You might read the title of this book and wonder about the use of the word “papacy”. You might have thought that the only papacy you had heard of was the one in Rome, not in Egypt. Well, there is another papacy, and it is in Egypt. The head of the Coptic Church is called the pope; he is also the Patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. The Pope in Egypt had that title before the Pope in Rome did. The Coptic pope is considered the successor of St. Mark, the evangelist who, according to tradition, founded the Church in Egypt with his headquarters in Alexandria. The Coptic Church is the largest Eastern Christian Church in the Middle East - they are not in union with the Eastern Orthodox Churches or the Roman Catholic Church; they are like the Armenian Church in being separate from those two large Churches.
The Early Coptic Papacy is the first of three volumes in a series entitled, The Popes of Egypt which is being published by the American University of Cairo Press. They are hoping to publish a new and updated history of the Coptic papacy, starting with St. Mark, the first pope, and ending with the present pope, Shenouda III. This first volume covers the period from the beginning of the Coptic Church to the time when the Muslims took over Egypt. Some big names in early Christianity appear, like St. Mark, St. Athanasius, St. Antony, Origen, St. Cyril of Alexandria and Arius. Not much is know about the earliest Coptic popes except for their names and their dates as pope. More history is known about the popes from 189 A.D. onward.
This book discusses how the pope established his power and authority. It shows how various ones, like St. Athanasius, had to deal with heresies like the Arian heresy and other problems challenging the pope’s authority. Davis’ book is surprisingly interesting to read from a Roman Catholic point of view. There is enough early Christian history there that relates to when the Coptic Church was in union with Rome. Davis discusses a bit about monasticism (which was founded in Egypt) and how the monks would support the pope or his opponents. This interest might change with the other two volumes in the series, since before the periods they cover, the two Churches were not in union. Still, it will be an interesting series, and this particular volume on the early days of the Coptic Church is very educational. Pope John Paul II and Pope Shenouda III had met a few times and seemed to have been on good terms.
The Early Coptic Papacy is recommended for any collection on Eastern Christian Churches. Davis provides an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources for the reader to continue reading and learning about the Coptic Church.