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Selected Latin Letters of the Jesuits in Ethiopia (1609-1641)

Translated by Jessica Wright and Leon Grek

Introduced by Leonardo Cohen

Edited by Wendy Laura Belcher

The seventeenth-century encounter between the Portuguese and the Ethiopians is a fascinating and understudied moment in the history of colonial encounter. From 1557 to 1632, Jesuit missionaries endeavored to convert the Ethiopians from their ancient form of Christianity to Roman Catholicism. After fifty years of failure, the Portuguese sent a new group of Jesuits to Ethiopia in 1603, including a priest named Pedro Paez, whose diplomacy and sympathy for many of the tenets of the Ethiopian Orthodox TäwahÉ™do Church enabled him to convert the emperor. When Paez died, his successor, Alfonso Mendes, was more aggressive about eradicating Ethiopian religious practices and a civil war broke out. In 1632, the emperor abandoned the effort to convert the country by force, rescinded his conversion, and abdicated to his son in 1632. This son eradicated Roman Catholicism. 

The Jesuits—including Manoel de Almeida, Manoel Barradas, Jerónimo Lobo, Alfonso Mendes, and Pedro Paez—wrote half a dozen histories about their encounter with the Ethiopians in the first half of the century. They also wrote letters and official reports that have been preserved. Perhaps because of the mission’s failure, none of the Jesuits’ accounts were published in full until the twentieth century. Parts of the work by Barradas, Lobo, and Paez have been translated into English, but nothing by Mendes, the patriarch and most influential figure, has been translated into any language. This is so largely because Mendes’s history, letters, and reports are in Latin.

There is world-wide interest in Mendes’s thoughts on the encounter because he was the head of the mission and has been castigated for his role in its failure. In particular, Mendes was a vital informant about the role of Ethiopian women in leading their people in resisting early European attempts at colonialism. However, since few in the field of African or Ethiopian studies can read Latin, their invaluable content has not been translated or used in published scholarship.

 

Table of Contents

  • Abbreviations
  • Chronology
  • Preface
    • Wendy Laura Belcher
  • Introduction to the Text
    • Leonardo Cohen
      • The Texts’s Seventeenth-Century Historical Context
      • The Texts’s Religious Context
      • The Texts’s Authors
      • Scholarship on the Texts
  • Introduction to the Translation of the Text
    • Jessica Wright and Leon Grek

The Translation of Selected Latin Letters of the Jesuits from Ethiopia

  1. Anonymous Description of the Ethiopian Empire’s Geography, Ethnography, Etc. (1540?) 
  2. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1609) (regarding rebellion and hardship in Abyssinia, the support of the emperor, virtues that please the Abyssinians) 
  3. Letter of Pedro Paez in Ethiopia to Nicholas Pimenta (1610) (regarding conflict with the Turks, good relations with Sella Christos; Paez the teacher; expedition against the Oromo) 
  4. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1611) (regarding the Jesuit’s success with the imperial family; civil conflict; anecdotes about local women as Catholics or heathens) 
  5. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1612) (regarding the Jesuit’s success, including the conversion of women; conflict with the Oromo) 
  6. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1613) (regarding the Jesuit’s success, including doctrinal influence on the two natures of Christ, etc.) 
  7. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1615) (regarding monastic conflict, imperial conflict: plots, women, and war) 
  8. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1618) (regarding Ethiopia as in a wretched state, conflict over imperial Roman Catholicism; plots against them; description of the seminary in Gorgora, including an exemplary Portuguese woman) 
  9. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1622) (regarding the life of Pedro Paez)
  10. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (1623) [by Joannes da Sylva?] (regarding new fathers sent to Ethiopia; the great danger from local Muslims; the death of Franciscus Antonius de Angelis)
  11. Report from Aimarus Guerinus to the Praepositus Generalis (Head of the Jesuit Order) (September 1627) (regarding the author being prevented from performing sacred duties while travelling) 
  12. Letter from Afonso Mendes to the Praepositus Generalis (Head of the Jesuit Order) (June 1629) (regarding the difficulties of the mission; Mendes compares himself to ancient martyrs) 
  13. Letter from Bruno Bruni to the Praepositus Generalis (Head of the Jesuit Order) (June 1629) (regarding miracles: the cure of a royal woman; conversion of the imperial granddaughter)
  14. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Roman Catholic Pope (July 1629) (regarding Tacla and his sister killing a Jesuit attached to the imperial house)
  15. Letter of Nicolaus de Fenal to the Praepositus Generalis (Head of the Jesuit Order) (May 1630) (regarding Nicolaus having a place in the king’s house) 
  16. Letter of the Roman Catholic Pope Urban VIII to Prince Fasiladas (November 1630) (exhorting Fasiladas to not rest until all of Abyssinia is Roman Catholic) 
  17. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Roman Catholic Pope (May 1633) (regarding the disintegration of the Ethiopian Catholic church; gossip about Fasiladas and his wife) 
  18. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (February 1635) (regarding conflict between those loyal to the national religion and those loyal to the Roman Catholic Pope; heretical monks and rebellion; religious violence; an anecdote about the  imperial daughter Zadanguil and Catholic woman)
  19. Letter of Bruno Bruni to the Jesuit Fathers in Goa (July 1635) (regarding the Jesuit martyrs and the imperial perpetrators)
  20. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (February 1637) (regarding military aid and the dangers to the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia) 
  21. Letter of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to Afonso Mendes (1637) (regarding consolation for the martyrs; refusing the request for military aid) 
  22. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (November 1638) (regarding the false rumours about conflicts between the Ethiopian princes and the Jesuits on the account of nationality) 
  23. Decree of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (1639) (regarding helping the Jesuits) 
  24. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Roman Catholic Pope Urban VIII (October 1639) (regarding martyrs and imperial perpetrators; the emperor being persuaded to persecute Jesuits to prove his Ethiopian faith) 
  25. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (December 1639) (regarding the martyr narrative [repeated?])
  26. Letter of Emmanuelis to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (1640) (regarding the expulsion of the Jesuits from Ethiopia and the accumulation of their possessions) 
  27. Minutes of a meeting of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (May 1640) (regarding dissension between the missionaries causing trouble) 
  28. Letter of Antonius a Virgoletta to the Rector of the Collegia Diensis (June 1640) (regarding martyrdom is not the result of royal cruelty, but of competition between the bishops)
  29. Annual Letter from Goa to the Roman Catholic Pope about the Abyssinian Mission (January 1641) (regarding martyr narratives; how King Fasiladas lures them out) 
  30. Letter of Afonso Mendes to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (March 1641) (regarding consolation on the martyrdom, hope they will help the mission) 

Acknowledgments

Appendix

Glossary of People, Places, and Texts

Works Cited

Index