Priesthood: Nature vs. Nurture
Hereditary vs. Learned Behavior
In his magnum opus Church and State in Ethiopia 1270-1527, Prof. Tadese Teamirat thinks out loud (so to speak) about Shewan clergy and their relationship to the production of education, “The long distance from the court of the Egyptian bishops, and from the centres of Christian learning in Tigré must have always kept the number of clergy to a bare minimum. Some rudimentary teaching may have been given by very few local priests to their own children, who would almost invariably succeed them in their clerical posts, and to some other children entrusted to them.”
Reading this shocked me. I don’t know what his metaphysical beliefs were at the end of his life, and frankly I don’t give a rat’s behind. Not germane. What I do know is that Prof. Tadese functioned as a deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC), as did his father Memhir (Prof.) Tadese Gebre-Eeyesus before him (before elevation to priesthood). The former, a professor according to modern schooling, but with a minimal professional proficiency in traditional schooling, and the latter, a professor of traditional schooling.
Prof. Gétachew Haylé, also a blender of traditional and modern schooling, eulogizes his friend and colleague in Ethiopian Studies with these words, “For his father, one was close to illiterate if one did not know Ge’ez well and was not capable of composing poems (qiné) in its different types as defined by tradition.” Prof. Gétachew knows this because his own family history is not too different. Neither is mine own. Prof. Gétachew elsewhere says, Ge'ez was mainly preserved in literature and a culture of reading by the efforts of the Shewan and Gwonderéan dynasties. Especially, Gwonder. Gwonder is known as እመ አህጉር : ባሕረ ጥበባት : ነቅዓ ሃይማኖት (the mother of city-states, the sea of wisdom, and the fountain of the faith).
My father subscribes to the blank slate theory, that I did as well growing up, and that seems to be the dominant view amongst bi-coastal cosmopolitan elite progressives and Humanities academics in the U.S. I was raised nominally christian, secular humanist, and progressive democrat. Another theory, held by evolutionary biologists, as well as quacks on the internet, is that blood holds significance. A not insignificant number of your behaviors, is traceable not to philosophical free will, nor to your environment, but to the genes you got from yo’ mama and yo’ papi.
Does this mean if you have Shewan clergy in your family you must become a man of the cloth? No. And certainly that would look different if you were a woman. But, what if there is an epigenetic predisposition? What if there is a program that can be activated by certain circumstances? My father’s father functioned as a Shewan deacon. My father’s mother was begat by a Shewan priest. I know of three clergy besides me (a deacon considering priesthood) and two women who were presidents of parish councils, within 3 generations of blood relation to my paternal grandma.
Is it a coincidence that I became a deacon? That I am the number one English language educator in the Southern California diocese, and arguably the EOTC writ large? Is it a coincidence that Prof. Gétachew and I had a back-and-forth discussing the role of the Holy Virgin Mary in the EOTC in a recent recorded lecture and discussion hosted by by Prof. Wendy Belcher and the Princeton Ethiopian Miracles of Mary project? Is it a coincidence that Prof. Tadese was my father’s professor, and that I am reading him currently and independently? Is it a coincidence that we all have traceable blood ties to the Shewan clergy of his magnum opus?
Further Reading and Hearing:
Getatchew Haile, Ge'ez Baqallalu: Kanamuna Dersatochu Gara
Getatchew Haile, In memoriam Taddesse Tamrat. Aethiopica 16 (2013).