The African Identity of Lactantius, Augustine, and Tertullian (Part One)

Many leading figures of Christian thought and faith who were born and raised on the African continent self-identified as African, despite the influence and privileges of the Roman empire, and contrary to the arguments set forth by some western academic scholars.

As an African Christian, one persistent sentiment I hear from my Pan African Anti-theist friends is that Christianity is a white man’s religion imposing western neocolonialist ideologies on the unsuspecting African. This sentimentality is so because Christianity was first introduced in some parts of Africa in the 19th century, with colonialism, and thus the gun and the Bible (perceivably) came hand in hand.

When this historical fact finds a mind unaware of the rich ancient Christian heritage in Africa, it provides an intense huddle for evangelistic victory.

Our inexperience of the early Christian roots in Africa owes partly to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of us Africans to study Church History, but by far and large, the Western academia has either subconsciously or willingly ignored the depth of intellectual and spiritual contribution Africa has made to the Christian world.

In the words of David E. Wilhite, many western history students and teachers ‘unwittingly employ their own colonialist lenses to read the ancient African sources.’[1]

In discussing Africa’s contribution to global Christianity, the quickest objection raised by both western and even some African history scholars is that the ‘African’ Church Fathers were more ‘western’ or ‘Latin’ than they were African, a charge Thomas C. Oden scoffs at as ‘imperialistic’ and ‘racist.’ “African Christianity has arisen out of distinctly African experience on African soil. Those who have most suffered for its genuine depth and continuity have been born as Africans and have struggled in African cultures nurtured within untold generations of (the) indigenous African experience.”[2]

I think the question of the identity of early African Christian leaders is crucial today, with recent studies showing the shift of the center of gravity of Christianity from the global north to the global south.[3]

It appears to me that Africa will once again be looked to for leadership in Christian thought, and as such, Oden expects a host of African scholars intentional on discovering their rich heritage. They must learn from the past, respond to current questions posed by skeptics concerning the compatibility of Christianity with indigenous African identity, and they must provide a vision for future Christian witness in the world.

The factors raised above caused me to spend more time on this ancient African heritage, asking myself the question of self-identity of some of these historic African Christian minds who influenced Christian thought and ecumenical consensus.

Particularly, I looked at Lactantius, Tertullian, and Augustine, seeking to explore what was ‘African’ about them. But first, I start with early witnesses of the presence of Christianity in Africa in the next article. Then, I will look at ‘How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind,’ which is the title of Thomas C. Oden’s insightful book about the same. Here I will consider the contribution of African Christianity in general to the world.

I will then turn to David Wilhite’s illuminating arguments for the African Identity of Lactantius, Augustine, and Tertullian, before giving my concluding remarks on what this discovery means for those of us young students of African Christianity, called to serve in our African context.


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[1] Wilhite, E. David. Ancient African Christianity. New York: Routledge, 2017. Print. Page 7.

[2] Oden, C. Thomas. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind. Illinois: 2007. Print. Page 13.

[3] Masci, David. (2015, April 7). Christianity poised to continue its shift from Europe to Africa. Retrieved from On 2017, Dec 4.