ETHIOPIAN PRELATES. The abun (metropolitan bishop) was a Coptic monk chosen by the patriarch of Alexandria to head the Ethiopian church. The metropolitanate started in the middle of the fourth century when Pope ATHANASIUS appointed Frumentius as
the first metropolitan, with the name of Abuna Salama. This custom remained in force until the agreement reached in July 1948 gave the Ethiopian church full autonomy.
SALAMA I (c. 300-c. 380)
More commonly known as Frumentius (Ethiopian, Fremnatos), he is considered a saint in the Ethiopian church (festal date 26 Hamle [Abib]), as well as in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. He is said to have been born at Tyre. After his consecration as bishop, he took (or was attributed) the name Salama (peace), a term probably derived from Syriac. In Ethiopia, he is often referred to as Abba Salama Kasate Berhan (Father Salama, Revealer of Light), for he is credited, in both historical and religious records, with having officially introduced Christianity into the country.
Details of the historic event were first written around 410 by Rufinus Tyrannius, bishop of Aquilea, who heard the tale directly from the aged Aedesius, companion or brother of Frumentius. The story has since been recorded, with minor variations, by other writers such as Socrates Scholasticus, Theodoret, and Sozomen in the fifth century and Nicephoras Callistus in the fourteenth century, all of whom depend entirely on Rufinus' text.
According to this account, a certain Meropius, a citizen of Tyre, undertook a trip to "India" (actually the empire of Axum, but called
India because of its location on the long sea route linking the Egyptian ports on the Red Sea to the markets of India). It was essentially a cultural voyage because Meropius took with him Frumentius and Aedesius, two children for whose education he was
responsible. On the return trip, they stopped at an "Indian" port (probably Adulis, near present-day Zula), where, because of a
breakdown in relations between Axum on one side and Byzantium and its allies on the other, the ship was pillaged, and Meropius and
his crew massacred. Only the two boys were spared and handed over to the king of the country (unnamed by Rufinus), who made
Aedesius his cupbearer and Frumentius his secretary.
Upon the king's death, the queen regent asked the two young men to aid her in the duties of state while her son was still a minor,
and thus, Frumentius was able to have some churches constructed for Christian merchants trading in Axumite lands. When the young prince came of age, he allowed the two foreigners to leave Axum. Aedesius returned to his relatives in Tyre, where he became a priest, and Frumentius journeyed to Alexandria to request that a bishop be named for the Christians in Ethiopia. Upon receiving Frumentius' petition, Saint ATHANASIUS, twentieth patriarch of Alexandria (who, according to Rufinus, had recently been consecrated to this position), ordained Frumentius a priest and then consecrated him as bishop and sent him back "to the land whence he had come." Once again in Ethiopia, Frumentius was able to convert a great number of pagans, and thereby the Christian church made its beginnings in "India."
According to Rufinus, Bishop Salama, as Frumentius was now known, must have arrived in Ethiopia between 328 (Athanasius' election to the See of Saint Mark) and 335 (Council of Tyre; i.e., the beginning of Athanasius' first exile). This date may be further
confirmed in the Ethiopian traditions, for, according to the abridged chronicle of Ethiopian kings (Béguinot, 1901, p. 2), Salama is
supposed to have come to the country 333 years after the birth of Christ (333 of the Ethiopian calendar corresponds to A.D. 340-341). This same chronicle notes that during this time, the ruling kings in Ethiopia were Abreha and Asbaha, names that modern Ethiopian specialists consider to be the crown names or surnames of the Axumite king ‘Ezana (well known through pagan and Christian coins) and of his brother and coregent, Se‘azana.
Precise knowledge is lacking concerning Salama's religious activities in the Axumite territories. However, his name appears twice in relation to an episode important in the early history of Christianity, as follows: Emperor Constantius II (337-361), son of Constantine I, who favored the heretical doctrines of ARIUS, wrote a letter to Aezanus and Sazanas (i.e., king ‘Ezana and his brother Se‘azana), rulers of Axum, wherein he severely criticized the doctrines of Athanasius and his fight against ARIANISM, and called upon the two Axumite princes to send Frumentius (Salama) back to Egypt for severe judgment and rectification of his faith. This missive, dated 356 and probably never answered, shows that Abuna Salama I was still alive at this time, that he had preserved the church from Arianism, and had kept it close to the orthodox dogma championed so brilliantly by Athanasius.
The names of the immediate successors to Salama I remain unknown. After him the first abun mentioned in historical documents as metropolitan in Ethiopia is Yohannes I, who held the episcopacy toward the middle of the ninth century. However, the Ethiopian tradition lists a bishop by the name of Minas as the immediate successor of Salama, and attributes to the former the authorship of a number of homilies.
[The next section on Minas was written not by Salvatore Tedeschi but by Getatchew Haile. We place it here, rather than at the end
of this entry or as a separate entry, to maintain the chronological order of the Ethiopian prelates.—Ed.]
MINAS (fl. sixth century)
Ethiopian sources list Bishop Minas (Menas) as the successor of the first Ethiopian metropolitan bishop, Salama or Frumentius, and
call him Salama II. He flourished, according to tradition, during the reign of Anbasa Wedem, before the Arab conquest of Egypt.
However, in the chronologies of Axumite kings, no less than twenty-five kings are listed between the king who ruled during Frumentius' metropolitanate and the reign of Anbasa Wedem (his dates are uncertain). This may indicate that the chair of the metropolitanate was vacant for a long time after Frumentius or his immediate successors. Minas's designation as "the second Salama"
could simply mean a fresh start of vigorous Christian activities in Ethiopia with Bishop Minas as its leader. The literary heritage he left seems to support this explanation.
Although the information on Minas is sketchy, he did enrich the literary tradition of the Ethiopian church with a number of homilies.
At least six of these are extant and are read in Ethiopian monasteries at designated times in the year. They include the homilies on the apostles, dormition of the Virgin Mary, the holy cross, season of spring, the seventy disciples and the 318 Orthodox fathers of the Council of Nicaea, and Abba Yohannai. The translation of the book of Revelation into Ethiopic or Ge‘ez is also ascribed to Minas. It is also possible that the translation into Ge‘ez of Rufinus' work on Frumentius, "The Story of How the Interiors of Ethiopia Came to
Christianity," is this bishop's achievement.
YOHANNES I (fl. second quarter ninth century)
This is the first metropolitan whose name is recorded after that of Salama I (Frumentius), evangelist of Ethiopia. According to the
HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS OF ALEXANDRIA, the only source to mention him, Yohannes I was named to this position by Patriarch Jacob (819-830) and served during the patriarchates of SIMON II (830) and YUSAB I (831-849). During the latter period,
Yohannes I was obliged to leave Ethiopia and return to Egypt, where he withdrew to DAYR AL-BARAMUS. It was the queen of
Ethiopia who expelled him, and in order to do so, she had had to wait for the king to absent himself from the court, on this occasion
to lead his troops into battle. (The names of the king and queen are not mentioned in the Arabic version of the History of the Patriarchs.) With Yohannes out of the country, another prelate, chosen and appointed in Ethiopia against all canon law, replaced
him. Ethiopia then suffered many disasters, epidemics, and military defeats, which induced the Ethiopian sovereign to write to Patriarch Yusab, renewing his allegiance to Alexandria and requesting the return of Yohannes to his country. Thereupon, Yohannes left his retreat in the desert, and in the company of a few fellow clergymen, returned to Ethiopia and reoccupied his episcopal throne. Prosperity then reigned anew in the land.
Later, however, Yohannes had to face another difficulty. In 838, certain Ethiopian factions claimed that the bishop was uncircumcised and insisted that he submit to this operation or be banished again to Egypt. But, upon examining him, they discovered
that he had already been circumcised. The History of the Patriarchs treats this event as a miracle. However, it may rather be explained by the progressive spread of circumcision among the Copts after the ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT and by the fact that in Ethiopia this practice had been followed since the most ancient times, even before the introduction of Christianity.
The immediate successor to Yohannes I remains unknown. The next person listed as holding this office is Abuna Petros I in the tenth century.
PETROS I (fl. first half tenth century)
According to the History of the Patriarchs, Petros (Butrus in Arabic) was chosen and consecrated by Patriarch Quzma, or Cosmas
III (920-932), during the reign of an Ethiopian sovereign whose name is not mentioned in the Arabic text. As metropolitan, Petros
stood at the very center of an episode important in the history of ancient Ethiopia. Before his death, the king confided his two sons to Petros, asking the abun to choose whichever one would be the better ruler. Petros selected the younger brother and placed him on the throne. However, at this time, a monk by the name of Minas (Mina) came forth from the Monastery of Saint Antony (DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS) with another Coptic monk known as Victor (Buqtur). The two approached Petros and asked him for money but
were refused, whereupon they began to plot against the prelate. The angry monks succeeded in forging a letter, purportedly written by Patriarch Cosmas, in which the pontiff declared that Petros was an imposter and should be replaced by Menas and that the election and crowning of the younger brother as king were illegal and he should be dethroned and replaced by the elder son. The latter, upon seeing the false missive, immediately assembled an army, conquered and eliminated his younger brother, and occupied the throne. The new king then deposed Petros, relegated him to a distant place, and gave the see to Menas. However, soon thereafter, Menas quarreled with his old friend, Victor, who then pillaged the bishop's headquarters, fled Ethiopia, and converted to Islam.
When Patriarch Cosmas learned of the conspiracy, he excommunicated Menas, whereupon the king executed the false pretender and hastened to find Petros, who had already died in exile. Meanwhile, the patriarch, still greatly offended by the usurper king's ill treatment of Petros, refused to name a new metropolitan bishop for Ethiopia. Thereupon, the Ethiopian sovereign commanded the
coadjutor to assume the functions of metropolitan ad interim, which he did to an advanced age. Because the king was afraid to let his country be without a bishop to perform the necessary ordinations and blessings, he never allowed this man, who remains unnamed in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, to journey to Egypt for his official consecration.
The four patriarchs who succeeded Cosmas—MACARIUS I, THEOPHANES, MINA II, and ABRAHAM—also refused to name a metropolitan bishop for this region. Not until the patriarchate of PHILOTHEUS (979-1003) did Ethiopia receive a properly consecrated bishop, Dan’el.
DAN’EL (fl. late tenth century)
Dan’el is considered to be the direct successor to Petros I, despite the decades that separate their episcopates. According to the
History of the Patriarchs, an unnamed Ethiopian ruler wrote a letter to King George II of Nubia (who acceded to the throne around 969), informing him of grave conditions rampant in Ethiopia. His kingdom had been invaded by rebels led by the queen of Banu al-
Hamuyah, who brought ruin and desolation everywhere while pursuing him from place to place. The Ethiopian sovereign attributed all these calamities to divine wrath incurred by the ill treatment of Abuna Petros I by one of the kings who preceded him. Since then the church in Ethiopia had remained without a metropolitan. The king pleaded with George II to intercede with the Coptic patriarch, requesting his pardon and the appointment of a new abun for Ethiopia. George II did indeed write to Patriarch PHILOTHEUS (979-1003), whereupon the latter consented to name a bishop for Ethiopia, a monk from DAYR ABU MAQAR by the name of Dan’el (Danyal in Arabic).
Ethiopia received the new metropolitan bishop with great joy, and “God then brought an end to the actions of that woman who had so severely afflicted the land” (History of the Patriarchs). There is no other information extant about this abun.
However, the episode concerning his appointment to Ethiopia has given rise to many interpretations, with the preferred hypothesis being that of Carlo Conti Rossini. This scholar suggests that the invasion of Ethiopia was probably a reaction or revolt against the Christian dynasty by the queen of Damot, an independent pagan kingdom; he proposed that Banu al-Hamuyah in the Arabic text should be corrected to read Banu al-Damutah.
The Christian kingdom then suffered a serious crisis that was overcome only by the arrival of Abuna Dan’el, who succeeded in consolidating the Christian Ethiopian dynasty.
The immediate successor to Dan’el is unknown. The next metropolitan bishop of Ethiopia named in history is Abuna Fiqtor.
FIQTOR (fl. second half eleventh century)
Fiqtor (Victor; Arabic, Buqtur) is the first metropolitan bishop mentioned in the History of the Patriarchs after Dan’el, who had been consecrated near the end of the tenth century, thus indicating a hiatus in the succession. According to the above-mentioned History, Fiqtor was bishop of the Ethiopian church just before his nephew Sawiros occupied the same position. Since the latter was
consecrated by Patriarch CYRIL II (1078-1092), it may be deduced that Abuna Fiqtor was consecrated toward the middle of the
eleventh century by Patriarch CHRISTODOULUS (1047-1077). At any rate, it is certain that Fiqtor's metropolitanate occurred during
the pontificate of Christodoulus.
Renaudot (1713, p. 47) doubted the existence of this particular Ethiopian bishop and proposed that he was probably confused with a certain Buqtur who, at about this time, was metropolitan bishop for the church in Nubia. However, there is no proof of such a supposed confusion. The Ethiopian Synaxarion (Budge, 1928, Vol. 4, p. 995) does mention that Fiqtor was the brother (not uncle) of his successor, but it is obvious that priority must be given to the Arabic text, for the Ethiopian text is based thereon.
During Fiqtor's metropolitanate there was a Coptic monk in Ethiopia, by name of ‘Abdun, who himself assumed the title of bishop and the name Quril (Cyril), and then plotted to have Fiqtor deposed so that he might usurp the episcopal throne. Using a certain ‘Ali al-Qifti as intermediary, ‘Abdun began his intrigues before the all-powerful Amir al-Juyush, Badr al-Jamali, who was vizier (1074- 1094) of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir. Claiming Fiqtor to be a ruthless enemy of the Ethiopian Muslims, ‘Ali al-Qifti suggested to Badr al-Jamali that Christodoulus should be forced to depose this bishop and replace him with ‘Abdun. Ceding to the vizier's heavy pressure, Christodoulus decided to send to Ethiopia a delegation led by a bishop and charged with consecrating Abdun in place of Fiqtor. However, before the delegation could depart, ‘Ali al-Qifti fell into disgrace and was executed after confessing his treachery. This, of
course, ended all plans for the delegation. Although he failed in his first attempt to become bishop, ‘Abdun merely postponed his plans, which he renewed during the episcopate of Sawiros, Fiqtor's successor.
The History of the Patriarchs gives no other information concerning Abuna Fiqtor, who seems to have died during the pontificate of Christodoulus.
[This article continues in Volume 4.]
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