Yosab II (D. 1803) – Ethiopian Saints

YOSAB II (d. 1803)

Yosab’s metropolitanate included the first part of the period called the Age of the Princes (Zamana Masafent, 1769-1855). During this period the Ethiopian state declined to its lowest level. The kingdom was from this time infiltrated at every point by the people of Oromo (or Galla). Quarrelsome and plundering regional chiefs disputed the wreckage of power, while the negus belonging to the so-called Solomonic dynasty declined to the rank of nominal sovereign, a puppet king maintaining himself on the throne only with the support of a regent protector. In this anarchy, and for want of the support of the throne, the exercise of the duties of the metropolitan became arduous, and Yosab II had to suffer the consequences of this state of affairs.

Yosab arrived in Ethiopia toward the beginning of 1770, in the reign of Negus Takla Haymanot II (1769-1777), when the “Protector of the Throne” was the ras Mika’el Sehul, chief of Tigre and effective master of the kingdom. At the time of Yosab II’s arrival, the ras Mika’el tried to induce him to fix his seat in Tigre, but after some time, the metropolitan decided to go to Gonder, which he entered on 13 Sane 1762 in the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 18 June 1770).

From then on, during more than thirty-three years, Yosab II was involved in the events of the religious and political life of a state in decomposition. Several items of information about his episcopate survive, but they give only a fragmentary picture, for they come above all from the royal chronicle of this period, an incoherent text written by several different hands. Thus, there is a dearth of information about the first part of his episcopate, which unfolded during the reign of Negus Salomon II (1777-1779) and the first reign of Takla Giyorgis I (1779-1784), a sovereign whom circumstances were to bring to the occupancy of the throne of Ethiopia six times over. It is known only that the metropolitan took part in the ceremony that marked the accession to the throne of Negus Iyyasu III (1784-1788).

In 1792, during the reign of Negus Hezqeyas (1789-1794), Yosab II, supported by the eccage Walda Iyasus, abbot of the monks forming the order of Takla Haymanot, and by certain notables, took the lead in a movement of reaction against the influence of the Oromo, who had infiltrated even into the state administration. This movement demanded the material separation of the Christians from the Oromo, who were Islamicized or often still pagans; but the movement came to nothing because of the lack of cohesion among its promoters. The incident was to end with a reconciliation between Christians and Oromo.

Toward the beginning of 1795, during the third reign of Takla Giyorgis I (1794-1795), Walda Gabr’el, chief of Tigre and son of the ras Mika’el Sehul, attacked the negus in his very palace at Gonder; peace could only be preserved by the intervention of the metropolitan. Shortly afterward, on 12 Genbot 1787 (A.D. 18 May 1795) at Gonder, Yosab II crowned Negus Ba’eda Maryam II, who however reigned only a few months (May 1795-December 1795).

When Negus Yonas was deposed at the end of a very short reign (August 1797-January 1798), he took refuge in the house of the metropolitan, a place enjoying the right of asylum, while Negus Takla Giyorgis I reoccupied the throne for the fifth time (January 1798-May 1799). Shortly afterward, this negus was threatened by a rebel named Wahdu; although excommunicated by the metropolitan Yosab II and by the new eccage, Walda Yona, Wahdu dared to break into the metropolitan’s house to possess himself of Negus Yonas, whom he counted on replacing on the throne at his own disposal.

He was, however, surprised to discover that Takla Giyorgis I had preceded him; he had taken possession of the person of Yonas to transport him elsewhere. This violation of the right of asylum is an indication of the decadence of the dynasty and of the decline in the prestige attaching to the charge of metropolitan. For his part, however, Yosab II did all in his power to arrest that decline, and his action registered some successes. Toward the end of 1799, during the first reign of Negus Demetros (June 1799-March 1800), Amade Qwalasi, chief of a pagan Oromo tribe, advanced toward Gonder at the head of his troops; in the general disarray, Yosab II ventured to go out to meet Amade and addressed to him a firm and very dignified speech, as a result of which Amade renounced the plundering of the capital and withdrew his troops.

Toward the beginning of the reign of Negus Egwala Seyon, called Gwalu, a nominal sovereign invested with the title King of Kings from June 1801 to June 1818, the Christological quarrel blazed up anew. The eccage Walda Yona adhered to the doctrine of sost ledat (three births), and Yosab II, faithful to the principles of the Coptic church, did not hesitate to excommunicate him; then, in the hope of ending the quarrel, which continued to tear the Ethiopian clergy apart, the metropolitan tried to impose the doctrine of hult ledat (two births) by launching a general excommunication against all those who should not have adopted it. But a large part of the clergy rebelled and caused the metropolitan to be exiled to an island on Lake Tana.

Old and weary, and recognizing that it was impossible for him to bring a general reconciliation into effect, Yosab II ended by retracting the excommunication: “Since all the world admits in Jesus a unique nature, as I admit myself, let each one remain in his own belief.” His episcopal seat was then restored to him.

According to the royal chronicle, Abuna Yosab II died on 1 Maskaram 1796 (A.D. 11 September 1803) and was buried at Gonder in the Quddus Gabr’el church. According to some traditions, a week after his death, toward midnight, a heavenly light descended on his tomb, as if to confirm the sanctity of his long episcopate. As for the eccage Walda Yona, immediately after Yosab’s death he in his turn imposed excommunication on all those who had not followed the doctrine of the three births, but the doctrinal quarrel was destined to continue for a long time after.

It may be noted that a few days after the death of Yosab II the dajjazmac (later ras) Gugsa, an Oromo from Yajju who in that same year became “Protector of the Throne,” took possession of the metropolitan’s goods on the pretext that they were to serve to cover the costs of obtaining from the Coptic patriarchate a new metropolitan. This action was scarcely pleasing to the chief of Tigre, the ras Walda Sellase, who decided to march on Gonder with his troops. Caught unawares, Gugsa made haste to pay over to him five hundred ounces of gold in the guise of compensation for the metropolitan’s goods confiscated by him. In 1805, Walda Sellase related to the British traveler Henry Salt that to this sum he had added from his own funds a considerable amount and that he had sent the whole to the Coptic patriarchate with the object of obtaining the new metropolitan.

This story of Walda Sellase probably contains the explanation of a historical problem: some traditional lists of the metropolitans of Ethiopia indicate as a successor to Yosab II a prelate called Maqaryos (Macarius), of whom there is no trace in other documents. One of these lists adds that “Maqaryos died en route, after his disembarking, before he had begun to ordain the priests.” This is probably the metropolitan requested by Walda Sellase about 1805. In any case, since he never began to exercise his functions, Maqaryos cannot be counted among the metropolitans of the church of Ethiopia.

The successor of Yosab II was Abuna Qerelos II, who was likewise requested by the ras Walda Sellase.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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  • Cerulli, E. “Gli abbati di Dabra Libanos, capi del monachismo etiopico, secondo le liste recenti (sec. XVIII-XX).” Orientalia 14 (1945):155-56.
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  • Takla-Haymanot da Memsah, A. “Vicende dell’Etiopia e delle missioni cattoliche ai tempi di ras Ali, deggiac Ubié e re Teodoro,” trans. C. Rossini. Rendiconti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei 25, ser. 5 (1916):443.
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SALVATORE TEDESCHI

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