St. Augustine and Tertullian are some of the best known believers from North Africa. Both contributed much to Christianity before the arrival of Islam on the continent.
Tertullian, born between 150 and 160AD in Carthage, located in modern day Tunisia, came from a Berber family. Converted to Christianity in the late second century, he remembered as an important theologian and father of the Church. His writings in Latin had broad influence Christian West. He died at the age of 80.
St. Augustine, was born in Algeria 200 years later, in 354, to a Roman citizen father and a Berber mother. 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 Christian thought continues even today. He died at Hippo (now Annaba) in Algeria, at the age of 76, 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 to St. 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. The two women had requested baptism from the bishop of Carthage, but the group to which they belonged that was preparing them for baptism was stopped. 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, went to court to beg 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 in little more than rags to cover their bodies and put in a net and were attacked by a crazed bull that stabbed them with its horns through the net.
The horror of the situation and the horror of torture aroused the pity of the spectators gathered on the steps of the amphitheater of Carthage. 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. It is one of the most poignant Christian documents of that era.
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."