Abyssinian Christianity: The First Christian Nation?
For centuries, historians have widely accepted the argument that Armenia was the first Christian nation. Armenia’s claim on this meaningful title is primarily based upon the celebrated 5th century work of Agathangelos’ The History of the Armenians. In it, he says that after the Armenian King Trdat III was baptised c. 301/314, he decreed Christianity was the state religion. While one cannot easily deny this baptism, Abyssinian Christianity presents studies revisiting this era in Armenian history. The Acts of the Apostles describes the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch shortly after the death of Christ. Eusebius of Caesaria, the first church historian, further tells of how the eunuch returned to his land to diffuse the Christian teachings. And the earliest Ethiopian monastic tradition is linked to the account of the Holy Family visiting Ethiopia, centuries before the Christian monastic movement emerged.
According to the legend, the Child Jesus and the Virgin Mary were transported from Egypt on a silver cloud. Their arrival symbolised the renewal of the Covenant, which began when Menelich brought the Ark from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. Before the Ethiopian king Ezana embraced Christianity for himself and decreed it for his kingdom c. 330, his nation had already constituted a great number of Christians. Can a nation only become Christian if there is an official decree from its sovereign? If that were the case, then the Kingdom of Edessa would be the 1st Christian state in c. 218.
As we see with Abyssinia, and Israel before it, a nation is not restricted to political boundaries. Abyssinian Christianity lays out a groundbreaking and compelling argument that Ethiopia may indeed have been the first Christian nation.
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