begemeder; and (3) Qedasse and Se’atat -in Serekula, Wallo Province, and Debre-Abbai in Tigre. The first, besides being the general name for church song, is a collection of hymns for singing throughout the year. Classified with this are the famous Tsoma Degguwa Lenten hymns, Meeraf, and other general hymns. The second are hymns sung after the liturgy (Zemare) and prayers for the dead {Mewaset). The third is, most appropriately, the section for priests who learn Qedasse (general liturgy) and the hours of night services (Se’atat). In close connection with each department of the School of Dancing, called Aquaquam (literally, posture, manner outstanding or balancing)’ This is the field of religious dance, where accompanying the music with rhythm and dancing is studied. The average priest is required to master the Qedasse and Se’atat and to have a genera knowledge of the others. Students who have the aptitude for good scholarship often avoid the priesthood, a: ordination will prevent them from studying or from assuming higher offices in the Church.

The Institute of Creative Writing (for Scribes) i known as the Qine Beit, or House of Poetry. The debterras (who are referred to in footnote 2) are graduates of this level of learning. As in ancient Israel there are in Ethiopia two distinct religious orders secular and ecclesiastical – priests and " Scribes " ( deb-terras). The debterra is a very interesting figure in the Ethiopian intellectual and religious hierarchy. He is at once a singer, dancer, poet, scribe, and sometimes, a diviner. Without him, church singing and dancing art impossible, especially during the most important church festivals. Though religious literature is often copied by people whose standards are below those of the debterra (by priests and deacons, some of whom have specialized in the art of writing), he is the writer par excellence. But not only is he a copyist, he is a poet and composer in his own right. As the name implies, probably the debterras originally arose as a class of manuscript copyists or writers who eventually gained fame because of the massive knowledge they acquired, no doubt through the texts they were meticulously copying. Nonetheless, they represent today a class of comparatively enlightened and sophisticated, non-priestly, non-ordained teachers of religion. Neither debterras nor priests earn their living by the professions they hold. Many of both classes may cultivate land or receive a share from the Church revenues. But the debterras have other possibilities of income, such as serving as court scribes, lawyers, or even as diviners.

The education required of a debterra (beyond that minimal level necessary for priests) entails the study of philosophy and of a special genre of Ethiopian poetry known as Qene.10 Thorough knowledge of Geez language and grammar is a prerequisite for success in the School of Scribes. A good knowledge of the Bible and the religious; history of Ethiopia are also important. The student should have spent at least eight years in the School for Priests or the Schools for Chanting and Dancing. The best known Schools of Scribes are in Gondar and Wadela and at Woshera in Gojjam. In the School for Scribes some aspects of Greek philosophy are studied. The main text used is the Matshafa Falasfa Tabiban – Book of Wise Philosophers – which contains passages from Plato Aristotle, Diogenes, Cicero (and also David and Solo mon!). 11 More interesting is the study of the work of the seventeenth-century Ethiopian philosopher Zara Ya’acob and his pupil, Walda Heywot. Zara Ya’acob was an enlightened man, far ahead of his time in his unbiased criticism of Christianity, Islam and Judaism The famous Ethiopianist and scholar, Enno Litmann says of him: " A man like Zara Ya’acob gave utterance at the time of the Thirty Years’ War to thoughts which first became current in Europe at the time of Rationism in literature." 12

  At the highest level of the Ethiopian educational system is the Institute of Literature (for scholars), called Matshaf Beit, or House of Books, which is a school of literature and history. There are classes on oral exegesis of the Old and New Testaments, Church Fathers, monastic literature, ecclesiastical and civil law, [Scholars of Mashaf / Beit used to have the exclusive custody of the Fetha-Negast, the major Ethiopian code of law. Decision is for the king, while the interpretation of the law is theirs. They, and only they, knew the law.] Ethiopian and world history, and so on. 13 Awalid, " imagination " (fiction) literature is also studied here. Although one need not be a monk to be a scholar, and indeed there are illiterate monks – besides the rank and file of unwed deacons, debterras, and widowed priests; nevertheless, this higher school of study is centred at several monasteries; and many famous Ethiopian scholars are monks. Monks, especially hermits, have at times exerted great influence on Ethiopian society. Kings listen to their counsel, and they are esteemed as prophets. But other monks who have achieved a higher level of study can become advisers and high officials in the government. 14 Whether it is a priest, a debterras, or a monk who has reached this very high level of learning, all are regarded with esteem and referred to as liq (most exalted elder). The course takes about ten years, according to traditional pedagogy, and any graduate of the Scholar’s Institute, by the schooling for at least thirty years, is as competent as any well-trained theologian in Europe or America in sophisticated philosophical and theological discourse.

In conclusion, it is interesting to observe how the different levels of learning fit into the social structure of the Ethiopian Church. The purpose and content of education are religious, but it must be noted that since in Ethiopia religion and life are intricately tied together, the learned man is not required to be a priest. Nor can the society function in the traditional sense without the enlightenment and guidance of the men of learning -all students of religion.

Church Education and Modern Change

  Within the confines of the Ethiopian Church educational system, very little change is taking place either in the aims and goals of education or in the structure and organisation of the system. Nonetheless, the Ethiopian Church is intrinsically a more flexible institution than an outsider may think, specially as contrasted with Western Christendom. In this respect, it is not burdened with elaborate dogmatic and philosophical formulae that make flexibility impossible. 15 The hostility and suspicion that often seem to emanate from religious circles towards change are, however, unfortunate temporary reactions to many external forces that have been found dangerous through bitter historical experience. The confinement and isolation that resulted from the Christian-Moslem conflicts of the early era of Islam and the sixteenth-century Ottomans, the havoc and theological controversies that plagued the nation in the early decades of the seventeenth century as a result of Jesuit intrusion, and in modern times, the example of a leading Italian missionary who spied for the Fascists, have been the chief causes of the Church’s tendency to doubt the sincerity of many things foreign, including imported educational ideas. 16 In modern times, the alienation from the Church on the part of the many educated people has only reinforced the traditional concerns – and retarded its fuller participation in modern education.

  Its past experiences have made the Church very cautious. Nevertheless, there is some sign of hope that it will not be long before the Ethiopian Church will begin to realize the importance of adopting to new needs and times. It already appears that the instruction is gradually becoming more receptive to modern education and is beginning to absorb some innovations. On the elementary level, these include teaching simple arithmetic. And since 1950, after it was urged by the government, more emphasis has been put on learning and teaching the art of writing than used to be traditional. Many younger Church children who formerly would have entered Church services as deacons are now gradually seeking secretarial positions in village offices and courts. Besides, the Church no longer objects to modern rather than traditional schools. Several Ethiopians have thus succeeded in achieving high standards of learning.

  Though many scribes and manuscript writers are still busy, the limited introduction of printing has robbed them of prestige and livelihood. Nonetheless, many priests and
debterras have found their way into government schools, especially as teachers of Amharic or of Morals and Religion, and the Ministry of Education has instituted special training for teachers of the latter. They also rank among modern authors of general literature, short stories, historical sketches, grammars, and small textbooks used especially on the elementary level. Despite a great contribution they are making especially to Ethiopian progress-consciousness, university-trained people to a certain extent lag behind the traditional scribes in producing substantial works of literature and scholarship. This is, in a way, understandable because the debterras or other Church-trained people have first-hand acquaintance with Ethiopian languages, literature, history, and tradition compared to those educated abroad; and the traditional men of learning indeed deserve great credit for the initiative they have taken. Even among the educated, many who received Church education before going abroad and some who were, in fact, sent abroad to study theology are now leaders in Ethiopian studies and provide younger professors for the new university. One middle-aged priest opened a typing school which graduates about 150 students a year! 17

  But a major innovation in Ethiopian Church education was the establishment of a modern theological school in Addis Ababa. The Trinity Theological College is now one of the colleges of Haile Selassie I University. It was originally established in 1944 to enlighten churchmen in modern and secular learning. At that time, it looked to the Ministry of Education for its administration and to the Church for its guidance, but now the University provides administrators as well. The former departments of deacons’ and priests’ education have been re-organised under the new administration, and the theological school is now a college in its own right, with a small, modern library. The lecturers, several of whom come from the Indian Orthodox Church, have good theological training; some having received degrees from the Union Theological Seminary in New York. Students have to qualify for college entrance exams, and after four years receive B. Th. degrees. There is also a new theological seminary in Axum.

  One of the achievements of the former theological school, before it was incorporated into the University, was producing a group of advanced students who were sent to Orthodox seminaries abroad, to such places as Alexandria, Athens and Istanbul. Some of the returnees are now providing new leadership for the Church. Several, however, especially those who proceeded to study in Germany, have distinguished themselves as young scholars as said above.

Not only are these theological graduates providing leadership in administration, but they are helping to bring some new reform into the Church. The growing tendency for Church services to be conducted in Amharic, the use of the radio as a medium of religious education, the providing of adequate translations of the Bible and other Church literature in Amharic, are results of the co-operation of former Church scholars with new theologians.

  But, in the final analysis, even the Theological College with its emphasis on modern theological study, cannot be a substitute for traditional learning. By and large, the teaching of such subjects as Qene, Ethiopian philosophy, and literature must either be taught in modernized institutions, or they must be absorbed into regular university curricula if the desire of the educated, who continue to be interested in traditional learning, is taken seriously. The introduction of the study of Ethiopian history and languages, even if at present only rudimentary, and the establishment of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies could lead in the latter direction. There is no question that the subjects taught in the third (writing) and fourth (literature) levels of traditional schools of learning fit properly into a university programme. But although at the present time the study of Dagguwa (chanting – second level) seems restricted to traditional schools, its future is still uncertain due in part to the nature of the subject. To preserve Ethiopian chanting one need not introduce the difficult programme of Dagguwa chanting into a university or secondary school curriculum, but perhaps establish for it a modern Dagguwa institute or incorporate it into a modern school of music.

  By teaching traditional material in a modern context the number of years formerly spent in Church school can be reduced. But the future of Church elementary schools is uncertain. Though according to all available data, the growth of the number of Church school students has been proportional to that of the modern public and private schools, it looks as if the traditional institutions will gradually be totally eclipsed by the modern ones. But if Ethiopian self-understanding and national consciousness are to remain, a major portion of the subjects of traditional learning in the three higher levels of study must be retained. Much broader contact between the university and the Church, in particular between its scholars, will be needed.

The Church and the Introduction of Modern Education

  The beginnings of modern Ethiopia date back to the reign of Emperor Theodore (1855-1868). The main ambitions of this far-sighted and vigorous ruler were to unify and consolidate the Ethiopian state, and to free Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Turks by uniting all Christendom under one banner. He accomplished the first to a great extent and further initiated a programme of educating Ethiopians in modern skills with the help of craftsmen whom he brought from Europe However, his foreign policy and the rather novel am-bition to unite Ethiopian and Anglican forces again the Turks was misinterpreted and misunderstood 1 Queen Victoria’s bureaucrats, who instead infuriate the king by exhausting his patience and finally caused hi: to reverse his position totally, ironically bringing a ma who had sought an alliance with the queen into dire. conflict with her army. There ended the calamitous career of Emperor Theodore and his programme ft training Ethiopians in modern skills.

  The greatness and far-sightedness of King Theodore educational plan lay in its recognition of the importance of European technical skill and in its placing a priority on the development of an extensive technical education. King Theodore understood that Ethiopia’s real need was not a new order of academic and humanities institutions which remotely paralleled the already existing Ethiopian Church educational system. He is said to have thought that Ethiopian Church education, if totally reformed, expanded, and made available to all could provide a basis for modern institutions that could compete in academic matters with any available in Europe. Therefore, he was anxious not to introduce the European system of academic education, but to press for men skilled in technology. Unfortunately, this plan for special emphasis on technical education consequently faded out. Under the influence of another innovating Ethiopian ruler, Emperor Menelik II, with the help of European and Egyptian advisors and teachers, modern European-style elementary and secondary schools were finally established in Addis Ababa and Harar about 1908. As a result, today 96 per cent of all Ethiopian schoolchildren receive more or less classical academic education while only about 6 per cent get the technical training so necessary and important in the modern world. State education was finally constituted with the creation of a Ministry of Education about 1930. Before the Italian invasion in 1935, some thirty government and mission primary schools existed in Ethiopia, and some fifty Ethiopians were getting education abroad.

During their occupation of Ethiopia (1936-41), the Italians closed down most of the government and mission schools, except Italian Roman Catholic schools with a few centres where children got token education and learned to march and sing Fascist songs. Soon after the war ended, in 1942, the Ministry of Education was reopened; the British educational system was made the basis of Ethiopian education, and the Emperor himself took the portfolio of the Minister. In 1967 there were 378,750 elementary school students, 50,438 in secondary education, 2,619 in University education, 1,565 enrolled in foreign universities, and some 3,451 in technical education. 18

It is said that half a century ago, when modern education was introduced into Ethiopia, it was met by opposition. An American sociologist wrote of hardy youngsters in some regions of Ethiopia who, opposed by their parents, sought education on empty stomachs and attended school wearing rags. 19 And missionaries give many examples of the Church’s opposition to modern education. These incidents, however, cannot tell us what may have been the Church’s real attitude towards modern education. Whatever opposition existed was partially due to occasional resistance by individual clergy, and to many parents’ fears that their children were being converted to foreign ideas or religions. The reason for their concern is understandable when one considers the unhappy effects of foreign contact in the past. The Fascist intrusion only confirmed the fears of many. Furthermore, one can readily understand the attitudes of families whose children formerly stayed at home and assisted in family chores. On the whole, while the Church has given no special impetus to modern education, neither has it undertaken a systematic and official programme of opposition, even when many of the Church’s educated young people are turning their backs on it. Quite to the contrary, many priests and debterras have found their way well into the modern public schools as writers and teachers.

Ethiopians have always regarded learning very highly, and Ethiopian children continue to crave knowledge today. But the incorporation of modern learning inevitably produces a certain amount of strain in a culture with deep historical roots. The Church’s concern and sensitivity in this issue are, therefore, entirely natural. If, at the beginning, the Church had some hesitation about modern education, it is because the modern schools were structured like the missionary schools in which many members of the Ethiopian Church were proselytized. For it must be noted, after all, that the Ethiopian Church, which throughout the ages offered the only type of education, and which to this date still runs perhaps up to some four thousand institutions, cannot have an indifferent attitude.

Though modern academic or classical education with its certainly great potential has really not yet made a sufficient and significant impact on the development of the Ethiopian society, largely due to its extent as well as to its content; it has nevertheless succeeded in inducing some change by creating a new element in the Ethiopian social structure: a highly educated class of young people who can become the leaven of progress. About ninety per cent of these educated people were formerly affiliated with the Ethiopian Church. An American sociologist claims that " most Ethiopian students mention * religion ‘ more frequently than any other subject except success in school as the question on which they are most in accord with their parents." 20 Yet he, too, recognises a constant decrease in conventional piety as one moves from secondary to college levels. Secularization turns a number of students from traditional religion. But, by and large, in a society in which religion has been and still is a national, not personal, institution, it is hard to determine the extent to which the Church is losing power when a few members drift away due to secularization.

The Ethiopian Church, the storehouse of learning and knowledge throughout the past centuries, can, if it chooses to be enlightened fay its great past, facilitate the path to modern education and development. The Church’s lack of fundamental dogmatism, its willingness to introduce new curricula even if on a minor scale and to play a part in modern schools, its readiness to use modern vehicles such as the radio, to make itself relevant to modern society, and especially its support of a new theological school are hopeful signs of the Church’s readiness to participate in extensive educational reform. (One must bear in mind that the Church had held no official, systematically imposed, position on the curriculum of the traditional schools. In one respect it must be concluded that one cannot really speak about an organized Church education, but rather of traditional – to be sure religious – learning which every village and every Church has dealt with autonomously though uniformly.)


  Since church and society in Ethiopia form an inseparable entity, the leaders of the Ethiopian Church have come both from members of the ordained clergy and from learned laymen and churchmen. In some cases, the latter have had even more control over the Church than the former.

The chief executive of the Church has traditionally been the Emperor.
[Cf. " The Revised Constitution of Ethiopia, 1955."] Yet, at times when smaller kings and chiefs ruled the country, the Church organization has acted as a unifying force, overriding the limited power of one chief or monarch, and extending over the frontiers of smaller kingdoms.

In nominal rank, next to the Emperor comes the Abuna, who until 1950 was a Copt appointed by the Patriarch of Alexandria from among the monks of the monastery of St. Anthony, near the Red Sea. It is popularly believed that this tradition of bringing Abunas from Egypt was in accordance with the history and tradition of the Ethiopian Church, whose first Abuna was Frumentius, ordained in 330 a.d. by the Patriarch Athanasius (d. 375). [See below for this author’s view regarding this tradition which he thinks goes back only to 1270 A.D., not to 330 A.D. as generally believed.] To preserve this historic and harmless tie, the government paid a large fee to the Moslem government of Egypt. In actual hierarchy, not only was the Abuna subordinate to the Emperor, but also, as far as actual power in state and church were concerned, very weak despite his nominal rank, and the outward respect accorded to him. Furthermore, he was politically subordinate to native Church leaders as well. His main tasks were purely formal: he sat at the Emperor’s right hand at all public occasions; he crowned the new Emperor; ordained priests and deacons; blessed the altar stones for churches; and upon the order of the Emperor or the Church, he could either issue blessings or excommunications; and finally he could liberate people from their oaths, generally for political reasons. Examples have been given elsewhere of how the Abuna released a whole army from allegiance to Emperor Susenyos (1605-1632), or how Theodore, in 1854, intercepted and forced the Abuna to crown him instead of his rival Ras Wube of Tigre; in 1916, the Abuna released the Shoan leaders from their oath of allegiance to Lij lyasu, who was at the time suspected of favouring controversial political parties. But in all these cases, the Abuna always acted as agent of some powerful person or organisation. He was never allowed to leave the country without permission.

Though the Copts knew well how insignificant the position held by their envoy to the Ethiopian Church actually was, yet, they still enjoyed seeing the Ethiopian Church as a subordinated daughter of their own – a 700 year relation seldom broken for a long time except between 1500 and 1633; hence, they made it difficult for the Ethiopian Church to install its own bishops and Abunas. Nonetheless, they understood that the Ethiopian Church was not a mere satellite of the Coptic Church, and that its ritual, doctrine, calendar, and practices proceeded along indigenous lines of development. For their part, the Ethiopians, who knew that the spirit of the nation had found intense expression in the national religion, never felt any dependence on the Coptic Church; therefore, they never considered it seriously necessary or important to break the old formal ties until new political developments in the nineteenth century necessitated such a course. Actually, it was neither a council nor a synod that decreed the appointment of Coptic metropolitans for Ethiopia. Frumentius, the first bishop, a Syrian Christian, not a Copt, was in reality chosen by the Ethiopian Church itself and sent to Alexandria, where he was supposedly consecrated by Athana-sius. Interestingly enough, however, Athanasius was neither a Copt nor a monophysite. From a historical point of view, it is still not clear what relationship, if any, the Ethiopian Church had with the Coptic Church before about 1270.[See my unpublished thesis, E. Isaac, A Study of Mashafa Berhan. . . .", Harvard 1969.] At this time with the rise of a new political dynasty, there was adopted a forged Coptic canon enacting the appointment of Coptic abunas and decreeing that no Ethiopian should be appointed metropolitan. 1 To guard this law, the Copts saw to it that the number of bishops in Ethiopia is limited. It was not until more than seven centuries later that Emperor Johannes (1872-1889) was able to obtain the concession of four bishops instead of the traditionally single one.

  Emperor Johannes is also said to have taken the initiative in asking the Patriarch of Constantinople for Armenian bishops, but without the agreement of his Church. Around the beginning of the First World War, the Russian Church attempted unsuccessfully to replace the Coptic Abuna with a Russian.

The Ethiopian desire to replace the foreign primate who possessed supreme spiritual prestige, though an alien to the language, culture, and psychology of the Ethiopian people, developed more impetus during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1936-1941). More important than the fact that the Italians themselves encouraged the appointment of a native metropolitan – a political move on their part to appease the Ethiopian Church-was the behaviour of the Coptic Patriarch during the early days of the occupation, which sealed the fate of the Coptic Abuna.

The Italians, who quite correctly assessed the strength of the bond between Ethiopian nationalism and the Church, as well as the powerful influence of the Church on the people, proceeded very cautiously in matters pertaining to religion. On the one hand, they did all they could to win the favour of the Church; on the other, they decided to weaken and undermine its influence gradually rather than to arouse anger and resistance through open persecution. To accomplish the latter aim, the Italians used such methods as encouraging Islam under the slogan of " absolute respect for (all) religions." 2 They claimed as their role that of freeing the Moslems from domination and oppression, which they alleged to have existed. They also supported pilgrimages to Mecca; built mosques (in some cases near their own headquarters); and encouraged the development of the province of Harar as a Moslem centre. (This programme of divide and rule conflicted with the Italian policy in Libya, where they were persecuting Moslem groups.) It is understandable, therefore, why many Ethiopian Muslims supported the Italians, and why some even fought alongside Italian soldiers against the forces that fought to liberate Ethiopia in 1941. (cf. Perham). Finally, the Italians proclaimed that they have withdrawn the spiritual and traditional right of the Church to crown emperors, on the grounds that this was an offence to " three million Moslems." 3

Another Italian method of exerting overt pressure was the encouragement of Italian Catholic missions. Not only were Protestant missionaries expelled and their property confiscated for use by Italian clerics, but also all non-Italian Roman Catholic societies, such as the respected French Catholics in Harar, were exiled from the country. Needless to say, Mussolini’s government was not acting as an agent of the Catholic Church, and many Fascist soldiers expressed open hatred for their Roman Catholic compatriots; nonetheless, the Italians made many efforts, even if noncoercive, to win over prominent persons to Roman Catholicism.

All these side pressures were occasionally accompanied by open persecution. In the early days of the occupation, many priests and monks who did not comply with the Italian authorities were mercilessly slaughtered. The Itchege (see below) had gone into exile with the Emperor; but of the four Ethiopian bishops in the country at the time of occupation, Bishop Petros was captured in 1936 and shot in the market-place in Addis Ababa, and Bishop Michael was put to death for helping the resistance movement. The worst incident took place in February, 1937, when after an attempt made on Governor Grazi-ani’s life, the Fascists exacted retribution by coldbloodedly massacring about 12,000 citizens of Addis Ababa, as well as numerous monks of the monasteries of Debra-Libanos and Zukwala on the grounds that they had been collaborators. The Italians also, perhaps recognised the traditional political importance of the first monastery.

By and large, however, the Italians realised that pressure and persecution had but little effect. It became more evident that they had to win the Church to their side to use its influence. The resultant behaviour of the Coptic Abuna, Cyril, in this situation was destined to create further cause for Ethiopian criticism of the Copts. Cyril is said to have preached submission; he suffered a wound at Graziani’s side at the public occasion when the attempt on the latter’s life was made. Cyril only parted company with the Italians when they pressured him on questions of the status of the Ethiopian Church, in relation to independence from Alexandria. The Italians, complying with the independence-minded national mood, pressed this issue as part of their attempt to win over the Church as well as perhaps to cut off any contacts with Ethiopian refugees in Egypt and Jerusalem. Therefore, the Italians, upon Cyril’s return to Egypt, appointed the half-blind Ethiopian bishop Abraham as the first Metropolitan. He submitted to the Italians and in turn ordained twelve bishops, one of whom, John, succeeded him when he died. The fourth pre-Italian bishop, Isaac, was imprisoned until he, too, bowed to Italian policy. The Italians gave the Church a new constitution and divided Ethiopia into ten bishoprics based, ironically, upon some laws of Fetha-Negast, but designed to result in dependence on the viceroy. However, a large number of clerics remained unsubdued and continued to oppose Fascist aggression. The schismatic Metropolitan, along with the twelve other bishops he ordained, was excommunicated by the Coptic Patriarch. It was not until the Ethiopian liberation, then, that a nationally recognised Ethiopian metropolitan was installed and Ethio-Coptic relations were redefined. Upon the departure of the Church, authority remained in his hands, even though the old Coptic Abuna Cyril, who had returned to Ethiopia on his own initiative with an Alexandrian delegation sometime in the middle of 1942, was gradually and very reluctantly allowed by the government to resume, at best nominally, his old position. Tactfully, though not entirely happily, the government did not reject the excommunicated bishops. Instead, it focused on the criticism of Alexandria itself, which had been complacent in the moment of Ethiopia’s travail. The nationalism which had raised the question of the Church’s relations with Alexandria even before the interference of the Italians was now vigorously intensified.

It must be noted that Ethiopia’s desire to part company with Alexandria was dictated by the new politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it was not doctrinal rift that Ethiopia sought. As enunciated by a delegation in 1942, Ethiopia wanted its own native Abuna, who would also consecrate bishops and suffragans chosen by a wholly Ethiopian synod. After almost three years delay, the Coptic synod that met in 1945 flatly refused the Ethiopian request. 4 In November, 1945, leading government and Church officials deliberated extensively about the matter, and by a vote on November 26th 75 per cent decided in favour of a proposal that Ethiopia chose her own bishop, defeating a second proposal to send another delegation to Egypt. This initiative caused the Coptic Church " to bow before the Ethiopian pressure for autonomy." 5 and the Coptic Holy Synod found itself in a position where it had no choice but to comply to the Ethiopian requests. Nevertheless, the election of an Ethiopian archbishop and the formation of an Ethiopian Holy Synod which the Coptic Patriarch granted did not define the exact power of the Archbishop and his bishops. In this context, the Patriarch of Alexandria insisted in reserving the authority to consecrate bishops. The Ethiopian imperial-ecclesiastical council as well rejected this altogether. An appeal by the Egyptian government (which always indirectly enjoyed the Coptic tie with Ethiopia) on behalf of the Coptic Church was of no avail. The controversy, however, lasted for several more years until July 13, 1948, when an agreement was finally reached providing that the Patriarch of Alexandria installed five other bishops, and that afterwards, one of them should become the metropolitan and could install other bishops. In 1950, upon the death of the last Coptic Abuna Cyril – who, as said above, had returned to Ethiopia uninvited, after the expulsion of the Italians – Bishop Basileus, a former Itchege (see below) from Debre-Libanos, became the first nationally recognised Ethiopian Abuna. The 1948 agreement stipulated that the chief metropolitan would continue to be installed by the Coptic Patriarch. But in 1958, a further agreement was reached by which the Ethiopian Church was made conclusively independent, and authorised to choose and install her own Patriarch. Thus ended a 700-year-old relationship projected by the impetus of " the newer trend toward full national self-expression for the nations of the world." 6

The rank and role of the Abuna is now significantly altered. Not only is his status raised by being made a Patriarch, but as said earlier he is no longer a stranger. Furthermore, the late Abuna occupied the position of Itchege (see below) before assuming his present post, and seems to have incorporated and consolidated that duty. Not only will the Abuna now have the power to ordain priests and deacons, but also to appoint and consecrate bishops. In questions of dogma, morals, and discipline, he will be the head of the last court of appeal; the dispenser of vows; and the superintendent of theological education. No canon law or custom need deter him from promulgating doctrine without fear of opposition or national prejudice. Though he does not sit in the council of ministers (he is a member of the Crown Council-an honorary post) and though some think that with the cabinet system his power will be dwindling, yet his religio-political authority can be extensive and his advice heeded in the councils of the government.

The singular autonomy an Ethiopian Patriarch is empowered to enjoy has not been fully incorporated by the late Primate; perhaps he was too advanced in old age to have been able to take full advantage of his powerful post. Who will succeed him was long an open question. The popular Archbishop of Harar, who was for all practical purposes the acting Patriarch of Ethiopia, has, as often been predicted, recently been chosen. But, whether the ancient role of the Itchege will remain consolidated by the Patriarch or whether that office will be transferred to the Liqe Siltanat (see Page 38), who is a member of the Imperial Cabinet, or what the role of the monastery of Debre-Libanos will be, at present not clear.

The Itchege traditionally came next in rank to the Abuna, but surpassed him in actual power. He was not an ordained ecclesiastic, but a monk who served as grand prior of the monastery of Debre-Libanos before being appointed by the emperor to his post. He is the direct successor of Takle-Haymanot, who was the founder and the father of both the monastery of Debre-Libanos and the office of the Itchege. Takle-Haymanot was also instrumental in bringing the Solomonic Dynasty to power, and in some respect, it can be said that the office of Itchege, who generally resided in Gondar, administered the Church, visited monasteries to correct abuses, and served as a check on the Abuna and the Coptic Church. His appointees, called the Liqa Kahenat (chief priests) served as his coadjutors, overseers of the monasteries and churches. With the Abuna, he supervised theological education, and he was in charge of all literature and manuscripts. His position as a government official and as head of a powerful order of monks always gave the Itchege tremendous influence. The last Itchege was made the first Ethiopian Patriarch, and as noted above, it appeared that the Patriarch had consolidated the former power wielded by the Itchege, however, has been assumed by the chief priest of Trinity Church in Addis Ababa. He is called the Liqe Siltanat (chief of authorities) and is a member of the imperial cabinet. As has been suggested above, the changing roles of the Itchege and of the grand prior of Debre-Libanos must be taken into consideration before attempting to predict the direction that Church administration will take in the future.

The third most important ecclesiastic of the Ethiopian Church – the second in power traditionally – has always been the Nebura-ed of the sacred town and district of Axum. Although he is sometimes appointed by the provincial governor instead of the emperor, as is usual, he is accorded a very high degree of respect and has the rare privilege of combining completely both secular and religious authority over the subjects of his district. In recent times another nebura-ed has been appointed to reside in the small town of Addis Alem near Addis Ababa, but the two differ greatly in historical importance.

Two other Church dignitaries enjoyed considerable political power through their activities at the imperial court. These were the qeshatse or the grand almoner, who acted as the King’s father-confessor, and the aqabe-stfat or the keeper of the seal or the watch (of canonical times), the chief ecclesiastic at the imperial court. The last qeshatse was killed in the 1960 coup and has not been replaced. Equal in rank to these two were also the liqe-debterra (chief of the debterras) and the liqe-mami-heran (chief of the learned men),’who together with them used to serve as the four supreme judges of the royal court. What significance these personages will have in the future is unpredictable.

To this list of dignitaries have now been added at least fifteen bishops or archbishops who enjoy preeminent status by virtue of their ecclesiastical authority in each one of the governate-generals. Since 1958, all Ethiopian bishops, including the Patriarch, have been entitled " Abuna"; the Patriarch is referred to as liqe papasat wa patriarch, chief of bishops and Patriarch, and each bishop of a governate-general is referred to as liqe-papas or archbishop. 7 Since 1958, Ethiopia has had more than the number (twelve) of bishops required to consecrate the Patriarch, and the archbishops of each province enjoy much more power and prestige than the former bishops occasionally imported from Egyptian monasteries. The archbishops and bishops in the Church hierarchy, the most recent element in the Church’s 1600-year history, will, it seems, be playing an increasingly significant role especially as a group.

Priest and deacons come after the archbishops and bishops in the clerical hierarchy. The duties of a priest (kes or kahri) include conducting daily services, baptizing, holding funeral services, visiting people and hearing confessions, occasionally solemnizing religious marriages, and performing extreme unction. Not only do they devote a great deal of time to people within their communities, of all classes and degrees of wealth, but they also often engage in agriculture (like the average Ethiopian peasant) and do business in local markets. Though a priest daily attends church and receives communion, he is not expected to burden the community with his own religious standards. On the contrary, he must not be a purist; according to a law promulgated in the fifteenth century, he must accept every penitent unquestioningly no matter how often he has sinned. 8 In turn, the priest is treated with respect and is given land to cultivate as well as a share of the revenues and gifts in kind. Church feasts, especially the tazkars (see below), provide occasion for merriment for the priests; in addition, they spend some time daily in the " gate of peace," a small house next to the church where the clergy assemble after services to chat and drink. The education of a priest, though modest, involves learning at least fourteen varieties of Church chants (see Chapter 1), and reciting and reading the liturgy and the Bible in Geez, a language which only the most learned of them understand. The qualifications for the priesthood include also eucharistic matrimony before ordination by the Abuna or Archbishop. Priests are always distinguishable by the white turbans they wear and the crosses they carry to be kissed by the people they meet; in addition, they wear elaborate and highly colourful robes and carry multicoloured umbrellas at religious functions.

Foreign travellers have often accused Ethiopian priests of " ignorance " and heavy drinking. Though some of these criticism may be well-founded, the fundamental misconception is rooted in the observers’ lack of perspective : in Ethiopian society, priests are not necessarily required to be holier than ordinary people. Among the rank and file of priests there may be some culprits, but as a class they represent ritual sanctity and high moral standards. Offending priests are liable to punishment if convicted by an ecclesiastical court and " benefit of clergy " is abused.

In order to achieve progress in Ethiopia in the spheres of both education and community development, it is absolutely essential to understand the ways and the social position of the priests. In many respects, they are not a privileged group; on the contrary, they are part of the poorer masses. A sensible programme of development cannot afford to alienate them or to override them; the priests must be made sympathetic to programmes of modernization, and with the right approach, this can be accomplished. Recently, in one province of Ethiopia, priests sermonized in favour of reforestation after the regular services, and local cooperation with the programme was said to have become readily available.

Very closely associated with the priests are the deacons (diacons); they are pre-adolescent boys ordained by the Abuna, whose duties are to serve as acolytes and prompters, directing actions and responses of the congregation during the Mass, singing in high-tone chants that they have learned in the Church elementary school, carrying holy books, fetching holy water, and assisting in the preparation of Eucharistic bread and wine. The last is regarded as a secret privilege. At least three but often seven deacons are required at each communion service. Though ability to read is a prerequisite for the deaconate, some writers have spoken of babes in arms consecrated in the company of hundreds of aspirants. 9 . On reaching adolescence, deacons who are feared to be at the age of puberty are generally dismissed to complete their study of reading and chanting, to get married, and consequently to be ordained for the priesthood. They often travel in search of teachers, wearing sheepskins for clothing and begging for their daily bread. A great deal of change and improvement must be expected in the training and office of the deacons if the office is to survive.

An interesting feature of the constitution of the Ethiopian Church is the importance of the lay orders. Much has been said above about the Itchege and their provincial deputies, the Liqe Kahenat; but important also are the alaqa, the debterras, and the gabaz. On the local level, the alaqas play a leading role, and one foreigner, noting their wealth and power, called their position "the most enviable." 10 An alaqa, a learned debterra or monk appointed by the civil authorities, is the lay head of the Church, who exercises authority over the priests and the deacons, looks after Church revenues, and acts as judge. 11 The gabaz works with the alaqa as keeper of the accounts and property of the Church, as collectors of revenues, and as a sort of justice of the peace.

Though they have no formal position in the Church hierarchy, the debterras (see Chapter 1) form a very important lay group in the Ethiopian Church, as intermediaries between clergy and laymen. Without them, services could not be held, since no one else can execute their chief duties of chanting and performing religious dances. Regarding their erudition and their other activities, much has been said elsewhere (see Chapter 1).

To become a debterra, a person must have completed a course of study that includes singing, dancing, writing (Qene), poetry, and philosophy. Debterras may earn a living by cultivating the land, by teaching, by copying manuscripts, by rendering esoteric magical services, or by serving as court scribes. In addition, they may receive Church revenues for their cantorial duties.

An important force in the Ethiopian Church is the monastic system. Ethiopian monks comprise a composite group of unmarried deacons or priests, widowed priests or widowed or aged laymen coming from all walks of life, who have renounced wordly gains for a life of seclusion and asceticism. Once a man has taken the monastic vow, he is declared dead and a legal nonentity, free from tax obligations or debts. Though literacy is not a prerequisite for monasticism, many monks gather in famous centres of learning. Others become extreme ascetics and live as hermits, troglodytes, and anchorites, eating only leaves and wild plants. Among the latter group, a few occasionally emerge as wandering teachers who proselytize non-Christians, among the former, many who have lived close to society, have assumed very important posts in the Church hierarchy or serve as imperial advisers and governors. The counsel of monks is heeded, and they undoubtedly exert a great influence, perhaps even more than do the priests. An angry monk may be the only person who can openly and without fear criticize the government. The role monks have played in education and literature is noteworthy.


In Ethiopia, as in traditional Africa or the ancient near East, religious and civil functions have been inseparably combined in structure and administration. On the one hand, the state is supreme not only in the civic but also in the religious sphere; on the other, the Church requires the rulers and citizens of the state to participate in public worship; it also furnishes high officials for the

state administration. Unlike both Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, Ethiopian Christianity has never experienced persecution by the state. Especially in its administration, the Ethiopian Church has been geared from the beginning to maintaining a religious attitude that permits both deep spiritual fervor and a sense of duty and obligation to the state.

This is not to say that the relationship between Church and state has not altered with changing social conditions; but adjustments were made in harmony with the times. The Church and its administrators continued to rest under the Emperor. To maintain the dignity of the Church administration, the emperors set the qualifications for ordination, supervised the churches and monasteries, and called Church councils. In turn, they used the skilled administrators and immense moral and educational power of the Church. This close co-operation between Church and state proved to be of inestimable value in times when either party was harassed by foreign political or religious powers.

Any understanding of the future of Church administration and the direction of change in Ethiopia should be evaluated against this background of the Church’s constitution. Regardless of some developments in the medieval period, when there was only one Christian society, with the emperor superior in the East and the Pope superior in the West, the churches of Europe have from the beginning developed the theory of two societies, ecclesiastical and civil, each with its own rights and privileges. Such a heritage helped Western churches, especially in the United States, to adjust to a system where Church administration is totally autonomous. The philosophers of the Enlightenment offered a materialistic explanation for the origins of the universe and for the political and social order, maintaining that the state evolved from practical necessity and was dependent on popular will. Such ideas dissociated the church from civil power. It is such a background and such an experience that the Ethiopian Church lacks.

The administration of the Ethiopian Church has already begun to realise that reform is necessary if the Church is to adjust to the twentieth-century world. But no reforms can save the Church from difficulties unless Church administrators and officials are properly educated. In the last decade or two, more reform has taken place in the administration of the Ethiopian Church than during any other period of its history. Although it is too early to predict the effects of these changes, nevertheless, they represent the types of reforms that would enable the Church to move toward total independence from the civil government. The most important change is that Ethiopia now has the complete autonomy to choose and to install its own national Patriarch. A native born leader who understands the language, culture, and psychology of his people, can wield the power and authority necessary to run the Church independently and give it a strong national administration. Such a momentous development can give a strong new structure to the Church. To be sure, if any one traditional institution in Ethiopia has an elaborate structure and organ, it is the Church. But the survival of this structure very much depends on the education and background of its leadership and the modernization of its offices.

The second important development in the Ethiopian Church since 1942 – which may help its adaptation to the twentieth century – is the institution of new laws concerned with Church consolidation and incorporation. 12 The new laws deal with centralizing the Church, and especially with rationalizing its finances. Church lands are to be taxed, and the revenues used for Church maintenance, education, and charity through the central Church treasury. The alaqas have been made responsible for collecting and paying into local church treasuries all the fees and offerings as well. The clerics are to be appointed in a fixed number to each church according to its needs; they will be assigned work on the basis of their qualification and paid for their services. Higher appointments will be made by a newly formed ecclesiastical council, with the approval of the emperor. Another very significant provision of these decrees is that while the Church will have private jurisdiction over its congregation to inflict spiritual penalties through the confessional, it will give up its former temporal jurisdiction, which now will be in the hands of state judges. This reform is gradually becoming effective, specially since at the start, many Churchmen were elected as state officials to serve as local justices with government salaries, although in some areas the change is still unpopular.

In many areas, these new laws exist only in theory; the large-scale reforms they are intended to achieve cannot be accomplished without more clearly-worded edicts supported by popular education.

Here arises the issue of participation by Ethiopia’s educated young people. To a large extent, the problem has been not only the indifference of the Church but also the aloofness of the educated. The result, therefore has been very little dialogue between the two. It seems important that there must be those who can take the initiative to lead to such a dialogue, perhaps from among the educated, who understand what progress means to the nation and who do appreciate the importance of eradicating poverty, disease, and illiteracy from the country. Such a mediating group may gradually be emerging in the Ethiopian Orthodox Students’ Association, founded in 1958 by students representing all the nation’s colleges and some secondary schools. The members of this organization have been concerned with achieving a better understanding of the Church and adapting its activities to contemporary needs. They have been active in the Church’s reformist efforts to revise the liturgy and to translate it from Geez into the modern language of Amharic.

They have begun to introduce many ideas and activities with which the traditional Church has not been particularly concerned. The Association now has weekly religious services, sponsors lectures by leading Ethiopian and foreign churchmen, and issues a monthly publication. Its annual conventions have been very well attended. It is significant that before the formation of this organization, nation-wide voluntary association was not officially encouraged or approved.

At a time when the secularization of life is overtaking the Church, and when young people are turning away from religion – if not in belief, at least in practice – the Church’s educated men and progressive members of the E.O.S.A. will have to make further readjustments. Many young Ethiopian Christians have found a solution in conversion, especially to Protestantism; others have attempted to formulate varieties of personal creeds which are different from that of the Ethiopian Church. A progressive Orthodox Students Association is an important alternative that gives some chance to a renovation of the Ethiopian Church. But the barriers that exist between this organization and the religious tradition on the one hand and the members of the educated class on the other, must first be removed. If this is achieved, its members may emerge as new leaders in promoting modernization of the Church.

A well-organized and progressive clergy with good administration and capable leaders can play a tremendously constructive role in the educational, social and moral development of a modernized Ethiopia. (Indeed, this holds true for the other religions and religious groups in Ethiopia.) The clergy are as powerful as ever in Ethiopia, and their influence is considerable. Many foreigners, and perhaps some Ethiopians, are apt to misjudge the vulnerability of the clergy in the educated sector of Ethiopia and to assume that traditional piety and learning bear little relevance to the social and intellectual needs of the modern world, or that its position will wane in the process of modernization. But religion is as powerful as ever in Ethiopia, and its influence continues to be considerable. Nonetheless, in order to survive, the Church must prove its ability to modernize its administration, providing effective leadership in moving the traditional clergy to make the necessary adjustments. The creation of the Orthodox Students Association and the establishment of the Trinity Theological Seminary are some signs of awareness of change. But if the respected status of the Church is to continue, its future leaders must be still thoroughly well-educated, not only in religious affairs but in matters relevant to the progress of Ethiopia. Furthermore, the leaders must not only understand the need for development and change, but must positively take steps to support extensive education. Education and efficiency – these must determine the future course of the leadership and administration of the Ethiopian Church.


" Now it is not a seemly thing to revile the king, for he is the anointed of God. It is neither seemly nor good. If he doeth that which is good, he will not suffer loss in three realms: FIRST, God shall overthrow for him his enemy, and he shall not be seized by the hand of his enemy. SECONDLY, God shall make him to sit on His right hand. THIRDLY, God shall make him to reign upon earth with, glory and joy, and shall direct his kingdom for him, and shall bring down the nations under his feet. And if he treateth God lightly, and doth not do that which is good, and doth not himself walk in the path of uprightness, God shall work as He pleaseth against him; on earth He will make his days to be few, and in heaven (sic) his place of abode shall enjoy neither health nor gladness (and he shall live) in fear and terror, without peace and (sic) perturbation.

" It is not a good thing for any of those who are under the dominion of a king to revile him, for retribution belongeth to God. Now the priests are like the prophets, for the mysteries are given unto them,so that they may lay hold upon the sun of righteousness, whilst the Seraphim, who were created out of fire, are only able to lay hold upon the mysteries with tongs. As for the priests "lamp " and also " light of the world," and also " the sun that lightest the darkness," CHRIST, the Sun of righteousness, being in their hearts. And a priest, who hath in him understanding, rebuketh the king concerning the work that he hath seen; and that which he hath not seen God will enquire into, and there is none who can call Him to account. Moreover, the people must not revile the bishops and the priests, for they are the children of God and the men of His house, for which reason they must rebuke (men) for their sins and errors. And thou, O priest, if thou seest sin in a well-known man, shalt not hesitate to rebuke him; let neither sword nor exile make thee afraid. And hear how angry God was with ISAIAH because he did not rebuke King UZYAN (UZZIAH). And hearken also concerning SAMUEL the Prophet, how he rebuked SAUL the king, being in no way afraid of him, and how he rent his kingdom (from him) by his word; and (hearken also) how ELIJAH rebuked AHAB. Do thou then fear not, and rebuke and teach him that transgresseth.

" And ISRAEL from of old reviled their kings and provoked their prophets to wrath, and in later times they crucified their Saviour. But believing Christian folk dwell in peace, without sickness and suffering, without hatred and offence, with our king . . . who loveth God and who removeth not from his heart the thing of righteousness, and faith in the Churches and in the believers. And his enemies shall be scattered by the might of the Cross of JESUS CHRIST." 1

Nothing states more concisely and more definitively the relationship between Church and state in Ethiopia than the chapter quoted above from the Kebre-Negast. Of this book, which contains Ethiopian religio-political lore that dates back at least seven hundred years, Emperor Johannes (1872-1889) wrote to the British Government in 1872: " There is a book called " Kivera Negust " which contains the law of the whole of Ethiopia and the names of the Shums (chiefs), and Churches, and Provinces are in this book. I pray you find out who has got this book, and send it to me, for in my country people will not obey my orders without it." 2

What is the Kebre Negast ?

The Kebre Negast (literally, " The Glory of Kings ") is a large compilation of legends and traditions, some historical and some mythical derived primarily from the Old Testament, Jewish haggadah, and other Semitic and Ethiopian sources. As noted by some scholars like Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, its English translator, it contains oral traditions, current in the Roman and Hellenistic world during the first four centuries of the Christian era, which first came to be written down in Coptic about the sixth century; subsequently translated into Arabic, and finally into Geez (Ethiopic) sometime in the thirteenth century, by a redactor who called himself Nebura-ed Isaac. The work purports to prove that: (a) the lawful kings of Ethiopia descend from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba through their son named Menelik (I) (Son-of-King); (b) the original Tables of the Law that God gave to Moses were removed from Jerusalem by Azariah, the son of the Jewish High Priest, brought to Ethiopia with Menelik, and placed in the holy shrine at Axum (the ancient ecclesiastical and political capital of Ethiopia); (c) the world is divided into two empires – Rome and Ethiopia – and that Ethiopia is the legitimate successor to Israel, as the God of Israel has transferred his place of abode from Jerusalem to Axum; the kings of Ethiopia are, therefore, of divine origin.

  Although the Kebre-Negast cannot furnish historical proof for the existence of the Solomonic Dynasty before 1270, nonetheless, the powerful religio-political myths that it contains, as used by the churchman Tekla-Haimanot in 1270, did prove very effective not only in overthrowing the existing Zagwe Dynasty of that time but also in giving rise to the supposedly Solomonic Dynasty under Yekuno Amlak (1270-1312). The national saga has provided the cast in which an unbroken line of Ethiopian rulers has been moulded for almost seven hundred years (since the thirteenth century). In the eyes of the people of today, the Solomonic tradition imparts to the existing dynasty much greater antiquity and sacredness.

Power of State Gyer Church

Constitutionally, Church and state are one. Moreover, the two are linked by historical associations and mutual interests. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to determine which of the two has ultimate power. In reality, as many observers have contended, the emperor has more actual power than the Abuna or Archbishop. Their conclusion is based partly on the obvious de facto authority of emperors exercised over the affairs of the Church, and partly on the historical evidence in respect of the Abuna’s subordination to the emperor. But this conclusion reflects only a one-sided picture. For, on the other hand, according to the above passage from the Kebre Negast, the Church is superior to the emperor: ". . . a priest, who hath in him understanding, rebuketh the king concerning the work that he hath seen . . . and there is none who can call him (the priest) into account." Within the context of this tradition, the Church has more intrinsic power than the state. As we shall see below, however, in actual practice there is more or less an equilibrium between the spheres of influence of the Church and state.

A correct formulation of the power of the state over the Church may be: the authority of a believing Emperor rises above the powers of the Abuna. In the early days of the Church, perhaps before the thirteenth century this was true without exception. This trend persisted to a certain extent until modern times. 3 James Bruce, the Scotsman who travelled in Ethiopia in the eighteenth century, when the prestige of the rulers was low, wrote: ". . . all ecclesiastical persons are subject to the secular power in Abyssinia as much as they are in Britain or in any European Protestant state whatsoever." As an example, Bruce, who often must not be taken literally because of his exaggerations, cited the case of a high church official who was executed because he had cooperated with the Abuna in excommunicating the emperor. Furthermore, Bruce related that the king reviled the ecclesiastic, saying, " The Abuna is a slave of the Turks, and has no king; you are born under a monarchy; why did you . . . take upon you to advise him at all … and abuse his ignorance in these matters ?" 4 The primacy of the emperor over the Abuna was also conformed by Plowden and Rassam, two Englishmen who were in Ethiopia at the time of Theodore. The former speaks of an exiled Abuna,5 and the latter reports that Theodore kept the Abuna as a slave. 6

Other examples of the disposition, imprisonment, exile, and even the execution of Abunas can be found in Ethiopian history. But it would be wrong to judge that these isolated instances show the unconditional power of the emperors over their Church. In the first place, it must be noted that such cases come from a period of Ethiopian history during which stability in law and order was at stake. But more important, one must not identify the power of the Ethiopian Church with that of the Abuna. Until 1950, the Abuna always was a foreigner who knew very little of the customs, language, and history of the country. Furthermore, coming from a weak mother church – a point the Ethiopians had always seen as a virtue – he could play only a very small role in the actual affairs of the Church, let alone of the state. Indeed the Abuna had never been more than a symbol of the historic tie with the ancient church of St. Athanasius, the Patriarch who was popularly thought to have installed the first Ethiopian Abuna in 330. No wonder, then, that few names of Abunas stand out at all in Ethiopian history, whereas the entire national development of Ethiopia was so infused with religious life.

Power of Church Over State

As alluded to above, it would be wrong to look for the power of the Church in the Abuna. In the past, the power of the Church was in the hands of high Ethiopian Church officials such as the Itchege (see Chapter II). They in turn dictated the course of action to the Abuna and directed the affairs of not only the Church but, to a certain extent, even of the state.

Itchege is the traditional title of the grand prior of the convent of Debre-Libanos in Shoa. In theory, the Itchege was second in rank to the Abuna; in actual practice, however, he wielded more power than the Abuna and was superior to him. He served as administrative head of the Church and had jurisdiction over all monasteries, chose candidates for ordination, and decided questions of protocol in connection with religious ceremonies. He has always been a native of Ethiopia, appointed by the emperor. His position as a government official and his duties as head of a powerful order of monks gave him tremendous influence in the political and national areas. His appointees were generally laymen whose functions were mainly secular. His coadjutors, called the liqe Kahenat or " chief priests," were in charge of monasteries in the provinces. The tasks of the alaqas or " authorities " included caring for churches and Church property and revenue, as well as settling disputes among the clergy. The latter are especially noted for their material wealth. Alvarez, a Catholic priest who visited Ethiopia in the beginning of the sixteenteenth century, described the Itchege as " the greatest prelate there is in these Kingdoms." 7 Bruce wrote that in a period of trouble, he was of much greater importance than the Abuna.

It would not be inaccurate to say that the present Abuna or the Patriarch of Ethiopia and the Liqe Siltanat, a member of the Imperial Cabinet, now jointly share the role of the Itchege. As said earlier, by virtue of his being a native of Ethiopia and a former Itchege, and because of his connections with Debre-Libanos, the present Abuna appears to combine the ecclesiastical power of his office with more of the secular power of the Itchege in one. This is a new development in Ethiopian history, and what consequences will follow remain to be seen. So far, it seems to have resulted in the rise of the spiritual prestige of the Abuna on the one hand but in the decline of the secular power of a single ecclesiastic, on the other. At any rate, it would be premature to conclude that this may be the sign of the decline of the power of Church over state.

Although, as said above, some of the Church’s power over the state was centred traditionally in the Itchege, a high native official, it would nonetheless be wrong to identify the power of the Church with a single personality. Even if some emperors had persecuted certain Abunas or even Itchege, no ruler had ever dared to mistreat or injure the Church as a body. The Church, as a corporate, spiritual body, transcended the State. This corporate religious organ diffused its force through a large and spiritually-united clergy to a pious peasantry, nobility, and leaders of the military. Some foreign observers, struck by the large number of Ethiopian priests, have been led to guess that one-quarter of Ethiopia’s Christians were members of the clergy; others have suggested that one Ethiopian in five is a priest. 9 Though this figure may be too high, nonetheless, there is no doubt that the proportion must be large, especially in view of the fact that an estimated 20,000 churches and monasteries exist in the country. Bruce in the eighteenth century thought that no country in the world had so many churches as Ethiopia. 10 Though each church requires at least two priests and three deacons, churches that have up to five hundred clergymen are known to exist. Even though the greater concentration of churches is found in the North and North-west, there is no area of Ethiopia, even where adherents of other religions predominate, where Ethiopian Christian priests and churches are not found. The priests as a group, though not rich, are bound together by the power of tradition; and, if not systematically or in an organized manner, culturally and spiritually, they form a formidable force to reckon with. It is, furthermore, they as individual temporary landowners – not the Church as an organization (until recent times) – who used to hold most of the one-third of the land in Ethiopia, often regarded as Church property.

In the final analysis, it must be emphasized that it is neither a single powerful Church dignitary nor individual priests, nor even, as hinted above, the priests as a class who have power over the state, but the spirit of tradition – the Church as the embodiment of Ethiopian culture – that transcends both Church and politics.

The Church as the Embodiment of Tradition and Power

As stated above, the believing head of state has power and authority over the ordained head of the Church. [See " The revised constitution of Ethiopia 1955."] Here, emphasis must be put on " believing," for the ruler can exercise power over the Church only as its member and as its protector and head. All in all, the Church as the visible manifestation of Ethiopian tradition can be said to hold intrinsically, if not extrinsically, more power than the state. It is the Church that sanctioned the rise of the present dynasty; it is the Church that has been the symbol, if not the patron, of law and order in Ethiopian history and tradition.

The Solomonic Dynasty that emerged in 1270 achieved success under the guardianship of the Church. Unfortunately, our knowledge of this development is still largely shrouded in mystery. But as far as we can tell, a monk named Takla-Haymanot is closely associated with the rise of the Solomonic Dynasty, as well as with the overthrow of the then ruling Zagwe Dynasty. Legend has it that Takla-Haimanot influenced the last king of the Zagwe Dynasty to abdicate voluntarily in favour of the Solomonic scion. As low as the credibility of this story may be, it may contain that grain of truth that becomes extremely fertile for the historian. We learn from the legend that the Church played a primary role in putting the Solomonic Dynasty under Yekuno Amlak (1270-1314) into power. This hypothesis is supplemented in two ways by other sources of Ethiopian tradition. In the first place, the last Zagwe king, whom legend tells us voluntarily abdicated, was killed in the church of St. Qirkos (in Lalibela) where he had gone to seek refuge and sanctuary; unfortunately, instead of finding protection, he was handed over to his assassins. In the second place, it is beyond question now that Takla Haymanot or the Church promoted Kebra Negast as the powerful religious propaganda that proved so effective in rallying the people behind the leader of the revolt, Yekuno Amlak.

In return for his accomplishment, Takla-Haymanot was established as the leading monk, the first Itchege of Ethiopia, and was made both councillor and confessor to the new emperor. He is known to have founded the monastery of Debre-Libanos, which as was mentioned earlier has played an important role in national affairs. Furthermore, he insured that one-third of the land of Ethiopia would be given in perpetuity to the Itchege – the grand prior – and to his successors for the maintenance of his office and the support of the churches and monasteries. Today, Takla-Haymanot is remembered as the most pious saint of the country, the saint who never slept but diligently stood in prayer on one leg (the other leg was severed and is often represented artistically as a clay leg) with spears pointing at him from all directions to awaken him should he fall asleep and interrupt his incessant prayers.

Not only did the Church give momentum to the rise of the Solomonic Dynasty, but it ordains and invests with charisma (of power) each new monarch, and it ensures that the monarch remains faithful to the terms of his anointment. The ceremony of inaugurating a new ruler is purely religious and liturgical. It opens with the reading of Psalm 122. Then the Patriarch, in the presence of leading ecclesiastics, places the crown upon the monarch, seated on a throne, and says: " May God grant that this crown be a halo of holiness and glory. May you, by your prayers, preserve your faith unshaken and unconquerable. May you be pure in heart even as this gold is pure." To this blessing the emperor replies, " Amen." The the Abuna presents the monarch as " (So and so) descended from the Dynasty of Menelik I, first-born son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, a Dynasty which has been perpetuated without interruption until our day." His hand on the Bible, the ruler takes an oath, " to maintain the Orthodox religion, the laws of the Empire, the integrity of the territories of the country, and to support the founding of religious (and secular) schools and institutions." [But compare with "The Revised Constitution of Ethiopia, 1955."] The emperor is given a sword known as the " Sword of Solomon," with the exhortation: " By this sword execute true justice, protect the Church, the widows, and the orphans, restore that which needs to be restored, chastise the wicked, render honour to the righteous; and with it serve our Saviour Jesus Christ." After the chanting of Psalm 110, the emperor is given the royal sceptre and orb. Then they place a ring on the emperor’s right hand, saying, " Accept this as a symbol of your Imperial glory." The actual anointing of the sovereign with holy chrism takes place after a long prayer is said by the chief priest of the convent of Debre-Libanos. (The role this convent plays in political power must here again be noted). The ceremony is concluded by the Abuna with the blessing " May God will that this be a crown of sanctity and glory. May you, by our prayers, preserve your faith unshakable and your heart pure, and inherit the crown of eternal life. Amen." Sometimes during the ceremony the two persons closest to the emperor – the empress and the crown prince – are presented and blessed. Following the crowning of the emperor, the empress is given a ring by a bishop, who says: " Let your faith shine even as these jewels." Then the emperor, taking her crown from the Archbishop, says: "As I have been made to receive from your hands the Crown of the Empire which our God has given unto me, so it is my firm desire that my empress shall in my glory receive from me this crown which I ask your holiness to place upon her." The Archbishop then places the crown upon the empress. At the end of the ceremony, the crown prince, if present professes his allegiance to his father. The emperor presents his right hand, saying: " May the Most High make you a worthy successor to my force, my power, my throne, and my crown." The crown prince replies, " Amen," and kisses his right hand. Finally, it is the Church which gives religious sanction to the legitimacy, authority, and power of the State. The emotional need to surrender to authority on the part of the people, beliefs which rationalize the value of submitting to authority, and in some instances personal interests best served by compliance with authority are based on it. Such religio-psychological motives underlie the attitude, which Weber would have described as of those showing a disposition to conform to the demands of traditional authority figures. 11

The Church interprets the Bible, stressing the importance of all earthy authorities. The Sociologist, Donald Levine, claims that many of his Ethiopian Christian students gave as a reason for obeying the order of a superior " because the Bible says so." 12 The fifth article of the first chapter of the 1955 Constitution of Ethiopia explicitly upholds the teaching of the Church that " by virtue of his imperial blood, as well as by the anointing which he has received, the person of the emperor is sacred. His dignity is inviolable and his power indisputable . . . He is consequently due to all the honours due to him in accordance with tradition." Only the Church, as we saw in the Kebre-Negast, can rebuke the ruler.

   The Church does not only vest authority in the head of the state; it can undermine the effectiveness of his legitimacy or divest him of power, if he does not remain faithful to the beliefs and practices of the Church. In the seventeenth century, two emperors, Za-Dengel (1606-1607) and Susenyos (1608-1632) were overthrown because they were disqualified by the Church for their predisposition toward Roman Catholicism. The clergy opposed these rulers and the Abuna released the army from allegiance and obedience to the sovereign. This was repeated in the twentieth century, when Lidj lyasu (1913-1916), presumably suspected of favouring Islam was deposed with the help and blessing of the Church.

General Observations

Regardless of the fact that the emperor has superior external powers over the State and the Church, in the final analysis his power and his autonomy are circumscribed and checked by the power of the tradition of the Ethiopian Church, which in the first place legitimizes his authority. The Church is the giver, the propagator, and the protector of the charisma which imparts the tremendous power of the ruler over his people. 13 First, there is the " family " or " hereditary " charisma – the " common " charisma of those who claim descent from Solomon and Sheba. All emperors since 1270, including Theodore (1855-1868), who was also anointed by the Church and was a great supporter of it, have legitimized their statuses by claiming to be descendants of Menelik I. Second, the Church reaches and. stresses the ruler’s special, historic role as repository of a sacred legacy, portraying the emperor as the legitimate successor to the kings of Israel, and hence, the sole legitimate bearer of Judeo-Christian faith. The transfer of religious priority from Israel to Ethiopia is represented in Kebre-Negast by a prophetic dream attributed to Solomon, in which God’s favour, symbolized as the sun, moved from Israel to Ethiopia, and eventually by the actual transfer of the Ark of the Covenant (Tabot) from Jerusalem to Axum. Thirdly, the Church " imparts " the charisma of authority to the ruler by means of the rites of anointing and crowning. All these principles of charisma – the Solomonic genealogy, the historic role, and the anointing with oil – have been fused together to legitimize political authority.

What are the consequences of all this for present-day and future Ethiopia? Observers who have not looked at the relations of Church and state closely, or those who think that Ethiopia has passed into the twentieth century, may not admit the continuing effectiveness of the ancient sacred rites and the charisma they provide, or acknowledge that religion is any longer the basis of authority. Jean Baptiste Colbeaux, a Roman Catholic scholar, speaking of Church and state relations, likened it to a marriage, the Church appearing to the observer as a smiling wife or as " a single moral being, an amphibious personality" communicating movements to the national life as a motor. 14 The state owes the Church so much for its existence that especially in times of crisis, it turns first to it even for physical and military aid. During the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, not only did the state get spiritual guidance and courage from the Church, but also in the last minute, the younger Minister of War was replaced by an elderly churchman in whom the state placed more confidence. It would be premature to think that substantial changes have occurred in the effectiveness or content of the Church’s function of providing a moral sanction in support of the established state or even in the Church’s contribution to Ethiopian nationalism.

Until recently, the imperial office was never questioned; popular opposition was always related to charges discrediting legitimacy. Spokesmen for public liberties, for representative institutions, separation of Church and state, and the distinction between economic and administrative leadership – reforms which would have been uncalled-for under the traditional system – have begun to emerge since the 1950’s. Young educated Ethiopians have begun to feel that the traditional monarchy cannot cope successfully with modernization: to promote social and economic reform which, as Samuel Huntington puts it succinctly, would involve changing traditional values and behaviour, expansion of education and communications, broadening of loyalty from family and village to nation, secularization of public life, rationization of authority structures, promotion of functionally specific organizations, substitution of achievement criteria for ascriptive ones, and furthering of a more equitable distribution of material and symbolic resources. 15 Both the Ethiopian Students Association in North America and the Union of Ethiopian Students in Europe concurred in their resolutions in this respect – that " the institution of absolute monarchy be replaced by a democratically instituted government … a democratically instituted Parliament be recognized as the sole and ultimate spokesman for the people of Ethiopia." 16 These organizations, furthermore, recognized that the Church " serves to propagate the myth of Divine Monarchy " and therefore resolved that " State and Church be completely separated " and to " distinguish between faith in God and government of men." 17 One student who analyzed the problem wrote that " the monarchy … in large measure, owes its existence to the Church. . ." 18 After having recognized and analyzed the problems in the interplay of the power of the Church with that of the state, the organizations emphasized in a resolution the need for the complete separation of Church and state. It is interesting to note that the progressive youth have been generally more outspoken in their criticism of the monarchy than of the Church.

The Church in the past has indeed been the light of Ethiopian culture and nationalism, and the fire of the sentiment of freedom and self-respect of the nation and the state. The connection between Church and state is based on the Church’s belief that the state is a responsible guardian of justice and peace, as well as social welfare. The virtue of the Ethiopian Church is that though its institutions and its intellectual culture are rooted in old and even antiquated ideas, nonetheless, it is not extravagently concerned with the next world or detached from the worldly affairs of society. Even in the midst of present day confusion and conflicts it can, with proper guidance, promote ideas that can cope with a new inner structure of the state. Morever, it can create a strong, social influence in the development of a stable modern state.

The tie between Church and state is rooted more in ancient national customs than in any implicit or explicit teaching of the Church. It has persisted perhaps due to the need for expression of the authority of a community in search of a common ground of unity. The state and the Church, before 1270, though officially interdependent, in reality were essentially separate powers. This does not mean that there was originally a dualistic attitude towards " the world," as was the case with the early church in the West. As far as we know, the Ethiopian Church has never entertained the doctrine of dualism. On the other hand, its clergy and bishops have never known what it means to take over directly the functions of the state, as in Medieval Europe. The Church has always been a separate organization from the state, but an Organization which accepted the world and the state in accordance with the fundamental principles laid down in the Bible. If one carries Colbeaux’s analogy further, the Church has been the complacent and complying wife who unsuspectingly wields enough power to divorce or marry at her will.

The absence of such a dualistic attitude on the part of the Church, which distinguishes it from Western Christianity, may make it difficult for it to adjust to a situation of total separation from the state. On the other hand, as hinted above, the Church’s involvement in worldly affairs can make it a useful channel of social modernization, especially in the realm of education, if the Church chooses to become a force for progress. The course of action will be determined by the Church, subject to variations depending on the temperament and outlook of the modernizing state. If given freedom to exercise its faith, the Church can adapt to whatever relations it has with the modern state. Its experience sharply diverges from that of Christendom elsewhere: nonetheless, the Ethiopian Church can benefit from the experience of those churches which have risen to a progressive level in recent times. Under educated leadership the Ethiopian Church can benefit from the experiences of reason exuded the wisdom necessary to adjust to changing situations even in difficult times.

The influence and attitude of the Church toward public policy on land tenure, tenancy, contracts, taxes, and similar matters have been exaggerated both by foreigners and Ethiopians, In this connection, the Ethiopian Students Association in America and Europe passed this resolution: " Understanding that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a powerful economic and politic force – controls a large portion of arable land and exerts exorbitant dues from the people. . . resolves that… the Church forfeit its landed property to the people . . . cease amassing wealth through religious activity for commercial and exploitative purposes . . be restricted to the teaching and practices of the principles of its faith . . ," 19 Here one qualification must be made: in the past, the Church-as-an-institution did not always have direct control over land tenure or much of other forms of material wealth. Traditionally, though the Church was the nominal proprietor of such lands as for instance the Semon, much of the land that is sometimes popularly thought to be the source of wealth of the Church-as-an-institution was in fact land held by individual churches or individual clergymen, a few of which only have been respectively large landowners. Hence, the question of the Church’s role in the important matter of land tenure cannot be discussed as a separate one from the more important question of general land reform in all of Ethiopia. There is no reason why the Ethiopian Church will not welcome a more equitable land distribution.

The Ethiopian Church has every potential to be an active participant in education that can lead Ethiopia towards new times of favourable social situations. Its teaching that the world is a divine creation and that secular conditions of life are necessary as the basis and means for actual ethical and religious values, can aid it to be a positive catalyst for creative change. At any rate, the ability of the Ethiopian Church to adjust to the situation in a modernizing state should not be underestimated.


Part One


The Problem

Amidst the social confusion of our day, with its clamour of conflicting voices, practices, and ideologies, the Ethiopian Church is slowly but surely making its voice heard. These social conflicts are not necessarily due to the industrial revolution – which is barely making an appearance in Ethiopia – or to any form of mass emancipation, as in the West in the last century. Rather, they are occasioned by the meeting of cultures – ancient and modern – resulting in a rise of conflicting social values. At the root of the whole matter is the desire of all parties to find what they respectively think to be a way to maximum happiness for the people and at the same time to create what they respectively think to be a stable society in which the standards are justice and peace. But the problem is complicated by the fact that on the one hand the Church – the bulwark of past history and culture – sometimes finds an easy solution to social stability in everything traditional, whereas on the other many persons among the well-meaning leaders of change often tend to find a panacea in almost everything modern and, in everything modern, an antidote to poverty, disease, and illiteracy.

In the midst of care for stability, by one, and enthusiasm for change, by the other, very little time is found for a dialogue between the priests of tradition and the prophets of modernization, to assess the positive and the negative aspects of the old and the new. In this direction, perhaps the initiative and leadership must be provided by the younger generation who profit and benefit from the double privilege of being able to impart of modern knowledge as well as of the heritage of the past. They must understand that tradition is not always necessarily complacency as, on the contrary, spontaneous responsibility to the society. Yet these problems as well as the confusion of cultural conflicts do not merely concern the educated politicians, political economists, and social reformers; in a sense, it should be understood that they concern also the Ethiopian Church, whose root is intertwined with the cultural development and vital energy of its great historical past.

In a sense, the Ethiopian Church is attempting to use its considerable powers of organisation to try to find solutions to some of these problems. But unfortunately, it also cannot help but be influenced to a great extent by various political interests. 1 Moreover, for various reasons, it is gradually being more and more restricted to exercising its influence as it used to, outside the religious domain. The modern situation has certainly brought the Church face to face with new and complicated problems in the ordering of social life; in spite of that, however, and in spite of many obstacles, it seems that the Church may not lack a potential both to survive the shock and even to support endeavour to understand and solve these questions.

To attempt to estimate how the Ethiopian Church is actually facing the shock and what it is doing and achieving in the realm of social reform is a broad task with which only a social scientist who has devoted all his energies to the investigation of these issues would be qualified to deal. In this brief essay, one cannot do better than offer an assessment of the question of the churches’ attitudes towards modernization and modern social problems, and a prediction of possible future attitudes. To understand the answers to these questions, one must also ask the question of what the basis of the Ethiopian Church teaching consists of without going into its theology.

Social Teaching of the Ethiopian Church

Fundamental Ethiopian religious teaching is rooted in the Old Testament tradition no less than in the teachings of the early Christian Church. Hence, on one hand it proclaims the coming of the great Day of Judgment when sin, suffering, and pain will be overcome; on the other, all emphasis is laid on a community that is, at least theoretically, busily occupied with the keeping of God’s laws, justice and social responsibility in the here and now. I say theoretically since in practice the Ethiopian Church at times appears indifferent to high standards of justice and social responsibility. It has been accused for insensitivity standing by when acts of injustice are being committed to people and for mercilessly exploiting the rural people itself. Sadly, this may often be the case, nevertheless, the actual moral theory of the Ethiopian Church is of very lofty standards. Thus, as a matter of fundamental principle, the Ethiopian Church explicitly teaches that man is saved by his merits and good deeds, such as by keeping the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the six of the New Testament (see a later page), by fasting, and by fulfilling his moral obligations, rather than by faith in Jesus alone as the principle of Pauline and Augustinian Christianity dominated in the West. The moral commandments are conceived from the viewpoint of ordinary practice and general human interest. They are to be obeyed with devotion and inner simplicity. All that is done takes place under the eye of God, which penetrates every disguise and test human motives to the utmost. The will is to be given to God in absolute obedience so that it may fulfil all the demands of the moral law. There is no significant distinction between divine and state law; as pointed out elsewhere, the Bible and the Fetha-Negast, both containing religious laws, also provide the basis for Ethiopian legal tradition. [* (See footnote 27.) The Emperor in the Preface to the Civil Code of Ethiopia, May 1960, stated: " In preparing the civil code, the Codification Commission . . . has been inspired in its labour by the genius of the Ethiopian legal traditions and institutions as revealed by the ancient, venerable Fetha-Negast." ] One who is obedient to the Church attains eternal spiritual value in the sight of God, as well as happiness on earth.

This idea of the moral Law as well as the popular expectations of reward and punishment have definite connections with Jewish ideas, but we need not discuss that here. The point is that the Ethiopian Church does put more emphasis on good works than on faith, though not to the extent Protestant and Catholic missionaries have thought. Obedience to the moral Law is regarded to be of the utmost importance in the sight of God, a quality the Church itself can hardly achieve.

As far as character is concerned, sincerity, integrity, and conscientiousness are regarded as virtues; and humility is especially esteemed as a means of realizing one’s smallness before God and great men. Sacrificing love of pleasure or comfort is not, however, deemed necessary. Self-denial and sacrifice are seen as virtues of special saints, and all Christians need not be called upon to exercise them. Although indifference to material happiness and money and sexual self-restraint are exalted as virtues, the rich, especially those who have land, are looked upon as having special blessings from God, and those who enjoy sex, as naturally virile and strong. Asceticism and/or the mortification of the body-for-its-own-sake are not required from the Christian, but they are prescribed for widows and widowers, and those who wish can choose the monastic life or the extreme bahtawi2 habits.

Though some sociologists have occasionally erroneously accused the Ethiopian Church of the opposite qualities, it puts a prize on gentleness, readiness to forgive others, warmth of feeling in social and personal relations, and modesty. Overcoming hostility and seeking peace and love are all great virtues, but revenge may not always be regarded as sin. The claim for justice and equity is touched upon, but sometimes in a casual manner.

These ideas of religious ethics determine the sociological characteristics and basis of the Ethiopian Church. They have the potential to foster both responsible independence and responsible interdependence. On the one hand, one may have to go to all lengths in obedience to religious demands based on assertions of personal responsibility to God, and by concentrating entirely upon differences in character among individuals. On the other hand, this ethic contains a strong idea of responsibility not only to oneself but to others; in the last analysis, indeed, the idea of obedience to the moral law is based on the concepts of urgent love, conquest of evil by good, and the union under one law of God, Church, and people participating in a national form of worship. Theoretically, therefore, there exists a real possibility indeed for a healthy and balanced attitude toward the creative individual and the co-operative community.

From this point of view, foreign sociologists who make of Ethiopian Christians either egotistic or conformist individuals do not do justice to their analysis. 3 Indeed, sheer individualism is not regarded as a value. But, forced to fight in mountainous isolation and imbued with a sense of messianic purpose derived from their religious tradition and history, the people could only accept the virtues of the individual warrior – courage, leadership, and loyalty – as primary social values. But it is precisely because of service to society and contribution to the persistence of the community at large that high value is placed upon personal courage, self-reliance, or self-assertiveness. Such individual heroes with special gifts are thought to be rare, and the conclusion that Ethiopian Christianity fosters the cult of the individual is unwarranted. Yet for all the adulation of the heroic individual, the non-conformist individual without a cause is less tolerated.

If anything in the Ethiopian social Weltanschauung is to be criticized, it is not, therefore (as these sociologists maintain), the traditional religious ethic which fosters egotistic individuals, but rather the tendency not to cherish individual originality or creativity. The sociological characteristics of the egoistic individual into Ethiopian society. Donald Levine says, " The atomism of the Ethiopian intelligentsia is a conspicuous feature of their condition, sometimes manifested in basic distrust in their orientation towards one another as well as toward the rest of Ethiopian society," But his conclusion that this reflects the attitudes and customs of the traditional culture is simply incorrect. The individualism, in-effectuality, and lack of orientation of modern educated elite in many developing countries is due to their abrupt severance from their respective traditions and unenlightened exposure to foreign ideas. Modern European education is capable of developing creative and genuine individualism; but outside its context, implanted in foreign cultures, the extent to which it exalts individual accomplishment apart from social responsibility, the emphasis it puts on knowledge for the sake of knowledge ( scientiae causa) and its materialistic inclinations are more capable of creating egotistic individuals than the traditional Ethiopian Church ethic.

Attitudes Towards Social Values and Social Problems

As alluded to above, the Ethiopian Church does not particularly exalt asceticism. There is no trace of contempt for life and pleasure, nor does the Church glorify poverty for its own sake. Food is necessary to life; fast, therefore, must be kept not because hunger has any ascetic value but because God has commanded them as one way of approaching Him for favour in prayer, and because self-discipline, though not self-mortification, can in itself be a good thing.

Here it is important to comment on the well-known monastic traditions of Ethiopia. Monks still enjoy high esteem in the country and traditionally have exerted great influence in the preservation of Geez literature and national philosophy. Their counsel, warnings and predictions have been influential in national politics. Their reserved behaviour, exaltation of silence, and manner of speaking in a low voice and with a serious air, have been inherited by the modern educated generation, even if subconsciously. Nonetheless,, contrary to traditional Western views of monastic-ism, it is really not their asceticism that is most admired by the people but their ethical heroism. Many men and women become monks and nuns after having fully participated in normal physical life, and the extreme mysticism and wholesale renunciation associated with monasticism 4 are alien to Ethiopian thinking.

The Ethiopian outlook on economic questions is like that of the gospel, and is very simple: all that men have to do is to live from day to day, trusting God to provide for each following day. Thus, there is no need for producing goods beyond that necessary for subsistence living. The gospel ethic emphasizes sharing what one has with those in need; thus, dependence on the generosity of relatives, friends, and benefactors becomes a way of life for those in distress. Besides the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, the Church teaches that there are Six Commandments of the New Testament: to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to entertain the stranger, and to visit the prisoner. 5 God has commanded everyone to earn his living by means of work; wealth is a gift of God, but it must be feared as a snare to the soul.

The basis of Ethiopian economic life is agriculture and animal husbandry. " Land is valued as the source of all sustenance and as an inheritance from one’s ancestors, even though ownership may not go back more than a few generations. The structure of society, its institutions, the ways of tilling the soil, the way of building a house are all precious, to be conserved as parts of a general inheritance that goes back to the Deity." 6 This analysis, which reflects in part the Hebraic trait in Ethiopian Christianity, correctly assesses religious attitudes.

Farming, animal husbandry, fishing, hunting, food-cooking, and all other forms of occupations are regarded both as natural and as God-given responsibilities. But as many foreigners have noted, the majority of Christians " like Arabians, generally ignore or look down on many types of craftsmen, some of whom belong to despised classes or to ethnic minorities. In the Northwest, for example, iron-smithing and pottery are done by the Jews, or Falashas; weaving is largely in the hands of Ethiopian Moslems and Jews. . . ." 7 It is thought that this attitude toward craftsmanship is based on the Biblical story that crafts were originally practiced by the descendants of Cain (Genesis 3), but it is really due to an ancient custom of looking down upon menial tasks, as among the ancient Greeks.

It is a sad fact that occupational skills or manual work, which are so important for the development of any country, can become a cause of psychological burden. But surely the Church alone is not to be blamed for the perpetuation of such negative social values. Modern institutions are also at fault. To instil into the minds of younger Ethiopians the love of all types of productive work is the desire of many far-sighted Ethiopians. One can only hope that this goal can be accomplished through vigorous and creative educational programmes.

There is nothing inherent in the teachings of the Church that hinders it from joining with educational institutions to lead men to the love of excellence in all handiworks and of that manual skill which God must have endowed to man alone, through which man has been able to extend to society new economic possibilities in all forms of industry and new levels of spiritual progress. Not only in this respect, but in all aspects of modern economic development, the Ethiopian Church with its zeal for keeping the law of God to do good for one’s fellow man and to help those in distress, can potentially act as a catalyst to activate or inspire its adherents to accelerate the creation of a responsible and productive society. This can happen, perhaps, when members of the younger, educated generation, including those who choose not to practice religion, open in dialogue with the Church.

Church Family-life and Society

The basic social unit of Ethiopian society is not the individual but the family, which forms a homogeneous community with its own characteristics. Much as in Biblical days, the beta’sabea (house of man) is the community of common flesh and blood centred around the father of the house. Thus, the man is mentioned first, children are always called by their father’s name, and kinship is reckoned through his ancestral line; after the man, his wife, who helps to maintain the family, is mentioned, and then the children.

But patriarchal dominion does not necessarily imply feminine inferiority. Even those who formerly had such a view now admit that women enjoy considerable marriage, property and inheritance rights. 8 Despite the claims of some foreign observers that women occupy the position of a depressed class, such women, for instance, as Empress Eleni, Empress Sabla-Wangel in the sixteenth, Empress Mentwab in the eighteenth, Empress Taitu in the nineteenth, Empress Zawditu in the twentieth, and others, have immensely influenced the course of Ethiopian history. Certainly, women in Ethiopia work hard; but, on the other hand, there have been times when they used to enjoy special legal rights such as men did not. A Western woman traveller of half a century ago concedes that:

Undoubtedly the women of Ethiopia enjoy greater means of respect than is granted to their neighbours. Their word is honoured as in no other country in the world, since it is accepted without witness or guarantee. The same difference is extended to their persons, for if, in a discussion or quarrel, a man seizes a married woman’s arm, even if he rests a hand on her shoulder, she can claim his punishment. It is sufficient for a stranger to touch a woman against her will or to make any illicit suggestion to her, to menace her with the mildest form of violence, for her to claim a pecuniary recompense. In all such cases, judgment is granted on the unsupported testimony of the woman. In Abyssinia, the peasant woman takes no part in public life, but the great lady can administer lands granted her for life tenure by her husband or the Negus. She administers justice, receives and pays taxes, dispenses hospitality, apportions the farms, and in case of war, while assigning the actual command of her troops to the officers of her choice, she is quite capable of directing operations from the vicinity of the battlefield. Greetings or letters from any man, whatever his station, to such a woman, would be full of exaggerated compliments in which scriptural passages would be cited in praise of her beauty and virtue, even if both were obviously defective. Compliments are essential to conversation between the sexes of whatever position, providing they are not married but differences depend on positions not sex. The peasant woman may have her civil and family rights, but overworked and undernourished, nature is harder on her than man and, before she is forty, she is too exhausted physically, mentally and often morally, to claim them. The Lady with no other labour than the bearing of two or three children and the supervising of many slaves, secluded, sedentary, with few calls on mind or body, expects and is granted considerations. Both are amazingly free as far as the disposal of their persons is concerned. . . . 9

Donald Levine writes in Wax and Gold that " children are considered inferior because they are governed by ignorance and passion." 10 This statement is not based on an understanding of Ethiopian social attitudes. Children are loved and considered great gifts of God. Parents give children little or no freedom not because they look on them as inferior, 11 but precisely because they love them. The attitude of the Ethiopian father is to bring children up in an orderly fashion, so that they do no harm to themselves physically when small, or psychologically when adults. As Ethiopian sages also hold: " As the twig is bent so the tree grows." Parents love their children and give utmost consideration to their welfare, but in turn likewise, expect love and respect from them; and they discipline them, bearing in mind the proverb, " Spare the rod and spoil the child." They consider discipline an exercise of ethical and religious responsibility in the care of children.

According to the Church’s religious teachings, the monogamous family is the basis of society and of the state; in other words, the state is composed of congregated families. By and large, the Ethiopian Church has a liberal and natural attitude toward sex. It expects the few who are married in the Church to uphold an indissoluble union; yet because of this strictness, it gives freedom to, and even encourages, its members to have secular or civil marriage, which it blesses. It condemns adultery, but concubinage is tolerated. It expects unwed girls (under fifteen) to be virgins, but divorce need not be difficult, and Leverite Marriage is practiced. The Church has no scripture against birth control, and probably will not oppose its introduction. The Ethiopian Church, having not developed an ascetic view of life, as said above, will face little or no special difficulties in coming to grips with the progressive sex ethics. Individual families may have rigid views of sex of their own choice, but the Church itself regards sex as a normal condition and a natural basis of life.

The Fetha-Negast contains laws regarding marriage, but by and large matrimonial problems are dealt with on the basis of customary Christian law. The Church respects virginity but it is not puritanical; it forbids polygamy, but it does not look down on divorce; though it objects to promiscuity, relations between sexes which are sometimes free and unrestrained are not interfered with. But most interesting is that the Ethiopian Church is not anxious to insist on marriage within the Church; in fact, it discourages it, for Church weddings are strictly indissoluble; in reality, only those few married long enough to feel sure that divorce can be ruled out enter into religious covenant, usually in the form of taking communion together. The Church, which considers marriage a sacrament encourages and blesses civil marriages, generally entered into by the parents of the prospective bride and groom with the blessings of local elders and family priests. Engagement takes place early, and marriage at puberty. Following the Biblical custom, the girl will have to prove her virginity, which is relayed to the public by the best men accompanying her in a form of dance displaying her stained nuptial veil. This important custom is now retained only in symbolic form, especially in larger urban areas like Addis Ababa. Of course, the modern life style has brought with it late marriages, and the stiff requirement on virginity is being eased; yet the Church seems to tolerate even this development. Individual practice among the educated younger generation, however, may vary from loosely traditional to strictly European forms of marriage ceremony. At any rate, tradition continues to dominate in the majority of the communities, and young couples continue to be closely dependent on family and village. The young couple usually obtain a plot of land for their new home, near their families.

A very interesting form of marriage contract in Ethiopian society is called demoz, or salaried matrimony, whereby a woman agress to live with a man at a specified remuneration for a specified time. It is somewhat like the " arrangements " that some of America’s young college people have lately adopted. Though the Church does not necessarily look upon such arrangements with favour, it, nevertheless, tolerates them and considers them legitimate. The rights of inheritance of children born from such union are regarded as equal to those of children born in lawful wedlock, Such contracts have become rather common in some circles of the educated class of Addis Ababa, who though often critical of tradition, find this to be a convenient arrangement. On the other hand, many of the young educated class often choose to be married in the Church, without much opposition; a traditionally church wedding was open only to those who solemnly vowed to enter marriage once only in their lifetime.

In discussing every aspect of the influence and the role of the Ethiopian Church in the lives of ordinary people, we must return to the principle which must always be kept in mind: the Ethiopian Church, as compared specially to the Western Churches, is highly flexible in its theological structure and rarely dictates dogmatic doctrines to the people. In reality, its teachings are enmeshed with the social customs of the country. Of course, the Church has laid down certain major practices, especially baptism, as prerequisites for entering the Christian fold. But beyond these, it has by and large adopted itself to control their lives. The Church has succeeded in doing this in two ways. First, it has reinforced the idea that religion and society are indivisible – Christianity is, in fact, regarded by an average man not as a religion but as a peoplehood, and it is not unusual to find references to Psalm 68:31 " Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God," meaning " Christian Ethiopia." Secondly, the Church has propounded and practiced the belief that there is more than one level of sanctity. Thus, the Church welcomes believers who still feel that they are not worthy to enter the Church, and makes provisions for them to worship in the outer court and in the churchyard, according to the worshipper’s own choice. 12 In a 15th-century religious work allegedly attributed to Emperor Zara-Ya’acob (1434-1468) we find the teaching that " let alone Christians (inhabited by demons), even Jews and gentiles and those who are even inhabited by demons should be welcomed by the Church to participate in Christian law if they so desire; but the priests should teach them the fear of God and sit them with ‘ minor ‘ Christians until the time of the approach of their death when they will baptize them . . ," 13

It is admirable that the Ethiopian Church has such a flexible theological structure to accept whatever society accepts as normal and natural. On the other hand, however, it can be envisioned that such tolerance can sometimes lead to too much licentiousness on the part of both the laymen and the clergy, some of whom do occasionally falter into the realm of inebriated state and hedonistic orgies or debauchery. Such matters can bring the Church’s authority into being discredited. Therefore, it is important that the Church, while maintaining its flexibility, does not abdicate its spiritual responsibility but encourage and foster honest and proper education necessary for moral discipline and responsible citizenship.

Church and Other Social Customs

  In matters of birth and death ceremonies, the Church continues to play an active role, even in places like Addis Ababa. Many people who claim to be agnostics do still bring their children to baptism and have the priests give them religious names; and at death they prefer to be buried in churchyards. As the African and Semitic belief in the importance of one’s name goes very deep, the educated Ethiopians – who prefer to wear European dress, to use European forms of greeting, to drink European alcoholic beverages, and eat European food -have resisted strongly the adoption of European names. A personal name, like one’s nationality, is regarded – consciously and unconsciously – as having great importance in one’s life; and practically every Ethiopian name, sometimes even those used by non-Christians, has a religious connotation. 14

Many Ethiopian folkways reflect Biblical customs and traditions that are still quite common among Jews, such as circumcision. This is, of course, a general practice in many parts of the world, but in Ethiopia, it has an explicitly Biblical character. When in the 16th century, Jesuit missionaries denounced the Ethiopians for their non-Christian customs, the Emperor Claudius (1540-1556) wrote in reply that circumcision is on the contrary a Christian law " practiced as a respectful remembrance of a ceremony appointed by God to Abraham " (Genesis 17). The Church faces no serious problem in insuring the continuation of this custom, even among modernized Ethiopians. Clitoridectomy (of young girls), also a common but not religious practice, is perhaps more in danger of disappearing among the younger generation. That this may have some psychological effect on the women in the long run is only conjectural.

The Church may have a problem with another set of customs consisting of food regulations, dietary laws, and fasting. Traditionally, the Ethiopians made a distinction between " clean " and " unclean " foods on the basis of the prescriptions of the Bible (Leciticus 11) regarding mammals and birds and concerning the forbidden sinew (Genesis 32:33). Educated young Ethiopians, however, care little whether they make such distinctions or even whether they keep the large number of fast days. The average village, however, sticks to tradition, by and large. As for a more developed community like Addis Ababa, a story was told that only a few years ago non- observant young men used to go to restaurants and sit very shyly; afraid to be discovered eating forbidden food or meat on fast days or during Lent, they would order shifinfin (literally, doubly folded over), a meat plate 15 with a heavy layer of bread and vegetables on top! In the last two years, however, the course of events is said to have changed so fast that it is now the observant elderly person who goes to a restaurant and sits rather shyly. Having taken precautions that he is not seen to be observant, he would call the waiter to the corner and with a whisper ask if by chance the restaurant serves tsomwat (a plate not " defiled " by meat). Thus, the modernistic society of Addis Ababa appears to have achieved a somewhat revolutionary attitude in regard to dietary laws, without much resistance from the Church. Though drinking has always been a social custom in Ethiopia, the wiser men of the Ethiopian Church have always taught and practiced moderation. Except for arake (Ethiopian vodka), which does have a large content of alcohol, no strong drinks were used in the country until modern times. Both tela (Ethiopian beer) and tej (mead) contain very low percentages of alcohol (perhaps 5-10 per cent). Along with everything so-called " modern " have come stronger and more harmful drinks, and Ethiopians, not to speak of foreign-trained people, have had generous recourse to imported liquor. When it first appeared in Ethiopia, fifty years ago, whisky was seen as a vice by a leading Ethiopian churchman. In a poem addressed to one of the Emperors, he wrote: There was a flower, A prize of the flora. The bee her friend, lost in caressing, Did not see when the wasp, the gnat, and the mosquito suddenly invaded. Woe, sweet smell of flower, thou hast become foul from flies!

That flower of splendor which is Ethiopia, Is now bound hand and foot with the chain of alcohol, By Greeks and Armenians who bring it from abroad, " It is pure," they say, and snare the innocent, Cajoling him, flattering him, deceiving him by a ruse: " For myself and only for myself lately did I import; But if now you – you! my friend art here, open and impart I must "

Innocent youth! When they pour out and give you Liquid of wickedness, secret of madness, Suspectest thou not, understandest thou not, Quickly lap it down, alas for you, Thy health is sunk in phthisis and rheumatism, Woe, dear Ethiopia, Liquor has come against us! 16 Not many seem to have grasped the intent of such a reflection, and many young people today are incapacitated by liquor. The most unfortunate thing is that imported drinks have become customary in villages, where much-needed money and time are sometimes wasted in bars. Since the time of the churchman, author of the Amharic poem above, the Church has become rather indifferent as regards the people’s drinking habits; at present it voices no special view on such matters.

Customs associated with holiday celebrations, some of which reflect Biblical influence, are continuing to enjoy widespread popularity, not only in the villages but also in a modernizing city like Addis Ababa. But the ancient strictness with which Ethiopians kept both Saturday and Sunday as days of rest has loosened. The Ethiopian Church’s New Year on September 11, celebrated by per-

forming ritual immersions in water, slaughtering of animals, and exchange of flowers, or the solemn holiday of Fassika (Passover-Easter) are the only religious holidays which have gained in popularity, even among the youth, and generally claim banner headlines and editorials in Ethiopian papers. Still, of great significance in the social life of modern Ethiopians are the two great festivals of Maskal (Feast of the Cross) and Timkat (torches of fire) all over the country, and the latter, accompanied by solemn processions, dancing, and singing and joyful bathing, draws the attention even of excited foreigners. These festivals will certainly continue in the years to come to be more and more part of the national – not only the religious – heritage of Ethiopia.

Perhaps the only festival of great charm and colour enjoyed now by all Ethiopians that runs the risk of being obsolete, due to the pressure to adopt the more or less universal European Calendar, is the feat of the New Year (September 11). Ethiopia is the last country in the world that still officially uses an ancient calendar. The inconsistency between the Ethiopian and European calendars originates from those of the Julian and Gregorian computations, respectively; the difference arises from a divergence between the Catholic and Ethiopian churches as to the date of the creation of the world and the birth of Christ. 17 There is now (and perhaps there will continue to be) a strong resistance to a change of calendars.

  A national characteristic of Ethiopians still prevalent among traditionalists is a rather religiously-oriented high-standard code of etiquette. Ethiopians are generally polite, punctual, calm, and reserved. Silence is a virtue; so is speaking with a low voice. These semi-ascetic attitudes are so ingrained in the people that one thing even non-traditionalists dislike about foreigners is that they talk too loud and too much, and are too inquisitive. Of course, Ethiopians can also be jolly and conversational. Furthermore, some have come to realize that inquisitiveness is necessary for a scientific mind. The modern man is more of an individualist than the ordinary Ethiopian, who spends a great deal of his time visiting his friends, greeting them elaborately on the road, and paying attention to social habits. There is a religio-aesthetic beauty in Ethiopian personal relations among family members, friends, and others, which is fast disappearing. Professor Ullendorff remarks, " Unhappily urban life and not infrequently the bad example of Europeans have in recent times contributed to a slight lowering of these high stands (of etiquette), but it must be hoped that Ethiopians will be able to maintain their own codes of polite behaviour in the face of outside influence." 18


The Ethiopian Church appears to be losing its hold on the segment of society that is partially modernized. Many of its ancient functions are now being exercised by modern educated persons, and many of its ancient practices seem to be in danger of dilution and even disappearance.

The modern social problem is vast and complicated. Ethiopia awakening in the twentieth century finds itself faced with a traditional economic philosophy – more or less feudally structured. The introduction of mechanical techniques which produce goods at a fast speed, but which treat men and labour like machines, is a new phenomenon in Ethiopian society. The growth of the new militaristic and bureaucratic state is also a puzzle. These are the results of the rise of a new elite in Ethiopian society.

Yet, despite all its shortcomings and in the face of vast, serious problems and radical ideals of social reform, the ecclesiastical organization seems to maintain itself by virtue of its historic weight. The Ethiopian Church can, if it wishes, accommodate itself to the 20th century world. In this respect one can only say that the Ethiopian Church must be fortunate for not having dogmas which it would be embarrassed to abandon publicly; or for not being one that necessarily regards subjective holiness as a prerequisite for membership. On the contrary, regardless of its outward ceremoniousness, the Church has always upheld religious ethics as an integral part of Ethiopian social and legal custom. It must be understood that not only has the Church shaped the Ethiopian nation, but the mode of Ethiopian social life has shaped the religious community.

Many religious customs are gradually going to wane. If Ethiopia is to be economically productive, the people cannot afford to keep the Church’s numerous festivals any longer. The simple rules of a balanced diet will affect the laws of fasting. Yet, when most festivals disappear, the important ones like New Year’s, Masqal, Timkat and Fassika, in particular, are going to be more thoroughly incorporated into Ethiopian national life. These festivals have shown to be a common possession of not only Christians but of all Ethiopians. The Church’s life and character, however, will continue to pivot on them. Secondly, even if fasting will no longer be popular, the major Ethiopian dietary habits and laws will be continued by some if for no other reason because of the psychological inhibitions of not eating food one is not used to. Family life may change its external characteristics, but the historic influences with which the Church has shaped the basic attitudes toward sex, marriage, and man-woman relationships, are presently in no danger of major revision. Whatever happens, however, the Ethiopian Church appears to have the potential to adjust to all forms of social movements and changes. Educated Ethiopian priests and Ethiopian churches in Addis Ababa have proved that the Ethiopian Church does, in fact, welcome innovation. But, of course, until all the priests have been educated and the whole Church has undergone new experiences, one must not be over-optimistic about the total absence of clerical resistance.

Not only will the Church show ability to adjust to the changing ways of life, but it will undoubtedly affect the course and the pace of development in the future. In fact, without its co-operation and its influence, the educated leaders of Ethiopia will have a difficult time executing extensive and necessary reform programmes within the existing system. Many reform programmes can be undertaken only when the new generation of the educated becomes willing to open a dialogue with the Church; whether the educated class will do so will depend to a great extent on its comprehension and appreciation of Ethiopia’s past and present, on the one hand, and its critical assessment of the modern life on the other.

Understanding Ethiopia’s past and present will mean not only better self-understanding for the educated elite, but it will also expose them to the negative and positive attributes of tradition; for surely as some tend to think today, not all aspects of Ethiopian tradition are diametrically opposed to progress. To look at the past and boast about its great historic moments, as some do, is not productive; to reject it altogether, as do others, is not responsible. To look at the past in order to interpret the course of the future, however, may not only be extremely valuable but necessary.

The attitude toward manual work; the attachment to land; Church involvement in politics; the strong reliance of individual members on party or family or on love that extends beyond the limits of generosity to dependence; the sense of temporality and progress outside the concept of the past and the eternal, and therefore, the relaxed attitude to movement, plan, and time; the low regard for inquisitiveness and for open and audible speech; an often unanalytical reliance on memory in learning; perhaps slight exaggeration of formalism and ceremoniousness, and love of festivities – all these may in one way or another furnish obstacles to technical progress and productivity. On the other hand, warmth of personality, a strong sense of mutual respect, the potential such teachings of love, justice, and peace have in the assessment of social consequences, the psychological value of a limited, relaxed attitude toward time, and still other aspects of traditional culture can have positive results in the right sitz im leben. To appreciate critically every social phenomenon in its proper context can help to create a new approach that helps to assess it in the proper perspective and to guide one in choosing what to retain of the old and what to adopt of the new.

Still important is an understanding of what one may call " modernization " and its counterpart, which one may call " modernism," for lack of better terminologies. There is in " modernism " the ever-present danger of looking at everything " modern " as good and right no matter how relative these concepts may be. Just to walk with one’s hands in one’s pockets, to frequent such places as night clubs and movie theatres, to drink phenomenal amounts of whisky, to puff a cigarette, to wear a necktie or a mini-skirt, and, on a more sophisticated level, to disdain religion while siding with " absolute " science, are subconsciously regarded today by many " young intelligentsia " all over the world as manifested signs of modern progress. Each person surely has the right to conduct himself the way he chooses and to develop his own particular tastes. But when, in the name of progress, one imports only such forms of behaviour, making much of them, without at the same time exemplifying the more productive aspects of progressive cultures, such as punctuality, planning, organizing, working hard, self-sacrifice, co-operation and responsibility – then those who look to the educated for guidance and leadership will be misled. To be educated and to be progressive would then be regarded as attaining a level of certain types of behaviour and certain beliefs deserving respect and attention. Surely, if those who are educated do not produce more concrete and positive ideas and ideals that can be shown in action to be productive and useful for Ethiopian society, not only the Church but society itself will gradually react. Modern man is basically Hellenic at heart; he is impressed by logic and form. The average Ethiopian Churchman is a " Hamito-Semite *’; he is an African; he is primarily impressed by social and moral responsibility, as well as by practical things, even if he does not possess all the efficient modern gadgets.

" Modernization" is not "modernism." " Modernism," as used above, refers to the superficial trappings and outer forms of what one may call " being modern." " Modernization," also for lack of a better term, is used here to describe the process of progress in line with present-day patterns of development and automation. I use it in the same sense that some modern sociologists, for instance, Marion J. Levy, Jr., do. 19 By the modernized society, I mean one in which human efforts are multiplied by the use of tools, a society in which there is a very high rate of " mechanical advantage " to the extent that the productivity of man and the restructuring of society gain maximum efficiency, order, and speed. " Modernization " in this specific sense may be the process that might enable man to overcome poverty, disease, and illiteracy most efficiently; and if actualized, I assume, it may not only be regarded by the Church as positive, but indeed also as highly desirable.

It may be inevitable that the use of more tools and machines and multiplication of inanimate objects will increase man-object relationships or conversely, would decrease man-man relationships. The more time man spends 6 relating himself to all the objects that have been created by " modernization," the less time he has to communicate with his fellow man. Though, religion may not necessarily conflict with positive " modernization " and could, in fact, assist in education, and bless the easing of man’s burdens by mechanization; nonetheless, it can still come into indirect conflict with " modernization" when that means less humanization. This will be a far more serious problem for the Church than a struggle with the superficiality and triviality of what I have called " modernism."

The really serious problem is, then, how can the traditional Church welcome " modernization " if " modernization " contains elements of dehumanization? The answer to this is as complicated as the answer to the question which psychologists and sociologists in " developed " societies ask today; how can man return to " humanization " in a modernized " society? My contention is that it is not necessary to take for granted the theory that dehumanization is a logical consequence of " development," " modernization," or industrialization. The burdens and problems of the depressed and despairing modern man, the too well-known facts about modern society, and the results of the studies of modern sociology may perhaps contradict this assertion. I realize that, as 1 have said, the more machines occupy man’s time, the less occasion there will be available for self-reflection or for traditional human closeness such as that which the religious atmosphere attempts to engender. I would, however, still contend that the preoccupation in the minds of modern thinkers that " man," " spirit," and " machine " are incompatible is too often exaggerated.

The Church of Ethiopia cannot be prejudged as an obstacle to modernization. It must be called to a dialogue; it must be given a chance to speak for itself. For unless the Church is involved in the process of modernization, it will be difficult to bring any change in Ethiopia within the existing system. The Church presently cannot

be said to be standing in the way of social change and amelioration; it is merely not involved, perhaps because it had not been called on, or perhaps because it has not had a chance to do so. If anything stands in the way of progress in Ethiopia today, it is " modernism " and the superficial manners and behaviour of the present-day elite – even more than religious conservatism.

Many things will keep Ethiopian communities Church-centred. But there is no question that several formal aspects of religion will gradually disappear. The small monthly feasts that occur almost every two or three days or the arduous task of fasting almost two hundred days in a year have long been seen as draining the economy of the country and the health of the people. Today the Church, thanks to its flexibility, has begun to regard as sufficient the celebration of the major festivals, the special holy days of family patron saints, and fasting during the eight weeks of Lent. And even these are stringently practiced only by the most devout. Through its flexibility, the Church has caused little mass alienation; on the contrary, it has consolidated more popular interest in local fasts and feasts. If the Church continues to be liberal in social matters, it will have gone a long way in retaining its position of contrality.

Again to its credit, the Ethiopian Church has little involved the people in theological disputes and controversies. Its professed adherence to Tawahedo (Mono-physitism) involves subtleties that make very little difference to the people or the clergy. Some theological disputes have been encountered, especially for foreign missionaries. But these disputes have not resulted in conflicts, even when many foreigners, as well as Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries have come with condescending attitudes, stereotyping the Ethiopian Church as " formalistic," " pagan," or " Jewish" and criticizing the priesthood as " ignorant " or " besotted." One wrote " Twelve thousand clerical drones . . . fatten in idleness on the labour of the working classes." 20 Another spoke of ‘ the almost daily spectacle of their drunkenness, excesses, and immorality." 21 On top of such criticism, some missionaries have tried to introduce theological debates which have caused friction both with foreigners and sometimes among Ethiopians.

That some priests have been superstitious or poorly educated may be true, but surely these extreme judgments are founded upon a lack of sympathetic understanding of Ethiopia and its life. For one thing, except for the fact that they have received some theological training, the priests are still part of the common folk who often work hard to earn their own living; though they may own some Church lands, as a class, they are certainly not a " bourgeois " group. Furthermore, taking into account the isolation of Ethiopia for so many centuries, one could not have expected more accomplishment from them. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the priests have retained the affection and respect of the people, and that they play an important part in village life.

Part II. The Church and the Village

Addis Ababa has been a growing and changing city. Since its foundation some eighty years ago, it has developed from a small, almost rural village to a semi-modern city, with a population of about 700,000. Practically all he changes, modernization, and development that are t aking place in Ethiopia seem to be concentrated here. M ore than 50 per cent of all Ethiopians who have received any form of modern schooling live here, and perhaps more than 90 per cent of foreign-educated persons are employed in major government offices, business and trade firms, and educational institutions centred in Addis Ababa and the vicinity. But most of Ethiopia, its villages and small towns have seen very little change, and the social structure still remains largely traditional.

Traditional Ethiopian society and life in general have been described by scholars over and over again as predominantly Biblical in character. One scholar described it as the living world of the Bible, and another has called it " a haven of peace where the courtesies of the ancient Orient continue to live." 22

Ethiopian society is much more homogeneous and unified than observers sometimes think, especially socially and culturally. There is a long history of interaction and sharing of common problems and events among Ethiopians. The diversity in languages and dialects or ethnic communities does not reflect the more profound feeling of unity among Ethiopians, just as the existence of the apparent ethnic units (English, Jewish, Irish, Italian, etc.) in Boston does not reflect the more profound unity of the American people. In other words the experience of Ethiopia definitely differs from the experience of countries in which there are tribal units that are exclusively separate bodies. In this respect, even sociologists and anthropologists who tend to over emphasize ethnic differences have had to admit that " the racial, linguistic and cultural melange characteristic of Ethiopia results . . . from its geographic position . . . from numerous invasions of the region by alien peoples, from the diffusion into the area of new culture traits and cul ture complexes, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and from extensive culture contact, acculturation and biological intermixing. . . . Biologically, however, there was such extensive mixing that today the Semitic- speaking groups are indistinguishable physically from the Cushitic-speaking groups . . . many writers consider both the Cushitic-speaking and Semitic-speaking peoples of Ethiopia to belong to a common " Ethiopian "… type " 23 A very recent study by a German anthropologist throws new light on the common heritage and deeper unity of the Ethiopian people: " Any attempt to gain deeper insights into the course of cultural history of Africa through the methods of ethnology must give special consideration to the African kingdoms. Their traditions reflect an imminent feeling for that which is history, in contrast to the small tribes or kin-organization. . . . All the evidence seems to indicate that the peoples of southern Ethiopia and the original Cushitic- speaking peoples of the Highland (northern Ethiopia) were once joined by a common culture, prior to the Southern Arabian immigration and before the introduc tion of Christianity." 24

This becomes evident when one looks more closely at the villages and towns of Ethiopia, which, since ancient times, have existed independently with an importance like the communities described in the Bible. Most of these villages and towns, often including districts around them, have internal coherence and unity though their inhabitants came from more than one area of the country, or from more than one linguistic group of the people. Town after town and village after village, each acted as a unit. As a rule, a single family dominated a village. Even if it did not have a common sanctuary or religion, the most well-known Ethiopian Church festivals such as News Years (September 11), Maskal (September 27-28), and Timkat (January 17-18), were held in common. In the more traditional areas of Ethiopia the ruling family was from a priestly line as in Biblical times on it descended from a national hero. Though no municipalities existed in the past, the unity of the villages or towns was so strong that responsibility was common to all. The idea that responsibility for blood guilt and theft rests upon the whole of the village has been recognized in the practice of afarsta™ in many traditional areas of Ethiopia.

One example of a town that is between a large modernizing centre like Addis Ababa and wholly traditional communities – in other words, a traditional community affected by some change – is Nazareth. Its population is made up of people originating in different regional and linguistic areas. Many changes have taken place in Nazareth : the 20 per cent literacy rate of the town is at least 50 per cent higher than that of traditional villages that have not seen any change: in contrast with the traditional way of life, only 10 per cent of the population is engaged in agricultural activities, while the majority are daily labourers employed mainly in public and private construction work and at the town’s railway station ; many of them are in trade and crafts, and even work in the government and business offices. Fifty per cent of the homes use electricity and about 16 per cent have running water; 81 per cent of the inhabitants live in only semi- traditional buildings, and about 70 per cent pay rent. In Nazareth, there are hotels, bars and liquor stores besides the traditional Tej and Telia houses. There are also retail shops selling various modern goods, government offices, railroads, bus stations, schools, the Anti-Malaria Training Institute, hospitals, a small airstrip, and other semi-modernized institutions. Regardless of many changes taking place in Nazareth, it is still very much a religion-oriented town, with about 90 per cent of its population Christian and about 10 per cent Moslem. It has five churches, with at least six priest-families per church, a few priest schools, and one mosque.

  Even if we had adequate sources of information, a full description of religious life, the social, psychological, economic and political consequences of changes that are taking place in a town or village like Nazareth is beyond the scope of this article. But brief reference can m ade to main features of the life of the Church and the effects of change in Ethiopian communities. It must be emphasized that this is based on an assessment not of a largely modernizing society like that of Addis Ababa, or on largely traditional communities, but rather on an analysis of smaller communities that are beginning to absorb some change.

Change has brought about not so much differences in the content as in the form of beliefs and religious attitudes. Priests and congregations still stand in very close relationship, and public and private events frequently involve clerical ministrations. The Church has never involved itself closely with questions of intimate personal practices or individual beliefs. The categorical confession of a tenet of faith is not formally demanded. Whoever is not an open opponent of the Church or whoever does not publicly profess another religion is regarded in Ethiopia as a Church member. Participation in sacraments, except for baptism, has never been a requirement and is left, to a large extent, to individual desires and decisions. This liberal-mindedness on the part of the Ethiopian Church makes it possible for the people of any community to adjust to change without sacrificing their religious loyalties. So long as the Ethiopian Church does not press the issue of " correct " or " true " belief, which it never did in the past, the community can remain Church-centred – or better, Church-conscious – and would want to retain its identity with the Ethiopian Church and its traditions.

As an example, we can look again at the Ethiopian code of sexual ethics which we have already considered above. The Ethiopian Church considers chastity a virtue and an ideal. Ethiopians have a high regard for monks; and they expect the clergy to be married only once and that before ordination. Furthermore, the Church teaches that monogamy is the Christian ideal and allows no divorce on any grounds. Nonetheless, so long as a person remains loyal to his confession, local customs of marriage that are less strict are not opposed by the Church. A person can consider his life Church-centred without feeling embarrassed even if his sex ethics do not stand up to the high standards of the Church. Ironically, having Church weddings is more frequent among modernized Ethiopians than among the traditionals; this is an aspect of the influence of European practice, and it does not mean that the younger generation is necessarily committed to a higher standard of matrimonial loyalty.

Some foreign observers think that the majority of Ethiopian Christians are technically excommunicates because they do not accept the restraints of Christian marriage; furthermore, they believe that this is why people generally attend the service of the Eucharist standing outside the church, as mere spectators. 26 However, it is actually better to say that the people are under a self-imposed excommunication. Whatever the case may be, the scarcity of Church weddings and the lack of mass participation in the Eucharist are not regarded as serious, either by the Church or by the people. Both baptism and confirmation are administered at birth, penance appears, for the most part, to be a mere form, and extreme unction is practiced only by those who choose to undergo it. A religious funeral is allowed to all who profess to be Orthodox Christians, regardless of the form of ceremony and status or habit of their marriage and their past life. It is again this broad attitude of the Ethiopian Church which continues to give the priesthood a strong hold on the people.

Furthermore, the village continues to be Church-centred as the importance of the clergy and the sanctuary is brought out by the religious festivals which are part of the national, cultural, and public heritage of all Ethiopians, even regardless of religious adherence. The life of any Ethiopian community, for that matter even that of the capital, Addis Ababa, continues to revolve around such spectacular festivals as Timkat (Feast of Immersion) and Masqal (Feast of the Cross), both of which have pre-Christian elements rooted in the homogeneous aspects of Ethiopian culture. Even Easter, a day of social festivities which is among the most important religious festivals of Ethiopia, as well as the less popular holy day of Christmas, accompanied by the favourite game of Ganna, have public sanction and attract general public attention.

Law and Justice

Though ideas of modern law are gradually influencing Ethiopian society at large } by virtue of their sanction by the Church and the Fetha-Negast,27 customary regional laws continue to retain a measure of importance, especially in many local villages and village courts.

Although on the national level the Fetha-Negast has been drastically altered, especially since the reign of Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913), 28 and the mislenes, modern chiefs of villages and towns have replaced the chiqqa-shums, traditional chiefs elected by the villages or nominated by district chiefs; traditional religious laws continue to play a significant role in local communities, even if not with apparent official sanction or official approval. In addition, the majority of appointed local danias (judges) and law-makers to date are Church-trained men, in many instances, priests or debterras.

The material which constitutes the juridical basis of customary law is generally not reduced to writing. [* Parts of Oral Law that have been written down are found in northern Ethiopia.] But at meetings of village elders and notables, general principles are established which are retained in public memory and guarded by the written laws of the Church. Ethiopians, despite their reservedness, when it comes to legal matters generally exhibit a great capacity for brilliant and eloquent exposition and self-expression, and prefer to conduct their own lawsuits themselves rather than through lawyers.

Ethiopian justice offers a fine example of Church (Biblical) customs still preserved in the folkways of the people. The administration of local or village justice is the most important part of the traditional legal system. The impromptu court which meets in the marketplace or in some other outdoor centre carries the same weight among the people of the community as it did in ancient Ethiopia or in Biblical days. Two men who have a dispute find an arbitrator, preferably a priest or a debterra, to act as judge between them. No man may refuse to perform this duty. The judge, or dania (a word related to the Biblical " din " or lawsuit), gathers witnesses, hears the case, and gives his judgement. There are also permanent local danias, usually religiously-educated elders of the community, who act as judges and advisers and give relevant interpretations of the existing laws in difficult cases. Although new legislation and new forms of administering justice are being extensively developed by Parliament, judgeship has become professional under the Ministry of Justice; and a law school has been established in Addis Ababa.

Nonetheless, the voluntary and spontaneous forms of administering justice in the villages are still daily practice, and religious laws are an integral part of the public life of the masses as in Biblical times.

Church, Religious Practices, and the Village: A Summary

The Ethiopian Church continues to play a. conspicuous role in the life of village and rural communities, especially bring their children to the church for baptism, on the fortieth day if a boy and on the eightieth if a girl. Civil marriages are blessed by family priests (yenefs abat – soul father) who play an important role in the social life of the people. At death, ritual wailing and mourning as well as elaborate commemoration on feasts, tezkar (cf. Jewish) customs of mourning and remembering the dead), held on the third, seventh, twelfth, fortieth (the most important), eightieth day, sixth month, first and seventh year, continue to absorb the attention of the society. Though fasting has somewhat subsided and perhaps only the clergy and devout members observe most of the regulations, in the local communities strong national consciousness still exists even among the educated, regarding fasting customs as well as making some distinction between the flesh of clean and unclean animals; only few Ethiopians really enjoy eating pork or ham, and none of the indigenous restaurants of even modernized Addis Ababa serve traditionally prohibited meat. The large number of Church festivals which appear almost every two days are practiced with rigor in remote regions, though only the best-known Church festivals are greeted by the younger generation with great enthusiasm. 19 Each person may have a favourite or patron saint or angel, for whom he makes a special service for its community on the angel or the saint for whom he makes a special feast in the presence of a family priest and close friends (zikirt). Moreover, each village holds a special service for its community on the day of the angel or the saint for which its local church is named.

Religion is so deeply rooted in the national consciousness of the Ethiopian people that many modern customs cannot replace ancient ones. Ethiopian Christians have always believed that they are the " chosen people of God," and the only true Christians. The educated people who reject this idea subconsciously give assent to it. In this, converts to other forms of Christianity -Protestantism or Catholicism – are generally regarded even by non-practicing educated persons, with some suspicion as representatives of alien and heretical creeds. The lives and values of most people are still permeated with religious overtones. The personal presence of angels, for example, is felt very profoundly by the average man in the village. Saints are asked through prayers to intercede for support, succour, and rescue from enemies. The Devil is dreaded, and children are made to carry on their arms or necks a leather scroll called lifafa tsedq (scroll of righteousness) for protection against the Devil or the evil eye. Though the Church officially condemns such beliefs, some people, especially among the learned priests, are thought to be able to communicate with angels, demons, or dead spirits. The Church also condemns the spirit cult called zar, believed to exist both by Christians and non-Christians.

It is thought that there are respectively more churches in the Christianized districts of Ethiopia than in other regions of comparable sizes in the world, 30 and some travellers have estimated that one man out of five is a member of the clergy or a cantor in the church. Nevertheless, popular church attendance is not necessarily regarded as a measure of faith – if it appears occasionally a measure of piety; yet church attendance is indeed very high, though a small part of religious obligation.

In the remote villages all men still dismount when they pass the church, and devoted church people wash lepers and tend their sores; the courtesy and kindness of Ethiopian priests and the effects of religion upon the character of the Ethiopian people still continue.


To my knowledge, the Ethiopian Church has rarely been accused of religious intolerance or of holding persecuting attitudes towards members of other religions. One thing about which some foreigners have voiced some complaints is what they consider an attitude of suspicion. More astute observers, however, agree with Levine that such an attitude is " an adaptive response to some very real dangers with which Ethiopia has chronically been confronted: the threat of conversion to Western forms of Christianity by European missionaries, the threat of European imperialism, and the threat of encirclement and occupation by a militant Islam." Furthermore, Levine correctly concludes that realization of these factors has " undoubtedly intensified the apprehensiveness of Ethiopia’s leaders. . . ." 1

In the first place, conflicts have, at times, arisen between individual priests or Church leaders and Christian missionaries. The accusation by mission institutions that the Church has sometimes persecuted them or their Ethiopian converts is often based on misunderstandings that developed between them and individual priests or Churchmen. The Ethiopian Church has never systematically organized its forces (and perhaps never needed to do so) to persecute another religious group.

In the second place, we know from history about several periods of warfare between the Christian and the non-Christian states of the Ethiopian Empire. Such wars between Christian and Moslem or Falasha (Jewish) states were primarily political rather than religious. This is not to minimize the significance of the part played by the Church hierarchy in political matters, for in Ethiopian history one cannot so easily distinguish politics from religion. As far as one can judge, however, the actual hostilities rarely originated from basic issues of doctrine or faith as due to the refusal of the non-Christian states to pay homage to the central predominately-Christian government; they often involved questions of " border " conflicts, trade transactions, and such matters. Generally, the Ethiopian clergy have been exempt from military service though often they accompany the fighting army.

Ethiopia is almost totally surrounded by Islamic sovereign states to the north, the east and the west. In the country itself, the people who inhabit the Eritrean lowlands near the Red Sea Coast and Harar Province, as well as a large block of people living mainly in the Wollo, Arusi, and Kaffa provinces in the highlands, comprise a significant Moslem group. In general, the highland Moslems, referred to as Jabarti, are of the same racial stock as all Ethiopians, except for colonies of Yemenite Arabs who are socially independent, though not psychologically alien. Most of the Moslems of Ethiopia are traders and merchants, but there are a good many artisans and peasants. 2

  Because of Arabia’s near to the Horn, Islam arrived in Ethiopia in the lifetime of its founder. Some scholars believe that the development of Islam was influenced by this early contact with Ethiopia and Ethiopian Christianity. When his disciples were being persecuted by the Quaraish in Mecca, Mohammed instructed them: " If you go to Abyssinia, you will find a king under whom none are persecuted. … It is a land of righteousness where God will give you relief from what you are suffering." 3 So in 615, the fifth year of Mohammed’s call, refugees crossed the Red Sea and made an emigration (known by Moslem writers as the first hajira) to Ethiopia. 4 Though the Quraish demanded their return, the King of Ethiopia, the Najashi, gave refuge to the exiled disciples, especially upon their demonstration of the proximity of their faith to Christianity. The noted Islamic scholar, Sir William Muir, says that, " If an Arab asylum had not at last offered itself at Medina, the prophet might haply himself have emigrated to Abyssinia, and Mohammedanism dwindled, like Mon-tanism, into an ephemeral Christian heresy." 5 It is thought that Mohammed who regarded Ethiopia with considerable respect, is said to have taught, " Leave the Abyssinians in peace so long as they do not take the offensive." 6 No jihad was directed against Ethiopia in the great days of the initial impulse when Islam spread over country after country.

Later developments, however, had different repercussions, and Islam spread into Ethiopia by jihad as well as through migration. The first reported military expedition against Ethiopia took place in 640, when the Arab fleet suffered so disastrously that they would not dare try another invasion. 7 But more than half a century later, the Arabs occupied the Dahak archipelago, which lies opposite the Ethiopian port of Massawa and established " the first bridgehead which was to lead to the occupation of other coastal bases and the gradual penetration of Islam into East Africa." 8 As a result of general Arab conquests and the gradual rise of Islam on the coastal areas of Ethiopia as well as of the expansion of nomadic people called the Beja into the northern part of the country, the Christian Empire of Ethiopia fell into complete isolation. Edward Gibbon wrote: " Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Aethio-pians (sic) slept near a thousand years forgetful of the world, by which they were forgotten." 9 Henceforth, Ethiopia’s only contact with other Christians was with the Coptic Church in Egypt and to a limited degree with the Christian community of Jerusalem. Axum, the great city of Ethiopia which thrived on its control of the Red Sea trade routes, entered a gradual decline both economically and culturally; the ruins of great temples and palaces points to the greatness of its past before 650 A.D. The history of Ethiopia from about 650 to about 1270 generally, but from c. 650 to c. 950 particularly, crucial for the understanding of Ethiopian history as well as of Christian-Islamic relations, is shrouded in obscurity due to lack of sources, either foreign or native. But every evidence points to the fact that during this period of internal reorganization Islam made considerable progress in Ethiopia (as in most of Coastal East Africa) in such regions as Ifat, Adal, Fatagar, Dawaro, Bali, and other areas in eastern and central Ethiopia. The subjects of these provinces often rebelled against the emperor. 10 Islam also succeeded in making converts among the Bejas in the North and among the Afar and the Somali in the East. 11

The Christian government of Ethiopia remained tolerant as long as the Moslems paid taxes and as long as the surrounding states did not enter into open conflict with her. But with the rise of the Solomonic Dynasty in 1270, it soon developed a reaction against the first period of Moslem expansion; for at this time the expansion of Islam was becoming more menacing and the need to check this expansion, especially that of the Sultanate of Ifat over the region of Shoa, was becoming more evident. Here begins the long struggle within the Christian Ethiopian Kingdom and the Moslem states.

As said earlier, and as some scholars have observed quite well, the battles that ensued did not constitute a " war of religion, but a struggle for political predomi-ance. . . ," 12 To be sure, Christian missionary work was heightened, particularly under the leadership of Takla-Haymanot, church reform also began to take place. It must be noted, however, that these missionary activities and reforms were part of the political reformation and reorientation of the New Dynasty, not a reaction against Islam. Among his first acts as ruler, Yekuno Amlak, the founder of the Solomonic Dynasty, took measures to check the South Arabian missionary expansion through Ifat into Shoa. The Alexandrian Patriarchate, which had been co-operating with the Moslem rulers of Egypt at the same time, refused to send an Abuna to Ethiopia. 13 But Ethiopian campaigns against the South Arabian Moslem traders continued and the Adal (Zeila) collaborators were successfully checked. Relations with Egypt were later restored under Yagbe’a Sion (1285-1294), and Arab merchants were allowed into Ethiopia in return for Egyptian permission to allow Ethiopia to re-acquire its rights in Jerusalem and to have a new Abuna.

In 1298, an Arab Moslem sheik, Mohammed Abu-Abd Allah, believed to be acting under angelic revelation, determined to conquer Ethiopia. His attempt failed as Ethiopian Moslems did not collaborate, and Ethiopia strengthened her hold on all her provinces. Finally, although South Arabian military ventures continued to fail, Ethiopia’s steady tolerance left room for a sufficient advancement of Islam in the country. It can be said that, in general, Islamic religious expansion thrived more on Ethiopian non-reaction or toleration than on military initiative and success.

The campaign to counteract Islamic political expansion initiated by the Solomonic House was greatly intensified during the reign of Amda-Sion I (1314-1344). Amda-Sion successfully checked the expansion of Islam, subjugating the now rebelling, predominantly Moslem states of Ifat and Adal. 14 He was so successful in his campaigns that he demanded, in 1321, that Egypt refrain from persecuting the Copts and restore their churches; if Egypt did not heed his warning, Amda-Sion threatened that he would take reciprocal action against Arab merchants living in Ethiopia and, in addition, would divert the course of the Nile to starve the Egyptians. Egyptian indifference and continued uprisings in 1328 in Ifat and Fatagar induced Amda-Sion to overwhelm Moslem outposts in Eastern Ethiopia; he subsequently appointed Sultan Sabre-ad-Din, brother of the Sultan, who was the leader of the rebellion, as chief of the combined vassal state of Ifat and Fatagar.

  But Sabre-ad-Din himself rebelled against the king after having gathered the support of the other predominantly Moslem provinces of Hadya and Dawaro. Furthermore, he sought to stir up the Agaos and turn the king’s attention to them. Amda-Sion, however, a great military man, intercepted Sabre-ad-Din and subjugated all the rebellious provinces. He then appointed Jamal ad-Din, another brother of Sabre-ad-Din, as governor of the combined provinces. Ifat had initially Egyptian support, but her final appeal to the Sultan of Egypt accomplished little, resulting merely in a supplicatory letter to Amda-Sion from the Patriarch of Alexandria.

Not taking into account the experiences of his brothers and predecessors, Jamal ad-Din himself rebelled, this time relying on the help of Egyptian mercenaries and the forces of the two new provinces of Adal and Mora. But Amda-Sion continued to triumph, extending his power over all the Ethiopian states and consolidating Dawaro, Ifat, Bali, Hayda, and all of the other predominantly Moslem states under his rule.

Amda-Sion is glorified in song and prose as having accomplished all his deeds through the power of God. His victories earned a new prestige for the Ethiopian Church and established a new direction in Christian-Moslem relations in the Middle East. Ethiopia even assumed the role of the protectorship of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. Thus, in 1352, Sayfa Arad (1344-1372), Amda-Sion’s successor, intervened strongly against the persecution of Egyptian Christians by Amir Shaikun and Sultan al-Malik as Salih.
15 On the other hand, Egypt turned to the Coptic Patriarch in order to plead with the Ethiopian king to save the Egyptian merchants who were being persecuted.

Ethiopia’s relaxation of control over Ifat brought another period of revolt in 1376. But under Emperor Dawit (1382-1411), the hostilities which had recommenced were again suppressed. The last official leader of Ifat, Sa’ad ad Din II, was killed in 1415 by Emperor Yishaq on the island of Zaila, then occupied by Ethiopia. Henceforth Ifat was erased from history, and the struggle between the Christian and Moslem states of Ethiopia momentarily subsided until the Ottoman Turks succeeded in inciting the governors of Adal, who had by now gained new energy, bringing this time a brief Moslem triumph in Ethiopia.

At the close of the first period of hostilities, Ethiopia’s relations with both Egypt and Turkey actually became friendlier. Under Emperor Zara Ya’acob (1434-1468), Ethiopia continued a period of more or less peaceful reconstruction, a new era of art, literature and architecture. Zara Ya’acob also expanded Dawit’s policies of establishing relations with world Christianity and reforming the Ethiopian Church. During this relatively peaceful time, the second period of Moslem expansion in Ethiopia also began with the restrengthening of the eastern part of the province of Adal. The partial impetus given to the expansion of Islam in Ethiopia during the first period came primarily from Arabia, then from Egypt; during the second period, it came first from Egypt, and then from the Ottoman Empire, It meant that Ethiopia had to contend eventually with the greatest military power in the world at that time – the United Islamic Empire under the Ottoman Turks, who controlled the Red Sea and the gateway to Ethiopia. Like the first, the second confrontation was also brought about not necessarily by the result of a programme of expansion and consolidation of Ethiopian Islam and a Christian counteraction, but it was primarily a clash between an expansionist foreign power which happened to be Islamic and the Ethiopian government which happened to be Christian; it was thus similarly political in nature.

As has been indicated, the Christian rulers of Ethiopia, perhaps because of their self-confidence or perhaps for reasons of tolerance, left the Moslem provinces to govern themselves always, even after difficult conquests. Moreover, there were few pressures, if any, from evangelistic efforts, and the Church did not undertake a campaign of systematic conversion. Not only this, but according to reports by Portuguese travellers in Ethiopia during the days of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Moslems were allowed to live in their own villages even in the midst of Christian areas. 16 The Ottoman Turks took into account all these advantages to strengthen their position. Moreover, the proximity of Adal, a predominantly Islamic Ethiopian province, to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean gave them some fair opportunities for contact with an Ethiopian province.

  The Ottoman Turks gradually strengthened their position among the Afar (Dankali) and the Somali, but their stronghold was soon to become the Sultanate of Adal in the region of Harar. Here, momentum was gathered that was soon to develop into a real jihad. As Trimingham indicates, this was characterized in the titles of the two famous leaders of Adal whom the Turks specially befriended; Mahfuz and Ahamed ben Ibrahim, who were given the religious title imam, instead of the feudal title of amir. " The invisible meanings which lay behind . . . now struck a responsive spark in the hearts of the populace and kindled fire to emulate the swift conquests of early Islam." With Ottoman encouragement, Adal first tested its power by significant victories over two military units sent in 1473 and 1474 by Emperor Baeda Mariam (1468-1478), whose only success was not against the Moslems, but against the Falashas. Though this marked a turning point in Ethiopian military supremacy, it does not appear that Ethiopia took it seriously. One of Baeda Mariam’s wives, Empress Eleni, the converted daughter of a Moslem ruler of Dawaro, Al Jarad Abun, was the only one who sensed the dangers that were coming to a head. This is no contradiction, but a proof that Ethiopian Moslems, like their Christian compatriots, were equally alarmed at the growing world power of the Ottoman Turks, whom they considered dangerous for their sovereignty. When, however, at last her friends failed her, she had no choice but to turn to Europe and to make an alliance with Portugal. 17 During the reign of Emperor Naod (1494-1508), a sagacious and firm ruler who followed the cautious policy of the Empress Eleni, the leaders of Adal-who then had made alliance with the Turks -pursued peace with the Christian government of Ethiopia.

But Lebna Dengel (1508-1540) soon assumed the reins of government when the regent Empress Eleni retired. Though at first Lebna Dengel followed her advice, he soon began to follow a course of his own. In opposition to her plans, he turned down the Portuguese offer of general military alliance and occupation of Zeila on Ethiopia’s behalf. His rule was climaxed by the events of the Ethiopian Christian-Moslem struggle: the cataclysmic conquest which brought socio-political and ecclesiastical changes, and the virtual subjugation of Ethiopia to Moslem leadership.

Much has been written about this period of Ethiopia’s control by the Moslem forces under the able leadership of Amir Ahmed ben Ibrahim, nicknamed Grail, the left-handed. It would be a mistake to attribute weakness to Lebna Dengel. In fact, it was Lebna Dengel who, in 1516, routed out the Ottoman forces under the famous Adalite ruler, Amir Mahfuz, Governor of Zeila. When Mahfuz himself was slain and Zeila burned, Lebna Dengel got a hero’s welcome, and it was thought by the Christians of Ethiopia that Ottoman expansion in imperialism was forever stopped.

Almost a decade later, however, the Ottomans renewed their efforts by giving spiritual and material support to the militant and effective commander, Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim (1506-1543), who began to consolidate power by conquering the Afar and Somalis utilizing his strong position in Adal. Initially his limited objectives of raids and incursions brought success. In 1529, in Shimbra Kurie, he won a major victory over Lebna Dengel. Within a period of five years, infused with a spirit of a holy war, he overran Shoa and Dawaro first, and, eventually Bali, Hayda, Begemeder, and Lasta (Wallo), and reached Tigrai in 1534. Highland Ethiopia had never seen such holocaust, such misery, murder, ruin, devastation; much precious literature was lost, and many famed churches superlatively praised by Portuguese writers of earlier days were burned. 19 For the next six years, the Emperor fled from one mountain top to another, seeking refuge. At last, he gave up and as a matter of expediency turned his last hope to Europe to enlist Portuguese aid even if that meant allowing other foreigners who may also be a threat to Ethiopian Sovereignty, into the country.

He, therefore, dispatched the Ethiopian envoy, Zagazab, and a certain Joao Bermudes, whom he had detained from an earlier Portuguese expedition, to summon help. But, for all practical purposes, it was too late; the country had been overrun, one of his sons had been killed, one had been captured, and in 1540 before any help could come Lebna Dengel died at the age of forty-four. However, he did not die with despair, for he trusted his courageous wife, Queen Sabla-Wangel, and his eighteen-year-old son, Glawedewos, whom he designated to succeed him.

Portuguese help at last arrived in 1541. From the first encounter with Ahmed Gran in 1542, the Portuguese artillery proved a strong adversary. The Portuguese were repulsed, however, by Turkish harquebuses: on August 28, 1542, the Portuguese were vanquished by a superior number of fire arms, but their valiant leader Dom Christavao da Gama, brother of Vasco da Gama, did Glawedewos a great service by weakening Ahmed’s army.

In November, 1543, the Emperor with 500 horsemen and 8,000 footmen had begun to win victories over several of Gran’s military units; consequently he joined forces with the Empress, who had a force of 120 Portuguese soldiers stationed in Southern Tigre. At last, on the decisive day, at a place called Waina Dega they met face to face with Gran’s force of 1,300 cavalry, 14,000 infantry, and 200 Turks; and won a victorious, final battle. Gran himself was struck down by a shot from a Portuguese musket; of his entire army, only his wife Del Wambara and a few Turks managed to reach Adal; and his son Mohammed was taken prisoner. So ended the fifteen dramatic years of Ottoman-Moslem ascendancy in Ethiopia. 20

The effect of the Islamic conquest of Ethiopia was profound. Countless people were forced to convert to Islam; the bonds of allegiance to the monarchy were weakened; and many great treasures of the Church were lost for ever. The effect on the Moslems was as important: Moslem states were totally impoverished and internally deteriorated.

The king and the Church, despite all their losses, never submitted to the conquerors, nor betrayed their religion, and, consequently, this factor contributed to the partial reconstruction of the country. To be sure, military movements somewhat occasionally revived in the East and the North under the successors of Gran and the Ottomans; but, the Empire continued to hold onto its own until the time of Emperor Sarsa-Dengel (1563-1596), who ended the existence of the most powerful military state in the horn of Africa and eliminated the Ottoman threat in 1578. Sarsa Dengel died in peace, but the devastation Ethiopia had experienced became a cause for new threats of internal disintegration and feudalism.

The third stage of Christian-Moslem relations in Ethiopia was not as militarily dominated as the first and second. It opened with the breaking of Ethio-Portuguese relations and the peaceful expansion of Islam during the rule of the Ethiopian Masafent (1769-1855), a period of internal disintegration and rule by regional chieftain kings. During the period of internal religious confusion, when the attention of the Ethiopian Church was focused on what it considered the Roman Catholic threat, Islamic religious mission took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the friendly Emperor Fasilides (1532-1567) and his programme of Christian-Moslem alliance against the Portuguese. Most Ethiopians – Christian and Moslem alike – had been opposed to domination by a foreign Moslem power; they reacted similarly when a foreign Christian power attempted to do the same thing. However, Yohannes I (1667-1682), Fasilides’ successor, became aware of the advances Islam was trying to make under this advantageous condition and made new laws to keep the Moslems in separate villages hoping to curb their progress.

When the central monarchy collapsed, and Ethiopia was controlled, during the period known as Zemena Mesafint (1769-1855), by feudal kings with regional sovereignty, Islam took advantage of the ebbing morale and morals of the Church and again began to expand in Ethiopia, particularly among the highland Christians. Though this expansion was first enhanced by commerce, it was equally furthered by the Egyptian activities and pressure on the borders of Ethiopia during the time of Pasha Muhammed Ali (1805-1848) who conquered the Sudan and most of the Red Sea literally & proceeded with his aggressive designs against Ethiopia. He would have brought a new era of devastation to Ethiopia, were it not for the fact that his imperialistic ambitions were neutralized by a competition with European imperialism.

  Ethiopia was eventually re-united, in part because of continuing external threats, especially that of Egypt. A valiant soldier named Kassa proved a successful fighter in thwarting all attempted Egyptian raids, causing Egypt to abandon its plans. 21 The triumph of Kassa and his eventual anointing as Emperor Theodore II (1855-1868) were part of a charismatic or messianic self-consciousness that an old prophecy had come true in him that a king of that name would appear to destroy Islam and reconquer Jerusalem. His two chief goals were to unify Ethiopia and to convert the Moslems to Christianity. Theodore opened a new era in Ethiopian history, and in his time Egyptian pressure temporarily ceased.

Egypt renewed its attempts to conquer Ethiopia in 1872, four years after Theodore’s battlefield suicide. Egyptian expeditions in 1875 and 1876 as well as those of the Dervishes of the Sudan in 1887-88 in the reign of the valiant Emperor John (1872-1889), however, resulted in Egyptian defeat which contributed significantly to her ouster from all the East Africa.

John, like Theodore before him, was a religious militant who would have liked to see the conversion all Moslems and Jews, African Monotheists and European Christians to the Ethiopian Orthodox faith; and he was specially anxious to re-Christianize the Wallo province where, to some extent, Moslems were ordered to be baptized and to build churches in their towns. It is thought that more than a million Moslems and African Monotheists became Christians; it is not known to what extent there took place genuine conversion and religious feeling of any depth. It is significant that even John who had so much trouble with the neighbouring Moslem States, remained within the sphere of the traditional Ethiopian norm of tolerance. About the latter, Munzin-ger wrote in 1867: " Abyssinia is generally a country of tolerance: Christians of all confessions, Moslems, Jews, pagans living very peacefully together and can also make proselytes as they wish . . ." 22

Emperor Menelik (1889-1913) continued the re-consolidation of the work of Emperors Theodore and John, and succeeded in re-unifying Ethiopia. Though not fully substantiated, according to tradition, his grandson and successor, Lij Iyasu (1913-1917), surprised the Church by embracing Islam altogether, the Church reacted by excommunicating him and replacing him with Menelik’s daughter, Empress Zewditu (1916-1930). The present government gives tacit recognition to Islam and in its revised constitution of 1955 stipulates freedom of confession for all religions. The conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia and the unrest in Eritrea, which seem to have religious overtones, are basically political. This is expressed in an Ethiopian government publication containing the testimonies of Ethiopian Moslems: " Although religious tolerance is a recognized attitude in Ethiopia, certain alien interests have recently conducted false campaigns based on religion against Ethiopia for the purpose of advancing their convert political aims." 23 The Sixth Moslem World Congress, which met in Mogadishu in December, 1964, and the Islamic Congress, which met in Mecca in March of 1965, have both claimed that religious intolerance exists in Ethiopia and that Moslems are denied social justice. At the same time these congresses passed resolutions supporting the " lawful rights of the Somalis. . ." as well as other resolutions which seek " to give the Somali people and the ‘ occupied parts ‘ the rights of self-determination …" Ethiopia quite justly submitted a strong complaint that what was discussed at this religious congress was not a religious but a political issue. Ethiopia further contended that religious tolerance is part of its tradition, law, and constitution. According to almost daily reports in the Ethiopian Herald during late 1967, Ethiopia claimed to have uncovered sources that prove valid its accusation that certain Moslem countries, especially Syria, have expansionist intentions in Northern Ethiopia. 24

As can be observed from the preceding brief history of Christian-Moslem relations in Ethiopia, it must be emphasized that religious persecution has had very little to do with the history and tradition of the Ethiopian Church. Ethiopia’s internal conflicts involving its Moslem population have often been rooted in foreign instigation: at first that of Arabia and Egypt, then of Turkey, and in recent times, by Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. Islamic expansion in Ethiopia by means of Arab traders and artisans proceeded peacefully for a long time until the revolt of Ifat was followed by conflict. That revolt, as Trimingham correctly analyzes, was not fundamentally religious (though religion was used to rally the forces) but political. After Ethiopia’s proof of supremacy, the Moslems were allowed to live and grow freely, Then hostilities resumed with the ambitious conquests of the Ottoman Turks who won over Imam Ahmed Gran, who re-inflamed warfare in Ethiopia; this also was political rather than religious. Again, as soon as attempts to conquer all Ethiopia by foreign Moslem powers failed, the native people of Islamic faith continued to live and proselytize in freedom. Islam in the last period of expansion beginning in the seventeenth century, thrived, in particular, on the slave trade. 26 One cannot think of any other country with a state religion of Christianity besides Ethiopia in which a large Moslem minority has lived along with Christians. In this respect, Ethiopia offers an amazing opportunity for the study of religious tolerance in general and of Christian-Moslem relations in particular. Trimingham says that Islam in East Africa " would have no history without Abyssinia," 27

What is amazing is of course that the Ethiopian Church survived altogether. " One of the social curiosities of a latter-day Great Society," Arnold Toynbee reflects, " (is) the survival of her (Ethiopia’s) political independence in the midst of an Africa under European dominion; the survival of Monophysite (sic) Christianity in the borderland between Islam and paganism . . ," 28 Islam in Ethiopia will continue to flourish as long as foreign pressure and intrusion remains minimal. The Christians and Moslems of Ethiopia equally consider themselves citizens of Ethiopia first; they feel no allegiance to other nationals of their respective confessions. In other words, Ethiopian Moslems and Christians have that common feeling of national spirit that transcends race and religion. " The survival of Abyssinia was due to these two factors," says Trimingham, " the first of them, the national spirit based upon legendary foundation and the common faith, and the second, physical impregnability/’ 29 It would be a mistake to think, as perhaps does Trimingham himself, that " common faith " and " national spirit " are possessions of one or another group – they are the common possessions of all Ethiopians regardless of confessions. It seems that this factor will determine the future course of relations between Ethiopian Christians and Moslems.

Just as the Ethiopian Church’s reaction toward Islam involved political issues, such also was the case which determined its attitude towards other Christian groups. In both cases it was a reaction against religious conversion and loss of national identity: in the first case conversion by foreign military forces; in the second, conversion by foreign missionary activity. Just as the impulse against Islam was based on the desire of the Ethiopians to defend themselves against domination by Middle Eastern Moslem nations, so that against other Christian groups was rooted in Ethiopia’s determination to keep its independence against European Christian power encroaching on the whole of Africa.

The Ethiopian Church’s attitude towards other Christian groups was in the initial stages very amicable. Ethiopia not only welcomed early Syrian Christian missionaries but even made some of them national saints. It not only established relations with the Coptic Church in Egypt but even allowed a foreigner and a Copt to be the country’s chief spiritual leader throughout a long part of its history. At a time when Byzantine emperors were persecuting other* Christian minorities of Monophysite beliefs, they made an exception and made friendly relations with Ethiopia because Ethiopia reciprocated this friendship by co-operating with them in supporting the Christians of South Arabia. 30 Ethiopia took the initiative through its church in Jerusalem in establishing contact with Roman Catholicism in the fourteenth century, and it voluntarily sent observers to the Council of Florence. In more recent times, Ethiopia has co-operated with foreign mission organizations in the translation of religious scriptures.

But as alluded to above the history of Ethiopian Church and its relations with other Christian groups was not without its bitter moments, at times due to the extravagance and self-confidence of the missionaries who wanted to convert the Ethiopians en masse. Such was the case of the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionaries, or of those who worked as intelligence agents for foreign domination, as the recent history of the missionary Abba Masias in Northern Ethiopia proved. In this light one can understand why many Ethiopians grew suspicious of foreigners. It was the cautious Emperor Theodore who in offering missionaries freedom of action in his Empire nonetheless instructed them to proceed: "on the condition that my subjects do not say ‘ I am French because I am a Catholic ‘ or ‘ I am British because I am a Protestant." 31 The conduct of the missionaries who did not heed his message proved his fears justified when he was finally forced to change his mind and brand foreigners perceptively as " First the missionary, then the consul, then the soldier." 32 Trimingham quotes Emperor Haile Selassie, who wrote in 1926 to the League of Nations: "Throughout their history, they (the Ethiopians) have seldom met with foreigners who do not desire to possess themselves of Abyssinian territory and to destroy their independence . . . For this reason prudence is needed when we have to convince our people that foreigners . . . are generally innocent of concealed political aim." History attests to the accuracy of this statement both as seen above in the instance of foreign Moslem agents and, as we shall see below, in the case of foreign Christian missionaries.

We have alluded in several places to the Ethiopian Church’s relations with the Coptic Church, the single foreign church with which it has been very closely associated. In general, the relationship has been a happy one, primarily because it was rooted on ancient sentiment and on the ordination of Abba Salama by Athana-sius (325), as well as on close confessional ties. The insignificance of the power of the Abuna, who as said elsewhere, was a Copt, as well as the weakness of the Coptic Church itself, helped relax Ethiopia’s fears of unprecedented foreign intrusion: once the Abuna entered Ethiopia, he was a captive and never left the country. (As pointed out elsewhere, Ethio-Coptic relations were defined by a forged decree of the Council of Nicea, according to which Ethiopia constituted a single bishopric of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.)

But Ethiopian relations with the Copts were not without their hardships. Sometimes great inconvenience was created when the bishops sided with the Moslem state of Egypt; for example, Abba Sawiros (c. 1280) made agreements with the wazir of Egypt to encourage the propagation of Islam during his term in Ethiopia. 33 The Church checked him in time when he was caught building more mosques than churches. In recent times, Abuna Cyril was said to have co-operated with the Italians in 1936 during their occupation of Ethiopia. But by and large, Ethiopia had had very little to fear from the Coptic A bunas whose power was controlled at all times.

Ethiopian Church relations with Eastern Orthodox church groups have been minimal, and even in modern times there seems to be very little contact. In the nineteenth century the Russian Orthodox Church wanted to bridge Ethio-Russian relations, but Ethiopia’s cautious attitude kept communications at a low ebb. The Greek Orthodox Church, which considers Monophysites heretical, had established friendly relations in modern times and trained in its seminaries, especially in Istanbul (Constantinople), many Ethiopian Orthodox Church Students for the Priesthood. Other Monophysite churches like the Armenian (Georgian) Church and the Indian Malabar, have been seeking closer ties, especially in providing staff for the new Trinity Theological Seminary. The first Eastern Orthodox Church general council was held in Ethiopia in 1964. But the Ethiopian Church, more highly semitized than all the denominations of the Eastern Orthodox block and the other Monophysite Churches, seems to keep aloof from significant influences of Orthodox groups. In the future, there may be more contact between the Ethiopian Church and Eastern Orthodox churches but these contacts will remain more official and formal than any closer associations in the past.

It can be regarded that the history of Western Christian missions in Ethiopia began in the early fourteenth century. The coming of Catholic missionaries to Ethiopia was given impetus by two forces: the search for the legendary empire of Prester John, whom Europeans believed to have the power to rescue world Christianity in a messianic way from the threat of Islam, and the desire of the Ethiopian Church to establish contacts with world Christianity, especially through its church in Jerusalem and then through the Luso-Ethiopian alliance to fight the Turks.

It is one of the problems of history, however, that this mutual search for alliance and better relations between Ethiopia and Europe, which began to be realized in the fifteenth century, all crumbled in the seventeenth century due to the misguided ambitions of enthusiastic missionaries. A succinct historical outline of this period written by two Ethiopians opens: "Religion brought together Portugal and Ethiopia. Europe hoped to eliminate Islam with the support of the Eastern Christian potentate, Prester John. Boundless enthusiasm and expectations, therefore characterized the early relations between Portugal and Ethiopia. . . Religion also introduced the first discord that led to the final rupture of the relations between the two countries . . . When the Ethiopians discovered that Catholicism meant more than a revision of a few Orthodox doctrines, that it entailed a revolution from deeply embedded customs and ways of life, their reaction was quick and crushing 34 Sometime in the ninth century a certain Jewish writer called Eldad Hadani, alleging to be a member of the legendary ten lost tribes of Israel, propagated a story about the land where powerful Jewish kingdoms had existed. It is believed that a Christian reaction and a counterpart to his story gave rise in Europe to the legend of the land of Prester John, about the middle of the twelfth century. After a long search, 35 sometime in the beginning of the fifteenth century, Ethiopia was identified as that famed Christian land that held the hope of salvation for Europe. The search itself greatly inspired the Portuguese travellers and discoverers of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Ethiopia took no less initiative to establish contact with European Christians. In 1427, Emperor Yishaq (1414-1429) interested in European craftsmen, sent two emissaries to the court of Alfonso of Aragon, an un-defatigable seeker of Prester John; but the messengers unfortunately perished on the way. Alfonso later tried to re-establish contact with Ethiopia in the time of Zara Ya’acob (1434-1468). 36 The head of the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem took the initiative in sending delegates to the Council of Florence in 1439 to see if relations with Rome could be established. But despite the excitement they created, the Ethiopian delegates proved to be reserved and cautious in their dealings with Rome. Some of them who stayed in Europe contributed a great deal to the study of Semitic languages. 37

Once contact between the Ethiopian Church and Christian Portugal was firmly established, the course of their relationship was gradually intensified because of their common interest in checking the progress of the Ottoman Turkey. An Ethiopian ambassador met the Portuguese in Goa in 1512; 38 the Portuguese welcomed this as an opening for military and commercial alliance. The contact was specifically furthered by the ingenious Empress Eleni, widow of Emperor Baeda Mariam (1468-1478), who was regent when young Lebna Dengel took the throne at the age of twelve in 1508. The Ethiopians, who for many centuries had felt that they had a messianic mission to liberate Jerusalem and to free the persecuted Christians of especially Arabia and Egypt (the sultan of Egypt charged an exorbitant tax for the Abuna), were quite well-disposed to co-operate with Catholic Portugal. 39

The initiative later taken by Portugal to co-operate with Ethiopia has been described for us by Francisco Alvares, the chaplain accompanying the Portuguese Embassy to Ethiopia in 1520. At first, Portugal was more interested in military alliance, but Lebna Dengel was desirous of technical and cultural exchange. In his wish to further European technical skill in his country, he was following the interests of Emperor Yishaq, mentioned above. Alvares took advantage of Lebna Dengel’s motivation to open communication between the Emperor and the Pope. Lebna Dengel wrote a letter to Pope Leo X 40 asking for friendship and possible diplomatic relations with the papacy. Alvares and the Ethiopian delegate, Zaga-ZeAb, arrived in Lisbon late in 1526 with the mission. There was much initial enthusiasm in Rome and Portugal, generated by the wrong assumption that Ethiopia was volunteering to welcome Roman Church influence at the expense of Alexandria. Nevertheless, conditions in Europe at the time – the situation in Italy, overrun until 1529 by the contending armies of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France – prohibited immediate Roman response. Even in 1533, when at last Alvares reached Rome and met Pope Clement VII, who also was very interested in the matter, Portugal’s involvement in negotiations on the Inquisition held up further progress. In the meantime, Alvares, who had been neglected in the later proceedings, died around 1536.

Two or three years after Alvares reached Europe, Emperor Lebna Dengel, who for the first time had experienced defeat at the hands of the valiant soldier Gragn Mohammed in 1529, was experiencing the ravaging of his country by the Ottoman Turks. Ethiopia could no longer wait for the return of Alvares and Zaga Ze-ab. A certain John Bermudes, who had come to Ethiopia with Alvares, had remained in the country. Lebna Dengel now urgently dispatched him to Europe asking for immediate Portuguese help against the Moslems. Unfortunately, instead of emphasizing the grave conditions in Ethiopia, Bermudes scandalously sought personal honours in Europe by trying to persuade Pope Paul III to recognize him as Patriarch of Ethiopia. Bermudes failed to fool either the Pope or the king of Portugal, John III, who had received more definite news of the difficulties in Ethiopia and eventually instructed his representatives in Goa to send military aid to the country. The part played by this Portuguese contingent in the Ethiopian wars with Gran Mohammed has been discussed above. 41 The heroic sacrifice of the Portuguese Catholics was fully appreciated by the Ethiopians.

Emperor Glawdewos (1540-59), Lebna Dengel’s son and successor, held in great esteem the 170 or so Portuguese survivors, and made them his trusted advisers and companions. But this amicable relationship between the Catholic soldiers and the Emperor found an obstacle in Bermudes, who had come back to Ethiopia. He pressured the Emperor to be converted to Catholicism and that he Bermudes, be appointed as head of the Ethiopian Church. To support this procedure, he further began to claim that already the king’s father, Lebna Dengel, had submitted to Rome under the auspices of Alvares. Glawdewos who reacted angrily at first wanted to punish Bermudes, but he proceeded with caution in order not to offend the king of Portugal, and until he had ascertained whether Bermudes was an imposter or a real Patriarch. He wrote about the latter matter to the king of Portugal who, misunderstanding the nature of Glawdewos’s letter, responded with a promise that he will send a real Patriarch for Ethiopia. Ethiopia was ready to welcome a Patriarch for the Portuguese Catholics in her territory, but she had no intention indeed to have a Catholic head for her own Church. 42 Meanwhile, the Emperor brought an Abuna from Alexandria and exiled Bermudes. However, most of the Portugese settled in Ethiopia, took Ethiopian wives, and were converted to Ethiopian Christianity.

The exiled Bermudes escaped in 1554 to Goa where he met the Jesuit Joao Nunes Berreto and Andre de Oviedo, who had been appointed as the Patriarch and bishop of Ethiopia, respectively. He reported to them that neither the Emperor nor his people were ready to embrace Catholicism; and he convinced them that only force would make Ethiopia submit to Catholicism. The governor of Goa, however, somewhat reluctant to use force, especially since he could not provide the 500 or 600 well-armed soldiers which Barreto, Oviedo, and the other Jesuit priests had requested.

At last it was decided that the Patriarch Barreto should remain in Goa until the authorization for an escort of 600 men of force was approved by Portugal, and that in the meantime Oviedo and five other Jesuit priests would go to Ethiopia and attempt to convert the Emperor. The latter group was very well received, but Glawdewos wanted friendship, not conversion. Nonetheless, while remaining in the background himself, the Emperor approved of public debates that began to be held between the Jesuit and Ethiopian scholars. The impatient Oviedo, however, issued a manifesto condemning the Ethiopian Church and threatened to bring armed forces. 43 Oviedo’s behaviour recalled the misdeeds of Bermudes, offended the clergy and the nobility, and aroused the indignation of the Ethiopian Church.

Glawdewos was succeeded by his brother, Minas (1559-1563). Though at first Minas was feared to have been won over to Islam during his days of captivity (Minas was captured as a child by Gragn Ahmed and sent to Zebid as a tribute to Suleiman the Magnificent, but was later freed in exchange for Ahmed’s son, who had been captured by the Ethiopians), he proved to be an ardent supporter of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith and a reformer of the traditional system of government. With the co-operation of his mother, Queen Sable-Wangel, he welcomed Catholic friendship but staunchly opposed conversion. Continued self-assertion and imprudent reaction on the part of Oviedo only brought restrictions bordering on persecution; in fact, the privileges and freedom to worship as Catholics allowed to the Portuguese were prohibited to Ethiopians, including native wives of the Portuguese. However, Ethiopians who remembered the tolerant and liberal rule of Gladwedos began to react with uneasiness to the strictness of Minas. A revolt in northern Ethiopia, heartily supported by Oviedo and the Portuguese, ensued. The revolt was crushed, and the Portuguese movements were restricted. The situation became even more complicated for Oviedo and his priests, because the Turks had made communications between Ethiopia and Goa so difficult; so the news that the king of Portugal did not want to use force against another Christian government never reached them. Moreover, the invitation extended to Ethiopia in 1561 to attend the Council of Trent never arrived. It was meanwhile assumed in Europe that Ethiopia’s silence meant compliance with the Jesuit priests and bishops. Besides, Barreto, the Patriarch-designate, died in Goa before even reaching Ethiopia.

When Sarsa Dengel (1563-1596) succeeded his father, Minas, the obstinate Oviedo continued to instigate revolt by organizing dissident members of the militia. Upon learning of his struggles, the Society of Jesus and the Papacy tried to obtain military aid for him, but the rulers of Portugal continued to resist the use of force. 44 So, there was no alternative for the Portuguese Catholics in Ethiopia but to submit to the will of the Ethiopians and to be reconciled to the Church, and, finally Oviedo himself died in 1577 in despair.

The cause of Roman Catholicism did not, however, vanish with the death of Oviedo. In the person of Pero Pais, who came to Ethiopia in 1595 after almost seven years of detention by the Turks, it got a shrewder and more clever spokesman. The reform-minded king, Emperor Zadengel (1603-1605), Sarsa-Dengel’s nephew, invited Pais to teach him about European law and government. Pais’s humility and tact won him favour from the king and the nobility, and he was given permission to teach publicly. His approach was dismetri-cally opposed to that of Oviedo; thus, it was indeed against Pais’s warning that Zadengel first issued a proclamation manifesting his Catholic sympathies by prohibiting the observance of Saturday as the Sabbath. Pais, who has become well-acquainted with public sentiment and was waiting for more Portuguese support before such a proclamation, tried to convince the Emperor to rescind the law, but in vain. His fears came true when the Abuna sided with the revolting nobles who defeated and killed the king.

After two years of unrest Susenyos (1607-1632) gained control of Ethiopia. Though he was very cautious in his movements, Sysenyos was inclined towards Catholicism from the start. Having first proved to be a strong ruler, he had no difficulty winning over the Jesuits. Girma and Merid think that one of the reasons why the emperor liked the Catholics was his ambition to centralize his power: " He came to learn that the Jesuits were in many ways the opposite of the Ethiopian clergy. The former stood for order and hierarchical organization. They were for absolutism in religion as well as in politics. The latter, on the other hand, had a distaste for a centralized authority and rigid subordination." These statements, incidentally, concur with this study’s contention that the Ethiopian Church has always been relatively unburdened with dogma and, therefore, less resistant to change and innovation. At any rate, Susenyos gradually turned to the Jesuits for help and advice and secretly admired Pero Pais. He also encouraged dialogues and debates in open courts between Jesuits and Ethiopian debterras, in which noblemen and learned Ethiopians participated.

Sela Christos, Susenyos’ younger brother, outwitted Pais in logic, but was soon won over by the latter. 45 Sela Christos’ conversion encouraged other prominent young persons to embrace Catholicism. The king himself secretly espoused Catholicism, and, in 1613, he decided to send an ambassador to Pope Paul V explaining the need for military support from Portugal before he would publicly confess his new faith and receive a Roman Patriarch for Ethiopia. 46 But the ambassador was intercepted on the way by Ethiopian Church sympathizers.

Nevertheless, the Emperor, pressured by the new Catholic zealot, Sela Christos, finally decided to issue a proclamation condemning the Ethiopian Church doctrine of Tawahedo (Monophysitism?) [I am not yet certain if " Tawahedo " should really be translated " monophysitism." The emphasis in the concept is not so much on the oneness of the nature of Christ as much as on its being " unified " . . . ] upholding his decree with the death penalty. 47 The Abuna retaliated by excommunicating all Catholics and believers in the doctrine of the two natures. Susenyos rescinded his strong decree and issued an edict of religious freedom. The Abuna took further steps to arouse the public against Pais and to intimidate the emperor. Although the emperor was momentarily tamed, he soon realized, as he had formerly thought, that only force could insure the change of character of the Ethiopian Church.

Encouraged by initial success in 1617, when he successfully crushed the Ethiopian Church leader’s revolt and killed the Abuna, Susenyos issued a proclamation in 1620 condemning the doctrine of the one nature of Christ and the observance of Saturday as Sabbath; and despite continued public agitation, he received the Roman Catholic sacrament from Pais in 1622, pledging loyalty to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. 48 Ethiopia was made a Catholic country by law: besides prohibiting keeping the traditional Sabbath day, circumcision and leverite marriage were forbidden, eating unclean meat (Lev. 11) was prescribed, divorce made illegal, the Gregorian calendar introduced, religious books (especially Haimanot Abaw, Faith of the Fathers) revised, and the Ethiopic liturgy adjusted to the Catholic Mass. More missionaries were brought to Ethiopia after the death of Pais (1622) who was succeeded by the Patriarch Dom Alfonso Mendes, Bishop Dom Apollinar de Almeida, the priest Jeronym Lobo, and others.

Susenyos had won over the nobility. It was the peasants and the common people who became the champions and defenders of the Ethiopian Church, especially since they were the ones who were being robbed of their customs and their land. Beginning in 1624, peasant uprisings and revolts started to break out, and it became impossible to establish central authority. The situation became even more complicated for Emperor Susenyos as the Portuguese refused to understand his predicament and to co-operate with him in making some concessions; thus, contrary to his wish they decided that no Ethiopian priests should officiate at services, until more Catholic priests were ordained. After some fifteen years of total confusion in the country, the peasants’ uprising eventually triumphed when in 1632, the council of the state under Fasilides (1632-1667), son of Susenyos, who in wardly sympathized with his native church, forced the emperor to abdicate. Susenyos withdrew in favour of Fasilides, retracted his Catholicism, and died a crushed man in 1632. The real architect of Catholic progress in Ethiopia, Sela Christos, was imprisoned, and the Catholic patriarch and all Jesuits were expelled from the country.

The history of the Jesuits in Ethiopia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provides a very important background for the understanding of Christianity and society in Ethiopia and the attitude towards Western people, their Christianity and culture. As noted many times elsewhere, the Ethiopian Church is dominated by a tolerant and liberal attitude. To this extent, Ethiopia took the initiative in establishing friendly relations with the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Ethiopia’s tolerance and friendliness were not received with the same degree of openness and acceptance; on the contrary, Ethiopia’s tolerance was abused by over-enthusiastic missionaries laden with dogma alien to the Ethiopian disposition. The Jesuits, when they had the upper hand, displayed lack of wisdom and extreme intolerance in suppressing ancient customs and traditions, desecrating tombs and monasteries (such as those in Debre-Libanos and Abba Gerima), and making force the dictum of their religion. Even after their expulsion from Ethiopia, they did not succeed to get sympathy in Europe; on the contrary, they were accused in their native Portugal (and by the papacy) of pride, cupidity, insolence, and introduction of tyranny and the Inquisition into Ethiopia. 49

Religion in Ethiopia goes beyond beliefs and tenets; it is rooted in customs and ways of life. The goal of the Catholics was to implant a doctrinal point; that of the Chalcedonian formula of the double nature of Christ. In order to accomplish this, they thought they had to uproot ancient Ethiopian practices such as those pertaining to food regulations, marriage customs, and keeping Saturday as the Sabbath. It was when Catholicism tampered with such deep-rooted customs that the populace unleashed its forces of resistance.

Above all, the Ethiopian respects and cherishes the practices of his ancestors, and he would not forsake them in exchange for alien logic, however brilliant. Furthermore, the traditional Ethiopian is convinced more by action than by words or theory. That is why Pero Pais had more success than all the other Jesuits: Pais was not only a man of words, although to be sure, he was a capable orator and logician; he was also a man of deeds whose modesty and skill impressed everyone. He, of all the Jesuits, helped introduce European skills in the arts, crafts, and building; the still extant palace he built in Gorgora on Lake Tana is a lasting monument to his untiring industry. Both his predecessor and his successor, Oviedo and Mendes, were men too deeply looted in dogmatic belief and theory to be able to make any impression on Ethiopia.

When Ethiopia sought an alliance with Portugal, it did so on the assumption that Portugal was a friendly nation. Ethiopia did not expect its faith and tradition to be challenged or insulted by the Portuguese. Furthermore, Ethiopia wanted to forge this alliance to achieve two objectives: (1) to get European skills, and (2) to secure a strong stand against the neighbouring Moslem Empires which threatened the integrity of its borders and harassed its political freedom. Ethiopia was im- pressed not by European beliefs but by Europe’s art and skill. It is interesting to note that some of the enlightened rulers of Ethiopia like Yishaq, Zara Ya’acob, Sarsa-Dengel, and Theodore had complete faith in traditional Ethiopian religion as well as in its learning and literature. These emperors, however, were fascinated by European skill and for that reason sought European friendship. Pais, who brought that skill, lived and died in Ethiopia with great honour and success.

Threatened by the neighbouring empires, Ethiopia furthermore wanted to establish relations with Europe to insure her political integrity and independence. But she had to learn from bitter experience that the Portuguese, whom she had thought to have a common basis of belief, were as dangerous to her political freedom as the Islamic Empires. Not only did the Jesuits try to impose their unwanted beliefs, but they also advocated both the use of force – as did Oviedo in Ethiopia, Mendes in Goa, and Jeronym Lobo in Europe. 50 and the annexation of part of Ethiopia to Portugal. In the latter case, the Portuguese openly claimed land on the basis of a legend that Glawdedos had made an agreement with the Portuguese not only to introduce Catholicism but also to give one-third of his empire to Portugal in return for their aid against Gragn Ahmed. In this Pais was as much to blame as the other Jesuits. 51 This made it difficult for the Ethiopians to trust foreigners, and ironically, after the expulsion of the Portuguese in the time of Emperor Fasilides, to seek more alliances with her former contestants such as the Ottoman Turks. Ethiopian political integrity was part of the national tradition, Ethiopia passionately opposed not so much alien doctrine, as the missionary who became a soldier.

In modern times, it is little wonder that the Ethiopian Church in the light of bitter, historical experiences, was not more opposed to the return of foreign missionaries to Ethiopia. Perhaps this again shows the extent of its patience and tolerance. Yet, unfortunately, the new missionaries who began to flock to Ethiopia during and after the reign of Emperor Theodore (1855-1868), including Protestants this time, did not learn from the experiences of their predecessors. The Roman Catholic mission which steadily built itself up in Northern Ethiopia after 1860 produced men like Massaia (Abba Masias), who were more at the service of the Italian intelligence agency than of the Roman Church, 52 and who created more Ethiopian feeling of mistrust of foreigners. But Ethiopia’s knowledge of Massaia’s activities, as well as Italian Catholic activities in Ethiopia during the occupation (1936-1947), did not deter her from continuing her policy of tolerance after the Liberation. In fact, since 1942, foreign missionaries, most of whom had been expelled by the Italians, began to return en masse to Ethiopia. To the credit of the Ethiopian Church, Catholics have not only regained full autonomy, but when in 1950 the administration of the first Ethiopian College fell into the hands of the Jesuits, very little opposition – and that from rival Protestants – was shown. In 1960, a British Catholic nun won national recognition after having won a prize for her humanitarian activities.

The history of modern missions in Ethiopia opens with the reign of Emperor Theodore. Theodore, due to his interest in European technology, had opened Ethiopia to Europeans, among whom missionaries were prominent. Since then, Ethiopia has seen not only the coming of Protestant denominations from many countries. The first and perhaps the most accomplished Protestant group is represented by the Egangeliska Fosterlands Stiftelsen of Sweden, which began work in Northern Ethiopia in 1866. One of their distinguished missionaries, Carl Sederquist, eventually succeeded in penetrating into the interior in 1905, opening stations in the western provinces, in particular in Wollega. The Evangeliska Fosterlands Stiftelsen (EFS) has been the most successful and, relatively, the most popular missionary organization in Ethiopia. During his visit to Sweden as a regent, the present Emperor is quoted to have said: " The chief reason for my visit is my love for Sweden. Swedish missionaries have performed in my country a great and blessed work. They have founded schools and hospitals, they speak our language, and they, of all missionaries, have best known how to win the affection and trust of my people." 53

Once the EFS had paved a smooth road for Protestant missions, another Swedish mission organization called the Friends of the Bible, the United Presbyterian Church of America, the Sudan Interior Mission (also of America), the Missionsanstalt Hermannsburg of Germany, and the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society of England entered Ethiopia in 1912, 1918, 1927, 1928 and 1934 respectively. Other missionary activities that were begun in Ethiopia before the Italian Occupation included those of the Seventh Day Adventists from the United States, and of the Bible Society from England. It is interesting to note that of all missionary organizations that were operating in Ethiopia when the Italians overran the country, the Italians decided to expel immediately only the EFS. All the others were temporarily allowed to remain, though under restrictions. But gradually most of the missionaries in the country, including the French Catholics (numbering 180) left of their own accord, or they too were eventually expelled. Their mission stations were occupied either by Italian forces or by Italian Catholic organizations. The Italians encouraged the expansion of Islam as a better weapon for dividing Ethiopian loyalty. If Italian Catholic missions collaborated with their government, it is perhaps not because they chose to do so, but because they had no choice.

After the Italian expulsion, missions which had operated in Ethiopia before the Occupation were given immediate permission to resume their work, at first in Addis Ababa. New missions had to wait until 1944, when the government had defined its policies toward missions and published a proclamation of regulations. The proclamation 53 provided regulations emphasizing that missions should concentrate their work in non-Christian areas and among non-Christians, but should do only educational and medical work in Ethiopian Church areas and give only religious instructions " common to all Christian Churches," without aims of proselytizing. The proclamation further outlined the creation of a Committee on Missions, under the presidency of the Minister of Education and including the Ministers of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs. This committee establishes regulations which define the areas as " Open Areas " and " Ethiopian Church. Areas," the former being ones where missionaries may teach without restrictions. The wish of the Ethiopian Church and government is that the loyalty of the people not be divided by the multiplication of Christian denominations and that missions not be used as grounds for alien subversion. Outside of these restrictions, much freedom is left for missionary activities.

In spite of complaints by some proselytized Ethiopian Christians about occasional clashes with local leaders, the formulation of these regulations coupled with the general Ethiopian interest in religion has given many brilliant chapters to the work of Protestant missions in modern times. Trimingham correctly says: " The most important of all the results of the Italian Occupation and the withdrawal of foreign missionaries was that the new Christian communities which had emerged as the result of their work had in some cases achieved truer consciousness as churches in consequence of being left to stand alone. And not only that, they went out (i.e., they took the initiative) to draw others into their fellowship." 54 The work begun by the Swedish mission established roots especially in the Wollega province. 55

After the restoration, the EPS which was allowed to return to Ethiopia has continued to distinguish itself. Many of those Ethiopians, educated by this mission before the war, who survived the Italian massacre for the " crime of being educated " emerged as prominent figures and leaders in the Ethiopian government. In recent times the EFS has succeeded in creating the autonomous Mekane Yesus Ethiopian Evangelical (" Lutheran ") Church of Ethiopia, which has its own national secretariat. Next to the Ethiopian Church, this group forms the largest indigenous national Christian organization in the country, and is presently being led by educated and competent leaders. Their semi-modern seminary is making steady progress. Its example has been followed by the Bethel Evangelical Church of the American United Presbyterian initiation.

It was also due to Swedish work in Ethiopia that the Lutheran World Council decided in 1962 to establish in Ethiopia, with an initial grant of more than five million dollars, its largest global radio station (Radio Voice of the Gospel), primarily directed to African and Asian countries. The negotiations to establish this radio station had to be approved by the Ethiopian Church; the approval came with less opposition than some expected. Now the Ethiopian Church collaborates with the station, using daily about one hour of the programme time (about half of the Amharic religious programme time directed at Ethiopia), The radio has thus become one of the causes for the collaboration of the Ethiopian Church with the Ethiopian Protestant group.

Today new missions have multiplied in Ethiopia. With the freedom their organizations enjoy, Protestant Churches seem to be making steady progress all over the country, but particularly in the South and the West. The main problem of foreign Christian missions is not so much opposition from the national Church, as their own internal weakness, uninhibited enthusiasm not appreciated by Ethiopians, and lack of co-ordination and co-operation among various denominations. An intermission council formed in 1942 has not fully succeeded in bringing the often varying mission groups together, and confusion often arises from rivalries, setting a bad example to Ethiopian adherents. There seems to be no question that the Ethiopian Church will continue to exhibit a detached but friendly attitude toward foreign missions.

The work of Catholic missions has not been discussed at great length in this section. Their work in recent times, especially that of the Capuchin missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century, has been hampered mainly by the obstacles of Italo-Ethiopian relations of the last eighty years. But as this becomes gradually forgotten, they are gaining new status. Roman (Latin) Catholics, according to an estimate in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, number some 63,000, mostly in the former Italian colony of Eritrea, now an Ethiopian province. 56 Catholics of Ethiopian rite are said to number 60,000. According to the same encyclopedia, " the future of Catholicism in Ethiopia is in the formation of strong Catholics in the Ethiopian rite." 57 Seminaries have been established in Asmara and Adigrat in Tigre Province, primarily to develop this rite. In Rome, in what is known as the Collegio Etiopici in the restored Church of St. Stephen in the Vatican, Capuchin Catholics form diocesan priests of the Ethiopian rite; several Ethiopians have been trained in this college. In 1961, Addis Ababa was established as a metropolitan see, Asmara (with a titular bishop residing in Rome, where he ordains seminarians of Ethiopian rite) and Adigrat as Suffragan sees; the rest of Ethiopia has the juridical status of a mission divided into Apostolic Vicariates: Harrar, Jimma, and Asmara. The Catholic policy is to assign the territory of the missions in the more densely non-Christian areas to the Latin rite; and in the more densely Ethiopian Church areas, the Ethiopian rite is followed.

Several allusions have already been made to the question of the relation of the Ethiopian Church to foreign Christian missions and other Christian groups. Basically the attitude and disposition of the Ethiopian Church are friendly towards other groups, provided that these groups do not work against national unity and loyalty or Ethiopian political sovereignty and as long as they work outside the main strongholds of Orthodox Christianity. If foreign missions continue their work, avoiding the " holier than thou " attitude and refraining from purposely proselytizing Ethiopian Christians, they will win not only the understanding and sympathy of the people but also of the Church. The Ethiopian Church, gradually but surely, is moving in the direction of innovation, and as maturer mission groups become more sympathetic, it is logical to assume that a closer association will be reached. Canon O’Hanlon of England writes: " The opinion of the majority of missionaries prior to the Italian invasion was that the Church was too corrupt to merit any serious consideration. Rival churches were therefore formed . . . The Abyssinian Church is not only too powerful to be thus dismissed, but it does not deserve to be so treated. It has within it, especially among the Debterra (sic) or Cantors clan, men who are keen for reform and capable of promoting it. The missionary in his attitude of ‘ holier than thou’ does more harm than he knows/’ 58 These remarks are still valid.

The Ethiopian Church is now also moving in the direction of ecumenism. Since ancient times it has been interested in co-operation with other Christian groups and nations. Perhaps there is not another church in history that, though totally independent, has had almost throughout its history a foreign patriarch more or less as an expression of cordiality to a church which ordained its first Abuna. Ethiopia was one of the first countries to welcome Christian missions from the Mediterranean World and to give them refuge in times of persecution. There is a story that Athanasius himself moved to Ethiopia when he was being persecuted by the Arian king, Constantius. In the sixth century, Ethiopia collaborated with Byzantine Emperors to aid the Christians of South Arabia. In medieval times, it kept in touch with world Christianity through its church in Jerusalem. Later it took the initiative in opening relations with European Christianity. But its occasionally unfortunate experiences forced it to shut its doors to the world in the 17th century. After two centuries of isolation, Emperor Theodore renewed contact with world Christianity by seeking friendship with England. Unfortunately, the British bureaucracy misjudged Theodore’s intentions and treated his offer of friendship with hostility. Today, the Ethiopian Church has become a member of the World Council of Churches (1954) and was represented by observers at the Second Vatican Council (1962-64). It has allowed many of its students to study in non-Monophysite Greek Orthodox seminaries in Europe as well as in Episcopalian and Russian Orthodox seminaries in the United States. Some of the priest-students received direct financial assistance from the World Council of Churches. Last year when the, German Evangelical Lutheran Church donated some two million dollars for the establishment of hospitals under the auspices of the Haile Selassie Foundation, the Ethiopian Church, rather than the Ethiopian Lutheran Church, served as the chief channel. In recent times foreigners of other faiths have been very welcome to visit Ethiopian churches, and have been given special privileges to watch services at close hand. Three years ago, at the famous monolithic Church centre in Lalibela, this writer witnessed several foreigners of other faiths being permitted to approach the priests carrying the tabot (the ark of Covenant), a matter strictly forbidden even to Ethiopian Christians. This writer also met a Swiss Protestant minister who was teaching Sunday school classes in the Holy Trinity Church, the largest Ethiopian Church in Addis Ababa. The young clergyman was the grandson of a famous missionary of the nineteenth century, Martin Flad, who was originally a missionary to the Falasha (Jews).

  Throughout history the Ethiopian Church has continually sought to establish contact with other Christian groups. In recent times, however, the dogmas and politics of foreign missions have become obstacles to the furthering of this initiative. Again today the Church is beginning to reopen its channels of communication with other Christian bodies, on the ecumenical level. Ecumenical dialogues are very likely to increase as more and more educated persons take the leadership of the Ethiopian Church. The interests in these dialogues are not superficial; they have deep historical roots. As in the past, the fruitfulness of these encounters will depend not on the attitude of the Ethiopian Church as much as on that of foreign missions, as the representatives of other Christian groups. In Trimingham’s words: " The policy which missions pursue in Ethiopia is of peculiar delicacy in view of the existence of an African State Church deeply rooted in the life of the land. The five years of Italian Occupation are burnt indelibly in the hearts of the people and those in authority are deeply sensitive to anything which affects their independence or hinders the task of building up a true national unity. Ethiopia is one of the few Christian countries where 4 foreign missions’ have established themselves and the sensitive attitude of the Christian Ethiopians needs to be fully sympathized with so that it may be taken into account and not lead to the creation of unnecessary obstacles. In the past this has often not been so, and the failure of so much earnest but misguided endeavour in the nineteenth century has been due to that fact. . . The attitude of (Ethiopia) . . . has been reasonable, consistent, and encouraging . . . The decree (of 1944) seeks to assure full co-operation between government and missions for the welfare of the people. It allows missions to establish and conduct medical and educational work with the so-called ‘ closed ‘ or ‘ Ethiopian Church Areas,’ in which the teaching of Christian principles is not prohibited but encouraged. Only proselytization for a particular church amongst Christian Ethiopians is not allowed. Full freedom from restrictions in teaching and preaching was given in the rest of the country . . ." 59

Originally most missions, with the exception of the Roman Catholics and the Seventh Day Adventists, did not come to proselytize but to reform the Ethiopian Church. Subsequently, they changed their policy. As Trimingham says: ". . . (They) felt as a result of their experiences that the possibility of spiritual renewal and internal reforms within the Ethiopian church was so remote that the Ethiopians should have an alternate community in which to seek new spiritual life." 60 If foreign Christian missions return to their original policy and follow the advice of Josiah Pratt, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in 1829, that the Ethiopian Church possesses the internal potential for reform, if they abandon their relentless efforts to gain converts from among Ethiopian Church members, if they can minimize rivalry and quarrelling among their followers, if they learn to understand and appreciate the Ethiopian ethos and tradition, they can contribute significantly to the educational and medical needs of the country as well as to the ecumenism in which Ethiopia has taken the initiative. Missionaries who have had the patience to understand the Ethiopian Church and who have shown a friendly and non-condescending attitude toward it and toward Ethiopian culture as a whole, have stimulated more interest among the clergy.

The policy of the Ethiopian Church towards adherents to traditional African beliefs has also been determined by her attitude of " live and let live." Though many monks do often travel to remote regions for the purpose of making converts, in general the Ethiopian Church attitude has never been militant or evangelisation oriented. This lack of missionary zeal has contributed to better relations between the Ethiopian Church and her non-Christian fellow Ethiopians. She has often accepted converts who are coming of their own initiatives. According to Church statistics, no less than 200,000 converts came in Southern Ethiopia and were admitted to Church membership since 1942. Religion and nationality are bound together so inextricably that the practices of non-Christian Ethiopians are equally dominated by the many customs and traditions of the Ethiopian Church. This fact may facilitate conversion to Ethiopian Church for many non-Christians who do not in the least regard Christianity as an alien or white man’s religion. But it may not be so easy to conclude as Trimingham predicts that, " that the majority of the pagans (sic) of Ethiopia will in time become nominal members of the national Church." 61

  There is more unity than is generally supposed by foreigners among Ethiopians of Christian and non-Christian convictions. Christians, Jews, Moslems, and " African monotheists " share many religious beliefs and practices of ancient Hamito-Semitic origin, which are fully integrated into the lives of the people: belief in God, religious festivals, and customs such as circumcision. Almost all Ethiopians recognize a supreme deity known by various names in various languages. In fact, without understanding the religious practices of the Jews, the Moslems, " traditionalists " and the Christians synopti-cally, not one of these groups can be fully comprehended. A fine example of Ethiopia’s religious harmony and intergroup tolerance can be seen in the degree to which the Jewish and Christian religions have mutually influenced each other. Not only do the Jews and Christians base much of their religion on the Old Testament, but they share many fundamental customs, to the extent that at times it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other. This becomes clear as one looks at both the religious life of the Ethiopian Jews and at the Jewish practices of the Ethiopian Church itself.

The Jews of Ethiopia are known as Falashas (" migrants ") and are thought to be of very ancient origin. The
Kebre-Negast states that Jews came to Ethiopia in the time of Solomon. However, some believe that Jews came to Ethiopia after the destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. Whichever of these explanations is true, some Jews probably did come to Ethiopia both before and after the Christian era. The historical course of events in the Middle East, the present linguistic situation of Ethiopia, and the existence of Jewish practices in the Ethiopian Church and culture cannot be explained otherwise. 62

Although the Falashas live in separate villages and some of their customs are more strictly Mosaic than those of Ethiopian Christians, they hold the laws of circumcision, " clean and unclean " food, the Sabbath, and many other customs exactly as Ethiopian Christians do. Their annual festivals and practices often correspond to those of the Ethiopian Church, but in general they have more affinity with those of " normative " Judaism. Their religious leaders, their language of prayer, their manner of religious dance, and many of their other practices also have counterparts in the Ethiopian Church. The major distinction between the Falasha and the Christians is that the former do not believe in the Trinity or recognize Jesus as the Messiah. We cannot go deeper into the beliefs, practices, and customs of the Falasha-Jews at this point, but can only consider briefly the relations between Ethiopian Christians and the Falasha-Jews, as well as the degree to which the Ethiopian Church itself has incorporated many Jewish customs. As in the cases of all the other religions, the Ethiopian Church’s attitude towards the Falashas has been determined by political conditions rather than by religious questions. In other words, intolerance or persecution did not exist for religious reasons. The Moslem states of the early fourteenth and sixteenth centuries as well as the Jesuit missionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to dominate Ethiopia by conversion to their respective confessions. But, except for the legend that a tenth century Jewish queen sought to convert Ethiopia to Judaism by force, 63 the Falashas, unlike the other two religious groups, never precipitated a drive for the mass conversion of Ethiopia to their particular religion; nor were the Christians preoccupied with a fear that this would occur. Hence, to an even greater extent than in the case of the two other religious groups, Christian-Jewish (Falasha) relations have been determined by those matters least involving religious issues, in particular, interstate border conflicts.

  Although many support the hypothesis that Jewish settlements existed in Ethiopia in pre-Christian times, we unfortunately have no adequate historical sources to determine its truth. On the basis of one legend, some scholars hold the view that before Christianity entered Ethiopia, half the people in the country were converted to Judaism. However, we cannot establish earlier Christian-Jewish relations in the country before the time of Emperor Kaleb whose campaign against Dhu Nawwas, the Jewish King of South Arabia, about 525 a.d., has been referred to above.

Due to the loss of her coastal area to South Arabian invaders as well to internal weaknesses, the Ethiopian Empire began to decline about the middle of the seventh century(c. 650). Around 950, the country came under the rule of a strong queen, known in Ethiopian tradition as Yodit (or Gudit – Judith) or Isato (" fire "), believed to have been the daughter of Gideon, King of the Jews of Semien in North-west Ethiopia. She was said to rule from a fortress called Ye’ayhud Amba (Jew’s rock or fortress). Though the chronicles of Ethiopia and the records of the Alexandrian Patriarchate depict her as a cruel woman who burnt churches and devastated the country,
64 nonetheless, we must assert that even these negative reports point to the fact that Yodit may have been the first strong ruler, after three hundred years of dormancy, to revive the country by creating a more centralized government further inland, relieving the weakened Axumite rule, and eventually giving rise to the brilliant Zagwe or Agaw Dynasty, most likely a Christianized branch of her line. 65 Perhaps the Solomonic Royal House was created as a reaction to these pro-Judaic rules. According to Ethiopian legend the Zagwes (who probably originated the claim of Judean ties) descended also from King Solomon but through the line of the handmaid of the Queen of Sheba. Though we cannot now validate the historicity of this tradition, it would be difficult to explain many aspects of Ethiopian history, especially the development of the Ethiopic version of the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba without the rise of a strong Judaic influence in Ethiopia in this period. 66

As far as our available sources go, we have no mention of the Falashas by name before the early fourteenth century (in the Chronicles of Emperor Amda Sion); it is very likely, however, that the Jews who were said to take control of Ethiopia, in the tenth century, were the Falashas or their kin. As we have seen, Emperor Amda Sion was occupied in warfare with Egypt and the Islam-ized states of Eastern Ethiopia. When Sabre-ad-Din, Governor of Fatigar, rebelled in the Southeast, the Falashas, who felt menaced by the Christians who had forced some of them to convert, turned their forces in the North-west against Amda Sion, perhaps in willing alliance with the Moslem state of Fatigar. Amda Sion gave orders to Tsaga Kristos, the military governor of the province of Begemeder, to continue the fight in the East, but he himself eventually succeeded in pacifying the Falashas.

The Falasha states continued to keep their limited independence, even providing refuge to dissident Christians. One Christian, a monk called Qozmos (Cozmas), during the reign of Emperor Dawit (1382-1411) was said to have introduced Monasticism among the Falashas after having converted to Judaism. 67 Qosmos was killed in a battle against the Christians. 68 But the Falashas continued to be powerful, and Emperor Yeshaq (1412-29) also had to contend with them.

A distinguished convert to Judaism was Abba Tsega, the son of Emperor Zara Ya’aqob (1423-68). Abba Tsega collaborated with the Falasha, Abba Tsabra, to shape the foundations of Falasha monasticism. 69 On the other hand, both the convert’s father and brother, Emperor Baeda Mariam (1468-1478), campaigned against the Falashas, forcing them to convert and to rebuild the churches which they had destroyed.

Much attention has been given above to the events and the extent of the sixteenth-century war in Ethiopia. Ethiopian chronicles relate that the Falashas also suffered from the Ottoman onslaught until they gave up all resistance and, finding no alternative, submitted to the Ottoman demand to join forces with them. After the recon-quest of Ethiopia was accomplished, the Falashas were brought under Christian rule but retained their own leaders.

In the time of Emperor Minas (1559-1563) and his son, Sarsa Dengel (1563-1596), the Falashas, under their brilliant and capable military leader named Radaii, successfully checked the Christian raiders. 70 According to Ethiopian chronicles, a mysterious monk appeared and told Minas that it was not divinely ordained for him to conquer the Jews. 71 After a long battle with Sarsa Dengel, which proved fatal for many of the Falashas, Sarsa Dengel sought negotiations, and Radaii surrendered. Radaii’s successor, Gweshan, committed suicide on the battlefield and his successor, Gideon, and his followers cut their own throats rather than surrender. It was not until 1594, two years before Sarsa Dengel’s death, that the Falashas were subdued, though only momentarily.

The Falasha state came to an end with the militant reform programme of the Catholic convert, Emperor Susenyos. The earlier Ethiopian emperors had contended with the Falashas primarily over political issues; and even if they at times forced the Falashas to conversion, nevertheless, they made no objection to Falasha practices. Due to the pressure of his Jesuit advisers, Susenyos refused to allow anyone, Christian or Falasha, to observe Saturday as the Sabbath, and suppressed everything that he felt to be a Jewish practice. In this respect, no other Ethiopian emperor can be said to have so zealously tried to root out the Falashas, even to the extent of extermination. At last, after a long series of valiant battles, the Falashas were completely defeated; those who refused to betray their religion either were killed or dispersed. Susenyos succeeded in confiscating the lands of the Falashas and redistributing them to his followers. Fortunately, however, for the Falashas, when he very soon fell out of favour with the Church, he was forced to abdicate his throne before carrying out his final programme of destruction.

  After the settling of religious conflicts in the middle of the seventeenth century, the Falashas regained new autonomy. They had become a dispersed people without land and political significance, but they emerged as a new economic factor in the state; as early as the seventeenth century they were the main weavers and smiths of Ethiopia 72 and also gained reputation as good builders. 73 James Bruce, who, for one reason or another, started with the impression that the Falashas were warrior-like, discovered instead that they were " wholly addicted to agriculture, hewers of wood and carriers of water and are the only potters and masons in Abyssinia." 74 In recent times, Falasha workmen and masons were used by Empress Zawditu (1916-1930) to build other edifices. 85 In the last century, the Falashas held a great appeal to European Christian missionaries. In fact, the first Protestant mission organization in Ethiopia, the London Board of Missions to the Jews, began work among them in 1859. Martin Flad has been alluded to above; his co-worker, a converted German Jew, Henry Aaron Stern, had the unrealistic goal of converting the Falashas in order to use them for " Christianizing " Ethiopia. 76 Their work cannot be said to have gained success. Among the first Ethiopians to study in Europe in the nineteenth century were half a dozen Falasha converts. 77 The French orientalist, Professor Joseph Halevy, became the first Western Jew to reach the Falashas. Though he left some very useful records, the real work of establishing contact between Western Judaism and the Falashas was done by his student, Dr. Jacques Faitlovitch, with the help of the American Pro-Falasha Committee. Faitlovitch first visited Ethiopia in 1904 and remained in close touch with the Falashas until his death. Convinced that they would carry the torch of modernization in Ethiopia, he opened village schools and a seminary in Addis Ababa, and trained several Ethiopians in Europe. Although his prophecy did not come true, eight of his students were among the first European-educated Ethiopians who achieved high positions in government service. The Italians persecuted the Falashas and closed their school in Addis Ababa in 1936.

The general attitude of uneducated Christians toward the Falashas is ambivalent. There are those who hold them with contempt because of their professions of craftsmanship, and with fear because of their supposed sorcery. However, there are others who treat them with awe and respect for their reputed wisdom and holiness. 78 Perhaps nothing can express this double attitude more aptly than the word tabib often attributed to the Falashas. Tabib is, on the one hand, a derogatory term describing a clever and shrewd person such as a smith; on the other hand, it is a term applied to a " wise " man or a " sage."

  As education spreads in Ethiopia, one can only predict that the positive attitude towards the Falashas will develop more. Ethiopia is aware of its need for smiths, potters, weavers, builders, and men skilled in every conceivable craft and industry. With this realization, many Christian youths are being trained to appreciate and to respect handiwork. As this trend takes root, the fear of the Falasha tabib will no doubt diminish and disappear. Furthermore, with their tradition of craftsmanship and with better training, these youths can continue to make a contribution to alleviating the shortage of skilled manpower in Ethiopia.

In 1954, the Jewish Agency Department of Torah Education and Culture in Diaspora reinforced the educational activities begun by Faitlovitch by establishing a Rabbinic Seminary in Asmara and by sending two dozen students to Israel. Thirty-three village schools were eventually opened, and Christianized Falashas were encouraged to return to their original religion. Unfortunately, after two years, all schools except one closed down due to lack of funds. Though an English Jewish organization has given supplementary aid to the remaining classes, enough educational facilities for the Falashas do not exist. In the last year, a new group of American Jews – including some members of the Peace Corps – started collecting fund to support these educational efforts. Since the funds available for education in Ethiopia are so meagre, the strengthening of such private endeavours will not only help the Falashas, but the total effort for Ethiopian educational progress.

The question may be raised here whether the Falashas will want to migrate to Israel. Without more encouragement on the part of Israel or Ethiopia, one cannot envisage mass exodus of the Falashas to Israel. Ethiopia and Israel are building strong ties of friendship. One cannot predict how strongly the relations between the two countries will affect the Falashas.

Biblical Mold of the Ethiopian Society 79

Many aspects of Ethiopian tradition find their counterpart, in one sense or another, in one or another relationship with various elements of Jewish religion. The following summary of the Semitic and Hebraic molding of the Ethiopian culture can throw light on this subject.

As pointed out earlier, western observers have long been amazed by the affinities between the institutions and customs of Ethiopia and those referred to in the Bible. A study of the extent to which the Biblical Hebraic influence has affected Ethiopian culture leads to the conclusion that if there is any country today where Biblical life is the way of the people, it is Ethiopia.

Many Ethiopian customs reflect Biblical ones that are still common among Jews. Probably the most universal one is circumcision. This practice is general in many parts of the world, but in Ethiopia, it has an explicitly Biblical character. When, in the sixteenth century, Jesuit missionaries denounced the Jewish customs of the Ethiopians, Emperor Claudius (1540-1559) wrote in reply that circumcision " is practiced as a respectful remembrance of a ceremony appointed by the God of Abraham." It is significant that of all the people who circumcise their males, only Jews and Ethiopians limit the rite to the eighth day after birth, as decreed in Genesis 17.

Another important set of customs consists of food regulations and dietary laws. Ethiopians recognize that the crucial distinction they make between " clean " and " unclean " foods is Biblically inspired. They obey the food laws of the Pentateuch, strictly following the prescriptions of Leviticus regarding mammals and birds, and even observe the statement in Genesis 32:33 concerning the forbidden sinew. The sanction for these food regulations is explicitly Hebraic. The dietary laws are attended by the following order: " Remember what God has commanded thee by the mouth of Moses." Ethiopia alone among the Christian nations has rejected the traditional doctrine of Pauline Christianity that Biblical law lost its binding force at the coming of Christ. The Hebraic influence on holiday celebrations is perhaps less obvious, but equally important. It is not known exactly when the observance of the Saturday Sabbath was introduced in Ethiopia, but the strictness with which many Ethiopians keep it indicates a Jewish tie. More significant is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year, Masker em 1 (Sept. 11). In Biblical times, the High Priest prepared for Roch Hashana (New Year) by performing a ritual immersion in water, then laying his hands on and slaughtering a bullock. These rituals are reflected in general Ethiopian customs associated with the New Year’s celebrations in the purification bath that takes place in homes early in the morning and the communal animal sacrifice and sharing of a bull or a cow. Finally, the holiday of Fassika (Easter) has definite overtones of the Jewish Pesach, both in its name and in the nature of its observance.

  Ethiopians build their churches with the threefold division which characteristized the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6). The innermost of the three concentric circles is referred to as Kedusta Kedussan, the " Holy of Holies." (c.f. Hebrew Kodesh ha-Kodoshim.) It contains the alter and the Ark, and none but priests and kings are allowed to enter it.

The Ark, called the Tabot, is the most sacred object in the Ethiopian house of worship. Without it, religious service could not be conducted. According to sacred tradition, the original Tablets of Moses, on which God wrote the Ten Commandments at Sinai, were stolen with the Ark of the Covenant by Eleazer (the oldest son of the Jewish High Priest in Solomon’s time) and Menelik (the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba) and brought to Ethiopia. Tradition holds that they remain today in the chapel of the Cathedral of Axum. It is the holiest of all Ethiopian sanctuaries; only one monk regarded to be holy and chosen for life, is allowed to enter it. The Tabot in other churches is taken down from its normal place and carried by two priests accompanied by the rest of the clergy dressed in colourful ceremonial robes and a great procession of marching, singing, and dancing. The musical instruments accompanying the parade are believed to be counterparts of the instruments mentioned in 11 Samuel 6:5 – harps, psaltries, timbrels, sistra, and cymbals. There is a striking resemblance of this ceremony to the scene described in 11 Samuel 6:14-15: "And David danced before the Lord . . . David and all the House of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn." There is also a parallel with the still current Jewish custom of the Hakafot, or procession with the Scrolls of the Law on Simhat Torah.

The liturgy of the Ethiopian service is, of course, largely Biblical. The reading of sacred texts, as in the synagogue, plays a central role. The basic text of the Ethiopian Morning Service is the Book of Psalms, supplemented by a collection of nine odes, all but one coming from the Hebrew Bible. They include the Red Sea Song (Exodus 15), the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2), and the prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2).

In contrast to the Church and its liturgy, Ethiopian society and law reflect Biblical influence not so much in the formal aspects as in the traditional stories and folkways of the people. The outstanding example of this is the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

According to the Kebre-Negast, Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, visited Solomon in Jerusalem and was converted to Judaism (1 Kings 10:1-13). She returned to her country and bore Solomon a son, who was named Menelik, a form possibly derived from the Hebrew term Min-Melech, " from the King " or Ben-Melech, " son of the King." Grown to manhood, Menelik visited Solomon and returned to Ethiopia with the original Ark of the Covenant and the sons of Israel’s highest state officials. He established the Solomonic Dynasty, which was supposedly restored in the year 1270. According to tradition, beginning with Menelik there has been an unbroken line of emperors ruling in Ethiopia claiming descent from Solomon and calling themselves, " Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, " " Elect of God," " King of Kings of Ethiopia," and " Successor to the House of David."

Ethiopian justice contains fine examples of Biblical customs preserved in the folkways of the people. The administration of local justice is the most important part of the legal system. The impromptu court, which meets in the market place or in some outdoor centre, carries the same weight among the people as it did in Israel during the period of the Judges. As mentioned above, two men who have a dispute find a party to act as judge between them; no man may refuse to perform this duty. The judge or dania (related to the Hebrew Dayyan), gathers witnesses, bears the case, and gives his judgement. There are also permanent local danias, usually learned elders of the community. They act as judges and advisers, giving interpretations of the laws in difficult cases. In this way, a body of interpretation accumulates with local variations expounded by the respected elders of the different regions. These become custom, in a manner similar to that of the Old Hebraic Oral Law. The voluntary and spontaneous forms of administering justice have become daily practice, and law is an integral part of the masses, as in Biblical times.

While there is no doubt that virtually every phase of Ethiopian life has been affected by the Biblical-Hebraic tradition, a great deal of doubt exists concerning when and how this influence came to be asserted. Some scholars deny any pre-Christian contact between Jews and Ethiopians sufficient to mould customs. They maintain that what appears Hebraic is no more than the legacy left all Christians. Others note that the practices of the Ethiopian Church are remarkably close to those of the early Jewish Christians. Little is known about the dispersal of their community. The possibility that they may have been the channel through which Biblical-Hebraic culture entered Ethiopia is a fascinating one. A hypothesis supporting this view has been developed by this author. 80

The history of the co-existence of Christians, Moslems, Jews, and animists in Ethiopia has great significance not only for the interpretation of the past but for the present and the future. It would be a gross mistake to regard Ethiopia as an isolationist and expansionist Christian state; for it has always been a poly-cultural and multi-religious society, constantly adjusting to new situations and relationships, and maintaining stability in diversity. Jews, Moslems, and animists have equally played a role in creating the culture of present Ethiopia. Regardless of conflict among groups, this paper has shown the intermingling of peoples and religions, the intermarriage of Christians and Moslem rulers of the country, the Jewish heritage of Ethiopia, and the common elements of all the religions. In the midst of conflict and diversity, Ethiopia has always survived as a unity. Hopefully, the day of the fight for land is over, and the true nature of Ethiopian religious tolerance and co-existence will be seen. Perhaps in our time, too, Ethiopia can continue to be an example of a state in which tolerance and mutual respect among diversified religious groups become normative.

Surely, the new generation of young Ethiopians in the twentieth century will uphold the wisdom of their forefathers maintaining their spirit of people hood and unity in the face of religious and linguistic diversity, and lead Ethiopia to an even higher level of material development and spiritual maturity.


In this brief study concerning the social structure of the Ethiopian Church and its role in a rapidly changing world, I have leaned heavily on the Church’s historical experiences. I have done so specifically because I feel that through description of the past, and projection of present conditions, it is possible to show the lines and dimensions of the changes that have already taken place, as well as those which serve as possible guidelines for future changes.

Since the basis of Ethiopian religion and culture has been and remains Church education, I have begun the discussion with a descriptive and historical study of Ethiopian Church education. Qualitatively if not quantitatively, Ethiopian Church education has just as broad an intellectual basis as the European educational system. Its past contribution to the cultural and intellectual development of Ethiopia is immense; without some understanding of its structure and content, self-understanding for Western-educated Ethiopians would probably be very difficult. Presently the debterras and those church-educated men who have at some time received some modern training are making slow but long-range contributions to modern indigenous literature. In the future, the study of literature in qene, and especially the important but little known Geez, will unquestionably have to find its way into the curriculum of the higher studies of the University. At the same time. Church education will need to change its emphasis on both structure and methodology. There already seems to be, within the Church, interest on experimentation in modernizing Church education and making it relevant to 20th century life. On the higher level this has taken concrete form through the establishment in 1944 of the Theological College and the possibility of sending aspiring students to study in theological schools abroad. Attempts have been made to educate the laity in these reforms by means of the use of the radio and a new translation of the Bible into Amharic, by putting traditional religious books into circulation, and by using the vernacular for the liturgy in many churches. These efforts to give better education to the clergy as well as to educate the laity have met little or no opposition, a sign that the church will be seeking further innovation. At the elementary school level, reform has been slower. For the benefit of both secular and religious schools, a uniform curriculum will eventually have to be drawn up. It is not only essential that all Ethiopian children become literate by the fastest and most modern method but also that they get, at the same time, a good background of their cultural heritage. Regardless of whether Ethiopian secondary school students get a Church or European education, introduction of and more stress on technical and technological and agricultural training will be necessary; not only Church but also government schools must change their emphasis in this direction if the country is to make progress. The Ethiopian Church, with its rich cultural heritage, can and must make a contribution to the development of education.

  This study is followed by a discussion of Church and state relations. Historically and constitutionally, the Church and state have been, and still are, one. The Church has been the effective unifying influence in Ethiopia, transcending the power of local noblemen and provincial chiefs. Therefore, one can regard it as a more powerful structure than the state. Yet, the state has always had jurisdiction over the Church; the powers of the two are interwoven. We have tried to show that if necessary, the Church can exist as a strong independent organization, lacking affiliation with the state. Since its ties with Ethiopian history and culture go so deep, the Church’s authority is not totally derived from a co-operation of the state, but exists in its very nature. Modern reforms seem to be leading the Church toward full autonomy, but the Church will continue to be an integral part of public life. In general, it is a mistake to assume that in the past the Church as-an-institution dominated land tenure or ownership; property attributed to the Church was generally owned by individual priests and not by the Church as-an-institution. Nowadays, this situation is gradually undergoing change, but due to the lack of more substantial information, this writer is not in a position to discuss that subject adequately, except to mention that he is aware of the fact that centralization of Church land tax is of recent development.

In recent times, moreover, internal reform has begun to take place, especially in the structure of Church institutions. The protracted differences with the Coptic Church were resolved when the Coptic Church finally decided to bow before Ethiopian pressures for autonomy. Since 1950, the Itchege, who had always wielded great power, has assumed the duties of an abuna, and for the first time has been an ordained cleric. A new office in the Imperial Cabinet has been created in that of the Liqe Siltanat, chief priest of Holy Trinity Church in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Church now has enough bishops and archbishops both to strengthen and to spread out her administrative forces. Individual churches have historically existed as more or less autonomous and self-sufficient institutions. Though centralizing the administration may decrease their spontaneity and initiative, nonetheless, order and co-ordination give them new momentum and a new dimension for development. The decree of 1942 based on the proposals of the Ecclesiastical Council will in the long run put the financial situation of the Church in better order. The abolition of tax exemption for Church lands and the institution of the centralization of tax funds and a central Church treasury will greatly facilitate Church maintenance. It is to be hoped that with an enlightened administration such money can be used primarily for educational purposes, instead of spending it on real estate business, as it seems to have been done in recent years. Placing temporal jurisdiction in the hands of the Ministry of Justice will release the Church’s energies to concentrate on congregational and spiritual matters. With better and more education for Church leaders and clergy these innovations will have greater impact on the younger generation and will ease the modernization of Ethiopia.

More important than the issue of Church and state is that of the Church and society at large. In Ethiopia, religion and society are complimentary. Often foreigners err in thinking that Ethiopian religion and daily life are autonomous. This mistake is grounded in their definition of religion, which may be partly of Western Christian origin. They regard religion as the concern of the soul and the spirit; therefore man at all times attempts to make his daily practices live up to his religious beliefs; honest men often succeed in doing so. I recall an experience I once had with a very religious landlord in the United States: it happened that I had no money to pay the rent of one month on time. But the landlord insisted that I pay it immediately by getting a loan. After some pleas, I remarked to the landlord: " Mr. X, you have a few times talked to me like a friend; you have even tried to sermonize to me about what you believed to be the ‘ love of God.’ If you do really fear God, why can’t you wait until next week for the rent? " The righteous landlord, to my dismay, replied: "No, sir, that was religion, but we are now talking business." An Ethiopian generally cannot make such a sharp distinction between business and religion. For him, the way he lives is religion. If he partakes of some national pleasure, without going to the limits of indulgence, he may think that natural enjoyment, too, is part of his divine gifts. Perhaps a puritanical Western Christian or missionary may, therefore believe that the Ethiopian Church does not have a high moral standard. On the contrary, as the early seventeenth-century Ethiopian philosopher and Ethiopian Churchman, Zara Y’acob, said, " God has given man the law to direct social interaction; but he has not created these things (worldly things) and then said to man, ‘ Look at what bad things I have created’." [This author does not follow Conti Rossini and others who rationalize that Hateta Zar’a Ya’aqob could not have been written by an Ethiopian, but a European. He accepts categorically the judgement of the great Ethiopian scholar, Aleka Kidane-Wold Kifle; see E. Mittwoch, "Die angeblichen abessinischen des 170. Jahrehunderts" in Mitteilungen des Seminars fu Oriental. Sprachen II (1933), p. 3f.] In brief, then, in Ethiopia, as perhaps among African and Semitic peoples in general, religion is not a system for the soul, but a way of life. Hence, every aspect of Ethiopian social existence is part of religion. In a sense this has enabled people of different religious convictions to work together. Many customs of the Ethiopian Church are Hebraic, yet they may also be practiced by Moslems, and sometimes animists. Ethiopian festivals are celebrated in common by ail religious groups. One such festival is described by a newspaper reporter: "This week (Ethiopian Herald, December 29, 1967) more than 100,000 pilgrims travel by land and air to the shrine at Kulubi (Festival of the Angel Gabriel). The pilgrims are not only Christians but also Moslems, and worshippers of other religions. A young Moslem sits on the ground outside the new Church at Kulubi. He is reading from the Koran, which he holds in his left hand. Near him sits a middle-aged Christian who is reading from his Bible. Every few moments the Moslem, without interrupting his reading, reaches out with his right hand to touch his Christian Ethiopian brother. They are among the 100,000 . . . men, women and children who have come to Kulubi … to honour St. (sic) Gabriel." The journalist finds that " the Bible and the Koran provide the earliest clues as to why these two pilgrims of different faiths, like so many . . . have come to Kulubi and why the Moslem, unconsciously but symbolically, reaches out to associate himself with the Orthodox Christian by his side." The newsman is in part correct, but there is a deeper factor built into the very nature of Ethiopian society which explains why men of different religions can get along, namely that for all Ethiopians, customs constitute religion – and many of these customs are held in common. This also enables the Ethiopian Church to retain a good deal of influence on society in general. Hence, the Church can be a great influence for the rapid progress of socio-economic and educational development in Ethiopia. The Church, with its liberal philosophy and open-mindedness, can lead in social change and modernisation. But, in order to do so, education is necessary. Nothing in Ethiopian Church dogma or practice is ipso facto an obstacle to progress; rather, progress is hindered by the lack of a more relevant education. This year, the Church allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to put on an agricultural exhibition at the festival of the Church of Angel Gabriel. According to Herald stories, this was very effective in arousing in the thousands of farmers who came to the festival an interest in better farming methods. The Church can now offer many such opportunities for speeding progress.

Furthermore, not only can the universality of the heritage of the social practices of the Ethiopian Church offer possibilities for co-operative social development and reform programmes, but also the basic attitude of the Ethiopian Church towards other religions can be conducive to co-operation among peoples of other faiths. Of these tolerant attitudes, even the anti-Ethiopian Munzinger wrote in 1867, at a time when one would have expected more antagonism between Christians and Moslems due to military conflicts: " Ethiopia is generally a country of tolerance: Christians of all confessions, Moslems, Jews and pagans live together very peacefully and make proselytes themselves without the interference of the Church or the State." The suspicion of others that the Ethiopian Church sometimes manifests may be understandable when seen as the result of its experience with militant and violent religious propagandists such as Ahmed Gragn or Bermudes or Mendez.

  The initiative the Ethiopian Church once took towards establishing relations with world Christianity are now being revived with Ethiopia’s entrance into the new ecumenical movements; the country is now a member of the World Council of Churches and has sent observers to the Second Vatican Council. Missionaries have been welcomed to Ethiopia to help in education and medicine, but they are discouraged from proselytizing Ethiopian Church members. A major factor that may affect Ethiopia’s relations with other Christian groups is the attitude these missionaries take; aggression or condes-cention will bring only negative results, but respect and understanding may further their work as well as the cause of ecumenism. The absence of dogmas and the general attitude of tolerance, combined with the already harmonized cultural heritage of Ethiopia will greatly facilitate the country’s relationships not only with other Christian groups but also with other religions, especially, Judaism, Islam, and African monotheism.

In conclusion, this work emphasizes that the Ethiopian Church has been, is, and can continue to be a strong historical, cultural, social, and especially educational force. Its seemingly dormant posture at the present may be misleading to some who underestimate its potential. With an introduction of some radical improvements in its educational system, the Ethiopian Church"can be a strong progressive force. It has the virtues of being tolerant and undogmatic. It is a socially oriented church which does not necessarily serve as " the opiate of the people," for it does not promise heaven as a substitute for earth. In fact, it puts greater emphasis on keeping the laws of correct action here on earth than on hoping for salvation through faith.

However, both the Ethiopian Church and the new generation of educated youth face one problem: harmonizing the old social values with the new ones that come with modernization, such as independence, industrialism, loose familial relations, new attitudes towards sex, life and so on. A healthy society is not an extremist one; it is one that can combine the best of the past and the best of the present.

In several places in this work, I have pointed out many positive aspects of Ethiopian Church tradition: absence of dogmatism, tolerance, less emphasis on other-worldliness. These tenets have created a society with many healthy attitudes. Here one might quote extensively from Donald Levine, who despite his misuse of such expressions as " wax and gold," " Amhara," " Qene " and despite several mistakes of judgement and analysis, sometimes has a good perspective. In his chapter entitled, " Individualism and the Quest for Social Progress," which reads like the description of 19th century European travellers, he says: "Inter-action among (Ethiopians) is characterized … by a sort of sensuous comraderie
Crowds of commoners cheerfully huddle close to one another . . . when they have assembled for some social function. . . . Style and dress and their manner of eating give . . . ready way to express this comradely feeling. . . . Their , . . cloth easily adopts to being shared. . . . Similar spirit is observed in commensality. Meals are customarily eaten from a common injera basket, The sauce is ladled into the centre for the injera and is consumed ensemble by those sitting around. . . . Traditional (Ethiopians) scoff at what they regard as the excessively individualistic Western custom of sitting each person down to a separate place at the table and thus depriving the meal hour of what they feel should be its basically communal tone. … At a more level of interaction, this disposition is expressed in the form of hospitality . . . hospitality luxuriously attentive and thoughtful. . . . If there is foreknowledge of a guest’s arrival, he is awaited at some distance from his destination and escorted with much to-do into the house. His mule is at once unsaddled and given food. . . . The guest is given a place of honour in the home. . . . Etiquette prescribes . . . that a glass is not properly filled unless it overflows; and it is repeatedly filled to overflowing. . . . Before long the wicker table is produced, and the guest and his party are served copiously – no matter what . . . The host … is likely to insist that his guest spend the night. The guest’s feet will be washed, and the host’s bed will be given to him. … At the time of farewell, the host and his attendants follow the guest and his party a good distance along the road. . . . There does exist among the (Ethiopians) some feeling that even the unknown stranger should be shown hospitality – for he is ya-egziabher engeda ("a guest of God "). Travellers are generally assured that somebody somewhere will show them hospitality. … It is considered wrong to exchange food and lodging for money. . . . Related to this pattern of hospitality is a delicate sense of respect that the (Ethiopians) display toward all comers; often, even toward his enemies . . . even when one merely passes by the home of another, he is expected to cry out his greetings from afar. . . . Customs prescribe that measures of grain must be filled to overflowing at the market. Grammatical forms indicating respect are used. . . . Uncovering one’s head is another way of indicating respect during the greeting. . . . Still another form is to rise whenever someone enters the room, and wait until the new entrant has pronounced " Bezgier " (sic) (" for the sake of God ") and sits down before reseating oneself."

  In a time when there is so much materialism, so little humanism, and when, therefore, understandably young people everywhere seem bewildered by these conditions and are looking blindly for inner peace by " tuning in " and " turning on," seeking what they call transcendental meditation, one cannot help but think that the Biblical culture of Ethiopia has produced many " humane " and " natural " aspects of life that must be weighted thoughtfully before being discarded.

It would be a mistake to conclude that the Biblical culture of Ethiopia has only positive aspects. The positive attitude towards manual work and the spirit of cooperative work can be said to be other Biblical values that are lacking at present. Keeping time rigorously, being inquisitive and analytical, perhaps positive products of the Hellenistic-Christian traditions of the West, are equally needed. Real willingness among Europeans and Ethiopians to understand and appreciate the values of each other may create new attitudes which would contribute to the formation of stable and healthy societies that are productive of both material goods and humanitarian values.

If young educated Ethiopians are to be successful leaders of their country, they must concern themselves finding ways and means of integrating Ethiopian human-oriented culture and Western object-oriented culture. To create a psychologically healthy society, it is important to continue a human-centred society. Difficult though this may be, as the experiences of modernized societies show, with proper insight, it may still be possible for man to create a society in which valuable objects and goods are cherished, but not at the cost of man himself. A national prophet or philosopher may be needed to give reality to such a thought. Throughout its long history, Ethiopia has had such national prophets or philosophers, who have expressed profound thoughts in times of great crisis. One such thinker mentioned above can perhaps serve as an example for a reawakened national philosophy. He is the great Ethiopian henotheist of the 17th century, Zara Ya’acob. Born in a time of great social unrest, he has been called by some the forerunner of the deists, and a man who gave voice to thoughts that were not expressed in Europe and America until the period of Rationalism and the Enlightenment. But it is difficult to call Zara Ya’acob a deist, for his God was not an impersonal Creator. It is hard to know what his theological position was, for he bothered very little with theological issues. His main concerns were social morality, religious tolerance, and human responsibility. Zara Ya’acob, though a member of the Ethiopian Church and persecuted for his faith by Emperor Susen-yos, the Catholic convert, was a wholly independent thinker and recognized no religious authority except his conscience and no belief except in God, the Just. At a time when both Catholics and Orthodox claimed to possess exclusive truth, Zara Ya’acob succeeded in transcending the petty arguments of the divided parties, emphasizing the futility of all religious conflict and urging mutual toleration and love. His belief in the power of the human conscience to know what is good, just, and true led him to conclude that what is natural is the superior revelation to man. Therefore, contrary to the tenets of the Ethiopian Church, he rejected monastic celibacy, arguing that God would have not created man and woman if He desired monasticism. Zara Ya’acob criticized Islam for " preaching brotherhood and practicing slavery "; in addition, he also argued that the Moslem practice of polygamy was undesirable, since almost everywhere the ratio of men to women was even! Christians, Jews and Moslems, he felt, err in fasting, since it is unnatural as well as unhealthy (modern diet specialists would agree with him) to abstain from food. Conscience must be the sole guide for human action. But constant prayer can enlighten it, for God, the Just, the Almighty, and the Loving, is also the ultimate source of all knowledge. This is why the dictates of conscience and the Law of God – that is, the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the Six Commandments of the New-are wholly consistent with one another.

It is indeed interesting that Zara Ya’acob, a man trained in the Ethiopian Church, so profoundly analyzed the realities of religion and of life. Not only was he a great early reformer, but his thought can be revived to give new guidance to the Ethiopian Church. The Church that produced a man like Zara Ya’acob, who in a time of religious conflict spoke of a simple and orderly human society filled with responsibility and with love, is certainly capable of producing men with some insight who can give new spiritual leadership.

A 16th century Portuguese humanist, a disciple of Erasmus, Damiao de Gois, whose thinking was influenced by his friend, Zagazab, an Ethiopian envoy to the Portuguese court, idealized Ethiopia, believing that with the faith which it shared with Christians and the Semitic practices it shared with Jews and Moslems, Ethiopia could become the prime example of religious reconciliation. Gois quoted Zagazab on matters of religious tolerance:

There is no reason why one should dispute so vehemently regarding issues of religious ceremonies. Let everybody practice his own belief,
without anyone persecuting the others. And one should not be excluded from the Church because of their customs and practices of their own country.

[Domaio de Gois, Fides, Religio, Moresque Aethiopum. (Translation is mine.) ]

Whatever will happen in the future development of Ethiopia will depend on education. The three great human burdens of poverty, disease, and illiteracy must be lifted through relevant education at all levels. The Ethiopian Church, with its great ancient heritage of learning, is in a position to give impetus to education, and by so doing, to help put Ethiopia on a new path to social and economic progress – as well as human and spiritual revival. But the key to the Church’s ability to do so is a new zeal for learning. With proper training, the Ethiopian Church can set a new example of responsibility. The remedy for the spiritual as well as the material ailments of man is knowledge – relevant knowledge.



1. Cf. Douglas O’Hanlon, Features of the Abyssinian Church, London, 1946, p. 13. Also, the Geez word for teacher mamhar is related to more in Hebrew.

  2. Although the debtenas were occasionally members of the clergy or monks, they generally belonged to a lay order of the Church organization. Their closest counterparts might be found in the ancient Jewish Soperim. Like them, the debterras constitute a learned caste active in Biblical scholarship and teaching of the Law, a group that takes an independent place alongside the priesthood. (Cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism, Cambridge, 1962, p. 37 ff.: see also Ecclisiasticus or Book of Sirach, chap. 1, 50). This relationship somewhat comparable to the earlier Biblical distinction between the priests of the house of Aaron and the Levites, who were musicians, hymn-writers, teachers, and copyists of the Law. I have called the debtenas " scribes," because in some respects they are not a hereditary group like the Levites, but rather a class of highly learned men like the Sopherim, who taught and transmitted the Law in early Judaism. The word "debterra" (Geez, Hebrew-Aramaic, perhaps originally Persian) means " a copybook, note book, or writing material." A debterra is one who writes on a " debterra" hence, he is a scribe. Some Ethiopian scholars think that the use of the word to describe church singers corresponds to the duty of the Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle. But one should not confuse the term " debterra " (" scribe") with " debterra " (" tabernacle"), which may be traced to the Greek duphthera, meaning "tabernacle." The debterras

often wield more power than the priests because of their learning. Indeed, as the head of each church is a lay debterra, known as Aleka (chief), who actually exercises authority over the priests and the deacons. (See p. 5 ff.)

  3. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa which has its own extensive script. Most African countries use either Arabic or Latin characters. The Ethiopian syllabary is an indigenous development perhaps from Sabean (South Arabic) scripts at least 2,500 years ago. (See Thomas O. Lambdin, " Alphabeth " in The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 89-96 New York, 1962.)

  4. Although small girls often learned the syllabary with the boys, and some families had their daughters tutored at home, women’s education empha sized " home economics." Cooking well is regarded as an important skill in Ethiopian tradition and the expression belemoya, a term implying virtue and education, is ascribed to a woman who has achieved special skill in the art.

  5. Geez is the ancient language of Ethiopia which probably gave rise to some of the modern Semitic languages of Ethiopia. Some scholars have wrongly termed it " Ethiopic." Geez is still the official language of the Church; Amharic, the modern official language, is to Geez what French is to Latin, while Tigrinia, another major Semitic language of Ethiopia, is to Geez what Italian is to Latin. (See E. Ullendorff, The Semitic Languages of Ethiopia, Oxford, 1956.)

6. The alphabet has twenty-six basic characters in Geez and thirty-three in Amharic, all of which are consonants. There are seven vowels indicated by vowel signs: vertical or horizontal dashes, rings, etc. These vowel signs which are attached to the basic letter-forms are combined with the consonants as to form 182 "syllables" in Geez and 231 "syllables" in Amharic. Four letters, g. h. k. q, when accompanied by five dipthongs, are written individually to form 20 characters. Traditionally, students were required to master the whole table of syllables chanting to the sound of the seven vowels.

7. The basic text of the Ethiopian Morning Service is the Book of Psalms (Dawit), supplemented generally by a collection of nine odes, all but one of which come from the Old Testament and other Hebrew sources. They are: (1) The Prayer of Moses (Exodus 15:1 ff., Deuteronomy 32:1 ff Deuteronomy 32:22 ff.); (2) The Prayer of Hannah (I Samuel 2:1 ff)-‘ (3) The Prayer of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:10 ff.); (4) The Prayer of Prophet Minas; (5) The Prayer of Prophet Jonas (Jonas 3:3 fT.); (6) The Prayer of Prophet David (Daniel 9:4 ff); (7) The Prayer of Three Holy Children (Hananniah, Azariah, and Mishael of the Book of Daniel). This song is contained in the LXX Daniel but not in the Hebrew Book of Daniel and is found in the Apocryphal English Bible. Verses 35 and 36 of this Song are known as "Benedicti Omnia Opera," used as a hymn in the Christian churches since ancient times; (8) The Prayer of Habbakuk (Habbakuk 3:2 ff.); (9) The Prayer of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:9 ff.); and The Prayer of Mary (Magnificat) (Luke 1:46 ff.). Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), and Nune Dimmittis (Luke 2:29-32) are usually added to these.

  8. Cf. I Kings 10:1 ff.; see Kebre-Negast. There is an English translation of Kebre-Negast by Sir E. A. W. Budge, The Glory of Kings: The Queen of Sheba and her Only Son Menyelek, London, 1926.

  9. M. Harden, Ethiopic literature, London, 1935, p. 59.

10. Cf. Hebrew, kinah, dirge, or lamentation, chanted with halting movement peculiar to itself, ranges from a dirge or wail to the elegaic form (cf. I Samuel 1:17, 3:33; Jeremiah 9:10; Ezekial 26:17; Amos 5:2; and Book of Lamentations.) (Cf. The Jewish Encyclopedia: "Kinah," New York, 1904, p. 498 ff.)
Qene-writing is believed to have been passed from one teacher to another from the time of Jared (6th century) until the present. A poet named Yohannes Balawi assured its continuity after a break in the tradition in the 13th century. (Cf. Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 1, 1966.) More about Qene: Donald Levine, Wax and Gold, Chicago, 1965. Professor Levine has tried to analyze an aspect of Ethiopian society, taking off from its Qene poetry, and has written an interesting book; but unfortunately he misses totally the meaning and importance of Qene. For a good introduction to Qene, see Blatten Geta Heroui, Matshafa Qene (Book of Qene), Addis Ababa, 1918 (Ethiopian Calendar); " Alaka Yekouno Amlak Gebre-Silassie Yeqedmo Qinewotch (Early Poetry)," ed. Mengistu Lemma, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 1, Addis Ababa, 1966; Mengistu Lemma, " The Meaning of Wax and Gold," in Voice of Ethiopia, January 1967. Also see Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethiopia: A Cultural History, London, 1955, p. 244 ff.

  11. See Harden, op. cit., p. 92 ff.

  12. Conti Rossini denies the authenticity of this work and ascribes it to a 19th century religious sceptic, Padre Giusto da urbino. This author concurs with E. Littmann (see Corpus Scriptorum Christianorwn Orientatium, Vol. 31, London, 1904).

  13. The Geez Bible has 81 books (46 Old Testament, 35 New Testament in cluding the Apocryphal and Pseudo-Epigraphic works). The Ethiopian Church has as such no " canon," and all religious books are regarded as sacred. Among the Apocalyptic works, the Book of Enoch is regarded with high esteem. The study of Church history, which is also regarded highly, revolves around the study of the " first councils " of early Christendom. They are the Council of Ancyra (314), Gangra (c. 341), Nicea (325), Laodicea (c. 360), Sardica (343), Alexandria (362), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431). The other department of Church history revolves around the study of Church Fathers, in particular Clement, Cyril of Alex, Hippolytus, Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom (Afework in Geez), Dioysius Areapagita, Ignatius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Felix of Rome, Ephrem the Syrian, Severianus of Gobola, Euphrasius of Aremenia, John of Jerusalem, Cosmas, Mekarius, etc. Ethiopian and world history: much of the study of Ethiopian history re volves around the Biblical stories of Solomon and Sheba and early Church history. But information on all periods of Ethiopian history is available. A book written by a priest, Johannes Madabba, on the history of the world to the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs, and Josppon’s History of the Jews are among the popular general history books. Ecclesiastical and civil law revolve around the study of Sinodos and Didascalia, Faws- Manfesaw (Spiritual Healing on Sacraments, etc., attributed to Michael, Bishop of A trib). Ethiopian civil law is based on the Old and New Testa ment, Canons of the Apostles, Peter’s Epistle to Clement, canons of the early Church councils, canons of Hippolytus and Basil. Most of these works are woven into the famous Ethiopian Law Code, Fetha-Negast, i.e.,Law of Kings. Study of monasticism revolves around Serata Pakumis (Rules of Pachominus), Gennete Manekosat (Garden of Eden of monks) (History of Monks), Ledata Manekosat (genealogy of monks – from Anthony to Phillip and Jacob in the 14th century in Ethiopia); Aragawi Menfesawi (Spiritual Precepts), etc.

  14. For an interesting comparison of the status of monks, debterras, priests and deacons, see D. Levine, " The Old and the New Elites," p. 167 ff.

  15. Cf. H. M. Hyatt, The Church of Abyssinia, London, 1937, pp. 85 ff, 281 ff.

  16. The relatively tolerant attitude that the Ethiopian Church manifests can be attested from many historical incidents. In the time when monophysites were being persecuted by the Byzantine rulers, the latter held Ethiopia in high esteem and even appealed for aid to the Christians of South Arabia. (Cf. A. A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, Madison, 1964, p. 131 ff.)

  Mohammed’s earliest disciples first found refuge in Ethiopia, and later, because of this, Mohammed is said to have made an injunction that no holy war should be waged against Ethiopia (cf. J. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia, London, 1952, p. 44.) Ethiopia welcomed Catholic missionaries in the 16th century and co-operated with them until the missionaries showed different intentions. Emperor Theodore took the initiative to write to Queen Victoria for closer relations between England and Ethiopia (cf. The Chronicles of King Theodore in Amharic, ed. E. Littmann, Princeton, 1902). In the 20th century the Ethiopian Church, which strongly opposed the Italian fascist aggression, shows no signs of hostility toward the Catholic Church.

17. The Ethiopian Herald, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 28, 1968.

18. " Patterns of Progress," Ministry of Information, Addis Ababa, 1967.

19. D. Levine, op. cit., p. 48.

20. Ibid., p. 128.


  1. This is said to be the 42nd canon of the Pseudo-Arabic Canons of the Council of Nicea. (Cf. H. M. Hyatt, The Church of Abyssinia, London, 1937, p. 45.)

2. M. Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, London, 1938, p. 123.

3. Ibid., p. 123.

  4. For details of these developments, see the Ethiopian Herald (November 26, December 3, 1945; February 2, July 1, 7, 15, 22, 29, 1946); the London Times (February 2, 1946); Misri, the Egyptian Gazette (June, December, 1942; January, February, May, September, 1944); cf. M. Perham, op. cit., p. 126 ff.

5. Herald, December 3, 1945.

6. Ibid.

  7. In an attempt to keep the Ethiopian Church subordinate to the Coptic Church, the Pseudo-Arabic canons, falsely attributed to the Council of Nicea, could have limited to no more than seven the number of bishops Ethiopia could have. Later, the number was even reduced to two. Though originally the Abuna consecrated his own bishops, for several centuries the Patriarch deprived the Abuna of this privilege. .Furthermore, whenever bishops were demanded, they were sent from the Coptic monasteries of Egypt and appointed and consecrated by the Patriarch of Alexandria, though they were of little importance. Unlike the Abuna, the other bishops could, if they wished, return to Egypt. Their chief duty was to say a prayer of admission for new monastic candidates, to bless the monks’ skullcaps, and to purify and bless a church Tabot (Ark) if it was accidentally touched by a deacon or by a layman. But they had virtually no authority over the priests or the churches, according to the law in Fetha-Negast.

  8. Book of Light, CSCO, Vol. 47, Louvain, 1964, p. 44 ff.

  9. Alvarez, Narrative of the Portuguese Embassy to Abyssinia (translated by Lord Stanley of Alderley), Hakluyt Society, London, 1881, Bk. II, p. 354.

  10. Plowden, Travels in Abyssinia, London, 1868, p. 88.

11. Some scholars have compared the term " alaka" to " Halakah," that is, Jewish oral law, and argue that an alaka is a judge or a dayyan; but there seems to be little reason for this assumption. (Cf. Hyatt, op. cit., p. 60.)

12. "Regulations for the Administration of the Church," Decree No. 2, November 30, 1942, or Article II of the Ethiopian Constitution. ". . . As prescribed in Article 2, the land which was granted for any reason whatso ever to the Church and has come into possession of the clergy shall be paid into the Church treasury and not be spent outside the Church. The money shall be spent for the extension of the Church, for schools, and for other charitable works."


  1. From Kebre-Negast, Chap. 44, translated into English by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, " The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son, Menelek I," London, 1932, 2nd edition, p. 64 ff.

2. Ibid., p. xv.

  3. De L. O’Leary, The Ethiopian Church, London, 1936, p. 45 ff.

  4. James Bruce, Travels to discover the source of the Nile, Edinburgh, 1790, Vol. IV, p. 73 ff.

  5. J. C. Hotten, Abyssinia and its People, London, 1868, p. 162.

  6. H. Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, Vol. I, London, 1869, p. 249.

  7. F. Alvarez, Portuguese Embassy to Abyssinia, translated by Lord Stanley of Alderley, the Hakluyt Society, London, 1881, p. 161.

8. J.Bruce, op. cit., Vol. Ill, p. 319.

  9. C. Sandford, The Lion of Judah Has Prevailed, London, 1955, p. 98.

10. Bruce, op. cit., Vol. Ill, p. 313.

  11. Max Weber, The Theory and Economic and Social Organization, translated by A. M. Henderson and T. Parsons, New York, 1947.

12. D. Levine, " Legitimacy in Ethiopia," Lecture at 1963 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association at the University of Chicago, September 9-12, 1964, unpublished manuscript, p. 4.

13. Ibid., p. 7.

  14. J. B. Colbeaux, Histoire politique at religieuse de I’Abyssinie, vol. I, Paris, 1929, p. 49.

15. Cf. S. P. Huntington, " The Political Modernization of Traditional Monarchies," unpublished manuscript of Stimson Lecture delivered at Yale.

  16. " Challenge," Journal of Ethiopian Students’" Association in North America, vol. VI, No. 1, August, 1966, p. 7; cf. p. 23.

17. Ibid., p. 7 ff. and p. 34.

18. Ibid., p. 49.

19. Ibid.


  1. For religio-political developments of Western churches cf. especially Ernest Troeltch, Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, vol. II, New York, 1931.

2. Bahtawi are ascetic persons totally detached from the world, living in caves, woods or deserts. Dressed in sheepskins, they can occasionally turn up in a town or a court or even the king’s palace, to utter some angry and pungent social and prophetic message without political fears, and have always been regarded as very useful political critics. Bahtawi literally means " the loner."

  3. Donald Levine, Wax and Gold, Chicago, 1965, pp. 273-275. Cf. also U.S. Army Area Handbook for Ethiopia, Washington, D.C., 1960, pp. 125 ff.

  4. Cf. A. Harmack, Das Monchtum, seine Ideale und seine Geschichte.Berlin, 1907, p. 9 ff.

  5. Cf. Mt. 25. Cf. also Mashafa Berhan (Book of Light) ed. Conti Rossini, CSCO, Vol. 47, Louvain, 1964, p. 23.

6. U.S. Army Handbook for Ethiopia. P. 8.

  7. F. J. Simmons, Northwest Ethiopia: Peoples and Economy, Madison, 1960, p. 174 ff.

8. Levine, op. cit., p. 79, 259.

9. Rosita Forbes, " From Red Sea to Blue Nile," New York, 1925, c. 111 ff.

10. Levine, op. cit., p. 79.

11. Ibid., p. 79.

12. Mashafa Berhan (Book of Light), op, cit., p. 25 ff.

  13. The Ethiopian Church is built like the tabernacle with three sections. The innermost is the "holy of holies," Qedusta Qedusan, the second, "the holy," Qedest, where priests officiate in the communion; the third is called qene mahlet, where debterras sing and the most faithful believers worship. The majority of the people who feel that they are not worthy to enter the church usually worship in the church court. Cf. D. O’Hanlon, Features of the Abyssinian Church, London, 1946, p. 27 ff.

14. E.g., Teste – Hope, Fikre – Love, Berhanou – His Light, Gebremedhin-Servant of the Saviour, Walata Yesus – Daughter of Jesus, etc.

  15. The national dish is injera, a soft and large circular bread that has a semi- sour taste, and wat, a kind of spiced hot stew made of beef, lamb or chicken. The Church and social etiquette forbid the eating of any form of meat, eggs and dairy products during Lent, on Wednesdays, Fridays, and other fast days; all of the fast days put together total almost two-thirds of the whole year!

  16. Translation – the author’s. For the original Amharic form of this poem, see J. I. Eadie, An Amharic Reader, Cambridge, 1924, p. 224 ff.

17. The Ethiopian year, commencing in September, consists of twelve equal months of thirty days each and a small month of five (or six in leap year) days. The Gregorian Calendar runs on a difference of seven or eight years ahead of the Ethiopian Calendar from September through December and January through September, respectively. The New Year generally falls on September 11 (or September 12 in leap year). Thus, September 11, 1967, corresponds to New Year’s Day, 1960, in the Ethiopian Calendar. The months are: Maskeram (September 11-October 10),Tikimt (October 11-November 9), Hedar (November 10-December 9), Tahsas (December 10-January 8), Sane (June 8-July 7), Hamle (July 8-August 6), Nahasse (August 7-September 5),Pagwemen (September 6-10 or 11) depending on the leap year, in which New Year’s Day occurs on September 12. Each year is named after an evangelist: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (which is the leap year).

  18. E. Ullendorff, The Ethiopians, Oxford, 1960, p. 182.

  19. M. J. Levy, Jr., "Patterns (Structures) of Modernization ana Political Development," The Annals of the American Academy.

  20. W. C. Harris, The Highlands of Ethiopia, vol. III, London, 1884, p. 131.

  21. J. C. Hotten, Abyssinia and its People, London, 1868, p. 161.

22. Ullendorff, op. cit., London, 1964, 2nd edition, p. 206.

23. Simoons, op. cit., p. 20.

  24. Eike Haberland, Untersuchungen zum Athiopischer Konigtum, Wiesbaden, 1965, pp. 317-318 ff.

25. Afarsata is a trial method where, for instance, if a man is found slain in a field, the citizens of the nearest village must assemble at regular and given times until the guilty party is found, or the village declares itself not guilty.

  26. Margery Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, London, 1947, p. 116.

  27. The Fetha-Negast is a code of canon law as well as civil and penal legisla tion. Thought to have been based on a compilation of Coptic (Egyptian Christian works, it is largely based on the precepts of the Old and New Testaments, the Canons of the Aposteles, First Epistle of Peter to Clement, Canons of the first great councils of the Christian Church, the so-called canons of Hippolytus and Basil of the Early Christian Church. (Cf. I. Guidi, 11 Fetha-Negast, Italian translation, Rome, 1897, 2 vols.) It forms the basis of a good deal of customary law in an average traditional village or regional community, and it has to some extent even inspired much of the civil and penal law that has been enacted in recent times.

  28. Cf. Nathan Marein, The Ethiopian Empire, Federation and Laws, Rotterdam, 1954.

  29. Traditional festivals include: the first of each month-New Moon, Mebasha, or Lideta; fifth – Abo, day of Abuna Legebremenfas Kedeses, ascetic sait of great esteem; seventh-Trinity; twelfth – Michael; thirteenth – Rufael; sixteenth – Covenant of Mercy (Mary); nineteenth- Gabriel; twenty-first – Mary ; twenty-third – Ghiorgis; twenty-seventh — Saviour of the World; twenty-ninth – Festival of God.

30. Simoons, op. cit., p. 29 ff.


  1. Donald Levine, Wax and Gold, Chicago, 1965, p. 252.

  2. For a discussion of the distribution of Moslems in Ethiopia, see J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia, Oxford University Press, 1952, p. 146 ff.

  3. Ibn Hisham, Sira, Cairo, 1927, p. 343.

  4. Trimingham thinks that Mohammed himself was in contact with Ethiopian traders, artisans and soldiers residing in Mecca, as evidenced by a number of Ethiopic words in Qur’an. (Cf. K. Ahrens, Christiches in Qoran, Z. D. M. G., LXXX1V, 1930, pp. 15-68, 148-190.

  5. W. Muir, The Life of Mohammed, London, 1923, p. 70.

6. S. Trimingham, op. cit., p. 46.

7. Ibid., p. 46.

8. Ibid., p. 47.

  9. E. Gibbon, Decline and Fall, London, 1936, Chap. XLV1I.

  10. Cf. Ibn Khaldun, Histoire des Berberes, II, trans, de Slane, Paris, 1863, p. 108.

11. Cf, Trimingham’s quotes from Maqrizi, op. cit., p. 59 ff.

12. Trimingham, op. cit., p. 65.

13. Ibid., p. 64 ff.

14. The Glorious Victories of Amda Seyon, trans, and ed. by G. W. B. Huntingford, London, 1967, p. 53 ff: Perruchon, Histoire de Guerre d’AmdaSeyon, Paris, 1889, series VII, vol. XIV, pp. 271-363, 381-493; Ducati, La Grande Impresa di Amda Sion, Milan, 1939; August Dillmann, DieKriegsthaten des Konigs ‘Amda Sion, Berlin, 1884; Maqrizi, Al-llhnanbiakhbar man bi-Ard al-Habsha min muluk al-Islam, written in 1435, ed. and trans, by F. Rink: Histoire regum Islamiticorum in Abyssinia, Leyden, 1790. (Cf. I. Guidi in " Centenario dellaNascitadi Mich-Amari, Palermo, 1910.)

15. Cf. J. Perruchon, op. cit., I, 1893, pp. 177-182; also see Trimingham, op. cit., p. 73 f.

  16. Cf. Alvarez, Narrative of the Portuguese Embassy to Abyssinia, trans, and ed. by Lord Stanley of Alderley, Hakluyt Society, London, 1881, p. 95.

  17. See Girma Besha and Merid W. Aregay, Question of Churches in Luso-Ethiopian Relations, Lisbon, 1964, p. 24 ff. (Henceforth quoted as Girma and Merid.)

18. Ibid. p. 31.

  19. Cf. Yilma Deressa, Ye-Ethiopia Hizb Tarik be’asera sidstegna Meto’amat, Addis Ababa, 1966; Germa and Merid, op. cit., p. 37 ff.; Trimingham, op. cit., p. 84 if.

  20. This second period of Christian-Moslem relations in Ethiopia is historically among the most well-documented sections of Ethiopian history; we are, for instance, fortunate to have such first-hand documents as Futah ad Hebasha of Shihab ad-Din (ed. by R. Basset, Paris, 1897-1901).

  21. See Trimingham, op. cit., p. 114 ff; Sabry, L’ Empire Egyptian Sous Mohammed AH, Paris, 1930, pp. 66-67; H. A. MacMichael, History of the Arabs in the Sudan, II, pp. 391-398; Sir Wallis E. A. Budge, History of …

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