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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Abyssinian Church

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a branch of the Coptic church, in upper Ethiopia. The Abyssinians, by the most authentic accounts, were converted to the Christian faith about the year 330; when Frumentius, being providentially raised to a high office, under the patronage of the queen of Ethiopia, and ordained bishop of that country by Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, established Christianity, built churches, and ordained a regular clergy to officiate in them. The Abyssinian Christians themselves, indeed claim a much higher antiquity, having a tradition that the doctrine of Christ was first introduced among them by Queen Candace, Acts 8:27; or even preached there by the Apostles Matthew and Bartholomew; but the former is supported by no collateral evidence, and the latter is in opposition to high authority. Some of them claim relation to the Israelites, through the queen of Sheba, so far back as the reign of Solomon.

The Abyssinian Christians have always received their abuna, or patriarch, from Alexandria, whence they sprang, and consequently their creed is Monophysite, or Eutychian; maintaining one nature only in the person of Christ, namely, the divine, in which they considered all the properties of the humanity to be absorbed; in opposition to the Nestorians.

On the power of the Saracens prevailing in the east, all communication being nearly cut off between the eastern and western churches, the Abyssinian church remained unknown in Europe till nearly the close of the fifteenth century, when John II, of Portugal, accidentally hearing of the existence of such a church, sent to make inquiry. This led to a correspondence between the Abyssinians and the church of Rome; and Bermudes, a Portuguese, was consecrated by the pope patriarch of Ethiopia, and the Abyssinians were required to receive the Roman Catholic faith, in return for some military assistance afforded to the emperor.

Instead of this, however, the emperor sent for a new patriarch from Alexandria, imprisoned Bermudes, and declared the pope a heretic.

About the middle of the sixteenth century, the Jesuits attempted a mission to Abyssinia, in the hope of reducing it to the pope's authority; but without success. In 1588 a second mission was attempted, and so far succeeded as to introduce a system of persecution, which cost many lives, and caused many troubles to the empire. In the following century, however, the Jesuits were all expelled, Abyssinia returned to its ancient faith, and nothing more was heard of the church of Abyssinia, till the latter part of the last century.

After the expulsion of the Jesuits, all Europeans were interdicted; nor does it appear that any one dared to attempt an entrance until the celebrated Mr. Bruce, by the report of his medical skill, contrived to introduce himself to the court, where he even obtained military promotion; and was in such repute, that it was with great difficulty he obtained leave to return to England.

Encouraged, perhaps, by this circumstance, the Moravian brethren attempted a mission to this country, but in vain. They were compelled to retreat to Grand Cairo, from whence, by leave of the patriarch, they visited the Copts, at Behrusser, and formed a small society; but in 1783, they were driven thence, and compelled to return to Europe. More recently, however, the late king of Abyssinia (Itsa Takley Gorges) addressed a letter to Mr. Salt, the British consul in Egypt, and requested copies of some parts of both the Old and New Testaments. Copies of the Psalms, in Ethiopic, as printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society, were also sent to him.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Abyssinian Church'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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