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Chapter 3: Defining Africa

Key Names, Locations, and Terms

Numidia (202 BC - 25 BC) was an ancient Berber kingdom in North Africa that later alternated between a Roman province and a Roman client state, and is no longer in existence today. It was located on the eastern border of modern day Algeria, bordered by the Roman province of Mauretania (western border of modern Algeria) to the west, the Roman province of Africa (modern day Tunisia) to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Sahara Desert to the south. Its people were the Numidians. (Wikipedia)

Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are discontinuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. They speak various Berber languages, which together form a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Between fourteen and twenty-five million Berber-speakers live within this region, most densely in Morocco and becoming generally scarcer eastward through the rest of the Maghreb and beyond. (Wikipedia)

Tertullian (c.155-c.225) Brilliant theologian and apologist who laid the foundations of Christology and Trinitarian orthodoxy in the West. Much of what we know about the life of Tertullian is gleaned from his writings and those of Jerome. He was born at Carthage into a pagan family.  He received a comprehensive education in which included the study of law and rhetoric. He converted sometime before 197, possibly attracted by the exemplary lives of the martyrs. Between 197 and 214 Tertullian composed a number of works on various aspects of the Christian life and works on defending the Christian faith. Thirty-one works survive from the period. His rigorous tendencies led him in about 207 to take up Montanism, a charismatic movement that claimed to be initiating the age of the Spirit. He later founded a church of his own, on the fringe of Montanism.

Cyprian the bishop of Carthage. Most likely born at the beginning of the 3rd century and served as bishop from 248/49 until he was put to death by sword on September 14, 258. Cyprian was born into one the leading families of Carthage. He was wealthy and well educated. Under the influence of the presbyter Caecilian, he converted to Christianity in his early to mid-forties. After his baptism, he gave away a large part of his wealth, and soon after was elected bishop of Carthage.  A year later the Decian persecution broke out. Cyprian escaped the persecution and hid in the countryside. He remained in contact with the community through extensive correspondence. Upon his return he was caught up in an embittered conflict brought about by the problem with how to deal with those Christians who had denied their faith during the persecution and later sought readmission to the church (lapsi). 

Demetrius of Alexandria the bishop of Alexandria from 189 to 232. After the persecution of Septimius Severus, he appointed the young Origen to teach the basics of the Christian faith to those wishing to become members of the Christian church. For a variety of reasons Origen and Demetrius had a falling out. Demetrius angered by Origen’s ordination in Palestine, called a gathering of bishops and priests to condemn Origen. This necessitated Origen’s departure from Egypt.

Pachomius (C. 292-347). Popularly referred to as founder of cenobitic (community) monasticism, he was born in Upper Egypt, south of Thebes, to pagan parents. At the age of twenty (312), he was drafted into the Roman army. At the beginning of his military service, Pachomius and the other recruits were locked up in prison.  Tired, hungry, and frightened they were visited by local Christians, who provided them food and drink. Pachomius was genuinely touched by their kindness. The experience would later shape his view of Christianity and monasticism. In 313, he was baptized; three years later he became a monk and apprenticed under Palamon the hermit. After seven years, he settled in the abandoned village of Tabennesi (Upper Egypt), where others joined him. At his death in 347 over five thousand monks lived in the nine monasteries he had founded.


Honorius (d. 648) a 5th bishop of Canterbury. A monk in the monastery of St. Andrew in Rome was asked by Pope Gregory the Great to become a missionary to England.

Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-543). Bishop of Arles renowned for his attention to his pastoral duties. Among his surviving works the most important is a collection of some 238 sermons that display an ability to preach Christian doctrine to a variety of audiences.


Patrick (b. ca. 389) Patrick was born in Roman Britain. He was captured by pirates at age sixteen and taken to Ireland. According to tradition after his return to Britain, he decided to enter into ministry. After a period of training, he returned, as a bishop, to Ireland in 432. It was at this point that he accomplished his most important work the evangelization of the remaining pagan parts of Ireland.


1. Are the early African Christian writers such as Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius truly Africans? What criteria would you suggest for establishing the “African-ness” of a person?

2. This is a very thought provoking statement: It was the strength of that (varieties of the Nile and the Maghreb) traditional African religion transformed by Christianity that stood up to the idolatrous Roman civic religion. What do you think?

3. Oden argues that if a text was written in Africa then it should be considered African. What are the strengths and/or weaknesses of his argument?

4. Compare these two lists of names: Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Marcuse with Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Augustine. Which list is more African? Which are more sensitive to African sensibilities? If the latter, why do the list of modern European authors have such a disproportional impact on African Christian writers?

5. The core hypothesis is that much intellectual history flowed from south (Africa) to north (Europe and then to North America). If this core hypothesis is true (see the case study of African monasticism), what are the contemporary implications?

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