When you think of the church fathers who comes to mind? My guess is some old white guys in robes. Right? That’s where my mind used to go until I discovered there were Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Mesopotamian fathers of the church.
Most people believe Christianity and the church were shaped by old white guys in Europe. That’s so far from the truth. It was shaped by people from all over the ancient world. It went east as well as west. It traveled North and South.
In fact there are several African church fathers that many people aren’t aware of or don’t acknowledge as African (that’s a whole other post). Here are seven African Church Fathers you should know:
Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo. He helped shape Christian doctrine for the Western church and the church as a whole. His Confessions was the first autobiographical writing of its kind.
Augustine also wrote substantial writings on the Trinity and on the relationship between church and state. These writings still influence us today.
Tertullian was a lawyer by training and debated the faith as an apologist. He was also an advocate for charismatic gifts and prophecy in the church.
Cyprian was key in laying out ecumenical policy and protocol. His leadership and writings helped to shape the structure of church councils. These protocols and directives helped the early church come to agreement on complex theological topics.
Athanasius was an Egyptian Bishop who adamantly defended the Trinity. His stand against heresy caused him to be exiled twice. The phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world” was symbolic of his stand for truth.
Origen was a theological genius. To this day folks are grappling with Origen’s writings and their meanings. He was condemned as a heretic after he died but much of his interpretive method and theological discoveries survived.
Clement was Origen’s teacher and mentor. His writings are well known and he influenced Origen in regards to interpreting the scriptures. His writings the Stromateis and Paedogus influenced the content and the form of medieval education.
St. Anthony can be called the “Father of Monasticism”. He was raised in wealth and comfort but gave it all up to follow God in the desert. Many folks came to him in the desert for wisdom and miracles.
I know I said seven but here’s one more for good measure. Pachomius. Pachomius was also one of the innovators of Monasticism. While Anthony lived a life of solitude and prayer in the desert on his own Pachomius gathered monks together to live the same kind of life. His communities were the precursor to all the other monastic traditions that thrived in Europe during the medieval period.
So those are the seven African church fathers you should know. For some people they are surprised that they exist. For others they are blind to the fact of them being born and raised on African soil and distinctly African in their outlook.
So what surprised you about these African church fathers?