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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Egypt, Christian

1. Church History. The first seeds of Christianity were undoubtedly scattered in Egypt at the time of the apostles. According to some ancient historians, Peter founded the Church of Alexandria and several other Egyptian churches. Mark the Evangelist is said by an old tradition, preserved by Eusebius (Ecclesiastes Hist. 2:16), to have been "the first that was sent to Egypt, and first established churches at the city of Alexandria." (See ALEXANDRIA). The testimony of Eusebius, that the first Christians of Egypt followed a rigidly ascetic school, is very doubtful, because Philo, to whom he refers, does not speak of Christians, but of a Jewish sect, the Therapeutae, and expressly mentions that they lived, not in Alexandria, but on Lake Moeris. From Lower Egypt Christianity soon spread to Cyrene, Pentapolis, Libya, Central and Upper Egypt. There were at least twenty bishoprics in Egypt about the middle of the third century, for that number of bishops were assembled at a council in 235. Five councils of Egyptian bishops were held before 311; a great many in the fourth and following centuries. As Egypt had been in the times before Christ the seat of philosophy and mysticism, so it now became one of the chief seats of Christian literature. The Alexandrian school was the oldest of the higher class of institutions for Christian education. Jerome and others hold Mark the Evangelist to have been its founder, but the succession of catechists is differently stated. (See AEXANDRIAN SCHOOL).

Among the scientific men whom it gave to the Church were Clement, Athanasius, Origen, Cyril. Gnosticism found numerous adherents. Basilides, Valentinus, Heracleon, Ptolemaeus, Carpocrates, were Egyptians. The Ophites and Doketism sprang up there; Sabellianism and Arianism were also products of Egypt. The influence of Egypt in the history of Monachism is equally marked; Pachomius, Anthony, and many other celebrated hermits, greatly contributed to the spreading of Monachism in the Christian Church. Monachism (q.v.), in fact, cannot be fully understood without a due appreciation of the Egyptian element. In the history of the constitution of the Christian Church Egypt has also had a considerable influence. In no other country of the East were hierarchical tendencies so early developed, for the patriarch of Alexandria soon sought to. obtain privileges which no other of the superior bishops enjoyed. The Monophysites, who subsequently received the name of Copts, became in Egypt the predominant Church, and gradually wrested nearly all the churches from the orthodox Christians, who, as early as the end of the sixth century, were reduced to a very insignificant number. The patriarchal seat at Alexandria was occupied almost exclusively by Monophysite (Jacobite) patriarchs, with the exception of Cosmas (elected about 726) and Eutychus (elected in 934). The orthodox (Greek) Christians received from their opponents the nickname Melchites (q.v.). In 615 Egypt was invaded by Chosroes, king of Persia, when few bishoprics were spared. The dominion of the Persians lasted only a few years, when the whole country, with the capital city of Alexandria, passed into the power of the Mohammedans in 635 (according to others in 640). Under them Christianity suffered incalculable injuries, and gradually declined so as to become a despised and oppressed sect. (See COPTS). Better prospects for Christianity did not open till the beginning of the 19th century, when Egypt, under the reign of the enlightened Mehemet Ali, was brought under the influence of European civilization. Since then the educated Egyptians have learned to appreciate the superiority of European nations, especially of England and France; many young men of talent have been sent to European schools; the native Christian population begins to rise from its degradation and despised condition; the large cities, especially Alexandria and Cairo, are filling up with an intelligent and influential population of foreign-born Christians; Christian schools, and other religious and charitable institutions, are multiplying; and the signs of the times seem to indicate that the prospects of Christianity are at present very bright.

An attempt to establish a Protestant mission in Egypt was made by the Moravians in 1769. A missionary, Hocker, who previously had sought to open communication with the Abyssinian Church, but had been compelled to return to Europe in 1761, was in 1768 commissioned, together with a young man named Danke, a carpenter by trade, to return to Egypt, and await any opening that might present itself to penetrate into Abyssinia. "On March 5, 1769, they reached Cairo, Hocker earning a livelihood by practicing as a physician and Danke by working at his trade. The latter soon learned to converse tolerably in Arabic, and when an assistant arrived for Hocker in the person of John Antes, a watchmaker, he set out on his first journey to the Copts, landing at Gizeh, in Upper Egypt. The state of the country at this time was exceedingly disturbed, the Mameluke beys having revolted against the Turkish government, and many of them being also at war with one another. Hocker had been summoned to attend members of the household of Ali Bey (for a time the first chief in Egypt), and Danke's connection with the 'English physician,' as Hocker was called, brought him into favor with the officers and soldiers at Gizeh, who treated him with the greatest kindness. He met a number of Copts in this city, with whom he formed a very intimate friendship. At first several of them invited him to visit their native city, Behnesse, the population of which was exclusively Coptic, but afterwards they endeavored to deter him by describing the danger to which he would expose himself. Danke, however, refused to listen to them, and, after bidding the Copts at Girzeh farewell, he set out September 13th. Danke made in all three visits to the Copts at Behnesse. His labors were by many eagerly accepted, by others they were viewed with suspicion or openly opposed. His testimony for Jesus was not without encouraging effect, and many of the priests even became his firm support. ers, and begged him to remain amongst them. On his third visit he caught a severe cold, upon which followed an attack of malignant fever. Notwithstanding the most careful nursing on the part of the other brethren, the disease increased upon him, and on October 6th, 1772, he died, aged only 38 years. By permission of the Greek patriarch, his body was interred in a vault of St. George's church, in the Old City of Cairo. In May 1775, George Winiger arrived as Danke's successor. He proceeded to Behnesse, and labored faithfully in preaching the Gospel and instructing the people privately. Michael Baschara (the magistrate referred to above) remained faithful to his profession, and was an active and influential assistant. In 1780, three other brethren were sent from Herrrlhut to reinforce the mission, but it had become evident before their arrival that in the present state of the country it would be impossible to continue the work amongst the Copts, and that an effort to penetrate into Abyssinia would be useless. The brethren remained at their post until the Synod of 1782 resolved to discontinue the mission. Hocker, who had labored for its establishment ever since the year 1752, died at Cairo in August, 1781" (Moravian [newspaper], May 7, 1868).

In 1826, the "Church Missionary Society" of London sent out some German missionaries to labor among the Copts. After spending some time in studying the Arabic language, and distributing the Bible and religious tracts, the missionaries fixed the location of the mission at Cairo, where they had two schools, attended by Greek, Coptic, Armenian, Roman Catholic, and even pure Mohammedan children. In 1833 a boarding-school was commenced, designed for training teachers and catechists. In 1834, a chapel was constructed by subscriptions obtained on the spot. In 1835, the mission was interrupted by a terrible visitation of the plague. In 1840, it was reported by the missionaries that in the different quarters of the town no less than six religious meetings had been established by the native Copts for the purpose of reading the Scriptures; that the patriarch had sanctioned both these meetings and a plan for the establishment of an institution in Egypt for the education of the Coptic clergy. In 1841, a pupil of the missionary school of Cairo was appointed by the patriarch Abuna, or head of the Abyssinian Church. Bishop Gobat, who visited Egypt in 1849, expressed in a letter dated January 9, 1850, opinion that the plan on which this mission had been established, to seek the friendship of the higher clergy of the Eastern churches, and to induce them to reform their churches, had failed. The mission was subsequently abandoned.

A mission established by the American Missionary Association has also been again abandoned. The most successful of any of the Protestant missions has been that undertaken by the United Presbyterian Church. It organized a number of congregations and schools, and, through the liberality of the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, who married a pupil of the mission school, it obtained a press, through which a large amount of useful reading has been scattered throughout the land. The growth of the Church was sufficiently encouraging to organize the churches into the Presbytery of Egypt, in connection with the General Assembly of the Church in the United States. A flourishing theological school has been established at Assifut, for which the Rev. Mr. Hogg, in 1866, raised in Great Britain about $2500. In 1867 the patriarch of the Coptic Church manifested the fiercest hostility to the mission; and obtaining, it is believed, at least the tacit consent and authority of the civil government, he instituted proceedings that at one time threatened the mission churches with great disaster. Finally, however, the Egyptian government, chiefly in consequence of the remonstrances of the English and American consuls, stopped the persecution. The last annual report on this mission, made to the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in May, 1868, states that in nearly all the churches gratifying accessions have been made to the membership during the past year, and that during the persecution only four shrunk back, all of whom subsequently returned. The Presbytery have taken the proper steps for each native church to have a native pastor duly called, ordained, and installed. The churches of Ghifs and Cairo already have called native pastors, and taken steps for providing the necessary salaries. The Presbytery of Egypt, in 1867, also adopted strong resolutions against the slave-trade, which is still carried on in Egypt with the connivance of the government.

2. Statistics. The large majority of the inhabitants are Mohammedans. The theological school connected with the mosque of Cairo is one of the most frequented schools of the Islam. All the elementary schools and higher institutions for the Mohammedan population are of a strictly religious character. Mehemet Ali established several schools after the European model, in which young Egyptians were to be educated, partly by European teachers, for civil and military offices. Such schools were the medical school at Abu-Zahel, the cadet school at Gizeh, the marine school at Alexandria, the school of engineers at Chanka, the medical college of Casr-el-Ayin, the artillery school of Turrah, and the musical institute in the Citadel of Cairo. A special college for young Egyptians was also established in Paris. Several of these schools were, however, suppressed under the reign of Abbas Pasha. The most numerous body of Christians are the Copts, who have a patriarch, four metropolitans, and seven other bishops, and a. population estimated from 150,000 to 250,000 souls. (See COPTS).

The number of United Copts, who recognize the authority of the Pope, is about 10,000. They have a vicar apostolic at Cairo. For the Latin Roman Catholics there is another vicar apostolic at Alexandria, who is at the same time delegate for the United Orientals of other rites than the Coptic. According to letters of Roman Catholic missionaries, Alexandria had, in 1853, 7020 Latins, 600 United Copts, 240 Maronites, 350 Melchites (United Greeks), 50 Syrians, 60 Armenians together 8320. The Roman Catholic population of Cairo at the same time consisted of 4148 Latins, 200 Melchites, 800 Copts, 300 Maronites, 300 Armenians, 200 Syrians, 100 Chaldees. Since then the Roman Catholic population of these two cities has undoubtedly largely increased in consequence of the rapid growth of the total population of the two cities; but no later trustworthy statistics are known. There are Franciscan monasteries at Alexandria, Damietti, Cairo, and two in Upper Egypt. The orthodox Greek Church has in Egypt a population of about 8000 souls. They are under the patriarch of Alexandria, who resides at Alexandria or Cairo, and whose official title is "The most Blessed and Holy Patriarch of the great City of Alexandria, and of all Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, and Ethiopia, Pope, and (Ecumenical Judge." Four metropolical sees belong to the Greek patriarchate of Alexandria, viz.: 1. Libya; 2. Memphis; 3. Pelusium; 4. Metelis; but the last three appear to have been vacant for some time.

The mission of the American United Presbyterian Church reported at the General Assembly for 1888 the following statistics: missionaries, 12, including one medical missionary; congregations, 24; organized outstations, 85; communicants, 2307. The mission occupies seven central stations, the chief ones being at Alexandria, Cairo, Assifut, Feyum, and Ghifs. The theological school at Assist had in 1888, 20 theological students. Schools for boys and girls are organized in connection with each of the five churches and at each of the out-stations. The distribution of the Bible is prosecuted by the agents of the British and Foreign Bible Society, by the American missionaries, by the Crischona mission, and by others. There were, in 1889, three depots in Cairo for the sale of the Bible, and the yearly sale of the Scriptures averaged from 7000 to 12,000 copies. The Crischona, or Pilgrim mission, at Basel, Switzerland, intended to establish a so-called "Apostles' Street," or series of twelve stations, from Alexandria far into the heart of Abyssinia. Of these, the following stations were, in 1866, in active operation in Egypt: St. Matthew's in Alexandria; St. Mark's in Cairo; St. Peter's at Assouan, at the falls of the Nile; St. Thomas at Khartoum, at the junction of the White and Blue Niles; and St. Paul's at Matammah, on the borders of Abyssinia. The deaconesses of Kaiserswerth have a hospital in Alexandria, and the first German Protestant church of Egypt was opened in 1866. Princeton Review, 1850, page 260; 1856, page 715; Newcomb, Cyclop. of Missions, s.v.; Hardwick. Christ and other Masters, volume 2; Journal of Sac. Lit. 8, 9; Bibliotheca Sacra, 6:707; Christian Yearbook for 1867, page 289; the Annual Reports of the U.P. Foreign Mission Board, in July number of Evangel. Repository (1860- 1868). (A.J.S.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Egypt, Christian'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/egypt-christian.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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