Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mia vs. Monos

A Little Conceptual Clarification

The words “mia” and “monos” are Greek words. Apparently, they both mean “one.” Yet, we have to understand the subtle nuance each one carries with it. Whereas the word “monos” conotes: “single, alone, on one's own, lonely, lone (ነጠላ),” the word “mia” implies “unity (ውሕደት)” (of pairs), like when you say "mia pitzama" you mean "a pair of pyjamas."

In the field of Christian doctrine, “Monophysitism” is a belief in “one single nature” of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a heresy attributed to a certain monk by the name Eutychus, for which reason it is also called Eutychianism.

The miaphysite position, which maintains the “one united nature” of God the Word, is defended by St. Cyril (and by all orthodox Fathers of ours), who deduced the expression from the teachings of the apostles, such as the witness of St. John the Evangelist, who says: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father… (ወውእቱ ቃል ሥጋ ኮነ፤ ወኀደረ ላዕሌነ፤ ወርኢነ ስብሐቲሁ ከመ-ስብሐተ-አሐዱ ዋሕድ ለአቡሁ።… ) the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father (ወልድ ዋሕድ ዘሀሎ ውስተ-ሕፅነ-አቡሁ።)” and the confession of St. Peter who affirms: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God (አንተ ውእቱ ክርስቶስ ወልደ-እግዚአብሔር ሕያው)” etc, the ultimate source of which is indeed the Heavenly Father Himself: “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven (እስመ-ኢከሠተ ለከ ዘሥጋ ወደም፤ አላ አቡየ ዘበሰማያት።)”

The incontestable fact ... well defined identity!

It is an incontestable fact that our Church has a well defined identity, which may even simply be learned from the official titles attached to her—she is Ethiopian, she is Orthodox, she is Tewahido! She has also a system of thought co-ordinated in a unique manner of her own, which one can learn if one wishes to do so. Unfortunately, this fact has mostly been distorted in the writings of some authors (in English and various other European languages), and perhaps also in the minds of their readers. And I strongly believe that such a trend must come to an end. I shall try to make my point clear along the following lines. But I am afraid, in doing so, I have to go a little deep into at least one possible source of the confusion.

Not as far back to the origins of the formation of the identity of the Church do I want to go, but indeed back at least to the beginning of the last Century, the Century in which Ethiopia was said—for better or worse—to have “belonged to the bloc of our modern world” (J. A. Douglas); or the century which saw “a coup of a system, the new system overthrowing the ancient system,” to use Professor Getatchew’s accurate description. By the way, I have in view a reader having a general notion of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Church, regardless of his/her theological or philosophical convictions.

Leaving the old Christological dispute behind, let me direct my attention to Douglas’ sober reflection, whose authority I guess is highly esteemed, if not taken for granted, by later writers of Ethiopian history such as Perham, and whose careful but unfortunate reference to the Ethiopian Church as “monophysite” has had serious effect on those who seem to have believed that in him they have already secured a “theologically” authorized definition of the Ethiopian Church, and thus unreservedly used it to refer to her in their books. Voices raised against such an unreserved designation were so low, if they were at all raised, that it seems referring to the Church as “monophysite” has now become “normal”. Apparently, recent Ethiopian authors such as Messay Kebede seem to have merely followed a trend, which trend should not continue any more. Hence an attempt to comment on Douglas’ views is in order:

“monophysite”: a misleading designation!

Ultimately, Douglas is not responsible for later historians’ use of the misleading designation of the Ethiopian Church along with her Sister Churches as ‘monophysite’. An unreserved application of this controversial term by historians who read Douglas may only be explained either by ignorance or by a deliberate, but not explained rejection of his advice. For he said clearly that “From the viewpoint of the theologian or the historian of Christian doctrine the designation of that Christendom as ‘monophysite’ is justified: but from that of the interpretative and general historian it is misleading.” Hence, Perham, who not only said she was an “unlearned laic,” but also mentioned that Douglas’ view induced “a proper humility” in her, should have followed his advice, and thereby have not misled her readers! I am sympathetic of later writers (like Levine and Messay) who have followed the trend unconsciously. But on the other hand, I am prepared to reveal the ignorance of such writers as Getnet Tamene, who consciously brings the confusion to its extreme in that he even takes the connotations of the Greek term “monophysite” over to the Geez “Tewahido”! Any one who has good command of the two languages can judge that the two words are not at all equivalent.

To come back to Douglas’ view, one may and should however pose the question as to who justifies the designation of the Churches mentioned above as “monophysite” even from among the theologians/Church historians? Or more precisely, one may ask: the viewpoint of theologians/Church historians of which Church? I don’t think, Douglas had in mind atheist theologians who might probably have been neutral to the matter. Apparently, he must have meant the viewpoint of “dyophysite” theologians, without however providing us with their grounds. Despite this, his careful reference to the Ethiopian Church and her Sister Churches as “monophysite”—and he did put it always under quotation marks—and his silence about the theological ground in that particular document may be appreciated much more than the indeterminate reference of the Church by the late Abba Ayele TekleHaymanot simply as “The Ethiopian Church,” while dealing in fact with her Christological position. Abba Ayele’s explicit intention was in fact to prove that the Ethiopian Church was “dyophysite” (though he utterly failed to do so, as this was a downright lie)!

That being so, it is not merely the Christological implication of the label “monophysite” about which I am seriously concerned. I would also like to bring to light another, to my knowledge unnoticed, danger of identifying the cultural and historical situation of the Ethiopian Church with Egyptian and Syrian “religio-nationalities”, which Douglas told us had—unlike her, that is—belonged to the “’Roman’ greco-latin supra-nationality” for a good while, and when becoming conscious of their being “de-nationalized” at some point, took the opportunity and excuse of “monophysite” controversies to break away from the “Roman” greco-latin Christendom. The Ethiopian Church cannot fit to such a category!


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  2. Dear Nahuda,

    I am really pleased of reading this short article not only for the reason that it gives precisely what Tewahedo means for Western writers and readers who usually confuse our Christological position but also for the reason of its implication that you are determined to throw your compiled knowledge in written form for global readers. I strongly encourage you to continue in bringing into our attention such delicate works. It would be much appreciable if you could provide a link that directs readers to view the work of Mebrie's published master thesis in which he has painstakingly explored and explained the same topic in depth. One can find its short introductory note here. http://www.gorgiaspress.com/bookshop/p-56329-gebru-mebratu-kiros-miaphysite-christology.aspx

    Deep love and heartfelt respect,

  3. Thanks dear anonym, following the link you provided I found the following description of the book you mentioned :

    As in the case of the christology of the other non-Chalcedonian Oriental Orthodox Churches, Ethiopian christology is usually nicknamed as monophysite christology - an erroneous christological position which indicates the absorption of the humanity of Christ by its divinity . Disproving such a pejorative designation, this book contends that the christological position of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) should correctly be termed as miaphysite christology, which highlights the one-united (tewahedo) nature of the Word of God incarnate. Besides, the book proves the orthodoxy of Ethiopian christology, demonstrating how it is based on the christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria (+ A.D. 444).

    "The Christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches has all too often been misunderstood by the various Churches of the Chalcedonian tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed). Qesis Mebratu Gebru's study of the Christology of the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Churches is thus greatly to be welcomed, for it provides a clear and solidly based presentation of the teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church." - Sebastian P. Brock

    It is really wonderful. But the price... oh man! Maybe I will have a chance to buy it when it comes out in paperback.