In Ethiopian Christianity Philip Esler presents a rich and comprehensive history of Christianity’s flourishing. But Esler is ever careful to situate this growth in the context of Ethiopia’s politics and culture. In so doing, he highlights the remarkable uniqueness of Christianity in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Christianity begins with ancient accounts of Christianity’s introduction to Ethiopia by St. Frumentius and King Ezana in the early 300s CE. Esler traces how the church and the monarchy closely coexisted, a reality that persisted until the death of Haile Selassie in 1974. This relationship allowed the emperor to consider himself the protector of Orthodox Christianity. The emperor's position, combined with Ethiopia’s geographical isolation, fostered a distinct form of Christianity—one that features the inextricable intertwining of the ordinary with the sacred and rejects the two-nature Christology established at the Council of Chalcedon.
In addition to his historical narrative, Esler also explores the cultural traditions of Ethiopian Orthodoxy by detailing its intellectual and literary practices, theology, and creativity in art, architecture, and music. He provides profiles of the flourishing Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism. He also considers current challenges that Ethiopian Christianity faces—especially Orthodoxy’s relations with other religions within the country, in particular Islam and the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Esler concludes with thoughtful reflections on the long-standing presence of Christianity in Ethiopia and hopeful considerations for its future in the country’s rapidly changing politics, ultimately revealing a singular form of faith found nowhere else.
Part One: Introduction
1. Locating Ethiopian Christianity
Part Two: The History of Orthodox Ethiopian Christianity
2. The Advent of Christianity in Ethiopia
3. Fifth to Seventeenth Centuries
4. Mid-seventeenth Century to the Present
Part Three: Ethiopian Orthodoxy
5. Intellectual and Literary Traditions
6. Art, Architecture, and Music
Part Four: Other Ethiopian Christianities
Part Five: Conclusion
10. The Future of Christianity in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Christianity is an inspiring historical and social survey of Christianity’s birth, growth, achievements, and challenges in Ethiopia, from the origins of Christianity until present, even up to 2018. Without excluding the quite recent situation of the Catholic and the protestant Churches, the author offers a vivid, remarkable, and colorful depiction of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church along with its theology and literature, its unique living poetic tradition, its music and architecture, and its cultural expressions. The approach, both critical and sympathetic, helps readers to reflect, examine and appreciate the journey of Christianity in the Horn of Africa.~Daniel Assefa, Director of the Capuchin Franciscan Research and Retreat Center, Addis Abeba
In Ethiopian Christianity, Professor Esler offers a vivid and illustrative summary of history, literature, art, theology, and practice of the age-old, yet lively, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity that played a significant role in shaping Ethiopian national religious and socio-political consciousness for centuries. While addressing the dominant intellectual and visual traditions of Ethiopian orthodoxy, he intelligibly presents how the introduction of Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism to Ethiopia at different times has changed the religious environment of modern Ethiopia. Everyone interested in Christianity will benefit immensely from this erudite work.~Misgana Mathewos, Director, Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology
We wholeheartedly recommend [Ehtiopian Christianity] as a primer to readers about this fascinating country, peoples, history, and theology.~J. K. Elliott, The Journal of Theological Studies
…this volume is timely and can serve as a primer on grasping the essence and nature of the Ethiopian Christianity. Challenging, yet accessible with its helpful illustrative images and maps, it raises innumerable critical missiological and theological issues.~Daniel Dama, Mission Studies