Friday, December 18, 2015

On Prof. Getatchew Haile

[An excerpt from a paper presented to]
The XV International Conference of Ethiopian Studies
Hamburg University, 21-25 July 2003
The Intellectual Legacy of the Ethiopian Church
A Philosophico-Hermeneutical Reappraisal  of “Andəmta”
 Fisseha Tadesse Feleke 

Getatchew Haile’s Phenomenal Insights and his “Bahrä Hasab”

What makes Getatchew’s insights phenomenal? Few points may help visualise. For Getatchew, “The origin of Ethiopian Studies is naturally in Ethiopia and in the works of Ethiopian writers.”[1]Being the first to teach in Amharic at AAU, his proposal to establish a chair for Qene[2] there—even if it seems to have been totally forgotten—bears witness of his aspiration for intellectual development rooted in tradition. Needless to say, what would have been done with the EMML, if not for those brilliantly compiled catalogues of his, and the editions and commentaries he has published?[3]
That Getatchew Haile is the most notable witness of Ethiopian Täwahədo Orthodoxy in the West, and has attempted to straighten out inherited confusions[4]regarding the Church’s “theological” stand, could be best demonstrated by two instances. One is his putting into the proper perspective of the facts pertaining to “The situation of the îägga literature versus the West.” In it, Getatchew reveals the genealogy of Abba Ayele Teklehaymanot and Tesfazghi Uqbit from Däbtära Kifle Giyorgis through Guidi and Aläqa Kidanä Wäld Kifle. Recalling that Däbtära Kifle Giyorgis was but a heretic for the Ethiopian Tradition, and considering Tesfazghi’s evaluation of Aläqa Kidanä Wäld’s dictionary as creme de la creme of Ethiopian literature as another red herring, Getatchew reveals the lasting confusion made by Guidi in Western universities, owing to their uncritical reception of his works on Ethiopian theology as standard ones.[5] The other is his understanding of the nature of the Church, particularly in view of one’s national origin. Speaking of the Nine Saints and Abunä Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus, Getatchew points out: “Church historians may have some ideas about their country or region of origin, but as far as the saints themselves and the local Christians are concerned, they originated in the Church and remained in the Church.” That is why he also describes in the same article the Säʿatat ascribed to Abba Giyorgis as “one of the hymns the Church has composed for the Church”![6] 
And now, Getatchew contributes in his “Bahra Hassab” toward a continuation and transformation of Andəmta.[7] Being itself paradigmatic,[8] his “Bahra Hassab” directs towards exploring the potentials of Andimta for a kind of paradigm shift[9]in traditional scholarship, that may help, among other things, avoid such “clash of paradigms” as that, which Lande holds “made proselytism the inevitable and regrettable outcome.”[10]
In Getatchew’s work occurs indeed what Gadamer calls “Horizontverschmelzung” (a ‘fusion of horizons’)—not in a manner of copying the West, but primarily as an inner development within the Ethiopian hermeneutical tradition. As in his introduction to “Bahra Hassab”, Getatchew says in an interview to SineMirmir: „I thought of connecting mentally the new generation with the past by explaining to them how the liqawint teach it. I thought of doing something instead of wailing on the loss of our traditional education.”[11]To appreciate his success in doing this in his book, one may wish to see the going hand in hand of a strong sense of Abäw liqawənt and a genuine respect for their knowledge, together with rigorous appropriation of modern scientific findings. Also, the profundity of his language is remarkable, where archaic and modern Amharic interwoven with properly inserted Gəʾəz quotations and English terms are presented so harmoniously that both traditional and modern students would benefit from the book.
Ethiopia Reckons Time—the content of Getatchew’s book! Time is the subject about which Einstein, person of the last Century, had his greatest insight. It is the crucial question of Heidegger, to which he devoted his monumental “Sein und Zeit”. For the Ethiopian Church, it has to do with her eschatological view of the Gospel, of the FUTURE of all that is! Is Ethiopian society affected by her views, any way? Strongly! Suffice to refer to the commonplace opinion of “səməntäÔaw shi” (the eighth thousand). Here lies the practical significance of Getatchew’s work. Summarising the historical development of eschatological thought in the Ethiopian Church, he suggests to transform it to the effect that the tradition may reconsider its openness to God’s unfathomable mystery, to His mercy that transcends all human reckoning![12] One may only wish that Andəmta scholars seriously discuss on Getatchew’s findings and appropriate his insights. Many more points could have been raised, but the space is limited. Paying deep respect to Getatchew Haile, it is now time to close the paper with remarks suggestive of a call to do justice to Christian Ethiopian tradition, particularly by the academia.

Concluding Remarks

By way of conclusion, the writer would like to humbly ask if, with all the effort made by Ethiopicists of all time, a secure specific interpretative horizon of Christian Ethiopian culture was not yet to be set forth, or set forth again clearly on a solid basis; and, whether such a horizon could ever be established without drawing attention to the rich exegetical tradition of the Church and its living representatives.[13] The question is justified all the more such leading Ethiopicists like Uhlig—the convenor of this Conference—are convinced “daß die Europäer lernen müssen zu erkennen, wieviel Kraft in einer Kultur wie der Hochkultur Äthiopiens steckt, die wir zu erforschen und zu verstehen, die wir aber nicht mittel einer europäischen Kulturimperialismus oder gar mit den Auswüchsen einer Coca-Cola-Kultur plattzuwalzen haben”![14] Indeed, this makes a reappraisal of Andəmta imperative. At the practical level, one may recall, however embarrassing it may sound, that the Church still possesses her Siso, in the sense that she is still actively governing minds of  at least more than a third of Ethiopian people.[15] It follows then, attention should be paid to her scholars and to the way their successors should be trained.[16] To think that such was an exclusive task of the Church would be a serious error of judgement—a repetition of the failure “to understand this governing element in Ethiopian society”[17]—even if it were to be reckoned merely pragmatically!

[1] GETATCHEW HAILE, Ethiopian Studies in the Framework of African Studies = Cimarron Review (Oklahoma 1970) 9
[2] GETATCHEW HAILE, Ethiopianization: It’s Meaning and the University’s Role in the Ethiopianization Process = Conference on the Role of a University in CON Developing Country (Addis Ababa 1967)
[3] For instance, based on two miracle accounts that he edited, Getatchew has closed „once and for all the dossier on the question of the authorship of ... Arganonaä Wəddase, Hohetä Bərhan and Ǝnzira Səbhat, ...“ GETATCHEW HAILE, On the Writings of Abba Giyorgis Säglawi from Two Unedited Miracles of Mary = Orientala Christiana Periodica XLVIII Fasc I (Roma 1982) 65-69
[4] Confusions regarding “Christology” might have arose from ignorance, but maybe also out of a pure malice towards the mainstream Täwahədo position of the Church, the destruction of which might probably have been sought for through an indirect plantation of sects that would have been hoped to provide a boundary situation and thereby help overcome the differences between the Ethiopian and Chalcedonian traditions. If that was the case, it is but ill-advised at the least.
[5] GETATCHEW HAILE, Materials on the theology of Qəbʿat or unction = Sixth ICES (Tel-Aviv 1980) 207f.
[6] GETATCHEW HAILE, The Missionary’s Dream: An Ethiopian Perspective on Western Missions in Ethiopia = The Missionary Factor in Ethiopia (Frankfurt am Main 1998) 6, 7. Emphasis added.
[7] Notice, Bahrä Hasab is part and parcel of the Andəmta Commentary tradition, but unfortunately the one which is now suffering the steepest decline.
[8] GETATCHEW Bahra Hassab (Minnesota, 2000) 16.
[9] The kind of „paradigm shift“ envisaged here doesn’t imply a „new world view“ that would necessarily entail „discontinuity“ of the tradition. It did however imply a shift with respect to assumptions which have serious bearings on the lives of the Ethiopian people and of the Church; in the case of Bahrä Hasab, for example, as regards to the traditional conception of time, which Getatchew has brilliantly done it by taking refuge to God’s mercy.
[10]AASULV LANDE, Evangelical Mission in Ethiopia—Why an Ecumenical Failure? = The Missionary Factor in Ethiopia  (Frankfurt am Main 1998) 196. If the regret for the past was authentic and there is now a genuine ecumenical sensitivity, one must help avoid the clash not by mere official acknowledgement of the Church, but also by paying a proper respect to her scholars, and by maintaining a healthy co-operation in their effort to preserve and develop their own mode of thought and method of teaching.
[11] GETATCHEW (2000) 15; GETATCHEW HAILE, Interview = SenaMirmir Project (Online 2001)
[12] GETATCHEW (2000) 49
[13] At the “theological” level, not to speak of Guidi’s, Abba Ayele’s or Tesfazghi’s deep-rooted biases, even such authors as Hyatt, Douglas and Heiler seem to have aimed—consciously or unconsciously—at an arbitrary framing, and thereby merely assimilating, of the Ethiopian Church, without due consideration of her self-understanding and of the specific state of being she finds herself in. [Despite his attempt to do justice to her in many respects, Hyatt was only fancying, or at least was not precise enough, when he asserted that “it is scarcely to be doubted when the political causes have been removed and when a higher standard of education prevails monophysitism may no longer be an issue.” HARRY MIDDLETON HYATT, The Church of Abyssinia (London 1928) Preface, 283. Douglas wrote: “Accordingly the basic religio-nationality of Christian Abyssinia, i.e. of the Amhara is that of Syrians who were christianized by appropriating Egyptian Christianity ...” A. F. MATTHEW, The Abyssinian Church,  1935, xxxiv;  Heiler said: “Wir dürfen... mit... dem Anglikaner Hyatt, sagen: ‘die Abessinische Kirche ist nicht eine Bastardform des Christentums, sondern ein integrierender Bestandteil der östlischen Kirche.L.c. 282” FRIEDRICH HEILER, Urkirche und Ostkirche (München, 1937) 510] Such recent attempts as of Bonacci’s, who tries to orient the Ethiopian Church toward “liberation theology”, would also be no less susceptible (44). An “andim-critical” examination of Douglas’ rather speculative reflection, but also that of Cowley’s well sustained study may serve a point of departure for a reconsideration of Christian Ethiopian culture as distinguished not only from Roman and Greek civilisation, but also from that of Syria and Egypt. To question the appropriateness  of speaking of Western or Eastern, Roman or Egyptian Christianity may be out of place here; but as to a system of thought or of culture, the writer is convinced that as there is a Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Syrian or Egyptian Tradition, there is also a Christian but uniquely Ethiopian Tradition that should never be subsumed under, than compared to, either of them—to which Andimta bears witness! Obviously, as Ethiopia belongs to Africa, at least geographically, Christian Ethiopian tradition may indeed be referred to as “African”, notwithstanding indeed some Afrocentric scholars’ tendency to assume Christianity as essentially Western or Oriental and hence foreign to Africa. Regarding integrity within the Christian world, Hammerschmidt’s recommendation seems still worth considering: “Die Lösung kann schon heute nicht mehr in einem Zusammenschluß, in einer ‘Union’ gesehen werden, sondern – so pardox das klingen mag – in der Zerfächerung des Einen, in einer Hinnahme der Mannigfaltigkeit weit über die Ebenen hinaus, auf denen man bisher eine solche zuzugestehen bereit war. Konkret würde das bedeuten, daß das Abendland gar keine solche ‘Vereinigung’ mehr anstrebt, sondern sich selbst so weit besiegt, daß es die Kirchen des Orients [man sollte hier auch “Afrika” ausdrücklich, also selbständig, nennen] – ohne viel Fragen, Bedingungen und ohne jede Einmischung in deren Angelegenheiten – als Bruderkirchen akzeptiert und bestehen läßt.” ERNST HAMMERSCHMIDT, Äthiopien. Christiliches Reich zwischen Gestern und Morgen (Wiesbaden 67) 115
[14] „that the Europeans must learn to acknowledge, how much power is to be found in such a rich culture as that of Ethiopia, which they have to investigate and understand, but not to roll it flat with European cultural imperialism, and never with an outgrowth of a Coca-Cola-Culture.“ UHLIG 58. The writer really appreciates this sincere Ethiopicist not only for his beautiful words but also for the very selection of a topic pertaining to Ethiopian Church history for his inaugural lecture as the head of Äthiopistik in Humburg University. 
[15] Not merely the Gult, but also the office of Aqabe Säʾat, and later that of the Eְċegge—as „Fətha Nägäst Awtchi“—had been understood as a Siso (third) right of the Church. The Church has in fact been driven out of the Court now, but not from the minds of the people!
[16] Strengthening her traditional schools, her virtually modern seminaries like the one in Zway, and her higher institutions like the Holy Trinity Theological College; and in the long run, establishing a university that would co-ordinate indigenous Ethiopian knowledge in its own manner would be a noble task that could be undertaken in favour of the Ethiopian Church and of the Country. This helps Ethiopia not merely remain a passive example of how Christianity was assimilated by an African people, but also actively engage to preach Christianity from Africa in Africa!
[17] PERHAM 101. In this relation, Tekest Negash has pointed out: “The greatest shortcoming of the education system in Africa in general and in Ethiopia in particular is that it is poorly related to and interlinked with the traditions of education which predate the coming of the modern school.” Furthermore, he is of the opinion that, “a national educational strategy which fails to take into account the Ethiopian Church as an important partner in development will make very little headway.” TEKESTE NEGASH, Rethinking Education in Ethiopia (Uppsala 1996) 31, 37

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