Abstract

For members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Waldəba is the emblem of monasticism. Its isolation and reputation as the site of the utmost rigorous monastic asceticism has made it the metaphor for the pursuit of spiritual life in the form of extreme self-denial. What the popular imagination does not allow for, however, is the fact that Waldəba is also a place of perpetual rivalry and acrimonious division. Betä Minas and Betä Ṭama, the two monastic houses or orders that constitute the community of Waldəba, have been bitter rivals throughout their known history. The rivalry of the two houses is in turn both an outcome and manifestation of centuries-old division and rivalry within the Ethiopian Church. The story of the rivalry of the two houses of Waldəba is therefore explored in this study for the light it throws on broader issues of factionalism in the Ethiopian Church. The main focus of the study is the period from the early seventeenth century to the present. Throughout this period, the dominant feature in the rivalry of Betä Minas and Betä Ṭama was a controversy on the doctrine of the Trinity. At about the same time, the Ethiopian Church was elsewhere beset by a Christological controversy on the meaning and relevance of the anointment of Christ. Thus far, the connection between the doctrinal rivalry in Waldəba over the question of the Trinity and the controversy on the anointment of Christ elsewhere in the country has not been carefully studied. By assessing and analyzing the relevant primary sources, this study shows that the two are in fact directly interrelated. In as much as the unction controversy was one of the most important issues in the history of the Ethiopian Church since the seventeenth century, the findings of this study therefore call for major revisions in our understating of the history of the Ethiopian Church and its relation with the central monarchy of the Christian Kingdom throughout this period. With regard to the theological issues at stake, this study shows that the controversy on the anointment of Christ was as much about the Trinity as Christology. Contrary to the tendency in the secondary literature to push the origin of one of the three doctrinal parties involved in the controversy on the anointment of Christ to the eighteenth century, this study also shows that all three were there since the outbreak of the controversy in the early seventeenth century. The amount of importance scholarship attaches to it notwithstanding, this study also shows that the synod of Boru Meda, held in 1878, to resolve the unction controversy, was not that decisive in settling the controversy. This study also casts doubt on the finality of the divorce of church and state effected as the result of the 1974 socialist revolution in Ethiopia.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 43-66
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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