Doctrine

The label 'Monophysite' is rejected by the Ethiopian Church as an inaccurate reflection of the unionist Christology that they follow (hence the title of the official doctrine as Tawahado, literally 'union'), which is supported by the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria. Historically, because of its linkage with the See of Alexandria, and also the strong Syrian influence in the early Ethiopian Church, Ethiopia joined the Copts, Jacobite Syrians and the Armenians in rejecting the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Owing to its relative isolation, the Ethiopian Church did not participate in the polemics arising from Chalcedon, which, for example, so exercised the Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches. Instead, Ethiopian theology developed quite independently from what was happening elsewhere in the Eastern Churches, and only the presence of the abuna sent from Egypt acted as an occasional restraint.

Nevertheless, the Ethiopian Church did have its own theological controversies, which at times led to bitter dispute and even violence, as we have seen in the historical discussion. The question of the observance of two Sabbaths, Saturday according to Old Testament practice and Sunday according to the New Testament, is perhaps the most enduring Ethiopian theological diversion from traditional practice. The origin of two Sabbath observance is associated with the monk 'Ewost.atewos, who came from Gar'alta in the north of Ethiopia, and it is especially in the north that the followers of 'Ewost.atewos gained most support. The movement came to have regional significance, as tensions between north and south, Tigreans and Amharas, had and has long been a feature of Ethiopian history. Although 'Ewost.atewos was exiled, his movement lived on as one of the major monastic houses of Ethiopia, and it still has its followers today.

Another major 'heresy' of the Ethiopian Church, which arose around the same time, was espoused by the followers of 'Hstifanos (d. c.1450), who not only followed 'Ewost.atewos in observing two Sabbaths, but also insisted on devotion solely to the persons of the Trinity. By refusing to prostrate themselves before images of the Virgin and Child they thus came into conflict with the mainstream Church, which at that time under Zar'a Ya'qob was promoting the cult of the Virgin Mary. They also disassociated themselves from the practice whereby every Christian was to have an individual Father Confessor, another of Zar'a Ya'qob's religious reforms. For these refusals they were persecuted and after several leading followers of 'Hstifanos were executed, the movement died out.

It was perhaps the presence of the Jesuits in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, however, that provided the seed for major controversies in Christological thought in the Ethiopian Church. In the centuries following the expulsion of the Jesuits, the two movements or heresies, Qabat or 'Unction', and Ya-SSagga Lajj or 'Son of Grace' with its adherence to the doctrine of Sost Ladat, 'Three Births', came into being, as we have seen above. The former arose in the eustathian monasteries in the province of Gojjam, and held that the full union of the human and divine natures of Christ was only realized at the time of baptism in the Jordan. This laid the followers of Qabat open to the ancient heresy that Christ was an ordinary man 'adopted' by God with the implied denial of his divinity and virgin birth. The Orthodox Tawahado Church insisted on the co-eternity of the three persons of the Trinity in that 'the Son Himself is the one who anoints, the Son Himself is the one who is anointed, and the Son Himself is the anointment' (Stoffregen-Pedersen 1990: 49-50). The heresy of Ya-Sagga Lajj or 'Son of Grace' arose in the other monastic movement, in the monastery of Takla Haymanot at Azazo, near Gondar, and adopted the view that Christ became the Son of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus led itself to be linked with the controversy of the 'Three Births' or Sost Ladat, which was described above. By contrast the official Alexandrian Christology became known as Karra or 'Knife' because it 'cut off' the third 'birth' from the Holy Spirit.

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