Christianity’s African Connection – Part 4

In the fourth century A.D., there were three prominent Christian figures, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and, Gregory of Nyssa, that were crucial in defining early Christian thinking on God the Father, God the Son and, God the Holy Spirit in both East and West.  I would like to point out that these three individuals, known as the ‘Cappadocian Fathers’, were greatly shaped and influenced by extensive exegesis of Scripture from Africa.

They, like many others, drew heavily from the works of Origen.  In fact, Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus compiled selected passages from Origen’s works, ‘The Philocalia of Origen’, which were some of Origen’s basic teachings of Scripture, and introduced them to Europe and Asia.

Origen succeeded another one of Africa’s favorite sons, Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150 to 215). Clement was not only a brother in Christ to Origen, but he was also his teacher.  It is widely understood and accepted in Christendom that Clement of Alexandria was the most eminent Christian teacher on the African continent after Mark.

Clement provides us with considerable evidence and testimony concerning Mark’s activities and contributions such as:  Clement writes: “This Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt.”  This is the same one, Mark, who “first established churches in Alexandria” (Hypotyposeis 8, quoted in Eusebius CH2.16.1).

Clement of Alexandria is said to have followed the “traditions of the elders” when it came to passing along information pertaining to the Church and its teaching.  And that was to be meticulous and careful.

Dr. Thomas C. Oden writes in his book, ‘HOW AFRICA SHAPED THE CHRISTIAN MIND’, “The normative early Greek and Latin Bibles before Jerome (the Septuagint and the Old Latin Bible versions) were both products of Africa”.

The bruising battles with heresies like Gnosticism, Arianism, Montanism, Marcionism, and Manichaeism were fought out in Africa by some of Christianity’s most courageous apologists, as problems of biblical interpretation.

The Cappadocian Fathers, as they are called, were the ones to give the doctrine of the Trinity its precise interpretation.  They also fought back, with great success, the heretical teachings of the Arians.  Arianism embraced a belief system that denied the deity of Jesus Christ.

These three soldiers for Christ were best known for their stand against Arianism, a fight they inherited from Athanasius.

Athanasius took his defensive position for the faith from the book of Jude:

“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I was compelled to write to you [urgently] appealing that you fight strenuously for [the defense of] the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints [the faith that is the sum of Christian belief that was given verbally to believers]. Jude 1:3 AMP

In 325 A.D. The Council of Nicea ruled against Arianism, and Athanasius continued to defend the deity of Christ until his death. 

Gregory of Nazianzus was a gifted orator.  He delivered five speeches, in Constantinople, so powerful that they literally turned the tide of theological thought away from Arianism to orthodoxy.

This is one of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus’ most profound orations: From the book: ‘The Teachings of the Church Fathers – by: John R. Willis, S.J.

“Believe that all that is in the world, both all that is seen and all that is unseen, was made out of nothing by God, and is governed by the Providence of its Creator, and will receive a change to a better state…. Believe that the Son of God, the Eternal Word, Who was begotten of the Father before all time and without body, was in these latter days for your sake made also Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary ineffably and stainlessly (for nothing can be stained where God is, and by which salvation comes), in His own Person at once entire Man and perfect God, for the sake of the entire sufferer, that He may bestow salvation on your whole being having destroyed the whole condemnation of your sins:”.  ‘Orations, No. 40:45, MG 36, 424, NPNF VII, 377

It was at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. that Arianism suffered its final defeat.

The Cappadocian Fathers are considered saints by the Eastern and Western churches.