North African church fathers

St. Augustine and Tertullian are some of the ancient best known believers from North Africa. Both contributed much to Christianity before the arrival of Islam on the continent.

Tertullian (160-225AD), was born in Carthage, located in modern day Tunisia. He was converted to Christianity in the late second century, and is remembered as the father of Latin Christianity and the founder of western theology. His writings in Latin had broad influence. He is perhaps most well known for being the oldest Latin writer to use the term Trinity. He also gave the oldest formal exposition on Trinitarian theology.

St Augustine was born in Algeria 200 years later, in 354, to a Roman citizen father and a Berber mother in present day Souk Ahras, Algeria. He is considered one of the most important figures in the establishment and development of Christianity in the West. He was a professor of rhetoric and converted to Christianity in Italy, at the age of 32. Back in North Africa, he was ordained 5 years later (in 391) and was elected bishop of Hippo in 395. His major works were widely read and discussed during the Middle Ages, and his influence on Christian thought continues even today. He died at Hippo (now Annaba) in Algeria, at the age of 75, but his tomb is in Pavia, Italy. He is honored as one of the major fathers of the Latin Church.


While these two great Fathers of the Church have their roots in North Africa, tradition has assigned the title of patron saints of North Africa to Perpetua and Felicity. Their story is dramatic.

The two women lived in the late 2nd and early 3rd century. Felicity was the maid of Perpetua, a young noblewoman of Carthage then under the domination of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. This Emperor had banned Christianity, but this did not prevent both Felicity and Perpetua from converting to Christ. Perpetua, the noble, was a young mother of 22 who was breastfeeding her child and her servant, Felicity was eight months pregnant. In vain Perpetua’s father, who remained pagan, begged his daughter to renounce her new faith. Felicity gave birth in prison to a little girl. Three days after the birth, March 7, 203, the two believers were sent to the arena along with at least 3 other believers.

This event took place in the amphitheater of Carthage to celebrate the birthday of the emperor Geta. Most accounts relate that a heifer was let loose on the women and then a leapord and rather than continuing the torture, the crowd called for a speedier death and the two women had their throats slit like so many other martyrs. During her imprisonment Perpetua reported in writing the conditions of their arrest and detention - Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions. This is an authentic document preserved for us in the actual words of the martyrs and their friends.

Spiritually, St. Augustine observed that the names of two women taken together were a prophetic message of their eternal destiny: perpetual bliss. More importantly, these two martyrs, whose courage and virtue have been widely celebrated, illustrate the Tertullian’s now famous saying in his work The Apology:"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

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