(Roman?) Catholic — Part Four


The international trading enterprises of King Solomon through the Gulf of Aqaba, the Red Sea, and beyond brought his influence into the land of Sheba, and his fame to that land’s queen. Legend has it that she had a son by him named Menelik who later took the Ark of the Covenant back home to what is now modern day Ethiopia where it was welcomed by Jewish merchants and other Jews who had settled there. (For fascinating reading, see the following article: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/)

The Ethiopian Jews and then the Ethiopian Christians after the conversion of King Ezana in 330 have guarded their claim over this treasure of our common faith in the town of Axum for nearly 3,000 years.

I do not know what is in the chapel at Axum. I do not know how much historicity is to be attributed to the Menelik legend. However, it does stretch credulity to hold that an entire people for nearly 3,000 years has so vigorously guarded a totally empty hoax. 

In just the past few decades nearly the entire Ethiopian Jewish population has relocated to Israel — about 130,000 of them.

Again, legend has it that the formal evangelization of Alexandria and the lands under that city’s metropolitan influence was conducted by St. Mark, named in the New Testament. Those lands included areas of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. 

The Eritrean Rite is a new Catholic Rite, having been separated from the Ethiopian Rite in 2015. I shall not treat Eritrea separately since it shares so much of the history of Ethiopia and the same language at Mass, Ge’ez

At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, theological questions about how the Divine and human natures exist in Christ were debated. The majority of bishops present at the council held the position that both natures were present and entire in Christ, but not melded. The bishops of the Alexandrian lands held that in Christ there was one new and unique nature. For this reason they call themselves miaphysites (one nature), while those who accepted the decision of Chalcedon call themselves monophysites (single nature). A war of words and pride!

Modern science has discovered that traditional forms of logic do not always apply to the physical world. If this is so for creation, traditional logic might not give us the whole truth about God. The decision at Chalcedon states that the majority position is true and valid, and that it is illicit (not invalid) to hold and teach the minority position. If theologians can apply the insights of modern physics to this matter, possibly both positions can be found to express truth about the mystery of the Incarnation.

As Vatican II gave rise to the traditional Catholics led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and Vatican I saw the Old Catholic movement consolidate under the leadership of the Church of Utrecht, so the Council of Chalcedon saw the rise of the Orthodox Coptic Church, and the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church. They called themselves Orthodox (i.e. right, or correct) long before the split between the east and the west in the 12th century which gave rise to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. 

Unlike the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Alexandrian Orthodox churches continue to celebrate the same seven Sacraments as the Catholic Church.

One of the greatest developments in Christian asceticism came from the Coptic Church. St. Anthony of Egypt is credited with starting the practice of Christian monasticism.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, close to 150,000 Coptic Christians were martyred. They were persecuted by Greek emperors from after the Council of Chalcedon until the Arab conquest of Egypt in 641. Moslem persecution lasted from the ninth century until the British rule in 1882. From the late 12th century to the present, Copts have been victims of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists.

In 1442, the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch embraced the Catholic Church, but the people back home would have none of it. A similar thing happened in 1713. In 1781, the small number of Catholic Copts once again came under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Pope Benedict XIV. At present, there are seven eparchies (i.e. dioceses) of the Catholic Coptic Church in Egypt. 

At the present time, there are at least two Catholic Coptic Rite parishes in our country, but no eparchies: in Los Angeles (with services in English, Coptic, and Arabic) and in Brooklyn. There are also parishes in Toronto, Ontario and Laval, Quebec. 

As far as the presence of Ethiopian and Eritrean Catholic Rites in North America, there are a few Roman Rite parishes which host Ge’ez Liturgies and some Ethiopian/Eritrean parishes, but again no eparchies. Among these are Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston and other parishes in Washington, D.C.; Annadale, Virg.; Berkley, Calif.; Stone Mountain, Ga.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago, Ill.; Toronto, Ontario, and Calgary, Alberta. 

Pope Francis has often expressed his great concern and his prayers for these Christians of the Alexandrian group. They have a venerable history, have suffered greatly, and even now continue to suffer persecution.

Father Martin L. Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.

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