Abba Teklemariam Semharay Ṣelim and his struggle against the Latinization of the Ge’ez Rite

Born on 1871 east of Keren, in the village of Shīeb, Teklemariam grew up to become one of the leading scholars from the Catholic Seminary of Keren ordained at the age of 22 by French missionaries. He would publish many Catholic and translate many books from Italian to Ge’ez. In 1910, the Apostolic Prefect transferred Abba Teklemariam to Jerusalem where he established close ties with the Orthodox Täwahedo monks at Däbrä Sultan who helped him deepen his knowledge and interest in the Ge’ez rite divine liturgy in relation to the Oriental Orthodox rites.

The issue of Latinization was initially raised when Italian Cappuchin Friars started the process of “Latinizing” the Ge’ez rite. Abba Teklemariam was the only priest who criticized the missionaries and sent his appeal assessing the validity of the liturgical books in the Ge’ez rite. Eventually, he started his own initiative in Jerusalem to compare and contrast his current Catholic Ge’ez Missal with 16th c. AD manuscripts in Jerusalem and decided that the liturgical text needed to be slightly corrected to fit a dogmatically “Catholic” context. However, Abba Teklemariam asserted that many Latin innovations had to be eliminated from the Ge’ez rite, but never received approval from the Roman See. Despite this, he formed a committee of priests with the same goal of preserving the Ge’ez rite from many Latin innovations.

He eventually left Jerusalem to Rome becoming a professor of Ge’ez literature at the university publishing dozens upon dozens of articles and books. For a brief period, he also spent time with the Vincentians in Paris before returning to Rome until he passed away in 1942.

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