Black Catholic History – The Untold Story
Black Christianity has a long history
Most people are unaware that there was a vibrant black Christianity and church-life existing in North Africa long before St. Patrick was even born (~389). In the 2nd – 3rd centuries, Ethiopia became a Christian country, as did Nubia south of Egypt; traces of their famed liturgy still exist today. These churches gave birth to numerous well-known black Christians, many of whom were martyred for their beliefs. Examples are Moses the Black, Cyril of Alexandria, Perpetus, Benedict the Black, Felicity, John of Egypt and most likely even the famous St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica.
Saint Anthony the Great of Egypt
Founder and Father Monasticiam
Anthony was the first to withdraw in such a way, and gradually became famed for his spiritual wisdom and battles with the devil. Other people came to join him eventually, and Anthony spent time training them in the monastic life – read more. .
Saint Maurice – see below and read more here
Adrian the African Abbot
Adrian twice turned down becoming bishop in Canterbury. Instead on his arrival to Britain, Adrian was made abbot of the monastery of St. Peter (afterwards called St. Augustine’s Abbey) at Canterbury. Read more about Adrian.
Samuel Ajayi Crowther
Samuel Ajayi Crowther was Africa’s first Black Anglican Bishop. Originally from Nigeria, he trained at the CMS Missionary College in Islington and was ordained by the Bishop of London in 1843.
In 1864 Samuel was consecrated bishop of Western Africa, presiding over African clergy in the Niger mission, since European clergy refused to serve under a black bishop.
Read more about Samuel Ajayi Crowther
There were 3 Popes known to be black
Pope St. Victor (Victor I) – Was of North African descent. Elected in 189 AD. He was deacon when he became Pope, a rarity then and now. He established a set date for the celebration of Easter yearly. He died a martyr for the faith in 199.
Pope St. Miltiades (also referred to as St. Melchiades) – Reigned as Pope from 311 – 314. He signed the emperor Constantine’s famous Edict of Milan in 313, ending the persecutions, and making Christianity the established religion of the empire. He was considered an excellent Pope, “a son of peace and father of Christians” according to St. Augustine.
Pope St. Gelasius (Gelasius I) – Reigned from 492 – 496. Born in Rome, he was renowned for his holiness, kindness and scholarship. He saved Rome from famine, composed a book of hymns for church use, was renowned for his concern for the poor and clarified church teaching on the *Eucharist. The understanding and protocol of the Communion as introduced by Jesus at the Last Supper in which the bread and wine are consecrated (blessed), and eaten.
*The Eucharist (Communion) can also been seen as a memorial to Christ. The word Sacrament is also associated with the Eucharist – this simply means the ceremonial act/rites of blessing the bread and wine.
Black Saints of History
ST BALTHASAR First Century AD. St Balthasar was one of the wise Kings or Men that visited the infant Jesus in the manager. St. Balthasar was referred to as one of the ‘Magi,’ he was accompanied by Caspa and Melchior.
ST CAESARIUS Legend relates that Caesarius was a Deacon from Sudan who, on visiting Italy protested against the pagan custom of sacrificing youths to the deity Apollo. He was seized and kept imprisoned for almost two years before being placed in a sack with a priest called Julian and thrown into the Sea.
ST CALLISTRATUS died 300 AD. Callistratus was a Theban Soldier who along with fifty of his companions were put to death in Constantinople for their beliefs. They were placed in individual sacks and thrown into the sea.
ST MAURICE was a celebrated personality in Europe since the Third Century of the Christian era. He was born a Theban (Nubian) in Upper Egypt or Sudan. Even though Christianity was flourishing in this region, it was under the control of the Roman Empire as were other African lands in the vicinity with their north facing shorelines turned towards the Mediterranean Sea. Maurice was the leader of the Roman legion of the district. In autumn of 285 C.E., the Emperor Maximilian sent a large army to Switzerland to oppose a rebellion in the south of Galla. These forces included the Theban Legion, many of whom were Christians.
Maurice and his men were assigned to Agaunium, 20 Kilometers from the Genfer Lakes. When ordered to harass the locals, some of these were also Christians, the soldiers refused. The Emperor gave orders that the unit should be punished. Every tenth soldier was killed; this form of military punishment was known as decimation. More orders followed, but sill the men refused to attack fellow Christians. St. Maurice supported his unit, as a result, Maximilian had the remaining members of the 6,666 unit executed and Maurice was tortured and put to the sword. Read more about Saint Maurice.
ST CANDIDA – Died 300 AD. Candida was a virgin believer from Carthage who was martyred by Maximian Herculeus.
ST CYPRIAN 200 – 258 AD. A native of Carthage, Cyprian was a leading pagan lawyer and teacher. In 246 he converted to Christianity and soon became a leading author of many books and a scholar on the Bible. He was elected Bishop of Carthage before having to flee persecution. He returned after being severely criticized for his departure. Cyprian was involved in many controversies and came into conflict with the Pope of the time. He was arrested and beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods. He is considered a leading pioneer of Latin Christian literature.
MOSES THE BLACK (330 – 405 AD) A feared Ethiopian who became a hermit. He refused to defend himself against a band of Arabs and was murdered along with six other monks.
St AUGUSTINE (Born Nov 13, 354 AD – Died August 28, 430 AD) Born in North Africa; his mother, Saint Monica, was tried by his early years which he spent in vice. He later became a professor of rhetoric. He worked in Tagaste, Carthage, Rome and Milan. St. Ambrose baptized him at age 32, the same year his mother died. For many years he lived a monastic life with a few associates near Tagaste. He was ordained a priest at Hippo and within three years, became the bishop of the city.
From then on he dedicated all his intellectual ability to being a defender of the faith. Monks, nuns, priests, canons, friars and hermits follow his ideas to this day. He is one of the most prolific thinkers and certainly one of the most influential. His writings are considered classics and it is well known that he influenced individuals like Luther who went on to form his own sect in Augsburg, Germany. In life, Augustine can be described as a rebellious youth who went on to be a scholar and thence to be one of the most revered saints. His relics are enshrined in many Christian centers, throughout the world.
GELASIUSI I (Died 496 AD). The son of a Nubian called Valerius, Galasius I, became a member of the Roman clergy and was elected Pope on 1st March 492 C.E. He succeeded Pope Felix II. Famed for his holiness, justice and charity, he was an outstanding scholar and soon became a problem to the patriarch of Constantinople when he stood his grounds, in defending the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch and the rights of the Church.
ISIDORE OF ALEXANDRIA 319 – 404 AD. Isidore was a wealthy Egyptian who became a hermit in the Nitrian desert after distributing his wealth to the poor. He was ordained and went to Rome in 341 AD. He was the director of a hospital in Constantinople. But his later life was troubled since he was excommunicated for his forward teachings. He died in Constantinople
ST BENEDICT THE MOOR (1526-89 AD). Benedict was sold as a slave in Italy; he was later freed and became a solitary, settling with other hermits. He soon became a superior in his community and received due recognition. He was well renowned for being pious, which earned him quite a reputation. As a confessor he attracted many visitors. He is the patron saint of the African-Americans. His title the Moor is derived from Italian for Il Moro (the black).