Ethiopia Was Not Innocent of Philosophy Before Zera Yacob

May 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve said that the treatises of Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat are the only properly philosophical works to be written in Ethiopia, but this passage from chapter III has some suspiciously philosophical language in it:

He who created them from nothing must be an uncreated essence who is and will be for all centuries [to come], the Lord and master of all things, without beginning or end, immutable, whose years cannot be numbered.

A certain familiarity with philosophical notions would have been an essential element of the church’s theology. (To my way of understanding, theology is really just a branch of philosophy.) For instance, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, like a variety of other orthodox churches, is a ‘Monophysite’ church—or, to let them explain it themselves:

It is unfair for the Church to be nicknamed “Monophysites” by the faithful who accept the Chalcedonian formula of “two Natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ”, because the expression used by the non-Chalcedonian side was always miaphysis, and never Monophysis (mia standing for a composite unity unlike mone standing for an elemental unity). Therefore these churches are best referred to as the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches.

This is exactly the kind of thing that the Jesuits and the Orthodox clergy would have been arguing about in Zera Yacob’s day. And obviously this kind of Christological dispute requires a lot of fine distinctions concerning ‘essence’ or ‘being.’ So Zera Yacob would certainly have been familiar with some technical philosophical or theological ideas.

I’ve updated my comments on chapter III to include this point.

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