Original Research

African Ethiopia and Byzantine imperial orthodoxy: Politically influenced self-definition of Christianity

Rugare Rukuni, Erna Oliver
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 4 | a5314 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i4.5314 | © 2019 Rugare Rukuni, Erna Oliver | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 November 2018 | Published: 19 November 2019

About the author(s)

Rugare Rukuni, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Erna Oliver, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

The ancient Ethiopian Christian empire was an emergent and notable power in Eastern Africa and influenced its surrounding regions. It was itself influenced both religiously and politically. The ancient Christian narrative of North Africa has been deduced against a Roman imperial background. Whilst the preceding is congruent with the historical political dynamics, a consideration of the autonomy and uniqueness of ancient African Christianity and its regional influence is also relevant. This implied a revisionist approach to literature which was achieved through document analysis. A review of the continual independent interaction of ancient African Christianity with Roman or Byzantine imperial orthodoxy reflected on the multi-factorial self-definitive development within African Christianity. Against the background of ecclesiastical polities and socio-ethnical dynamics, the relationship of Africa or Ethiopia with Byzantine orthodoxy provides a strong argument for an organic African orthodoxy. The Constantinian era ushered a new phase of imperial orthodoxy and imperial-ecclesiastical ties that became formative for an imperial policy; these were definitive of Byzantine orthodoxy and were reflected in Roman and Vandal Africa and also in the Ethiopian Christian empire. This consequently characterised the orthodox Christianity post 325 CE/Nicaea; introspection regarding the extent of its influence formed the basis of this study. A study of the Ethiopian empire in its immediate Judaic-Arabian environment enhances the understanding regarding the ethnically politically defined Christianity that characterised it. Correspondingly, the review of Ethiopian Christianity’s interaction with Byzantine orthodoxy and definitive features of ancient North African Christianity helped clear the ground for an organic orthodoxy. An establishment regarding a cooperative Ethiopian–Byzantine geopolitical policy, as opposed to theological divergence, helped change the narrative of African orthodoxy.

Keywords

Church History; Ethiopian Christianity; Cultural-Definition; Byzantine Christianity; African Christianity; Imperial Christianity; Nicene Orthodoxy and Constantinianism

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