Saint Frumentius, first bishop of Ethiopia, is widely accepted as the person who introduced Christianity into the ancient kingdom of Axum, from which Ethiopia developed.
Although there are numerous legends about Frumentius, accurate accounts provide a basic outline of his life. Frumentius and his brother Aedisius were taken captive along the Red Sea. They probably were traders, for they were appointed court officials in Axum. Frumentius used his position to favor Christian tradesmen. It seems that the two brothers served under the queen-regent of Axum as tutors for the prince, EZANA. When Ezana took the throne, Aedisius returned to Syria, and Frumentius went to Alexandria to request a missionary bishop from the patriarch Athanasius.
Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself as bishop. This appointment began the custom (which lasted until 1960) of appointing an Egyptian chosen by the partiarch of Alexandria as head of the Ethiopian church. In about 341, Frumentius returned to Axum, where his preaching won many adherents. The documentary record is blank until 356, when Byzantine Emperor Constantius II challenged Frumentius’s ordination because it was at the hands of an orthodox rather than Arian patriarch. The Arians, Christians who denied the divinity of Christ, were engaged in a long struggle for power with the traditional, or orthodox, Christians. Ezana ignored the Byzantine emperor’s request to have Frumentius reordained; following this incident Frumentius disappears from history. He is reputed to have headed the church for many years, being called Abba Salama, the Father of Peace - a title adopted by several of his successors.
Norbert C. Brockman
Dictionary of African Biography. Algonac, MI, and New York: Reference Publications, vol. 1, 1977; vol. 2, 1979.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from An African Biographical Dictionary, copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.