PROBLEMS CONFRONTED BY THE CHURCH
The third and great problem was the desire of the Roman Catholic Church to bring the Ethiopian Christians under the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. Several missionary workers and bishops (Jesuits) were sent to Ethiopia for the purpose of conversion (1520-1632). Pedro Pais (Paes),
Joao Bermudez, Andre de Oviedo, Francisco Alvares and D. Alfonso Mendez were the notable leaders among the missionaries.
Their mission was the result of contact with King Manuel and King Joam of Portugal made by Empress Eleni and her son Lebna Dengel (Prester John) of Ethiopia,
whose desires were to fortify their country against the Turkish Menace then pending, by an alliance with a Christian
neighbouring power and to protect the holy land in which the tomb of our Lord Eyesus Kristos is.
The Liberation of the Church
The essence of the development of the Ethiopian church is always to be found in its history. As can be seen from the following simplified account, it was a signal for the beginning of the main task to be accomplished in the future.
Establishment of the Ethiopian Patriarchate
The church being free shows with great evidence that the major problems of society are being solved and the needs and hopes of a large number of people are being realized.
From the beginning the Ethiopian church was affiliated with the See of Saint Mark of Alexandria. After Abba Selama (Father of Peace / Frumentius) first bishop of Ethiopia, died, Egyptian bishops from Alexandria were appointed to head the Ethiopian church.
The Civil War - Emperor Susneyos
Among the notable missionaries that came to Ethiopia to proselytize was Pero Pais (Pedro Paez), who reached Ethiopia in 1603. He lost no time in advertising the Church of Rome.
Pais was “ received with great honour by King Zedengel. The next day – disputes began about religion which the King was pleased both favourably and patiently to hear.” On the advice of Pais, Zedengel wrote to Pope Clement VIII and King Philip III of Spain and Portugal to request Jesuits to come and instruct his subjects.
It was also said that Zedengel secretly promised Pais to submit himself to the Pope of Rome. The chief nobility of Ethiopia found out including Ze Selassie who was zealous of their ancient religion they fought against the king and slew him in battle. Zedengel being slain Pais’s "great hopes vanished of a sudden." After the king’s death Yacob and Susneyos the King's sons fought a civil war between themselves in which Yacob was killed. Pais remained silent until the struggle was over then went to Susneyos' court where he was received with honour. Before long he had converted Susneyos to Catholicism. In 1615 Susneyos convened a theological council to debate the two beliefs Ethiopian and Roman having the Emperor on their side the Jesuits triumphed. Susneyos then issued a decree ordering his subjects to believe in the Roman formula.
The discussion was renewed because of the protests of the Ethiopian Bishop Simon, which the Jesuits won again Susneyos then reissued his proclamation pronouncing death for anyone who disagreed. The priests were filled with horror and dismay sixty monks from Damot Monastery threw themselves from a cliff rather than accept the Roman faith. The king’s eldest brother Afe Kristos (mouth of Christ) refused to accept the Roman faith and his tongue was cut out. The Governor of Wagara province gathered an army around him to kill Susneyos but was defeated. Pais died of a wasting fever soon after converting Susneyos and was replaced two years later by Afonso Mendes.
He arrived in Ethiopia on April 3, 1624 with six other Jesuits. Mendes was “consecrated” Patriarch of Ethiopia by the Pope of Rome to head the Ethiopian church, even though Ethiopia already had their spiritual leader consecrated in Alexandria. Nevertheless, Mendes was called Patriarch by his few catholic followers, of course including Emperor Susneyos. Mendes work began with the so called ana baptist type of work and with an attitude of dictatorship. He first ordered people to kneel to him as representative of the pope. The second order was that priests of the Ethiopian church should be reordained by him and the entire population would be regarded as heathen if not rebaptized in the Catholic faith.
Churches would have to be reconstructed and altars' rebuilt in the Portuguese fashion.
In 1626 Susneyos swore allegiance to the Pope of Rome. He forced the clergy and the imperial families to do the same and issued the usual proclamation. Mendes excommunicated anyone who refused to accept Rome. The Ethiopian people were untouched; the Ethiopian church is the oldest church in Christendom and deeply rooted in the past. Her tradition and culture has been part of the nation’s life since the first century it was impossible for the people to accept Roman doctrine.
Instead war; revolt after revolt with no end in sight broke out the Emperor spent his days squashing revolts. The Emperor’s followers including his son began to murmur against killing of fellow Ethiopians and argued with him to break with Rome. The viceroy of Tigre was killed because he supported Rome and Susneyos avenged him with a mighty army yet the people said,“...look, sire, such thousands killed. They are neither Moors nor heathens but your own vassals, our flesh and blood. How many will you put to death? They cannot understand this faith of Rome. Leave them, sire, to the faith of their forefathers.”
Susneyos compromised by proclaiming “...Hear, O, Hear: We first gave you this faith which we held to be good, but numberless people have died. We therefore give you back your fathers’ faith. Let the former priests reenter their churches and replace their Tabots. Let them say Masses, and all of you rejoice.” The proclamation was received with great joy the whole camp sang with shouts and acclamations.
The whole country danced and sang with joy. “ At length the sheep of Ethiopia freed from the Bold Lyons of the West, securely in their pastures feed. Saint Mark and Cyril’s doctrine have o’ercome. The follies of the Church of Rome. Rejoice, Rejoice sing Hallelujah. All, no more the Western wolves. Our Ethiopia shall enthrall”.
Susneyos died of a wasting fever on December 16, 1632; this spelled the end for the Jesuits in Ethiopia. Fasilidas who was an ardent supporter of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church succeeded Susneyos. He ordered the Jesuits to leave Ethiopia Mendes said he would not leave as he had vowed not to leave Ethiopia. Fasilidas stated “ Your Lordship is not leaving Ethiopia, it is she who has left your Lordship; your Lordship does not fly from Ethiopia it is she who has fled from you.” Mendes left heartbroken as all the Jesuits labours had come to naught.
(The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, Yesehaq, p.57)
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