Have you ever considered just how central the continent of Africa is in the very roots of the Bible and indeed the Christian faith? The story of Joseph and his brothers is set in Africa as is, of course, the life of the prophet Moses. In our post-Christmas Gospel readings, we learn that the Holy family, Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, fled to Africa to escape the infanticide of Herod. Project further forward and we find that it was an African, Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry Jesus’ Cross along the Via Dolorosa. Africa continues to play a pivotal role in the life of the Church and is a place of rapid growth.
The 27th of May is the Feast Day of St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He takes his name from St Augustine of Hippo (current day Algeria) who, next to St Paul, is regarded as the greatest of all Christian theologians. He was born in Tagaste in Numidia, Africa in 354 AD. His influence on the Christian faith as we have received it from the earliest times is simply immense; and yet he was a man of deep intellectual humility, a passionate servant of his Lord and the Church. Augustine of Hippo was not born into the Faith and baptised in Milan at the age of 32. He was a man of the highest intelligence, tireless in pastoral care and the deepest personal faith in Jesus.
It was said of St Augustine by the great Biblical scholar St Jerome that, “He established anew the ancient faith.” Over the last year or so I have undertaken a colossal amount of theological reading. It has been really exciting, and it has been a wonderful experience to rediscover and rethink afresh the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and his argument for the existence of God, Christian logic and rational thought, to explore the thinking and passion for the faith in the lives and writings of the early Church Fathers and to uncover a new way of thinking about evangelism in a treatise that examines, in brutal fashion, the secular western age of our day. I have devoured writings on the place of silence in Christian tradition, the monastic approach to death and I have re-examined Jesus’ parabolic teaching. Consequently, Jerome’s words seem to resonate for me as I reflect upon the renewal in my own life of the ancient faith. Christianity is about a relationship with Christ. Augustine knew this in his personal conversion, and we can read about this in the “Confessions” that stand as a magnum opus in praise of God. However, it was through philosophy and the pursuit of truth that Augustine converted to Christianity and his life long journey led him to Jesus who in the Fourth Gospel describes himself as, “The Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Augustine the Bishop of Hippo an outpost in the African province of the Roman Empire, was an intellectual par excellence but he was capable in conveying his thoughts to the ordinary and less able in comprehensible ways that stood up to intellectual scrutiny. His whole raison d’etre was to encourage the faithful to entrust themselves to the ever – living Christ and to find in him the path to life. Go on….have a read!