The nineteenth century

From the second quarter of the eighteenth century onwards, the political structure of the Ethiopian kingdom fractured, and actual government rested in the hands of an array of local warlords and petty kings. It was not until one of these, Kasa of Qwara, took the throne as Tewodros II in 1855 that political unity was restored. The succession of bishops sent from the See of Alexandria had always been precarious, but after a period of thirteen years without an abuna, or bishop, in 1841 the Ethiopian Church received an energetic young head in Abuna Salama, who had attended a Protestant college in Cairo. Tewodros enlisted the help of Abuna Salama in his political ambitions in return for undertaking a reform of the Church. By this period the Ethiopian Church was once again riven with doctrinal controversy, this time concerning the nature of Christ. The official doctrine was, and still is, the Alexandrian doctrine of Tawahado. However, two other doctrines had developed in Ethiopia: that of Qabat or 'unction', which taught that the full union of the two natures of Christ was only achieved at the time of his baptism, and Ya-SSagga Lajj 'Son of Grace' which upheld the doctrine of Sost Ladat 'Three Births', which taught that Christ had been 'born' three times: eternally from the Father, in the flesh from the Virgin Mary, and as the incarnation through the Holy Spirit at the time of baptism. Tewodros imposed the official Tawahado doctrine promoted by Abuna Salama and the Alexandrian Church with brutal force. Like his predecessor Zar'a Ya'qob, who also sought reform of the Church, Tewodros was a deeply devout and learned man. Initially he retained good relations with the Church, and his reforms were genuinely meant to modernize what had become a huge and rambling institution, but his means of imposing reform ultimately led to his alienation from the Church and the people, and his imprisoning of Abuna Salama, who died in captivity in 1867.

Tewodros's reign also saw the coming to a head of conflict with Protestant missionaries, who had been active in the country since earlier in the nineteenth century. Here the conflict, though, was not so much on religious grounds as due to a perceived slight by European governments, in particular the British, and the outcome was the Abyssinian Campaign of 1867-8 and Tewodros's suicide at his mountain fortress of Maqdala. After Tewodros's death the doctrine of Sost Ladat still had wide adherence, particularly in the south, in the kingdom of Shoa. In 1878 the then emperor, Yohannas IV (r. 1872-89) and the king of Shoa, Sahla Maryam, who had taken the historic name of Manilak, held a council at Boru Meda which promulgated the Alexandrian teaching of Tawahado and banned the Sost Ladat doctrine as heretical. Manilak subsequently became Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889, and his reign, which lasted till 1913, saw the largest expansion of the Ethiopian state since the medieval period, bringing into the state many peoples who were not of the Christian tradition. Missionary work amongst these new subjects of the empire was encouraged by Manilak and there was a concerted effort of church building, especially in those areas which had once been Christian but had been lost during the upheavals of the sixteenth century.

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