(Review) Christianity in Roman Africa: the development of its practices and beliefs by J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Genre: Early Church History in Africa.
Pages: 723, plus 153 color illustrations and drawings.
Source: Free copy from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.
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Christianity in Roman Africa covers the modern day countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia.
Husband and wife writing team, J. Patout Burns, and Robin M. Jensen, began the quest for the book in 1994. After a trip to Tunisia in 1996, the book began to come together.
They utilized both archaeology and literature for confirmation. It will be explained in the introduction that utilizing these features are common, but worship itself will be analyzed. "The objective of this study is to correlate these two forms of evidence in the investigation of the forms of worship and other practices of Christianity."
Christianity in Roman Africa had its own specific theology. Conflicts in the various groups and teachers sparked problems. Principally the Donatist controversy.
In 180, twelve martyrs were brought before the proconsul in Carthage. From this date, we understand Christianity had at least began 50 years before. Carthage was a busy metropolitan sea town. People from other countries traveled through Carthage. The spread of Christianity was higher in cities and spread slowly in the countryside.
The beginning chapters are an overview of Christianity in Roman Africa, including the geography of the land, the political history, and invaders. Persecution during the period of 180-260 is explored. Chapter four looks at the churches. How and where they met for worship. Pulpits, decorations, baptisms, and burials are examined. Chapters five through twelve is considered the essential part of the book.
Each of these chapters reviews chronologically the development of the practice and the accompanying theology usually proceeding from Tertullian through Augustine. Each chapter ends with general observations in two categories: the first summarizes the significant points of contact between archaeological and literary evidence; the second reviews the interaction of practice and theology in the particular subject of the chapter. Page LIII.The last chapter defines holiness in the church.
Christianity in Roman Africa appeared one cold December afternoon leaning against my front door. I don't remember emails exchanged, nor agreeing to review the book. I must admit, the weight of the book, both physically and intellectually intimidated me. I was sick in December and January. I began reading the 723 page book in February.
When I began reading Christianity in Roman Africa I knew two things:
- There was a Church presence in north Africa.
- Augustine and Tertullian were early Church fathers.
My mind has been enriched with a wealth of information. The following bullet points will show what stood out to me.
- Persecution was not continuous but occasional.
- The Church had more than persecution to worry about. Religious practices and beliefs were not in unity among all Christians. Arguments and pride over one way or another led to one group believing it was "the true Church."
- African Christianity was located not only in north Africa, but also in southern Spain, and Rome.
- Tertullian's interesting belief in baptism. Further, the long ritual of baptism itself. This includes oaths, a ceremony of turning away from idolatry, and commitment to Jesus Christ. When a person made a decision of belief in Jesus Christ, baptism was not a quick ritual. It was a process that took time, thought, and maturity.
- Defining Church leadership and governing.
- The practice of praying for the dead. This is a point I needed clarification. When and why did Christians pray for the dead? The book explains that it was believed people praying for the dead could help them in some way in their sufferings.
- Each of the significant leaders in the African Church are expounded on throughout the book. These men are Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine.
- The Christian Church in North Africa declines sharply after the Muslim conquest in 698. I would like to know more about this point in history.
The book is organized well, balanced, and has clarity. I might have gotten lost in the lengthy historical facts; instead, I understand this area of the world and the history of Christianity more clearly.