Book Explores Christian Rituals and Practices in Roman Africa

christianityromanafrica.jpgPatout Burns, Edward A. Malloy Professor of Catholic Studies, emeritus, and Robin Jensen, Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship, explore how early North African Christians lived out their faith in their recently published book, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, November 2014). Using a combination of literary and archaeological evidence, this in-depth, illustrated book documents the development of Christian practices and doctrine in Roman Africa—contemporary Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco—from the second century through the Arab conquest in the seventh century.

Jensen and Burns, in collaboration with Graeme W. Clarke, Susan T. Stevens, William Tabbernee, and Maureen A. Tilley, skillfully reconstruct the rituals and practices of Christians in the ancient buildings and spaces where those practices were performed. Numerous site drawings and color photographs of the archaeological remains illuminate the discussions.

This work provides valuable new insights into the church fathers Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. Most significantly, it offers a rich, unprecedented look at early Christian life in Roman Africa, including the development of key rituals and practices such as baptism and eucharist, the election and ordination of leaders, marriage, and burial. In exploring these, Christianity in Roman Africa shows how the early African Christians consistently fought to preserve the holiness of the church amid change and challenge.

“This is an astonishing compendium integrating history, theology, and material culture,” wrote John C. Cavadini, University of Notre Dame. “It is really unprecedented. The theology illuminates the art, and the art in turn illuminates the theology—and both make the history come alive, almost right before the reader’s eyes.”

Burns and Jensen will offer a Friday morning class for the Vanderbilt Osher Lifelong Learning Institute entitled “The Development of Christian Practice and Belief in Roman Africa.” The class will meet from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. at Belle Meade United Methodist Church, 121 Davidson Road, beginning Friday, January 16, and on consecutive Fridays through February 20.

This course will survey the documentary and archaeological evidence for Christian rituals and practices during the first six centuries in the region stretching along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea from modern Libya to Morocco. The presentations will focus on the interaction between practices (baptism, eucharist or Lord’s Supper, penance, ordination, prayer) and beliefs. They will include a survey of the archaeological remains for church buildings, baptisteries, and burials.

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