Becoming the right person
March 5, 2024
Justice Hudlin-Cooper urges faithful: Stand firm against worldly temptations
March 5, 2024

The Saints of Africa

Attorney-at-law Johnathan Bhagan looks at the churches in Africa and India in this two-part series.

Christianity has always had a deep connection to Africa. Sadly, due to the European and American roots of most Christian denominations in the Caribbean, African contributions to Christianity are not celebrated or discussed as they should be.

The most impactful Christian theologians in history were all born in North Africa. These include St Athanasius of Alexandria in Egypt, St Augustine, Tertullian, and Origen. St Simon of Cyrene and several Ethiopian saints are also important historical figures that do not receive the attention they deserve.

Caribbean churches ought to begin reframing Christianity in a way that is more relevant to our population and stop following American leadership. The production of local textbooks and the funding of research will be vital in decolonising Christianity and obtaining independence from an increasingly divided North American church.

St Athanasius lived between 298 – 373 AD in Egypt and was believed to have dark skin which is noteworthy since many Greeks and Romans also lived in Egypt at the time.

St Athanasius has the distinction of being present at the Council of Nicaea and later when he was Bishop of Alexandria, he compiled the earliest known list of New Testament books in 367 AD that are accepted as the official canon in our Bible today.

St Athanasius was persecuted for many years by the Arian sect which taught that Jesus Christ was a divine being slightly lower than God which contradicted the Council of Nicaea’s teaching that Jesus was the same eternal substance as God.

St Athanasius is considered by many scholars to be the most important Christian in history after the Apostle Paul due to his contributions to theology and the compilation of the Bible.

St Augustine is the author of dozens of books including his Confessions and the City of God. St Augustine’s theology was critical in developing ideas such as original sin and predestination in Christianity.

An entire town in Trinidad is named after St Augustine yet this saint’s African heritage is almost never discussed in Trinidadian discourse. Scholars believe St Augustine was of Berber heritage, a tribe that lived in North Africa since around 10,000 BC. St Augustine himself lived between 354 – 430 AD and contributed significantly to the theology of both the Catholic Church and the later Protestant Reformation as both Luther and Calvin cite St Augustine.

Tertullian is known for popularising the term ‘Trinity’ in relation to the Godhead and wrote concepts that led to the Council of Nicaea a century later. Tertullian lived in Carthage in modern-day Tunisia between 155 – 220 AD.

Origen lived from 185 – 253 AD and produced over 2,000 written works making him one of the most prolific writers of his era. Origen was born in Alexandria, Egypt though his family appears to have been of Greek heritage.

St Simon of Cyrene is known for helping Jesus to carry the Cross during the gospel accounts. Cyrene was a city in modern-day Libya, North Africa making St Simon an African. There is a later reference to ‘Simon the Black’ in the book of Acts which may be the same Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross.

The Ethiopian Orthodox church has its own unique record of saints whose stories may inspire us here in the Caribbean.

The website Orthodox Church lists several Ethiopian saints as follows:

“Walatta Petros is a saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She helped drive out Portuguese Jesuit missionaries from Ethiopia in the 17th century. After her death, her disciples wrote a biography of her life. This is the earliest known book-length biography of an African woman written by Africans before the nineteenth century.

The story of Walatta Petros is told in a unique, ecstatic language. In one passage, she argues forcefully with the male leaders of her country. During her lifetime, she established seven religious communities. There are 27 miracles. These miracles include dramatic healings and more down-to-earth assistance.

Tekle Haymanot, Ethiopian Orthodox Saint, is one of the most famous saints. He is regarded as the founder of the Debre Libanos Monastery in Ethiopia. During the medieval period, this monastery was the leading religious institution in Ethiopia. Today, it remains a popular burial site for many Ethiopians.

The legend of the saint begins with his birth during the reign of King Soloman. His parents were rich and God-fearing. In a vision, they saw an angel of the Lord announcing his birth.”

The church of Ethiopia has a rich history that can edify us here in the West. Ethiopia kept its own copies of the gospels that survive to this day most notably the Garima gospels which date back to around 500 AD and was authored by St Abba Garima. Persons in doubt about the preservation of Western texts such as the King James Bible can always refer to Ethiopia’s texts to verify the gospel’s message.

Ethiopia was never under the control of the Roman Catholic church and was colonised by Europe, apart from a brief five-year occupation by Benito Mussolini, the fascist ruler of Italy in 1935 which forced Emperor Haile Selassie to flee the country temporarily.


PART TWO: The church in India