Discoveries of manuscripts in Egypt during the past century, especially those directly related to the establishment and development of the Christian religion in that country, coupled with the continual advance of archaeological discoveries, necessitate an evaluation of Early Egyptian Christianity. The evidence now available to the investigation not only suggests the time and manner by which Christianity was introduced along the Nile, but also indicates that early Egyptian Christians were not bound by a centralized ecclesiastical organization nor did they have a stringent and well-defined doctrinal tradition.
Biblical and non-biblical manuscripts signify an early arrival of Christians in Egypt, perhaps as early as the middleoflhe first century. Traditional Christian historical sources, beginning with Eusebius, are shown to describe the introduction of nascent Catholic Christianity into Egypt near the end of the second century, which resulted in an increasingly tense struggle between the two types of Christianity during the succeeding centuries. Part of the tension was overcome by the gradual absorption of local Christian groups and institutions into the Catholic organization in the third and early fourth centuries. Although monasticism arose as a fresh expression of Egyptian Christianity during the third century, the effort of strong Catholic bishops in Alexandria resulted in keeping monasticism from becoming entirely separated from Catholic Ecclesiasticism. Athanasius, Theophilus, and Cyril are especially noteworthy as examples of those who struggled to maintain an alliance between the monks and the bishops. The emergence of strong personalities both in the bishops of Alexandria and the monastic leaders during the fourth and fifth centuries led to an alliance of those two organizations, and this unity provided a strong organizational base upon which a national Christian church could be built.
The fourth century not only marked the generally successful efforts of the Alexandrian bishops to bring all Egyptian Christianity effectively, not just theoretically. under their control. but also signalled the growing inAuence of the see of Constantinople, the new Eastern capital city of the Empire, at the expense of the prestige which Alexandria customarily enjoyed in the East. The competition between the two cities over leadership of the Eastern Christian churches was exacerbated by Canon III of the Council of Constantinople in 381, which established Constantinople as second only to Rome in ecclesiastical affairs. Alexandria had also experienced lengthy doctrinal disputes with Antioch. and the appointments of Antiochenes to the bishopric of Constantinople during the late fourth and early fifth centuries were added blows to the Egyptian archbishop's influence and authority outside Egypt. Theophilus' overthrow of Origenist theology in favor of the anti-Origenist posilion taken by the majority of the monastic communities in the late fourth century further alienated Alexandria from other Eastern sees.
The majority of the Egyptian Christian leaders and their followers were increasingly separated from Christianity elsewhere in the Mediterranean region and. coupled with the increasingly unified organization of Christians within Egypt, this led naturally, if not inevitably, to the reshaping of Egyptian Christianity into a national Egyptian church as a result of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 C.E. Intransigent leaders were unable to modify or compromise their political and religious differences at that Council, and the separation which was already a reality by that time was formalized then and led to the development of the Egyptian Christian Church during the next century.
[Οι ανακαλύψεις χειρογράφων στην Αίγυπτο κατά τη διάρκεια του προηγούμενου αιώνα, ειδικά εκείνων που σχετίζονταν άμεσα με την εγκαθίδρυση και ανάπτυξη της Χριστιανικής θρησκείας σε αυτή τη χώρα [ενν. την Αίγυπτο], σε συνδυασμό με την συνεχή πρόοδο των αρχαιολογικών ανακαλύψεων, καθιστούν αναγκαία την εκτίμηση του Πρώιμου Αιγυπτιακού Χριστιανισμού. Οι αποδείξεις που είναι διαθέσιμες προς διερεύνηση δεν υποδεικνύουν μόνο το χρόνο και τον τρόπο που εισήχθη ο Χριστιανισμός κατά μήκος του Νείλου, αλλά επίσης παρέχουν ενδείξεις ότι οι πρώιμοι Αιγύπτιοι Χριστιανοί δεν συνδέονταν μέσω κάποιας κεντρικής εκκλησιαστικής οργάνωσης και δεν είχαν κάποια αυστηρή και σαφώς ορισμένη δογματική παράδοση.]
* C. Wilfred Griggs,
Early Egyptian Christianity: From Its Origins to 451 C.E.
[Πρώιμος Αιγυπτιακός Χριστιανισμός: Από τις Απαρχές του ως το 451 Κ.Χ.],
Brill's Scholars' List, Brill Academic Publishers, 2000,
pp./σσ. vi, vii (Preface/Πρόλογος).