SALAMA II (d. 1388)
Salama II was the successor of Abuna Ya‘qob and served as metropolitan during the reigns of Negus Sayfa Ar‘ad (1344-1372), Negus Newaya Maryam (1372-1382), and Negus Dawit I (1382- 1412). The Liber Axumae indicates that he arrived in Ethiopia in 1341 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1348-1349) and died in 1380 (A.D. 1387-1388). According to the Ethiopian Synaxarion, he died
on 20 Nahasé (1380) (A.D. 13 August 1388).
Salama II occupies an important place in the history of ETHIOPIAN CHRISTIAN LITERATURE, having been the promoter of a vast literary movement based on the translation from Arabic into Ethiopic (Ge‘ez) of a considerable number of texts derived from the religious literature of the Copts. It was doubtless the intention of the metropolitan and his collaborators to strengthen the ties binding Christian Ethiopia to the Alexandrian patriarchate, but it is certain that this great work of translation also sought to counteract, on the spot, the menace created by the dissident ideas and movements then current among the Ethiopian clergy.
Because of his prolific literary activity, Salama was given the epithet Matargwem (translator). Although he is often similarly honored as "Translator of the Holy Scriptures," it is not known whether he was actually involved in the translation of the Bible into Ethiopic.
There is considerable documentation for the numerous literary translations effected by Salama II, principally in the domains of
hagiography and patristics. On the other hand, although his long episcopate covered four important decades in Ethiopian history,
there are not sufficient data concerning his religious politics. The Life of Fileppos, third abbot of Dabra Asbo, who had been relegated to the south of the country by the king around 1346, during the reign of Abuna Ya‘qob, gives some information. Upon his arrival in Ethiopia, Salama II was able to secure from the king the liberation of Fileppos and his companions, but a new quarrel soon erupted between Fileppos and the king about fasting. The Ethiopians fast on Wednesday and Friday (the days of the condemnation and death of Jesus), as well as during the forty days preceding Christmas. However, they do not fast on Christmas, even if this day falls on Wednesday or Friday. Following the advice of certain priests at court, the negus Sayfa Ar‘ad decided that it was also unnecessary to fast on Christmas Eve, even if it fell on Wednesday or Friday. During the same year that Salama II arrived in Ethiopia, Christmas Eve (28 Takhsas 1341/A.D. 24 December 1348) fell on a Wednesday. The negus asked both the metropolitan and Abbot Fileppos to ratify his decision. Salama was not rigidly opposed to this royal request, but Fileppos and the other abbots evidenced a clear hostility. Once again they were exiled to a distant region. This episode confirms that Salama II arrived in Ethiopia toward the end of 1348 and that, from a political viewpoint, he was less strict than the regular clergy in its attitude to royalty.
These few historical data are so sparse that one may wonder if Salama the ecclesiastic simply stood in the shadows created by his
brilliance as a man of letters. In particular, one may ask what was his attitude in the great quarrel around 1380 wherein the two sons of Sayfa Ar‘ad opposed each other for the possession of the throne and at the end of which Dawit eliminated his older brother, Negus Newaya Maryam. Did Salama II align himself with the monks of Dabra Asbo, who condemned Dawit, or with the monks of Dabra Hayq, who supported the new negus?
Salama II's successor was Abuna Bartalomewos, who arrived in Ethiopia in 1391 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1398-1399). S. Kur
has recently surmised that between the death of Salama II and the arrival of Bartalomewos there may have been another metropolitan, Abuna Fiqtor. Fiqtor is mentioned in certain traditional lists, but in the light of documents available at present, his existence seems doubtful.
BARTALOMEWOS (d. c. 1435)
Information about the episcopate of Bartalomewos (Bartholonew) is scant, even though it covered the lengthy period from the end of the reign of Negus Dawit I (1380-1412) though the entire reign of Negus Yeshaq (1413-1430). Successor to Salama II, Bartalomewos arrived in Ethiopia in 1391 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1398-1399), according to the date listed in a local chronicle
(Annals of Addi-Neamin). This was at a time when Christian Ethiopia was undergoing a delicate crisis. Dawit, having seized power by eliminating his older brother, Negus Newaya Maryam, with the help of his sister, Del Sefa, had to face the opposition of certain elements of the military and the monasteries of Shewa that contested his actions. Therefore, it was a dozen years after the death of Abuna Salama II before the king was able to have the patriarch send a new metropolitan to Ethiopia.
Bartalomewos arrived in Ethiopia with important information for the negus: an atmosphere of peace between Christians and Muslims
had existed for some thirty years in the Mediterranean, and this was accompanied by a remarkable entente among the various Christian communities (Copts, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox). Upon the advice of Bartalomewos and with the assistance of the Coptic patriarch MATTHEW I (1378-1409), the negus sent two missions to Europe in search of religious relics supposed to attest divine favor toward Dawit and consolidate his throne thereby. The first mission reached Venice in 1402, and the other arrived at Rome in 1404. It was the first mission, whose spokesman was a certain Florentine, Antonio Bartoli, that brought from Venice the relics desired by the negus.
However, inside Ethiopia, Bartalomewos became embroiled in a religious quarrel. Certain monasteries in the north of Ethiopia
maintained that Saturday should be observed as the Sabbath, according to Holy Scripture, whereas other monasteries, supported
by the metropolitan, defended the observance of Sunday, in conformity with Coptic tradition. Those favoring Saturday were the
monks of the order of Ewostatewos and, in particular, Fileppos, abbot of Dabra Bizan. The metropolitan's principal ally was Saraqa
Berhan, abbot of Dabra Hayq and counselor to the negus. Bartalomewos won the first round. In 1400 he convoked a counsel during which Fileppos was retained at Dabra Hayq under the guard of Saraqa Berhan, while his partisans were sent away far from their
monasteries. However, in 1404, Dawit decided to reverse his stand. He freed the punished prelates and authorized the observance of "the two Sabbaths." According to Taddesse Tamrat, the attitude of the Order of Ewostatewos was dictated more by nationalistic sentiments than by religious considerations, and this reversal weighed heavily against Bartalomewos and his immediate successors for a long time to come.
During the reign of Negus Yeshaq, Bartalomewos had to suffer another difficult period. Suspected of sympathizing with the Zamika’elite movement (a heretical current initiated by a monk named Zamika’el), the metropolitan had to defend himself before a
board of inquiry and finally was forced to condemn formally the Zamika’elite doctrine. Soon afterward, there arose the heretical
movement of the Estifanosites (named after a monk called Estifanos, or Stephan), which "refused to venerate Mary and the Cross," but which was also inspired by political considerations. The Estifanosites were condemned and persecuted during the fifteenth century, but Bartalomewos, who was present at their beginnings, does not seem to have played a role in their persecution (see
ETHIOPIAN HERESIES AND THEOLOGICAL CONTRO-VERSIES).
It should be noted that an act was drawn up concerning a donation of land (Arabic, waqf) from Negus Dawit I to the Bethlehem Church (Bet Maryam) of Lalibala in Lasta. Written in Arabic, this act carries an addendum for verification and legalization written in Coptic and signed by Abuna Bartalomewos; it is dated A.M. 4 Paoni (Coptic, Ba’unah; Ethiopian, Sane) 1126 (A.D. 29 May 1410).
The exact date of the end of Bartalomewos' episcopate is not known. He was still living when Zar’a Ya‘qob ascended the throne
(June 1434), for he is mentioned in a royal document of this period. However, given the fact that he is not cited in the documents of
1436, it may be presumed that he died around 1435. His successors were Mika’el III and Gabr’el, who arrived in Ethiopia together.
MIKA’EL III (d. c. 1450s)
Contrary to the tradition which held that there could be only one metropolitan in Ethiopia, Mika’el (Michael) held this post simultaneously with Abuna Gabr’el. Succeeding Abuna Bartalomewos, these two metropolitans arrived in Ethiopia together. With the coadjutor bishop Yohannes, they formed a small group of Coptic prelates who, according to the Liber Axumae, had come to the country in 1431 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1438-1439). Thus, they had been consecrated by the Coptic patriarch JOHN XI (1427-1452).
Upon their arrival in Ethiopia in February 1439, during the reign of Zar’a Ya‘qob (1434-1468), the negus demanded that they condemn the heretical trinitarian doctrine of the Zamika’elites (initiated by a monk named Zamika’el). This was probably because
the negus remembered that Abuna Bartalomewos had been suspected of favoring this heresy. Consequently Mika’el and Gabr’el
were required to proclaim, "We believe in three persons, but one sole divinity."
Likewise, in August 1449, at the request of the negus, both metropolitans subscribed to the verdict that Zar’a Ya‘qob once again
declared in the old dispute of the celebration of the Sabbath on Saturday. In effect, the two metropolitans agreed to the observance of "the two Sabbaths," in conformance with the decision adopted during the reign of Abuna Bartalomewos. Afterward, during the sovereign's residency at Dabra Berhan (1454-1468), the three Egyptian prelates participated in the tribunal that judged and condemned the Zamika’elites.
The exact circumstances for the joint reign of Mika’el III and Gabr’el as metropolitans are unknown. Probably when they were consecrated and sent to Ethiopia, the Coptic patriarch intended that they govern in succession (i.e., one after the death of the other, as often happened subsequently). However, once on Ethiopian soil and probably at the orders of the negus, the two divided their territorial jurisdiction. As a result, there were documents issued with both men holding the same rank wherein Mika’el governed Amhara and Gabr’el ruled over Shewa. Each one proceeded to ordain deacons and priests within his own territory. At first this arrangement did not include Tigre, where the clergy refused to accept any metropolitan at all, for they felt that the quarrel of the Sabbath had not yet been definitively resolved. The negus then convoked a synod in 1450 that confirmed the observance of the two Sabbaths.
Only approximate deductions can be made as to the dates of the deaths of these two metropolitans. The Life of Ezra, a contemporary Estifanosite monk, states that in 1475 Ezra decided to go to Egypt in an attempt to have himself ordained a priest, "for, since the death of Abuna Gabr’el, there was no longer a bishop in Ethiopia with the authority to consecrate priests" (Caquot, 1961, p. 95). This story is also confirmed by a traditional list of metropolitans found in an Ethiopian document, which states that Mika’el and Gabr’el arrived together and that when Mika’el died, Gabr’el carried out the duties alone. Elsewhere, Francisco Alvares (1961, Vol. 2, pp. 356-57), the chaplain of the first Portuguese mission to arrive in Ethiopia (1520), reported that Abuna Marqos I told him that during the reign of Zar’a Ya‘qob, the church in Ethiopia had been without a metropolitan for twenty-three years—that is, until the arrival of Abuna Yeshaq II toward the end of 1481. From these data, it may be deduced that Gabr’el succeeded Mika’el and that he died in 1458. As to Mika’el's death, it must have preceded this date by a short while.
GABR’EL (d. c. 1458)
Gabr’el (Gabriel) arrived in Ethiopia in 1431 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1438-1439) with another metropolitan, Abuna Mika’el III. They had both been consecrated together by the Coptic patriarch JOHN XI (1427-1452) and were the successors of Abuna Bartalomewos.
According to tradition, only one bishop could be appointed metropolitan of Ethiopia. Consequently, it is probable that Gabr’el and Mika’el III were supposed to exercise this duty in succession (i.e., one after the death of the other). In reality, they reigned jointly
by dividing their territorial jurisdiction. By order of the negus, Gabr’el took charge of Shewa and Mika’el of Amhara.
For the most part, the information available is the same concerning these two metropolitans (see the biography of Mika’el III, above). It must be added that it was Abuna Gabr’el who conferred the priesthood upon the monk Abakerazun, disciple and
successor to the monk Estifanos, head of the heretical and political Estifanosite movement that shook the Ethiopian church during the fifteenth century.
After the death of Abuna Mika’el III, Gabr’el was the sole metropolitan until his death around 1458. The church of Ethiopia then remained without an abun for approximately twenty-three years, until the arrival of Abuna Yeshaq II in that country.
YESHAQ II (d. c. 1500)
After the death of Abuna Gabr’el in 1458, neither Negus Zar’a Ya‘qob (1434-1468) nor his son Ba’eda Maryam (1468-1478) asked the Coptic patriarch in Alexandria to send a new metropolitan to Ethiopia. The exact reasons for this are unknown, but such an
attitude indicates the formation of an autonomous current at the heart of the Ethiopian church. According to the Life of Marha
Krestos (Kur, CSCO 331, pp. vii, 76-81), ninth abbot of Dabra Libanos, during the ninth year of Ba’eda Maryam's reign (1477), the
negus convened a great synod attended by a large number of prelates. The subject was to decide about their relations with the Coptic church, accused by one part of the Ethiopian clergy of "disturbing the Coptic faith and of eating food proscribed by law."
The accusers asked that the prelates proceed to the immediate election of a metropolitan "chosen by the people of Ethiopia" and
thus were asking that the Ethiopian church separate itself from the church of Egypt. Marha Krestos opposed this request, considering it to be contrary to tradition and canonical law. He proposed sending an exploratory mission to Egypt with the authority, should it prove feasible, to ask for a new metropolitan. The assembly approved the thesis of separation by four hundred votes to three hundred; but the negus agreed with Marha Krestos, so there was no schism. However, the death of Ba’eda Maryam in 1478 prevented the delegation from being sent to Egypt. Only after the beginning of Eskender's reign (1478-1494) was it possible for an Ethiopian mission to leave the country and begin negotiations with the Coptic patriarch.
Aware of some danger, the Coptic patriarch showed his skill by sending several Coptic prelates to Ethiopia. The first group comprised four persons: Bishop Yeshaq (the new metropolitan), Bishop Marqos (destined to succeed Yeshaq), the coadjutor bishops Mika’el and Yohannes, and Qummus Yosef. Later, certain other Coptic prelates also arrived in Ethiopia, among whom was a bishop Ya‘qob, who was supposed to succeed Marqos as metropolitan. However, his death before that of Marqos prevented this.
According to the Liber Axumae, Yeshaq arrived in Ethiopia in 1474 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1481-1482). Other documents
state that he arrived near the end of 1481, but information about his episcopate is fragmentary. He seems to have played a part even on a literary level, for to him is attributed an Ethiopian redaction of the Life of Saint Pantalewon (one of the Nine Saints in the Ethiopian tradition) and a hymn in honor of the Virgin Mary.
According to the Life of Marha Krestos, Abuna Yeshaq accompanied the negus Eskender to Dabra Libanos upon his visit to this monastery. At this time, Yeshaq ordained several priests and proceeded to the solemn coronation of Abbot Marha Krestos. Further, according to the Life of the Estifanosite monk ‘Ezra, Yeshaq retracted the long-standing excommunication of the heretical Estifanosites, which would indicate an attenuation of the prejudices against this movement.
The date of Yeshaq's death is unknown, but it can be approximated. Kur has proposed that he must have died before Negus Eskender (1494) because in the Life of Marha Krestos, Yeshaq is no longer mentioned after the accession of Na’od to the throne. However, there is a formal text that dismisses this argument. In fact, according to the Life of ‘Ezra, "while this monk resided at the court of Naod, metropolitan Yeshaq died, and Abuna Marqos succeeded him in this duty." Since other information states that ‘Ezra lived at Na’od's court for nine years, until the death of this king in July 1508, it is easy to conclude that Yeshaq died during the first years of the sixteenth century. His successor was Marqos I, who had come with him to Ethiopia.
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