Mendez, Alphonsus

Catholic Church (Jesuit)

Alphonsus Mendez was a Portuguese Jesuit and patriarch of Ethiopia. Mendez had been professor of Scripture for some years in the University of Evora, Portugal, when he was chosen by the king of Spain to become the patriarch of Ethiopia. Pedro Paez, leader of the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia, had converted the emperor Susenyos to Catholicism in 1622; Paez died within a few weeks of Mendez’s appointment, after almost 20 years in Ethiopia.

Mendez arrived in 1625, ignorant of the country but totally self-assured. Received with great solemnity by the emperor, he set about a policy of immediate and complete ecclesiastical revolution. Having decided that Ethiopian sacraments were of dubious validity, he decreed that everyone should be rebaptized and all the clergy reordained. The Ethiopian calendar of feasts was to be replaced by the Roman one. Circumcision was prohibited, as was the keeping of Saturday. While Susenyos endeavored to carry out this extraordinary program rebellions multiplied throughout the country until, in 1632, he sadly rescinded his decrees and handed over power to his son, Fasiladas. Mendez was expelled after appealing to the Portuguese to depose Fasiladas. He died in Goa after writing an account of his mission, Expeditio Aethiopica, in which he recognized some of his mistakes. He represents the quintessence of missionary insensitivity to an eastern Christian tradition.

Adrian Hastings


Mendez’s own writings are in C. Beccari, Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales (1903-1917): vols. 8 and 9 contain his Expeditio Aethiopica, vols. 12 and 13 contain letters. G. Beshah and M. Aregay, The Question of the Union of the Churches in the Luso-Ethiopian Relations (1964); P. Caraman, The Lost Empire (1985).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.