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Muslim Heritage ~ Northern Africa

Aug 13

Written by:
8/13/2017 12:00 AM  RssIcon

Last week, we walked through the history of the Early Church up to about the year 600 AD. By that time, the Roman Empire in the west was experiencing major challenges from the barbarian hordes, but there was another looming threat to Christianity that took everyone by surprise: the rise of Islam across northern Africa and into modern day Spain.

As we look to northern Africa now (the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea), it is all predominantly Muslim in heritage. But it was not always so. Some of the great Early Church fathers who were staunch and strong defenders of the Faith were also from Northern Africa: St. Augustine is from Hippo, St. Anthony of the Desert lived in Egypt, St. Cyprian was from Carthage; among many others. They were some of the best and brightest thinkers in the Early Church and laid the theological foundations for so many who would come after them.

But between the years of roughly 600 AD and 750 AD, all of northern Africa fell away from Christianity and became Muslim. I am reminded of the parables we have heard recently at Sunday Mass, specifically the Sower and the Seeds: things got tough and they fell away. When the Church lost that missionary appeal and mandate, the roots of faith started to shrivel and withdraw. And when they were called to defend their faith, Christians at this time were unable to do so. With the result that in roughly 100 years, large areas of once Christian territory ceased to have any semblance of Christianity left at all.

Slowly, though, throughout the medieval period, the missionary mandate and the desire to re-Christianize areas that were lost started to gain ground. The Crusades were not necessarily just about power or conquest, they were about bringing the Gospel back to where it was born; at great cost to themselves. As such, the roots of Christianity and Catholicism started to grow deeper again and it launched a new Catholic age of discovery and learning. St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas led the way, but there were also great priest scholars among the Benedictines and Franciscans, among many others, and they would soon be joined by the Jesuits upon their founding into the 1500s.

I think we often look to this time in Church history and do not see much development and growth, yet it is there. And there was a re-awakening of the missionary mindset that drove deeper learning and study as well as a desire to bring the Gospel back to areas where it was lost. (St. Francis of Assisi, for example, went to visit the Great Shah at the time, at risk of his own life!)

Yet the age of flourishing would again be challenged, not from the outside as was once the case, but now from the inside at Martin Luther and other reformers broke away from the One True Church in the Protestant Reformation. We will visit that question next week.

God Bless
Fr. Kyle Schnippel


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