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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Christianity in Ancient Africa: Part II- (Egyptian Coptic; and The Aksum Empire)

 Christianity in Ancient Africa: Part II (Egyptian Coptic; The Aksum Empire)
                         Copyright 2015 K. Omodele

The Egyptian Coptic Church
Many Egyptian Christians in the first centuries A.D. followed the Monophysite doctrine which emphasized that Christ was divine and couldn't be a regular human being. Knowing that ancient Egyptians believed some of their pharaohs were gods incarnate, it's understandable how their religious thinking was conducive to the idea of God within man or God with us (man). However, the newly-formed Roman church heralded the duality of Christ's nature-Deophysitism, that he was human and divine at the same time. This doctrine was spread like wildfire throughout the Roman Empire, which reached around the Mediterranean world from North Africa all the way to Western Europe.

The Roman church sought to force this concept on North African Donatists* and Egyptian Christians, eventually declaring Monophysitism "heresy" in 451 A.D. Texts written by early Egyptian Christian scholars that didn't fall in line with the Roman Church's doctrine were labeled Gnostic**, and were not accepted by the Roman canon.

As a result, Egypt's early Christians created their own Coptic Church and made their local Coptic language the official language of their independent church (breaking from Rome and Latin). The Egyptian Coptics unrepentantly upheld their monastic tradition and a distinctive Christian culture soon emerged in the land. These Egyptian Christians are among the earliest adherents in Christendom. And unlike the Roman church with its bags of schisms and institutionalisms, the Coptic church has remained constant to this day.

The Kingdom of Aksum (Axum)
Aksum existed in the area that is now Ethiopia and Eritrea. In the Sixth Century B.C., Sabean people crossed the Red Sea from Saba (present day Yemen) on the Arabian Peninsula. They settled in the foothills and valleys of the Ethiopian Highlands, intermarried the Cushitic-speaking Africans and gradually meshed into a distinct, local culture with its own language called Ge'ez from which modern Amharic is derived.
Skilled in agriculture and trading, The Aksum or Axum Empire grew prosperous and the kingdom became a powerful state by the First Century A.D. Though its capital was located inland, Aksum's Red Sea port, Adulis, thrived in trade and exported as far north as Persia.

Christianity in The Aksum / Axum Empire
Around 335 A.D., the Aksum King Ezana was introduced  to Christianity by Egyptian Christians. Ethiopian tradition also tells that a ship-wrecked Syrian Christian, Frumentius, was taken to Ezana and introduced the king to Christianity. In any case, Aksum adopted Christianity and formed the Aksum church, although Judaism had existed there centuries before Christ, especially among the Beta Israel or Falasha.
During the next Millennium, the Aksum / Ethiopian Church maintained strong ties with its Egyptian brother- Ethiopia's arch bishop was appointed from the Egyptian Coptic Church. Even so, the Ethiopian Church developed unique traditions based on its own culture. Some of these characteristics are: religious paintings depicting Ethiopian characters, saints and images; original texts written in Ge'ez then later in Amharic; African-styled drumming; and churches in Lalibela carved from solid rock. Many of this church's practices are steeped in Old Testament rituals. Examples are circumcision, abstaining from pork, the Order of Melchezedek, and the tradition of Zadok the High Priest.

*Christian sect in North Africa circa 311 A.D. to the 7th Century; taught that the effectiveness of the sacraments depended on the moral character of those administering them.
**gnostic- 1. relating to or possessing spiritual or intellectual knowledge. 2. Of or relating to Gnosticism, mysticism, insight above faith
*** The Afro-Asiatic language of the Copts.
Copts- Natives of Egypt descended from ancient Egyptian stock

Christianity in Ancient Africa Part I- Intro (Egypt Under Graeco-Roman Rule)

Christianity in Ancient Africa Part III- Christianity in Nubia (the Kingdoms of Noba, Makurra and Alwa)

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