African Church

Christian communities of Roman Africa, which comprised what is now Tripoli, Algeria, and Morocco. The historical period begins with groups of martyrs, 180; in spite of persecutions Christianity rapidly spread from Carthage through the provinces. In the beginning of the 3rd century the edict of Emperor Decius started a fierce persecution. Many through cowardice apostatized and were known as "Lapsed"; they were numerous and caused much trouble later by demanding restoration to communion. Traditores were those who claimed that the archives of the Church could be delivered to officials without lapsing from the Faith. The Donatist schism which rent the African Church arose from the refusal of some of the bishops to recognize as valid episcopal consecration performed by a traditor. Constantine could not succeed in reconciling the factions. Augustine vigorously opposed the Donatists and all other heretics.

Paganism came to an end when the temples were closed in 399. The Pelagian heresy, which had many adherents in Africa, was condemned at the Council of Carthage in 412. In 426 Africa was invaded by the Vandals. This conquest subjected the Church to new persecutions, as the Vandals were Arians. Wretched conditions prevailed in Africa during Vandal occupation. Finally in 533 a Byzantine army under Belisarius drove out the invaders. Under Justinian Arianism, the denial of the Divinity of Christ, was suppressed and order restored. The clergy were divided by the Three Chapters controversy. Pope Gregory the Great sent delegates to assist the Bishop of Carthage. Africa did not long enjoy this period of peace. In 642 the Arab conquerors of Egypt made their way into Proconsular Africa and in 698 Carthage was finally taken. This conquest meant the blotting out of the African Church.

The most important Latin Christian literature was produced in the African Church. Tertullian, the earliest writer, was a brilliant apologist who defended Christian doctrines against pagans as well as Marcionites. Minucius Felix shows much literary skill in his short treatises. Cyprian has left historical matter of great value. Augustine's "Confessions" and "City of God" have a foremost place among Christian writings. In his treatise on the Trinity he has left a finished theological exposition. The many Scriptural quotations in the writings of the African Fathers are important in establishing the biblical text. There seem to have been a number of Latin versions in Africa.

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