I. Early Christianity – II. Liturgy – III. Christian art – IV. Classical language or Geez – V. Literature. I. Early Christianity. The introduction of Christianity into Ethiopia should be linked, it would seem, to the story of Queen Candace’s treasurer Acts 8:27. Yet we know nothing more of the early centuries. There were probably Christians among the foreign merchants residing at Adulis and Aksum; their religious propaganda must have gained importance with the growth of the church’s prestige in the Roman Empire and with the success following on Constantine’s decree 313, which allowed full freedom to the spread of the gospel; in fact, the only source that speaks of the beginnings of the spread of Christianity in Ethiopia or more precisely in the kingdom of Aksum puts these events at the time of Constantine. According to the historian Rufinus Historia Eccl. I, 9-10, temporibus Constantini, two young Syrians, Frumentius and Aedesius, shipwrecked on the coast of India ulterior, were reduced to slavery by the king, whose confidence they later won. On the king’s death, Frumentius, now prime minister of the queen regent, diligently set out to discover whether there were any Christians among the Roman merchants, and gave them leave to build churches and celebrate rites. Aedesius later returned to Tyre, where, having become a priest, he met Rufinus. Frumentius went to Alexandria to inform St. Athanasius of events, who ordained him bishop of the country. Rufinus, however, is imprecise about its geographical position, calling it vaguely India ulterior; its exact name is known only from a letter sent by the emperor Constantius in ca. 356 to the two sovereigns of Aksum: Aizanas and Sazanas. This letter, handed down by Athanasius Apologia 31, asks the Aksumites to send bishop Frumentius back to Alexandria to submit to the Arian patriarch George, who took possession of that see early in 357, but fled from it in August 358.
The letter’s recipients were almost certainly King Ezana and his brother Sazana; according to a group of Aksumite inscriptions, Ezana passed from paganism to monotheism before being converted to Christianity ca. mid 4th c.. Altogether, these Aksumite documents allow us to establish an evolution from polytheism to Christianity, without specifying times or ways. Rufinus shows only how the evangelization of the kingdom of Aksum began; Frumentius’s ministerial activity must be considered the continuation of apostolic activity, a stage in the economy of salvation. It is unclear why Frumentius went to Alexandria rather than Antioch; there may have been preexistent links between the primitive Ethiopian Christian communities and the neighboring Egyptian sees. The fact remains that, by receiving episcopal ordination from St. Athanasius, he made the church of Ethiopia dependent on the patriarch of Alexandria; the two churches would also remain linked in monophysitism.