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§ 10. Christianity in North Africa.


Böttiger: Geschichte der Carthager. Berlin, 1827.

Movers: Die Phönizier. 1840–56, 4 vols. (A standard work.)

Th. Mommsen: Röm. Geschichte, I. 489 sqq. (Book III. chs. 1–7, 5th ed.)

N. Davis: Carthage and her Remains. London & N. York, 1861.

R. Bosworth Smith: Carthage and the Carthaginians. Lond. 2nd ed. 1879. By the same: Rome and Carthage. N. York, 1880.

Otto Meltzer: Geschichte der Karthager. Berlin, vol. I. 1879.

These books treat of the secular history of the ancient Carthaginians, but help to understand the situation and antecedents.

Julius Lloyd; The North African Church. London, 1880. Comes down to the Moslem Conquest.


The inhabitants of the provinces of Northern Africa were of Semitic origin, with a language similar to the Hebrew, but became Latinized in customs, laws, and language under the Roman rule. The church in that region therefore belongs to Latin Christianity, and plays a leading part in its early history.

The Phoenicians, a remnant of the Canaanites, were the English of ancient history. They carried on the commerce of the world; while the Israelites prepared the religion, and the Greeks the civilization of the world. Three small nations, in small countries, accomplished a more important work than the colossal empires of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, or even Rome. Occupying a narrow strip of territory on the Syrian coast, between Mount Lebanon and the sea, the Phoenicians sent their merchant vessels from Tyre and Sidon to all parts of the old world from India to the Baltic, rounded the Cape of Good Hope two thousand years before Vasco de Gama, and brought back sandal wood from Malabar, spices from Arabia, ostrich plumes from Nubia, silver from Spain, gold from the Niger, iron from Elba, tin from England, and amber from the Baltic. They furnished Solomon with cedars from Lebanon, and helped him to build his palace and the temple. They founded on the northernmost coast of Africa, more than eight hundred years before Christ, the colony of Carthage.77   Καρχηδών), the Latin Carthago. It means New City (Neapolis). The word Kereth or Carth enters also into the names of other cities of Phoenician origin, as Cirta in Numidia. From that favorable position they acquired the control over the northern coast of Africa from the pillars of Hercules to the Great Syrtes, over Southern Spain, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and the whole Mediterranean sea. Hence the inevitable rivalry between Rome and Carthage, divided only by three days’ sail; hence the three Punic wars which, in spite of the brilliant military genius of Hannibal, ended in the utter destruction of the capital of North Africa (b.c. 146).88    "Delenda est Carthago," was the narrow and cruel policy of the elder Cato. But under Augustus, who carried out the wiser plan of Julius Caesar, there arose a new Carthage on the ruins of the old, and became a rich and prosperous city, first heathen, then Christian, until it was captured by the barbarous Vandals (a.d. 439), and finally destroyed by a race cognate to its original founders, the Mohammedan Arabs (647). Since that time "a mournful and solitary silence" once more brooded over its ruins.99   ions of N. Davis and B. Smith (Rome and Carthage, ch. xx. 263-291). The recent conquest of Tunis by France (1881) gives new interest to the past of that country, and opens a new chapter for its future. Smith describes Tunis as the most Oriental of Oriental towns, with a gorgeous mixture of races—Arabs, Turks, Moors, and Negroes—held together by the religion of Islam.

Christianity reached proconsular Africa in the second, perhaps already at the close of the first century, we do not know when and how. There was constant intercourse with Italy. It spread very rapidly over the fertile fields and burning sands of Mauritania and Numidia. Cyprian could assemble in 258 a synod of eighty-seven bishops, and in 308 the schismatical Donatists held a council of two hundred and seventy bishops at Carthage. The dioceses, of course, were small in those days.

The oldest Latin translation of the Bible, miscalled "Itala" (the basis of Jerome’s "Vulgata"), was made probably in Africa and for Africa, not in Rome and for Rome, where at that time the Greek language prevailed among Christians. Latin theology, too, was not born in Rome, but in Carthage. Tertullian is its father. Minutius Felix, Arnobius, and Cyprian bear witness to the activity and prosperity of African Christianity and theology in the third century. It reached its highest perfection during the first quarter of the fifth century in the sublime intellect and burning heart of St. Augustin, the greatest among the fathers, but soon after his death (430) it was buried first beneath the Vandal barbarism, and in the seventh century by the Mohammedan conquest. Yet his writings led Christian thought in the Latin church throughout the dark ages, stimulated the Reformers, and are a vital force to this day.



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