In the late twelfth century, a kook by the name of Joachim of Fiore, whom Dante Alighieri said was „endowed with the prophetic spirit,” commenced a commentary on John’s Apocalypse that would surpass all others for its mystical, imaginative, and radical vision. I promise to dedicate a full article to Joachim in the future, but for now would like to highlight only one of his many curios: the depiction of John’s „Dragon of the sea, having seven heads.”
If you are not familiar with this Biblical image or John’s Apocalypse in general, you should understand that the Christian Church has long taken the view that John’s vision is not some isomorphic allegory (e.g. Pilgrim’s Progress) but rather a mystical text that admits of many possible interpretations and layers of meaning. In Joachim’s day, most exegetes considered the work impenetrable. Joachim himself claimed that God had bestowed its proper interpretation to him in a dream.
What is unique about Joachim’s commentary is that it takes a historical stance on the identity of the Antichrist for the first time, long before „Christian fiction” authors and TV hucksters began to do so in America’s Bible belt. As the above image depicts, Joachim labeled the seven heads of his dragon with the names of history’s greatest Antichrists (at least, from his own perspective): Herod, Nero, Constantine, Mohammed, Mesemoth (a North African conqueror), Saladin, and „Antichrist proper” (the future antichrist). Some of these may seem like strange choices (especially St. Constantine), but there is no space to discuss Joachim’s historical views at present. We will return to this and Joachim’s other prophecies, along with their relevance to modern politics, in a future article.
Right now I only want to propose, Joachim-like, the image of the Seven-Headed Dragon as an allegory for the seven great challenges overcome by my land of heritage, the former Kingdom and the current Republic of Ethiopia. The history of my country is a story stretching back earlier than Christendom, and embedded in its lattice are cloisonné gems of geopolitical wisdom.
How appropriate, also, that the seven-headed dragon of John’s Apocalypse should be pitted against the „woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” On the verge of giving birth, the woman turns to God for protection, that her infant child might be saved. In what is perhaps the most beautiful symbol in all of Holy Scripture, here is described Israel, in all its many meanings: the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conquering paganism (the moon) and graced with the crown of twelve tribes. Layered atop that, the New Israel, the One Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, depicted as Christ’s bride and graced by Christ’s twelve disciples. And lastly, the Theotokos herself, the Virgin Mary, feminine as the moon, protecting her child and her people from the jaws of the Dragon.
In Ethiopia, this image could equally apply to the Queen of Sheba, who the Kebra Nagast (our national saga) relates was Queen Makeda of Ethiopia, and who brought safely home from Jerusalem her child Menelik I, the true heir of King Solomon. Thus it was, according to our folklore, that „New Zion” was created. Even when Ethiopia Christianized (the first full kingdom on earth to do so, and the only bloodless one) thanks to both the Apostle Philip (Acts 8) and our witnesses to the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Pentecost), they viewed Jesus as the perfect fulfillment of Judaism, not a replacement for it. Indeed, the only undisputed modern complete relic of the Ark of the Covenant is in Axum, at the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. This is where Judaism belongs: esteemed as the core of Christianity, with the Church subsuming and fulfilling its laws and traditions, not abrogating them.
Leaving aside for the moment the heretical worshippers of Ras Tafar and their interpretation of Zion and Babylon, suffice it to say that traditional Ethiopians (and even some sentimental or „patriotic” ones) view our land as the embodiment, allegorically or perhaps factually, of „God’s people,” not in any exclusive sense (as if Tewahedo Orthodoxy were the only Christianity), but in an emblematic sense. As the Pre-Socratic philosopher, Xenophanes pointed out, „Ethiopians say that their gods are flat-nosed and dark,” a point he used to explain how we often view religion ethnocentrically, „making God in our image and likeness” as it were. For Ethiopians, this mythical account of our origins has always served as the tie that binds, and along with the providence of God and the protection of Our Lady of Zeitoun, it has helped us to survive the tides of history. We are and always have been fighting for our lives against the Seven-Headed Dragon.
Now we must speak directly about the seven heads. So far has been the prologue; the table is set to talk about the history.
THE FIRST HEAD: PAGAN PHILOSOPHY
When a Western or even Byzantine/Slavic Christian hears the phrase „Oriental Orthodox” or „Coptic,” their first reaction is usually to think of these groups as „Monophysites,” the heretics who rejected the Council of Chalcedon and chose to live by the Alexandrine heresy that Christ had only one nature. If Christ had only one nature, it is argued, then it must have been either divine or human. If one holds that Christ is purely divine, then this is the Apollinarian or Eutychian heresy; if one holds that Christ is purely human, then this is the equivalent of either Arian, Nestorian, or Adoptionist heresies.
Yet the Ethiopian Church rejects this argument as a false dichotomy. In fact, while Catholics and Eastern Orthodox often refer to our Church as „Monophysite,” we, in fact, reject this label, preferring the term „Miaphysite,” if any Greek term must be imposed on our beliefs at all. The difference is that far from believing Christ to have only one divine or human nature, we hold His nature to have been a union (mia=”unity”) of divinity and humanity without mixture or confusion. Both essences, divine, and human are preserved in one single physis, without creating a third mixed essence. In fact, the very name of our ecclesial body, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, utilizes a Ge’ez word meaning „unified,” in reference to our belief in Miaphysitism.
This was unacceptable to the fathers of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, and for good reason. It makes absolutely no sense to an Aristotelian metaphysics when the Tewahedo say that Christ had „one physis, both divine and human.” Divine and human are two distinct natures. How can their union in one person result in only one nature? The disapproval of the majority of council fathers is no small matter when it comes to maintaining the apostolic faith. Tewahedo Orthodox cannot simply „take their doctrine and go home” without relinquishing the duty of all Orthodox to remain in the Ark of Truth, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Yet it is unacceptable to us that such a schism should occur on the basis of definitions created by a pagan Greek philosopher who lived over 400 years before Christ. As long as Ethiopians do not truly hold Apollinarianism, Arianism, or any of these other Christological heresies, is it really so important to force our acceptance of Diaphysitism, a term which tries to impose strict Aristotelian categories upon the mystery of Christ’s incarnation? To insist on these categories would be no different than to insist on Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of „transubstantiation” (which implies an Aristotelian-Thomist view of substantia) or Origen’s doctrine of the three strict categories of Biblical meaning, literal-moral-allegorical (which adduces a Platonic account of body-soul-spirit). Pagan philosophy does not determine Christian doctrine. Jerusalem is not the vassal-state of Athens.
Ultimately, for better or worse, Ethiopia and the other non-Chalcedonian Churches decided to walk their own path, refusing to accept that these Greek philosophies were necessary accretions to the deposit of faith. Now, when we look out at the Christians who accepted the Council of Chalcedon, we note sadly that they have largely turned to atheism, hedonism, modernism, and other heresies far worse than a technical disagreement over Christ’s nature. Even Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, with whom we share the closest theological and ecclesiological bond, have demonstrated serious weaknesses in their encounter with modernism, not least of which are intra-ecclesial disunity, theological liberalism, and the decline of religious belief and practice among the youth. When new philosophies arise, orthodoxy must not fear to enter conversation with them, but it must always prioritize scripture and the mystery of the faith, lest human ideas should crowd out divine revelation.
Not all is lost. There is hope for a return to a unified Orthodox world, pre-Chalcedonian in form and neo-Chalcedonian in character, which understands the schism of 451 to have been a situation of diverse, but not adverse, theologies. Conciliar theology is an ongoing conversation, and thus future councils could potentially bring about unity once more. Indeed, Ethiopian Orthodox yearn for this outcome, as we grow tired of pushing back against the tide of modernism on our own. In the meantime, however, we hope to serve as an example of the Old Ways and stand in alliance with those who value them, regardless of their denominational affiliation.
THE SECOND HEAD: HAGARENE VIOLENCE
To understand the dragon’s second head, a head with which you are quite familiar in our modern times, you must imagine it rearing up unexpected, fanged and horned, over the Abyssinian highlands. At the dawn of the seventh century, seemingly out of nowhere, the peaceful villages and enlightened cities of the Aksumite Kingdom saw their neighbors fall, one by one, to an inexplicably organized group of Bedouins from the Arabian peninsula. The coast of what is now modern-day Eritrea became speckled with their port strongholds; the archipelago of Dahlak was put to the sword and occupied by these foreign invaders. It was clear that this was no potential ally or trading partner: their only export was violence.
But who were these barbarians? Pagans? Clearly not, for they worshipped one God, whom they called Ah-La. Rumor had it that they laid claim to the patrimony of Abraham, although they imagined their ancestor, Ishmael, to be his rightful heir. For this reason, the Coptic Christians of Egypt, with whom Ethiopians have always shared a special bond, came to call these bedouins the Hagarenes, or „sons of Hagar.”
It was immediately clear to the Tewahedo, as it was obvious to John Damascene and a number of other Church Fathers, that the Hagarene religion (or Mohammadan, or Ishmaelite, or Saracen, or Muslim) was, in fact, a Christian heresy not unlike Arianism. Its foremost error was its failure to identify Jesus Christ as God’s Son, the divine Messiah. Rather, the Quran designates the notion of divine sonship as an affront to the Deity; being unable to comprehend more than the surface layer of theological meaning, it assumes that sonship must imply God’s copulation with a divine mother. The pretentions of Mohammad to angelic revelation through private conversation with Gabriel were an obvious farce, a repeat of the classic messianic trope. The only uniqueness of the Hagarene religion was that it arose in a part of the world without any robust intellectual culture, and thus it spread as a form of conquest–violence being the language of the desert-dweller, as dialectic was that of the Greek, and faith that of the Abyssinian.
When the Western-educated, twenty-first century man turns his historical attention to the Dark Continent, he assumes (reasonably) that after the seventh century, Africa’s large civilizations were forcibly converted en masse to Islam, and her pagan religions survived in small numbers, only because they were geographically isolated, à la The Gods Must Be Crazy. In fact, the primary notion underlying the perceived „innate barbarity” of the black race is their propensity to seize hold of religions which are truly primitive: morally, philosophically, and aesthetically. It is conveniently forgotten that one of the largest, most advanced, and most prosperous Christian empires in history was spread out comfortably from the Red Sea coastline to the mountains traditionally known as the Roof of Africa.
The Ethiopian monarchs mounted an admirable defense against the ravages of Islam using a mixture of diplomacy and military strategy. Like the Byzantines, they understood that defeating such an implacable enemy required something monumentally difficult: the acknowledgment that Muslims were human foes with human motivations. The inhumanity of the Muslim conquest made it difficult, as it does in our modern times, to perceive that this enemy could be bargained with, deceived, and even partnered with, without being capitulated to. The leaders of America and Western Europe have still failed to grasp this simple point because the principles of liberalism make fertile ground for submission to an unapologetic ideology like Islam. Yet the Hagarene can be understood and negotiated with at an arm’s length, which is exactly how the Ethiopians coped with the rise of their new and highly aggressive neighbor. It seems that only through clever maneuvering and the added security of her defensible plateaus did Ethiopia retain her unconquered status: Zion, the city on the hill.
It is impossible not to see the hand of God in the preservation of Ethiopian sovereignty as the rest of the continent fell. Even the first Zion, Jerusalem, was conquered by strength of arms, while Aksum remained triumphant. Legends began to spread among the lore-masters of a beleaguered Christendom that one solitary kingdom, Christian though disparate in rite, outflanked the Saracens from the rear while the Holy Land, North Africa, Iberia, and the Franks all came under attack. This far away land was ruled by a great Priest-Emperor, „Prester John,” whose legend and exploits would spread like wildfire throughout the crusading period, accruing forged letters and fanciful maps to its reputation. Jourdain de Severac identified this figure with the Ethiopian Negus (monarch) in his 1323 Mirabilia, and it was this identification, along with the appearance of two Ethiopian monks at the ecumenical Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1438, that would turn the eye of the Catholic Church toward the Abyssinian oasis in the midst of the Hagarene desert.
THE THIRD HEAD: ROMAN BABYLON
Yet the attention of the West was not the benign attention of a friend; rather, even though western interest in Ethiopia began in awestruck wonder at the „last hope of Christendom” which had survived Mohammad and his descendants, their interaction with Zion inevitably took the form of superiority and condescension. Being Africans, westerners figured, the Ethiopians are in dire need of true civilization: education and literacy, art and culture, and of course the Roman religion. Knowing nothing of our epic and poetic literature, our music, our architecture, our festivals and traditions, our economic and technological advances, or our intellectual life, they decided that what we really needed was a European civilization to replace our own.
As mentioned in the previous segment, European notice of the Ethiopian empire began most fully in the Autumn of 1441 at the Council of Florence. Several thirteenth- and fourteenth-century monarchs had previously attempted to make contact with the legendary Abyssinian king Prester John, but with no record of success. Ethiopian diplomacy, on the other hand, experienced some minor successes in this regard: the Venetian senate records a visit from Ethiopian ambassadors in 1402, and Alfonso of Aragon’s court in 1438. But it can be inferred from the account of the four Tewahedo monks who appeared at the Council of Florence that the Negus of Ethiopia sent them to increase cooperation with Latin Christendom, certainly for the purposes of a grand alliance against the Ottomans, but also no doubt hoping for a theological reconciliation as well, given that Florence was the greatest of the attempted unity councils between Rome and the Byzantines.
Indeed, it is to Latin Christendom that the Ethiopian people owe, at least in part, our continued existence in the face of that later medieval Ottoman threat. After Florence, the Portuguese decided that Ethiopia would make a valuable ally and trading partner. The emissary of John II of Portugal, Pero da Covilha, was the first westerner to spend any considerable length of time in Ethiopia and wrote numerous letters to this effect that solidified the bond between the two countries. When the Negus sent a request for Portuguese aid against the Ottomans in 1507, the Portuguese fleet made its way into the red sea and smashed Ottoman sea power there, returning Ethiopia to its zenith of overseas trade and military dominance.
Unfortunately, Rome’s relations with Ethiopia over the next century began to take the character of all Vatican foreign policy from the Counter-Reformation era: that of papal monarchy and monolithic Latinity. The 16th-century Latins lumped the Orthodox Levant and Baltic States, Protestant Germany and England, the pagan New World, and Christian Africa into one category, „the unbaptized.” The Vatican believed that Christendom was not merely divided, but indeed unconverted, and any Christians not under the Pope’s spiritual and temporal authority were hell-bound. This peak expression of this view was the eleventh session of Pope Leo X’s Fifth Lateran Council (1516), which seems to have solidified as infallible dogma the pronouncement of Pope Boniface VIII from over 200 years earlier: „…it is necessary for salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, just as we are taught by the testimony of the divine Scriptures and of the holy Fathers…”. [For the record, neither the Bible nor any patristic consensus teaches this novel ecclesiology, a fact which even the Roman Catholics of today acknowledge, and indeed Lateran V’s teaching has been completely reversed by Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.]
Of course, who can fault the Franciscan missionaries whose sensibilities of Truth and Justice caused them to expunge the Aztec culture that they found horrendous: the human sacrifice, the tribal murder and enslavement, the tyranny of false gods. Sometimes European civilization does need to replace the barbarity and backwardness of the pagans they come upon. Yet these noble intentions are belied by Catholicism’s one-size-fits-all approach in other non-Catholic lands, an approach that has wreaked so much havoc on our modern world: the fall of Constantinople (1453), the Union of Brest (1595), the European wars of religion (1524-1648), and so on.
Compared to other Orthodox countries, Ethiopia fared very well in the face of Rome’s theological colonialism. After the Portuguese helped reconquer the Ethiopian highlands from Ottoman-allied Adal Sultanate in the mid-16th century, King Philip the Pious decided it was high time that Ethiopia was not only a partner but a Catholic vassal state. Through the work of missionary Jesuits and the blandishments of material aid, the Negus Susenyos I was eventually convinced to abandon his Tewahedo faith and convert to Catholicism. Susenyos established land grants for Jesuit missions to be built, and declared Catholicism the official state religion, outlawing the celebration of Tewahedo holidays, the practice of fasting, and a number of other „reforms.”
Ethiopia imploded. Dozens of assassination attempts on Susenyos’ life, revolts, and civil war broke out, with rival contenders for the throne. Susenyos realized that a people which held their Orthodox identity as an unbroken connection to the days of King Solomon, and for whom faith and cult were second to nothing, could not simply be torn up by the roots and replanted in Portuguese soil. He offered his people a deal: stand with him one last time, help him end the civil war and rebuild the kingdom, and he would abandon the fever-dream of the Latin religion. The deal was struck, and with it, the dragon’s third head was decapitated.
Catholicism’s failure to launch in 17th-century Ethiopia reminds us that although proselytization comes from a good impulse and is sometimes morally necessary, there are times when it represents an overly rigid ecclesiology or at least disordered priorities. Rather than working together against the Ottoman threat, Latin Christendom often chose to shrink back from or even pick fights with all its Christian neighbors. It is one thing to recognize the dire need for missionary work among a people such as the Aztecs or Arawak tribesmen, but quite another to assume that the same protocol should be followed among Byzantine Greeks, Rus, or Ethiopians. Today, Rome has begun to realign its priorities in a positive way, emphasizing missions in majority-Muslim African countries while leaving Orthodox territory alone for the most part. Indeed, the intent of Pope Benedict XVI’s „New Evangelization” was meant to turn the dragon’s head upon itself: that is, to re-colonize Europe and the Americas in a crusade against secularism and post-Christianity. Catholics have partnered with the likes of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Russia, who believes that the „new frontier” of ecumenism in the 21st century is cooperation on moral and cultural issues such as abortion, marriage, family, and community life. Unlike many who have given up on Europe, I believe there is still hope in this approach, especially now that Christians have learned how to work together.
THE FOURTH HEAD: WHITE SUPREMACY
Ethiopian diplomacy evolved right along with the rest of Europe, as kingdoms chrysalized into empires or constitutional republics. Traditional Ethiopian culture, however, did not. Thus, when the geopolitical face of Ethiopia emerged in the 19th century from the relative isolation it had maintained in the 17th and 18th centuries, the result was veritable of clash of civilizations.
The Emperors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries faced a conundrum: without modernizing the Ethiopian economy, cooperating with world powers, and centralizing their governing structure, Zion would find itself competing with nations that overmatched them in efficiency and military might. Yet unlike the British, Dutch or French empires, the Ethiopians had never experienced a so-called „enlightenment” or „industrial revolution”; their concept of good governance was integralist, tribal, and confederate; their military was feudal; their economy was based on subsistence farming. A similar conundrum faces the reactionary of the twenty-first century. Those who rightly admire Chestertonian distributism, the anti-industrial screeds of the southern agrarians or medieval subsidiarity must acknowledge that the first group to adopt these reforms in any real way will also be the first to be overrun by its closest neighbor.
Yet rulers like Tewodros II (1855–1868), Yohannes IV (1872–1889), and Menelek II (1889–1913), did adopt some reforms, attempting to reconcile the deeply family-centric and religiously-motivated culture of Ethiopia with important developments like a unified legal system, the use of farming machinery, social mobility, and awareness of global affairs. In doing so, they brought Ethiopia into the modern era.
And just in time. The second half of the 19th century is generally referred to by European historians as the „Scramble for Africa,” when the empires of Europe looked up from their overpopulated cities, full of overworked factory proles and killer smog, and noticed a massive, fertile African continent just waiting to be explored, experienced, and exploited. This was the era of Tarzan and the Apes, of the Boer Wars, the presumption of Dr. Livingstone, and the iconic pith helmet. In 1870, about 10% of Africa was in the possession of European powers. By World War I, that number was almost 90%.
Why did the Europeans think it acceptable to „scramble” after the land on which native Africans had lived for thousands of years? In part, the answer is that every European in the 19th century was grabbing whatever territory they could from whomever they wanted. The French had made war on everybody; the English were planting flags willy-nilly on the ass-end of the planet; the Dutch were threatening Spain. It must be agreed that there were so many wars in this period that all the non-ludicrous names were running out. War-namers were forced to invent titles like the War of the Oranges (1801), the Baptist War (1831), the Ragamuffin War (1835), the Pig War (1859), or the Mandingo War (1883). There were so many wars, annexations, and conquests that it almost appears that Africa was a natural extension of imperial expansion.
Yet this was not how Europeans viewed their own scramble for the dark continent. Rather, numerous moral and philosophical defenses of colonization poured forth, suggesting that there was a creeping unease about the morality of arbitrarily seizing the hereditary lands of hapless, technologically inferior Africans. This was the era of Nietzsche, Darwin, and Herbert Spencer, but these men with their radical amoralism, their „ethics of the struggle,” still needed the apologetics of Die Lehrer vom Zwecke des Daseins to assuage the slave-morality consciences of white Europe. „Look at all the white man has accomplished,” it was argued. „Look how beautiful are his features compared to the negro.” Strange heretical theologies of Noah’s cursed son Ham, or even the mark of Cain, were applied to the Africans as pseudo-Biblical explanations for the European right of conquest. The history of such views, which originated among the 6th-century Hebrew Talmudic schools, amounted to a thoroughgoing rejection among the Church Fathers (only Origen and Ephraim the Syrian consider it, and neither endorses it in any serious way) and the medieval scholastics (only the Jewish Rabbis of the 12th-14th centuries kept it alive). Its revival in the 19th century bears no continuity to the Christian tradition. Among those who needed no Biblical arguments, such as intellectual physicalists and scientists Robert Knox and Samuel Cartwright, there were esoteric theories like digenism and the Disaesthesia Aethiopica (the „Ethiopian Retardation”), which were also used to justify the mistreatment of negro slaves. Exhibitions such as the „Hottentot Venus,” a native Khoikhoi tribeswoman with a cartoonishly large posterior, were shipped around England and France as circus freaks to support these racist ideologies. Many Europeans criticized and satirized such nakedly ad hoc and ex parte defenses of colonialist rapine, such as Joseph Conrad in his 1899 classic Heart of Darkness, or Rudyard Kipling in his satirical poem of the same year, „The White Man’s Burden.” (Or, if you do not accept that Kipling’s poem was satirical, take as an example the responsorial poems and essays by Labouchère, Johnson, Bowser, Akbar, Crosby, Morel, or Harrison.)
When the Europeans came pouring into Africa in search of its rare flora and fauna, its ivory, its diamonds, its gold, and its slave laborers, Ethiopia was one of the only kingdoms that did not fall. The significance of this historical fact cannot be understated, nor the details of how it happened be left unexplored. Some claim that the Ethiopians’ survival was once again attributable to geographic factors: the mountain ranges, or the proximity to numerous ports. However, geography is as unsatisfactory an explanation of Ethiopia’s survival as it is for the South’s defeat in the American civil war. One primary reason it is unsatisfactory is that it fails to take into account the difference between Ethiopian civilization and other African tribes and nations, whose level of „culture” almost deserved the critiques of the European white supremacists, and who were all colonized in their turn. These pagan or Muslim Africans were overrun by history more than by any particular European power. Ethiopia, however, was an ancient civilization with strong ties to the Judeo-Christian tradition, a traditionskern which had always unified and strengthened its empire. Ethiopia did not corral its manpower in factories, establish dictatorial economic practices, or demand absolute adherence to the state in order to crank out as many ships, rifles, and cannons as possible. Instead, rulers such as Yohannes and Menelek shrewdly formed treaties and alliances, keeping a wary eye on the international community, and picked their battles very carefully. Similar to modern-day Russia, Ethiopia punched far above her weight diplomatically despite a tiny economy and technologically backward military for one reason: the unity and fanatical devotion of its people to rulers who valued Ethiopia’s Christian cultural heritage.
It was the support of the people that made possible Ethiopian victory in one of our most iconic conflicts against the Italians in the First Italo-Abyssinian War. At the Battle of Adwa, which took place on March 1, 1896, feudal Ethiopia was able to field an army which dwarfed the Italian invading force roughly 100,000 to 20,000. That in itself was a success for Menelek, who had to rely on the loyalty of his lords, the Ras council, to actually show up with their forces to battle the fearsome Italians. Still, European forces had often succeeded in such heavily outnumbered situations before due to superior weapons and tactics. However, the Ethiopians at Adwa were fighting on mountainous terrain that they knew well. Not to mention, Eastern Orthodox Russia saw an ally in Tewahedo Orthodox Ethiopia, and had been steadily supplying Menelek with the small arms and tactical advisors needed to repel an Italian invasion (although the Italians had managed to disrupt many such shipments). Nevertheless, the Italians felt sure that a sneak attack while their enemies were asleep would carry the day against superior numbers.
The Italians’ foremost mistake, however, was attacking the Ethiopians on a Sunday. Unlike the Roman Catholic Italian soldiers, who would customarily forego the celebration of mass while on military campaigns, the Ethiopians had arisen early for the celebration of the Kidassie, or Divine Liturgy. When the Italians attacked, they faced a well-prepared Ethiopian force that inflicted heavy casualties. Despite the feudal organization of the army, with divisions led by local Ras fighting separately, the strategic genius of Menelek lay in his ability to command bilaterally: not to dictate the overall strategy from the top down, but to allow the tactical genius and local loyalties of each tribe to play its part in the battle, while still maintaining a cohesive front.
After Adwa, the myth of European invincibility in the 19th century was broken. Adwa is known in Ethiopia as the battle that brought our country into the modern era and plays a similar role for us that the Battle of Kulikovo does for the Russian people. The lessons of Adwa cannot be learned elsewhere in military history, as far as I am aware (please correct me on this point). Never before or again has a nation with regressive technological, social, legal, and economic status defeated a power with superior marks in every category of „progress.” The agrarian South was mowed down by the industrial North; the Polish aristocracy bled the same blood as the peasantry against German machine guns. Yet the Ethiopians, through a genius admixture of balanced governance, brilliant diplomacy, and social humility, managed to survive the „Scramble for Africa”–at least, that is, until the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, when the crisis of modernity hit Ethiopian culture the hardest. Zion and her traditions did survive, but not with the greatness that they once knew. But that is part of the next segment of our history.
THE FIFTH HEAD: PROGRESS AND DESTRUCTION
When World War I broke out, both sides began to court the Ethiopians, whose position and strength made them a vital aspect of any Africa campaign. The next in line to be Ethiopia’s Negus after Menelek II was Iyasu V, and foreign dignitaries in Addis Ababa set up meeting after meeting with Iyasu to convince him to enter the war as an ally of their country. The Ottomans met with particular success in this regard, and Iyasu even agreed to hold negotiations with their ambassador in the Ethiopian province of Harar, where virtually all of Ethiopia’s Muslims resided, and whose capital is actually the fourth Holy City of Islam. Rumor spread that in the course of their negotiations, Iyasu had attended Hagarene services with the ambassador, and during the Paschal Holy Week, no less. The Harar Sunnis began to stir with talk of independence, or even the establishment of their province as the capital of a Muslim Ethiopian empire, with Iyasu at their head. Had the Christian Emperor abandoned the Tewahedo faith?
The Ras nobles decided to take no chances. In a nearly-unanimous coup, they deposed Iyasu in 1916 and installed Menelik’s daughter Zauditu as Empress, along with her cousin Ras Tafar as regent. This turned out to be a decision of great import. After the death of Zauditu in 1930, Ras Tafar took the Imperial name Haile Selassie („the power of the Trinity”). He would become the most pivotal figure in Ethiopian History since his ancestor Queen Makeda, who bore the son of Solomon. His controversial reign changed the character of Ethiopia in many ways, adapting her culture to the ways of the wider world, but also showing the world why Ethiopian culture was unique and would always be the African „City on a Hill.” A staunch Tewahedo Christian, Haile Selassie nevertheless inspired a religious cult called Rastafarianism, which syncretized Ethiopian mythology with politically liberal ideology and the use of cannabis, and today boasts about 2 million followers who consider Ras Tafar the Biblical messiah and the Christ of the New Testament’s second coming. Haile Selassie always repudiated this false religion, but it is easy to see why disenfranchised blacks and weed-smoking hippies found it attractive, especially in Jamaica and the USA. Although it sounds like a religion of „chill” thanks to the music of Rastafarian Bob Marley, it is actually a gnostic cult of radical supernaturalism and strict moral rejection of Babylon, „the world,” for Zion, an African utopia for all peoples. Marley’s own deathbed conversion to Tewahedo Christianity is a clear sign of Rastafarian syncretism with Orthodoxy.
And it was Orthodoxy which served as the guiding principle of Haile Selassie’s early reforms (before the Italo-Abyssinian Revanchist War of 1935). The Emperor’s modernization movement carries with it the baggage of contemporary debate over which updates were good, which were destructive, and which were debatably both. For example, nobody will deny that the Selassian mandate of a national hospital system was beneficial to public health. Yet to support the hospital system, a nationwide electrical grid was created, which brought with it telecommunications, widespread print houses and newspapers, and high-tech prison facilities based on European punitive psychology. These reforms undermined the local, agrarian, and tribal mindset that had sustained the energy of Ethiopia’s traditional religious culture. Or, to take another example, Haile Selassie set the maximum legal interest rate at 9%, as usurious private lenders had been charging up to 30% for farm expansion loans. Christian teaching opposes usury, and the Negus strove to uphold this teaching insofar as it was possible. To do this, though, he had to create the National Bank of Ethiopia, which fundamentally changed the Ethiopian economy into a commercialist, capitalist, cyclical growth-bubble. I’ll provide one more example: Haile Selassie mandated the consecration of five Ethiopian Bishops for the Tewahedo, whereas in the past they had been viewed as a daughter-church of the Egyptian Copts, and only Coptic Bishops had been appointed over them. The Emperor saw this as a necessary update, given the tenuous diplomatic relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt, and the sometime infringement of Orthodox freedoms in that Muslim state. However, his feudal lords could not countenance such a violation of centuries’ tradition, and in response to their protests, Haile Selassie unilaterally replaced them all with political appointees on a „merit” basis. Progress and regress are a matter of perspective.
It is easy for the reactionary historian to see why such developments carry with them both good and bad. Yet many of the pre-war reforms have created controversy worldwide as well. For example, Haile Selassie was often accused, even in his own day, of systematic „ethnic cleansing” in the Sunni Muslim Harar region. Given that the Harari had supported Iyasu, whom Ras Tafar’s cousin Zauditu deposed, it is sensible that the new regime should protect itself against insurrection. Ras Tafar had been born and raised as one of the minority Tewahedo Christians in this region during a period of localized, feudal rule, which subjected him and his family to Shafi’i Sharia law throughout his childhood: not the sort of community life that would endear him to his Muslim neighbors. As Emperor, Haile Selassie instituted a campaign of systematic disarmament and displacement of thousands of these Sunni, privately viewing them as a foreign occupying force of Muslims bent on the conversion or destruction of Ethiopia. Many of these Harar live around the world today, even in the USA, as part of the „Harari diaspora.” Though this decision was controversial, it cannot be denied that the survival of Ethiopia as a Christian country to this day depended on the forcible removal of such a hostile force: a lesson that has still not been learned by the European democracies who then criticized the move, but who today suffer from their own „Harari” in the form of no-go neighborhoods and Muslim voting blocs.
Another modernization with worldwide import was Haile Selassie’s abolition of slavery in Ethiopia. Because the Tewahedo canon law of Coptic Orthodox Ethiopia had long forbidden Christians from owning chattel slaves, Ethiopian slavery had always been humane and domestic. There were serious penalties for any slave owner who threatened the comfort or dignity of a slave. Nevertheless, all of the reformer Emperors from Tewodros to Yohannes to Menelek had attempted to abolish slavery as a way to create a more equal society and elevate all citizens to freedman status. Of course, the old tradition died hard, and most of the slaves [closer to the δοῦλοἱ („servants”) of the ancient Greeks] did not want to leave their positions of household governance. Thus, Addis Ababa under Ras Tafar had to impose this centralized legislation by force, instantly rocketing Ethiopia’s enigmatic Negus to international celebrity status and cementing Ethiopia’s place in the League of Nations and the world stage.
This effort at globalization did not save Ethiopia from the long-harbored grudge of the Italians, however, and when Benito Mussolini commanded a number of successful attacks in the first two years of his 1935-41 Revanchist War, he was able to say with relish, „At last Adwa has been avenged.” The hapless Haile Selassie, despite his decades of modernization efforts, found his power dwindling, his „modernized” country overrun by the Fascists, and Italian propaganda telling the world how backward Ethiopia was, and how in need of their „help” to „bring it into the 20th century.” Undeniable charges of persistent Ethiopian slavery, „poverty” (a blanket term which included subsistence farmers), illiteracy, and of course, illiberality enabled the Italians to control the narrative and prevent the League of Nations (in whose globalist liberal vision Haile Selassie had put so much faith) from justifying a condemnation of Mussolini’s aggression. The Italians annexed Ethiopia, and soon after, World War II began. Haile Selassie and his family became celebrities in exile, traveling the world to protest that Ethiopia truly was liberal, and therefore deserving of pity.
In the end, it was not liberal pity that rescued Zion from the Fascists, but the long arm of liberalism itself. The brute force of the British military, whose alliance with the United States to establish a lasting global order of liberalism was at the core of World War II, viewed the defeat of Mussolini as a priority much greater than the liberation of Ethiopia. Nevertheless, Ethiopia was liberated and the Italians defeated; Ethiopia expanded her territory through the annexation of Eritrea; Haile Selassie returned, victorious, with his vision to bring still more reform and modernization validated by the nod of the post-war order. The later Selassian reforms were no less controversial than the earlier ones. For example, the Emperor tightened Ethiopia’s bond with the United States in order to prevent British colonization, even allowing three American lawyers in 1955 to draw up a brand-new Constitution of Ethiopia which weakened the monarchy and irrevocably joined Ethiopia to the United Nations.
It is tempting for the Re(black)tionary historian to simply grumble over what traditional Ethiopia lost in Haile Selassie’s push for progress, but to do so would make him no different from a lost-cause states’-rights Southerner, a Tradbro Orthodox/Catholic monarchist, or a pre-industrial Communitarian Utopianist. Looking backward is an important practice when seeking answers, but our question should always remain „What now?” This is why a critical evaluation of Ethiopia’s modern history stripped of the presuppositions of liberalism is both valid and vital and is a practice that should be duplicated in the history of other nations.
As to whether Haile Selassie is the „Fifth Head of Antichrist,” it is by no means my intention to identify him as such. A pious Orthodox his whole life, the Great Emperor instituted the liberal and modernist reforms that he did in service of Christian ideals. As Ras Tafar himself said of technological progress, „The progress of science can be said to be harmful to religion only insofar as it is used for evil aims, and not because it holds a priority over religion in its revelation to man. It is important that spiritual advancement must keep pace with material advancement.” Similarly, he believed that education was a „means of sharpening the mind of man both spiritually and intellectually…a two-edged sword that can be used either for the progress of mankind or for its destruction.” In an interview on the value of liberal governance, he was quoted as saying: „Democracy, republics: What do these words signify? What have they changed in the world? Have men become better, more loyal, kinder? Are the people happier? All goes on as before, as always. Illusions, illusions.” These are hardly the words of any mouthpiece of liberal technocratic globalism.
However, the insidiousness of „progress” is such that even the best intentions in the heart of the wisest initiator can result in a runaway train. Although Haile Selassie was certainly no anti-Christ, the liberalism that has taken root in Ethiopia since his reforms certainly is. I happened recently to be seated next to a woman in a terminal at Chicago O’Hare Airport who was part of a prominent family in Ethiopia. She was traveling home on business, and I asked her what her business was. She informed me that her business was „women’s emancipation,” and when I asked her „emancipation from what?” she only responded, „I’m an evangelical missionary.” For anyone struggling to understand the connection, it might have helped that* she then launched into a 30-minute explanation of how our Tewahedo Church oppresses women by not letting them be priests, and how as a result Ethiopian men expect their wives to cook for them. In short, she was a disaster, and her intention was to bring disaster to my country.*
So, I unsheathed my sword and executed her on the spot.
Or at least I’d have liked to. But such a decapitation cannot be paulatim; the Fifth Head must be lopped off all at once. There is still strength supporting Tradition in Ethiopia: tribal, feudal, religious, and ethical mores are still in force in a way, unlike any other Christian nation. If liberalism around the world is to be jettisoned in favor of a way that is both Old and New, the trend must start with us.
THE SIXTH HEAD: DERG COMMUNISM
At the risk of sounding like a baby boomer: Communism is not just very stupid, it is very evil. Its doctrine of bloody revolution to seize the means of production has never been anything other than exactly as advertised: meet the new boss, same as the old boss, except the new boss killed your family members. Lest we forget the simple facts, the „Communist holocaust” killed over 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century (Fascists, wicked though they are, killed maybe 10% of that). The ideas of Marx, Engels, and Trotsky, along with the leadership of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot brought about the spiritual death of at least twice that number. I get it; none of this was real Communism. But whatever this historical phenomenon should be called, it has certainly earned its place among the seven heads of Antichrist. Ethiopia had its fevered nightmare of Communism between 1974-91. hey came to Zion calling themselves the Derg.
„Derg” is a Ge’ez word meaning „committee,” and you might say that the 1 million Ethiopians killed by the communist chairman Mengistu experienced „death by committee” during the Ethiopian Red Terror of 1977-78. Mengistu (a.k.a. the „Butcher of Addis Ababa”) had originally instigated the 1974 revolution that allied marginalized Ethiopians (including the Harari Muslims) with those starving in the Wello famine of that year. This came on the heels of the 1973 oil crisis, which was making it difficult for the Haile Selassie regime to continue paying its soldiers. Where it had been Orthodox Russia which had supported Ethiopia’s fight against colonization, it was Soviet Russia that engineered the downfall of her monarchy. Marxist radicals seized control of the nationwide television networks, playing doctored and edited footage of Haile Selassie sitting at luscious banquets while farmers starved, round the clock. (One wonders if Ras Tafar was then still grateful for the „modern miracle” of television). This enabled Mengistu’s radicals to initiate a military coup that seized the imperial palace and expel the emperor, who would die in ignominious exile several months later at the age of 83. The Derg killed dozens of government officials and civic leaders as well, along with hundreds of priests, including the Ethiopian Patriarch Abune Tewophilos of holy memory, who was tortured to death over several months of refusal to capitulate, ultimately being strangled with electrical wire and buried in a mass grave.
Communist control of Ethiopia led to a similar situation in the Church as it did in Russia and China: there were some clerics who accommodated the new regime to varying extents, leading to a schism between the „faithful” Orthodox underground and in exile, and the „official” Derg-sanctioned Orthodox. When the Derg were finally overthrown in 1991, those who had remained faithful, both in Ethiopia and around the world, were still in schism with their Ethiopian brethren. Unlike the Russian schism, however, the Ethiopian schism has never been healed. However, lay Ethiopians rarely consider this historical vicissitude to be a true schism, and regularly commune at any Ethiopian Tewahedo and Egyptian Coptic church without investigating „which side they were on during the revolution.” This seems a good example of what an organic ecclesiology looks like, and it is a perspective that may have some bearing on healing other schisms in Christianity–though of course not every key fits in every lock.
The Butcher of Addis Ababa was little more than a puppet of the Soviets, and as such could do little to change the fundamental character of Ethiopia. For Zion’s Christian population, the new regime was nothing more than usurpers who sought power for themselves. For Ethiopian minorities, on the other hand, such as the Muslims, the Derg were saviors and Mengistu a messiah. Even to this day, westernized Ethiopian leftists and minorities *agitate for a return to the „glory days” of revanchist Derg rule.*
Being so beholden to the Russians was the reason the Derg did not last long; as Russia’s geopolitical power faded in the late 1980s, so did their ability to prop up allied regimes like Mengistu’s. The country organized itself into a „democratic republic” in 1987, but with the old constitution outlawed, and the dictator and his cronies still in power, little had changed. The „people’s democracy” touted by post-Derg Mengistu still ranted against liberal democracy, western capitalism, the petite bourgeoisie class, and the „reactionary” Orthodox.
Mengistu and his ex-Derg party were defeated militarily in 1991 by the „Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front,” who rallied the people with the promise of revenge against Mengistu and the Communists. American support against the African ally of the Soviets pushed the rebels to success, and Mengistu was forced to abdicate and flee into the arms of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, whose recent ouster has caused some speculation that Mengistu himself may finally be in for a reckoning. The EPRDF remains the governing coalition in Ethiopian parliament to this day. They won 499 out of 547 seats in the 2010 election, with all other parties representing very specific factional ethnic or religious groups.
The character of modern-day Ethiopian politics after Communism is wildly out of step with the majority of Ethiopian values. Our country has always been patriarchal, hierarchical, religious, agrarian, communitarian, and family-oriented. Our common people, by and large, have not changed. Yet our politicians seem to always be pushing some modernizing or liberalizing cause, counting on the uncritical support of millions of Ethiopians. Could it be that Ethiopians simply do not care much for politics? Yet 90% of registered voters turned out in the last election. Perhaps the vote will always fall down straight ethnic lines, with policy an afterthought. Whatever the case, it is obvious that the sixth head of Antichrist was never fully cut off. The neck of Communism still twitches in our culture and society every once in a while, making us feel the absence of our imperial monarchy, the most successful and long-lasting of its kind in world history.
THE SEVENTH HEAD: ANTICHRISTUS VENTURUS
Like Joachim of Fiore, the Ethiopian people have always been fascinated–dare I say obsessed?–by the apocalyptic prophecies of the Old and New Testaments. The Ark of the Covenant, Davidic genealogies, Prester John, the Woman of Revelation, the Heavenly City of Zion: Ethiopia, for us, has always stood in the center of these cryptic signs of the times.
Thus, similar to the way that blacks in America have *Black Jesus, Black Santa, Black St. Augustine, and Black Batman, we’ve got Black Antichrist. Among Ethiopians, my sense from many conversations was that there was some consensus that this would be Barack Obama.* Many still think Obama has yet to reveal himself as the Antichrist. The typology is perfect: coming from Kenyan roots, he emerges as the ultimate scion of Ethiopia’s great rivals to the South, whose colonization by the British sundered them from Abyssinian control. His family was Roman Catholic but converted to Islam. He himself is a secular liberal. Thus the twin horns of modernism and Muslim fundamentalism converge atop his own head. In his trips to Kenya, his speeches on gay marriage and religion chilled traditional Ethiopians as to what new devastation he planned to wreak among our neighbors via the U.S. State Department. In his trip to Ethiopia, he praised the liberalization of our country under the current regime and mused about himself running for a third term in office. Many wondered whether he would join hands with the pretenders of Old Zion (modern-day Jews) or the bloodthirsty Hagarenes in his Middle-East foreign policy. Either way, Ethiopians were fascinated by his persona, while many worried about his portent.
Blacks do not only have Black Antichrist; they also have White Antichrist, a sort of parallel legendarium that exemplifies Black Fear of White Supremacy. Ghetto blacks in the U.S. are sometimes heard to refer to Ronald Reagan as the antichrist. Similarly, many now think this of Donald Trump. While a bit silly, I think such myths represent a healthy religious impulse among blacks: if evil threatens your people, the battle is not only against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Of course, our identification of „evil” is often wrong, or only true in a general sense. Whatever your opinion of Obama or Trump, Pope Francis or George Soros, it’s at least clear that the knee-jerk reaction of „Antichrist!” is about as measured as a fitness plan which includes a daily exorcism against the demons of gluttony (though possessed seizures can certainly be a great core workout).
In fact, the Spirit of Antichrist is everywhere in our modern world. Hundreds of millions of people, including yourself, are as deserving of the term as Obama or Soros. Every time you look at porn, you invite the spirit of Antichrist. Every time you neglect family, you salute the Beast. Every time you eschew marriage, you prepare the way for his kingdom. Antichrist is the herald of the gates of hell on earth, and as such, his spirit must eradicate tradition, belief, love, and justice. Ethiopia has been fighting this battle for 3,000 years. Every time a head springs up, we cut it off. Sometimes it takes many centuries; sometimes we are just barely equal to the task. Yet every time we witness the promise of our Lord, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against us. When the Antichrist who is to come finally reveals himself, we will be ready.