Three African Theologians Who Impacted the Christian Church

Saint Augustine of Hippo, as depicted in a Tiffany stained-glass window at the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida. | (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Daderot)

Is Christianity a white man’s religion? This may sound absurd, but some individuals lay claim to this belief. Some hold such a position due to the practice of slavery by early antebellum Christians. Slaveholders would often persuade their slaves that being submissive is the Christian thing to do and that their blessings would come in the afterlife. Professor Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah contends that the entire Bible is a colonial work used to subdue natives under the conquest of Christians.

However, a simple glimpse at church history quickly portrays a very different tale. African theologians have influenced the church remarkably throughout the centuries. Today, we consider three African theologians who left an indelible mark in Christendom.

Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 293–373). Athanasius was born in Alexandria, a grand metropolis of the early centuries, around AD 293. Alexandria was home to one of the largest libraries in history. Athanasius was called the “black dwarf” because of his height (which was around 5’ 2”) and his dark complexion. Athanasius played a key role at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) along with Bishop Alexander (Hindson and Mitchell, Popular Encyclopedia of Church History, 50). Athanasius influenced the church in three major theological ways: 1) the eternal deity nature of Christ, 2) Christian monotheism, and 3) salvation as a new creation of fallen humanity (Hindson and Mitchell, Popular Encyclopedia of Church History, 50). Athanasius was persecuted for his orthodox positions by being exiled five times by the Roman emperor. The church should be greatly appreciative of the work of Athanasius. Otherwise, Arianism (an ancient form of the Jehovah’s Witness movement) would have ruled the day.

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430). Augustine of Hippo was born in Thagaste (modern-day Algeria) in 354. His mother was a Christian, whereas his father was a local Roman official who later converted to Christianity shortly before his death. Some have contended that Augustine’s father may have been of a lighter complexion since he was a Roman and his mother quite dark since it is believed that she was of Berber descent (an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa). Thus, Augustine may have been a mixed-race and could have been of a dark complexion.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brian G. Chilton