“The Early African Framers of the Christian Faith: Selected Important Works of Early African Christian Literature in the First 600 Years of Christianity”

“The Early African Framers of the Christian Faith: Selected Important Works of Early African Christian Literature in the First 600 Years of Christianity”

The Christian religion was born in the Roman Empire and consequently spread under the influence and with the support of the Roman Empire. In its inception, Christianity had multiple beginnings and moved rapidly from Palestine, Asia, Africa, and then Europe, in that sequential order. In fact, some historians talk about Christianity’s concurrent beginnings: Palestine, Asia, and Africa. In particular, what is known today as the Continent of Africa was a significant geographical location that marked the genesis of Christianity. Africa is one of the cradles of the Christian faith. In the first 600 years of Christianity, the three most important places in which Christian history left an enduring mark on human history and where the core theological beliefs and Christian dogmas were developed, nourished, and refined were in Africa; these historic places included North Africa (i.e. Carthage, Cyrenaica, Cyrene [or the Maghrib of Libya]), Egypt (i.e. Alexandria), Ethiopia (i.e. Aksum) ancient Nubia (i.e. Faras [capital city associated with the kingdom of Noba]; Old Dongola [capital city associated with the kingdom of Makurra]; and Soba [capital city associated with the kingdom of Alwa]), and modern Sudan.

In this overview on early African Christian literature, I focus on seven major African Church fathers who were among the framers of the Christian faith, history, and theology. I divide their contributions based on the geography or region and the languages in which they wrote or theologized. The first group includes African Christian leaders in the Latin World or the early African Christian thinkers who wrote in the Latin language; this reference lists the writings of three of them: Tertullian of Carthage, Cyprian of Carthage, and Augustine of Hippo. The first group of individuals were North Africans and whose names are associated with the city or the location (i.e. Carthage, Hippo) they ministered to people. Let me provide a sentence or two about each writer.

Tertullian was born in Carthage around the year 160 (ca.). He is known as the creator of Latin Christian theological language. Cyprian was born in Carthage around the year 200 (ca.) and died in the year 258. He was an influential rhetorician and his writings focus particularly on the unity of the church and ecclesiastical order and orthodoxy. Finally, Augustine is probably the most influential theologian and philosopher in the history of Christianity. He is probably the most prolific Christian writer in Christian history, at least in his era to the Middle Ages.He was born in the small town of Tagaste, Numidia in 354 in North Africa (Libya).

The second group of African Christian leaders constitutes the African framers in the Greek World or the African Christian thinkers who wrote in the Greek language; this guide lists the writings of four of them: Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Cyril of Alexandria. The second group of writers were from the country of Egypt and whose names are associated with the places (i.e. Alexandria) they served as Christian leaders and theologians. In the same line of thought, let me provide a sentence or two about each thinker.

Clement was born near the middle of the second century, probably in Athens. He was an influential Alexandrian theologian and in his writings, he explored the rapport between Christian ideas and Greek philosophy. Origen was born in Alexandria the year 185 and died in Alexandria the year 373. A prolific writer, he is known as one of the greatest interpreters of the Bible and a creative theologian. Athanasius is widely known as the “Defender” of the Council of Nicaea (the Nicene Creed, ca. 328), especially orthodox Christology, and the “Father” of Christian Orthodoxy. Finally, Cyril was a significant Alexandrian writer and best known for his controversy over the Christological perspectives of Nestorius, which he rebuked in his writings. He brilliantly defended the two natures of Christ (or the dual identity of Christ) and energetically contended that Christ was both fully divine and fully human, concurrently.

Unfortunately, in this reference guide, I do list early African literature or writers who wrote in the Coptic language (spoken Egypt and Sudan, to some degree) or the Ge’ez language (i.e. Eritrea, Ethiopia). While the former is associated with the Coptic Christianity in Egypt, Nubia, and Sudan; the latter is associated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church or/and Eritrean Orthodox. I do not list all the dates associated with the writings below simply because we do not know all of them; nonetheless, I list each work under its author’s name. Also, I do not reference all the works connected to the writers above or below, but only the most essential writings to enhance our understanding of early African Christian history and Africa’s enormous and sustaining contributions to global Christianity, especially its enduring mark on Western Christianity and theology.

I. Early African Christian Literature: The Latin Church Fathers

A. Tertullian of Carthage (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) (ca.160-ca.225)

· Apologeticum (Apology against the Gentiles in Defense of Christians)
· To the Heathens
· On the Prescription of Heretics or On the Rule of the Heretics (De praescriptione haereticorum)
· Against Marcion (Adversus Marcionem)
· Against Praxeas
· Against Hermogenes
· Against the Valentinians
· The Demurer Against the Heretics (De Praescriptione haereticorum)
· Prescription against the Heretics (ca.220)
· Against the Scorpion or Scorpiace
· On Prayer
· On Patience
· On Penance
· On the Crown
· On Chastity
· On Baptism
· On Modesty
· On the Pallium
· To the Martyrs
· On Spectacles
· On Monogamy
· To His Wife
· To the Nations, or To the Gentiles
· The Testimony of the Soul
· On the Flesh of Christ
· On the Resurrection of the Flesh
· On Veiling of Virgins
· On Flight in Times of Persecution

B. Cyprian of Carthage (Thascius Cacecilius Cyprianus) (ca. 200-ca. 258)

· The Idols Are Not Gods
· Testimonies to Quirinus
· To Fortunatus
· To Donatus
· To Demetrianus
· On The Unity of the Catholic Church: Against the Novationists(De Unitate Ecclesiae Catholicae)
· On the Lapsed, or On the Fallen
· On the Dress of Virgins
· The Lord’s Prayer
· On the Advantage of Patience
· On Works and Alms

C. Aurelius Augustin (ca.354- ca. 430)

· Against the Academicians
· Against Adiamantus
· Against a Letter of Mani
· Against the Skeptics (Contra Academicos) (ca. 387)
· Against Two Epistles of the Pelagians
· Against Julian the Defender of the Pelagian Heresy
· Incomplete Work against Justin
· On the Immortality of the Soul (De immortalitate anima (ca. 387)
· On Free Will (De libero arbitrio) (ca. 388)
· On Rebuke and Grace
· On True Religion (De vera religione)
· Confessions (Confessiones) (ca.397-401)
· On Christian Discipline (De disciplina Christiana) (ca. 396)
· On Christian Doctrine (de doctrina Christiana) (ca. 397)
· On the Unity of the Church
· City of God (De civitate Dei) (ca.412-426)
· On the Happy Life
· Soliloquies
· Expositions on the Psalms
· Tractates on the Gospel of John
· Questions of the Gospels
· On Baptism (ca. 400)
· On Nature and Grace (De natura et gratia)
· On The Trinity (De Trinatate) (ca. 415-420)
· On the Grace of Jesus Christ and Original Sin (ca. 418)
· On the Nature of God
· The Predestination of the Saints (ca. 428)
· The Gift of Perseverance (ca. 429)
· On the Customs of the Catholic Church and of the Manichees
· On Genesis against the Manichees
· Questions on the Heptateuch
· On the Sermon on the Mount
· Commentary on Romans
· The Mirror of Scripture
· On the Faith and the Creed
· Enchiridion
· On Faith, Hope, and Charity
· Two Books to Simplician on Various Questions
· On Punishment and the Forgiveness of Sins
· On Nature and Grace
· On Grace and Free Will

II. Early African Christian Literature: The Greek Church Fathers

A. Titus Flavius Clemens (“Clement of Alexandria”) (ca.150-ca.215)

· Exhortation to the Greeks
· Stromateis (Stromata or Miscellanies)
· The Paedaogus (The Instructor)
· Hypotyposeis
· Who Is the Richer [Person] to be Saved?

B. Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254)

· Hexapla (ca. 230)
· On First Principles (De principiis) (ca.)
· Philocalia
· Commentaries on Genesis (ca.232)
· Exhortation to Martyrdom (ca.235)
· Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) (ca. 250)
· Homilies on Genesis

C. Athanasius of Alexandria (ca.296-ca.373)

· Against the Heathen
· Speech against the Pagans and Speech on the Incarnation of the Word (ca.318)
· Treatise on the Incarnation of the World of God (De Incarnatione) (ca. 318)
· Orations against the Arians
· Apology against the Arians
· History against the Arians
· Three Speeches against the Arians (ca. 335) or Discourses Against the Arians
· Letter to Virgins (ca. 337?)
· Life of St. Antony (ca.357)
· To the Bishops of Africa (ca. 373)
· Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter (ca.367)
· Against the Manichees
· Sayings of the Fathers or the Apophthegmata of the Fathers

D. Cyril of Alexandria

· Christ the Educator
· On the Worship of God in Spirit and in Truth
· Excerpts from Theodotu
· Consubstantial Trinity
· Against Julian
· Against the Blasphemies of Nestorius
· Commentary on John/Commentary on St. John
· Commentary on Matthew
· Glaphyra (“beautiful things)
· Commentary on the Twelve Prophets
· Explanation of the Twelve Chapters
· Christ Is One

***I hope this reference guide will help the reader to have a better understanding of the enormous contributions of Africa in the birth and growth of global Christianity, especially Western Christianity, in its first 600 years. I also trust that this piece will help correct some misunderstandings about the relationship between Africa and early Christian history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s