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african's encounter with christianity

Updated on March 20, 2014


Christianity in Africa is not a new development or a by-product of colonialism. The aim of this write up is to give a precise proof of the early existence of Christianity in Africa as against some recent claims that Africa is new to Christianity. We take our flight from “2000 years of Christianity in Africa” written by John Baur, who accomplished a very ambitious task: to bring together, in one volume, an account of the history of the different Christian enterprises and communities on the African continent. Not since C.P. Groves wrote his four volume history (1948-1958) has anyone attempted anything of comparable breadth, or surveyed a more vast literature. Adrian Hastings’ A History of African Christianity, 1950-1975 (1979) is obviously more limited, and Professor Isichei’s History of African Christianity from Antiquity can suffice. Baur brings his own experience of research and teaching to bear on the subject. Baur has chosen a chronological and regional framework for the book. Our aim will be to critically evaluate.

The first chapter describes Christianity in Mediterranean Africa, Nubia and Ethiopia in ancient times. The second deals with the “middle Years” of c. 1500-1800, focusing on the Portuguese efforts to interact with and establish Christianity among African societies, mainly at or near the coast. It deals with the vexed issue of the Atlantic slave trade and missionaries’ associations with it. John Baur traces the development of Christianity in Africa right from the apostolic times and it has endured for the past twenty centuries. Before the Islamic blitz, Northern part of Africa like Ethiopia, Carthage and Egypt Nubia have great Christian centers and theologians who were regarded as the pillars of the church, among whom were Athanasius, Origen, Tertullian and Augustine etc. Christianity was critically affected by the Islamic invasion. Yet, in spite of this conquest, African leaders took the bull by the horn to strengthen Christianity in places like Egypt, Algeria, Ethiopia, Nubia and North Africa. Such centres rivalled medieval Christian Europe. Monastic movement could be seen in different centres, supporting these African Christian Kingdoms. Programmes of evangelization were also established. In Sierra Leone liberated slaves formed a great Christian community. With that, the good news filtered into tribal communities. These Christian communities flourished in places like Cape Coast, Accra, Abeokuta, Lagos, Niger Delta areas and Calabar.

Though Christianity was well established, the infiltration of secularism, disunity among Christians and inculturation pose serious problems to the strong foundation of Christianity. It can then be wrong to say that Christianity is new to Africa. However, Christianity predates colonialism in Africa. As Africans came to grasp the tenets of Christianity, they became a major force in Christendom, though through the same inculturation, Africans came to understand and better appreciate the gospel by adapting it to the African experience for a deeper incarnation in the African personality.


This section covers Africa’s encounter with Christianity through Egypt, North Africa and Ethiopia. This is recorded as Africa’s earliest encounter; this first encounter stands out to be the major fulcrum in the proof of Africa’s early coming to Christianity even before some major countries in Europe and America. We take our move from Christianity in Egypt, and review the strengths and difficulties of the epoch, the key players and how important it is to catholic theology.


This work presents the role played by the three ethnic groups (Jews, Hellenists, and Copts) in early Christianity OF Egypt. Firstly, it is worthy to note that the link of the church in Egypt with the apostles was developed by the some Jewish settlements around AD 50-100. There are some personalities and events that are in close association with Africa’s earliest encounter. It is good to review the contributions of these, in this epoch.

2.1.1 The Key Players

St. Mark: The Egyptian tradition holds St. Mark as the founder of Apostolic see of Alexandria having ordained its first bishop Annianus in AD 62, though this assertion has often been dismissed for it is only contained in the writings of Eusebius, missing in that of Clement and Origen. The tradition is only supported by the fact that Mark was the companion of Peter who was entrusted the mission of the Jews. So it must have been visited by Peter and his spiritual son. The Egyptians therefore take 62 AD as the founding date of the first Christian Church in Africa.

Appollos: Notable personalities who maintained close communion with the Apostles were of Egyptian Origin. Example is Appollos whose Hellenistic eloquence challenged St. Paul.

Gnostic Movement: a library belonging to the Sethians, an early Gnostic movement in Egypt was unearthed, which proved the existence of an early Gnostic movement. From history Gnosticism flourished around the second and fourth centuries ce embodied in many different sects. (cf. The New Dictionary of Theology p.421). . This thereby corroborates the early advent of Christianity in Africa. The most famous collection of such Coptic sects was found near Nag Hammadi in Egypt (ibid. P.422)

Alexandria: Alexandria remained a Greek city; it is noteworthy that Christian theology properly so called started in Alexandria. The school featured great theologians of the church like clement of Alexandria, and Origen who worked all elements of faith and philosophy into a theological system. They formulate the faith in the context of an African background and culture, (Baur p.23).


Drawing from the above points one cannot lose sight nor argue against the notion that Africa is not a late comer to Christianity. In addition to the above points, there are other points which can serve as an endorsement to our long discourse. Their import to Catholic theology will also be highlighted. Among which are;

2.2.1 Discovery of Papyri: The other proofs that testify the existence of a Christian community are the discovery of papyri in AD 100, also, the mummies exhumed at Fayyum, wearing wreath of laurels, which is the ancient sign of having won the Martyrdom. The papyri were used in literary works especially in the documentations of the biblical passages.

2.2.2 The Hellenistic Christianity: Another key factor to the early establishment of Christianity in Africa is the Hellenistic civilisation. Three hundred years after Christ, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, and Egypt was then exposed to the intensive influence of Greek Civilisation. Alexandria remained a Greek city; it is noteworthy that Christian theology properly so called started in Alexandria. It is worthy of mention that with the development of Alexandrian Patriarchate Egypt played a leading role in the ecclesiastical field second only to Rome.

2.2.3 The Coptic Liturgy: During the persecution of Decius around 250AD, Coptic liturgical books were burnt, a showing that a local Coptic liturgy had already developed. The bible was later translated into Sahidic dialect of the Upper Egypt in 330 AD. Even the pre-Christian Egyptians were religious as attested by Herodotus. Athanasius was said to have preached at Alexandria and in Copt, so at the end of his episcopate (373) Egypt must have been a Christian nation. In the area of witnessing, the Coptic Christians bore witness, even up to martyrdom with courage unheard of elsewhere to the point that a new chronology was started and used even after other churches began counting years from the birth of Christ. This chronology is known as Era martyrum.

2.2.4 Monasticism; this was the greatest contribution of the African continent to the universal church. It was the Christian’s total invitation to follow Christ. Monasticism made Egypt, a country of living saints among who were St. Anthony and St. Pachomius. This courted the attention of pilgrims and Negroes from Sudan among who was St. Moses of Ethiopia known for living the life of chastity.


Africa’s first encounter also recorded some hiccups which really affected the growth of the church in Egypt, among those factors are;

2.3.1 Monophysitism: this really alienated the Egyptian church from Christendom; it was a Christological heresy that focused on the divine nature of Christ while relegating his human nature was condemned at the council of Ephesus in 431 AD. The monks in Egypt played a leading role in this. The Egyptian thirst for divinization led them to forget the humanity of Christ.

2.3.2 Islamic Oppression: The onslaught of Islam against Christianity in Egypt was the turning point in the history of Egyptian church. It was aimed at forcefully submitting the whole world to God, termed the jihad. During this Islamic conquest, some Christians fled, some defected to Islam, some resisted Islamization and were martyred. This onslaught decimated the Christian population. Later Greek-Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria re-established Christianity once again in Egypt with Greeks the major ranks of followers.

2.3.3 Islamic policy: This policy of segregation was directed towards the remaining Christian faithful. They were subjected to tax-paying second class citizens, denied economic rights, construction of churches, public worship, and the use of church bells. Persecutions, destruction of churches, another rebellion with church and imprisonment of the Patriarch followed, Egyptian Christians became a minority; and lost contact with the rest of the world and universal church and there was spiritual stagnation. However, this moment motivated general spirit of nationalism, causing the identification of Christian faith with national heritage which helped the Copts preserve both their national character and Christianity up to the present time


The term Africa was restricted only to the land around Carthage, according to Baur. They were colonised by Rome. It became an ethnical mixed society. The Latin speaking composed not only of the Roman settlers but of young Africans who went to Rome for studies, among whom was Tertullian, so in this Latin culture, Christianity arrived, blossomed and died in North Africa.

2.4.1 The Key Players

Among the key players in North Africa’s early Christianity were Tertullian, Cyprian, St Augustine and the Donatists.

Tertullian and Cyprian: The theological school of Carthage with Tertullian and Cyprian at its head left much in the hands of the universal church, what the school of Alexandria did for the Greek east. Tertullian built a Latin theology around 180 AD, sharply breaking away from the popular conception at the time that one can only teach or pray in Greeks. When his work became riddled with heretical ideas, Cyprian came to the scene to re-work them. He furthermore shifted concern towards Christian unity and communion of the faithful with the bishops leading to his famous – extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Augustine: With Augustine on the scene, African church reached its zenith. He was much more than an African theologian and his work was the peak of western theology. He developed a theology of grace, and demonstrated how the sacraments received their efficacy from Christ.

The Donatists on the scene became the scourge of disunity for the African church; it disfigured the church in Africa for a whole century.

2.4.2 ATTESTATION TO EARLY EXISTENCE OF CHRISTIANITY/ CONTRIBUTIONS TO THEOLOGY AND CHURCH HISTORY The Scillian Martyrs : Christianity’s early existence in Africa can also be proven by the fact that, Martyrdom was recorded early on 16 July, 180 of the seven martyrs in Scilli, known as the scillian martyrs the most famous being Perpetua and Felicitas mentioned in the Roman canon of the mass. Tertullian and Augustinian influences.

A bright catholic theologian cannot debate the greatest influence of these theologians who studied in the Latin culture and greatly influenced the western thought with their theology and influence. Most of the catholic theologies are drawn from the discourse of Tertullian and Augustine. Worthy of mention are the discourses on grace, sacraments, etc. they were zealous champions of Christianity, Tertullian wrote many theological treatises, of which 31 have survived. In his various works he strove either to defend Christianity, to refute heresy, or to argue some practical point of morality or church discipline. Tertullian and Augustine profoundly influenced the later church fathers, especially Saint Cyprian—and through them, all Christian theologians of the West. Their works are accepted as orthodox by the Roman Catholic Church and are included in the recognized body of patristic literature.

It is worthy to mention that Tertullian’s writings demonstrate a profound knowledge of Greek and Latin literature, both pagan and Christian. He was the first writer in Latin to formulate Christian theological concepts, such as the nature of the Trinity. Any western theologian trying to strip Africa of the honor of their early encounter should not lose sight, that he is also influenced by African theologians such as Tertullian, Augustine and Cyprian. The early existence of these theologians is also a proof to the Africa’s early encounter with Christianity.


The vandal invasion and the Islamic oppression led to the decline of Christianity in North Africa. Many Christian leaders fled Africa for fear of Islamic persecution. Bishops, priests, and monks left their flock to the mercy of the Muslims


Nubia flourished after the Islam was already ruling northern Africa. New light was shed on their history when excavations were made along the Nile. It is worthy to note that the Ethiopian eunuch baptised by Philip (Acts 8:29) was surely an official at the royal court of Meroe. So some Christians must have been there at early date, the Nubian monks who fled from Egypt to their land must also have brought to their Nubian homeland the gift of the Christian faith, thy found in Egypt. Official conversion took place with the reign of Justin the great but the excavations at Faras show a 5th century church and Christian inscriptions, earlier than the official date of the area’s conversion by 100 years. An old Nubian lectionary points to at least a partial translation of the bible. Some archaeological discoveries detailed number of kings and about 27 bishops in 866 AD. The problem of the Nubian church is that it is a religion of the court. Some kings officiated as priests and became monk when abdicated while many priests served in royal administration. When the Mamluks of Turkey took over Egypt in 1172, Nubian Christians waged war on them the mamluks retaliated; this made the Nubians to suffer greatly. Unfortunately Christianity became a thing of the past.

2.5.1 Origin of Christianity In Ethiopia; Another Attestation to Early Christianity In Africa

Ethiopia has a pre-Christian root from the Old Testament. It was held that the queen of Sheba came from Ethiopia.

The advent of Christianity in Ethiopia knows three steps; the eunuch, Philip brought to faith, Frumentius and the nine saints monastic life who can also be seen as the major key players..

The eunuch according to Baur is a wrong appropriation due to Ethiopian piety, but that does not negate the fact that Christians arrived in the kingdom of Aksum at an early time. They were Hellenistic traders, and the king permitted them to have their own prayer house. Among the key players here are Frumentius king Ezana, Athanasius etc.,

2.5.2 The key players/contributions

Frumentius was ordained bishop by Athanasius and he brought the priesthood to Ethiopia. Throughout the centuries the country has always received its bishop from the Patriarch of Alexandria. Ethiopian Church venerates him as St. Abuna Salama.

St. Athanasius : The Christian church in Ethiopia stole the interest of Constantine who wanted to impose Arian creed on them, but for the resistance of Athanasius. This vested interest by the emperor over a faraway church shows the relevance and progress recorded by the Christians church in Ethiopia.

The impact of the monks: Another evangelical instrument was the monks who came to Ethiopia in 500 AD. Some of them suffered martyrdom while some translated the bible particularly, the gospel of St. Matthew into Ge’ez. Education and literary work of the church soon followed and music was composed to aid Christian worship.

The dark age of Ethiopia stretches from the Islamic intervention of 640 AD to the restoration of the Solomon line in 1270.


Notwithstanding the decline of the ancient Christianity in Africa, between ancient and modern Christianity in Africa, we can trace another Christian movement which pioneered the faith in sub Saharan lands. Christianity was brought under the patronage of Portugal. Ethiopia also played a crucial role here. It is customary to see early Christianity south of the Sahara as a by-product of the Portuguese trade empire during the Age of discovery. The part played by Portuguese is indeed so great that African contributions were overlooked. The second encounter involved the evangelisations of the sub-Saharan Africa engineered by the missionaries. Most of the countries involved in this encounter are; Ethiopia, kingdoms of Kongo, Matamba , Warri, Angola and East Africa.


Much of the key players here are John Prester, Mani Kongo and Mwene Mutapa in the East, who were the most three powerful kings of the time, Prince Henry, Zara Yakob, Afonso, The Capuchin Mission, and the Jesuits. They also contributed immensely to catholic theology and church history. A critical glimpse at the excursus below can unravel the import of these personalities to the growth of Sub-Saharan Christianity.

3.1.1 The Ethiopian Influence: Prester John

it was an attempt to reach Ethiopia, ruled by a mighty Christian king that Portuguese reached India. The legend of Prester John and mysterious call from Ethiopia surfaced in the time of the crusades, when European Christians had won a hold a on the holy land. The Prester John introduced himself to the Emperor of the Byzantium as lord over 72 kings and 33 bishops, ruling all the three Indies. He said that his palace was built according to a design of the apostle St. Thomas and contained a mirror in which he could look over all the parts of his dominion, which were full of strange people and beasts, he was in command of a formidable army and had one great ambition; to march to Jerusalem and annihilate the infidels. Implications and Contributions to Church History

In 1306, also it was said that Prester John offered the Pope and the king of Spain military aids against the infidels. This really attested to the relevance and significance of Africa to Christianity in Europe. That Africa through this legend offered aids to the pope and the king, stipulates early African influence over European Christianity. Also claiming that his palace was built according to the designs of St. Thomas may be true or not, but it is an indication, that Ethiopia may have had a direct or indirect link to the apostle. With this Ethiopia registered themselves in the sands of time, for the prestige and prominence f the Prester John even was one of the factors that drove missionaries to the indies. Baur emphasised that on the verge to locate Prester, India was also discovered.

3.1.2 PRINCE HENRY : The man who set out to find a new way to the Indies was Dom Henrique, known as Henry the Navigator (1394-1460). He deemed the whole enterprise as part of the crusades, to throw off the yoke of Muslim occupation from Spain and Portugal. At his time, he waged war against the Muslims, for the Moors (Muslims) still ruled a strong emirate in southern Spain which has withstood all attacks.

He initiated the evangelization of sub-Sahara Africa . As for the hope of establishing future missions, history has it that King Henry was also driven by his “desire to spread the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and to bring to him the souls that should be saved”. So on receiving the news of the capture of Cueta, Pope Martin V urged the king and bishops of Portugal to continue the African crusades in order to propagate the faith and granted the crusader indulgences (1418). Later, Portugal was solemnly awarded the right to all future conquests south of Cape Bojador “as far as the Indies”. The conquests of Henry the Navigator confirmed by papal authority soon grew into Maritime world empire, the conquista. The enterprise was now sponsored and led by the Kings themselves, especially Afonso V (1438-81) Joao II (1481-95) and Manuel(1495-1521). The motive of joining in a crusade was replaced by one of commerce and mission.

3.1.3 Zara Yakob : He was instrumental to Ethiopia’s second encounter . After the council of Florence, the abbot of Jerusalem sent a delegation with a document to the head of his church. And this had to come to Ethiopia in the days of Zara Yakob. Zara sent his own embassy to the pope and the Spanish king of Naples who responded to his request of artisans. A Franciscan delegation, in Ethiopia, in 1482 reported to have found there ten Italians who had been in the service of the Negus for ten years.

3.1.4 Afonso : Among all the Christian kingdoms, the Kongo has by far the longest Christian tradition according to Baur.1 beginning in 1491 to the arrival of missionaries in mid 19th century. The Kongolese hailed king Ndofunsu (Afonso) as a new Constantine and Apostle of the Kongolese. During his reign Kongo opted for Christianity and European contacts both of which influenced its history strongly. Afonso’s name was Mvemba Nzinga, the son of Nzinga Nkuwu the first historically known king of the Kongo. The story of their evangelisation began really in 1482. The missionaries were grandly welcome, the Mani of Kongo treated them like his sons, who were the third order of St. Francis., after their return in 1487, and they were full of praise for the land and worked as first evangelists. king Afonso himself writes in a letter to the Bakongo Chiefs that in 1487, Portugal got the knowledge that there were dispositions for receiving the faith, and he requested persons to teach them what they wanted to know., a few weeks after their arrival King Nzinga and Afonso his son were baptised at the amazement of the crowd, who also followed suit.

Afonso attributed his conversion to a special grace. During his time in exile he declared himself to be happy for having suffered for the sake of Christ. Through the intervention of St .James, he was able to usurp his brother from the throne. Baur reporting this emphasised that ‘while in difficulty, Afonso heard of his father’s death and his brother’s usurpation to the throne, he decided to defend his throne. With only some faithful Christians who only knelt down to call for St. James’ intercession, that he was able to defeat a whole army belonging to his brother. The feast of St. James (July 25) then became the national feast day.

3.1.5 The Capuchin Mission : These played significant role in the evangelisation of Kongo. The advent of the Capuchin mission was the fruit of the diplomatic negations which the Kongolese kings tenaciously pursued for almost one hundred years to obtain zealous and hardworking priests and some non-Portuguese bishops. Its final success was to the establishment in 162 of the congregation for the propagation of the faith. As Baur recorded “the apostolate of some 440 capuchins between 1645 and 1835 was by far the greatest missionary effort in Africa before the modern period. (p.63).

3.1.6 The Jesuits: Worthy of mention in the evangelisation of Angola were the Jesuits who set up indigenous Christian villages. Their leader Fr, Pero Ravares built a network of villages under Angolan and Portuguese catechists. In Luanda the Jesuits, Franciscans, Capuchins, and the Carmelites had houses in the city.

The Jesuits also planted missionary activity in Tonga upon the request of the king Gamba. The mission was entrusted to Fr. Gonsalo da Slveira (1521-61) and was accompanied by Fr Fernandes and a lay brother. Between Easter and Pentecost of 1560, they instructed and baptized 400 people, though the people still held to their polygamy, superstition, rooted in a deep belief in the spirits of their ancestors and magical powers. Later missions under Christian Mwene Mutapas the empire extending from Zimbabwe and Mozambique,were done by the Dominicans (1577) and Jesuits (1607) in 1577 and 1607, the Dominicans through the Dominican fathers and the Jesuits through a new governor found their way into this kingdom. But the monopoly of the Dominicans made the Jesuits to open their mission along Zambezi.

3.1.7 Queen Nzinga of Matamba : No conversion to Christianity of an African Monarch in western Africa aroused such hopes as that of Queen Nzinga of Matamba (1582-1665). She was so impressed by the Christian liturgy that she received the Christian baptism. Having strayed and joined into the fight against the missionaries, she had her second conversion. In 1660, she crowned the Christianisation of the kingdom by constructing a permanent church to our Lady of Matamba. Through her evangellisation came through Matamba.

3.1.8 Olu (king) of Warri : WARRI was evangelised through the instrumentality of Olu (king) of Warri who invited the Augustinian missionaries from Sao Tome and had his crown prince baptised Sebastiao. Thus the catholic tradition lasted until fact the account of Christianity in Warri was heavily linked with trade.


The first Portuguese received in this continent was Vasco da Gama 1498 at the city of Malindi. He was permitted by the Sultan to erect a padrao. In later years, a chapel was built there. Two years later, Cabral arrived the city of Kilwa with eight Franciscans, eight chaplains and one vicar. These priest were given the permission to use both the spiritual sword and the secular one in their evangelization.


This period could be described as the missionary period in East Africa because at this time, towards the end of the 16th century, Portuguese traders had settled all along the African Coast. In 1597, Francisco da Gama, the new Viceroy of India, visited Kenya coast and sent some Augustinian Hermits to take care of the faithful. Thanks to the zeal of the Augustinians, the convent erected at Mmbasa recorded 600 converts in 1598, and 1200 baptisms in 1599, one of them a Bantu chief. There were other missionary activities at Faza and Zanzibar. Characteristic of this period is the friendship with the Sultan, which the missionaries enjoyed. However, this friendship was disrupted between the years 1631-1698 and 1728-9 due to some problems between the Portuguese captain and the sultan of Malindi. The later was murdered in 1614 the Captain but with strong disapproval from Portugal. As a way of revenge, the son of the sultan, Yusuf bin Hasan killed the captain in 1631 and set fire to the Portuguese houses. In fact the conflict that ensued was vehement that many Christians numbered about 300 peoples, half of them Portuguese, half Africans, died for their faith in Christ, and today known as the Martyrs of Mombasa


By the 16th and 17th centuries, there were numerous African clergy. By 1447, there was already recorded the 1st African seminarian in Senegal. The 1st African priests trained in Portugal were sent io Sao Tome in 1490. However, the majority of the African priests usually strove for the privileges of the white race despised their African heritage. Nevertheless, there are glimpses of genuine African response to Christianity even among lay people. Most outstanding is king Alfonso, who in his youth, risked his succession to the ancestral throne for the sake of the new religion.



With the exception of the ancient churches Christian churches of Egypt and Ethiopia and few along the coast, contemporary Christianity in Africa goes back to the 19th century, centred on the races of sub-Saharan Africa. This contemporary Christianity in Africa is centred majorly on the races of sub-Saharan Africa and it recorded great number of conversion within a short time thanks to the religious revival in Europe leading to great missionary effort and the favourable religious response of the Africans. Its starting point is in the year 1792 with the Baptist and other protestant missionaries. These outnumbered Catholic missionaries between the years 1792 and 1842, thanks to the protestant revival movement in the 18th century Europe. They combined evangelicalism with evangelism in their missionary work. Catholic mission began in 1840.This epoch is known as modern evangelisation. Here there were efforts from indigenous African missionaries to evangelise themselves. The activities of this period were mainly those of the west. Among them are Nigeria, Gabon, Senegal, Niger etc.


Almost all mission after the World War I concentrated on schools and hospitals and on economic development. It recorded the building of churches alongside economic development. The Lutherans and the Catholics erected “schools” or a prayer place and entrusted it to catechists and evangelists and this method caused catholic missionary to overtake the protestant effort in many places despite its later beginnings. African Christian were incorporated into the task of evangelization. These were given the training needed to accomplish their mission. This period witnessed a more positive approach to African culture.

The greatest factor that promoted the work of evangelization at this period was the anti-slavery movement, initiated and encouraged by the Clapham Sect led by William Wilberforce. Other factors were the extensive 19th century geographical exploration and Colonialism for engendering missionary interest.. African independence then helped to speed uup the process indigenisation and inculturation.


4.2.1 The Protestant Mission Of Sierra Leone And Nigeria: Sierra Leone became a settlement for the African Slaves, after they were repatriated from the British soil and Nova Scotica in Canada. Most of these settlers were all Protestants, Baptists, and Methodists.

Sierra Leone seemed to be for them the ideal terrain, for it was the only spot in Africa where the Slave trade was illegal. The first two missionaries arrived in December 1975, with many others, CMS on the lead but their attempts at evangelisation failed. Notwithstanding some major hiccups encountered by these new settlers, they made some spectacular progress, and among such progress of such settlement was the discovery of Regents’ town under the guidance of William Johnson. Regent’s town counted 410 communicants while other CMS numbered 193 in all. Fourah College was established to enable students pursue British degrees. As of 1876, Nigeria can boast of a student known as Ajayi Crowther enrolled in Fourah Bay College, one of the prominent universities of the time, affiliated to the University of Durham.

4.2.2 The Yoruba Experience: Some of the slaves started trade between Sierra Leone and Yoruba while some returned to their homes. Some of the Negroes and slaves from all parts of the country were grandly welcomed by their rulers; of good mention is Sodeka who welcomed some of the slaves especially the educated ones, with the intention of receiving British protection against various enemies. They also ensured easy passage of missionaries form Sierra Leone. Though the Egba allowed the Christian faith be preached limitedly to the Saros; only the home comers and the actual nations allowing their children to learn only the white man’s skills; but impact was still felt. After two years only five people had been baptised among them were the mother and sister of Crowther. The victory over Gezo one of the stubborn and great kings who prevented missionaries’ passage to Egba also paved way for Christianity for the victory was attributed to the help of God.

In 1867, all white preachers were expelled from Abeokuta leaving only the Africa missionaries until 1886, when the Yoruba clans reached a deadlock in their 16year war, accepted the intervention and mediation of the missionaries. The resposiveveness of Ijebu tribe also paved way for Christianity after being disappointed with their religions for they later believed that the white man’s power resided in his religion.

4.2.3 The Calabar Mission : Calabar in those times aimed at achieving secular education, also as a means of extending his power the king Eyo invited the missionaries. With this one can see that most of Africa’s encounter with Christianity was through the missionaries and done strictly under invitation from the ruling king. As we also have seen that most of the factors that led to Christianity in Africa was not because of the people’s longing for God or for change but because of the inordinate and political ambitions of some of the kings and even the missionaries, who combined trade with evangelization.

4.2.4 Henry Venn and Ethiopianism : The internal life of the protestant missions in West Africa received its distinctive character from ethiopianism; a nationalist movement. Their source stemmed biblically from Psalm 68:31 “Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands to God”. This prophecy nurtured the hope of future glory for Africa and of Christian theodicy embracing the entire continent. Henry Venn fostered Ethiopianism through the concept of self-sufficiency, self-governing and extending church as the aim of the missions. This was accepted by educated Africans seeing it as an opportunity to exercise an “independent native capacity: independence of a church government which would exactly lead to political independence.

4.2.5 James Johnson’s evangelization of Africa by Africans: James Johnson a Yoruba, born in the African Methodist church of Sierra Leone, made this new scheme a great cause for this would embrace all African Christians and a step to an independent African church. This church would have its own liturgy and incorporate the good things in the native religions to develop an authentically African Christian nation. Though the CMS decided to introduce Venn Scheme in Lagos, make James Johnson a leader, to put to confinement the nationalist aspirations. But the native Baptist church founded by Majola Agbedo and American Baptist mission took evangelization of African by Africans as other tool of evangelization which won for them adherents. Johnson was to replace Ajayi Crowther but dismissed by the European missionaries on account of his racial feelings and nationalistic stance. It was until February 1900, that he was made the bishop of Delta (Baur, p.127).

4.2.6 Bishop Ajayi Crowther. Trained at Fourah College, he began the training of indigenous African clergy in 1889 as a remedy to the problems caused by the so called Niger mission question. He and his son Dandeson used an interpreter while preaching at the Delta. Crowther attempted at inculturation basing his interest mainly on his native Yoruba tongue. As a remedy to the church problems, he divided the mission in 1877 into Lower Niger (Delta) and Upper Niger (Onitsha). Due to his inability to solve most of the problems, he sought for the intervention of the white missionaries. After few squabbles with the missionaries he died in 1891 handing over to James Johnson.

4.2.7 The Sudan Party: the first British Missionaries that arrived were called the Sudan Party, inspired by the American Student movement to convert the world, “within this generation” and also with the intention of going to Sudan (in practice Northern Nigeria) and convert even the Muslims. But they became merciless critics of the African missionaries.

4.2.8 Mother Javouhey and fr. Franccis Liberman : After the failure of the congregation of the holy ghost fathers to strongly institute a flourishing vocation in the French colonies, mother javouhey founders of the congregation of St. Joseph of cluny and pioneer of modern Catholic Mission work in Africa came and trained some African children as priests and teachers. She also established a missionary congregation of Africa and French priests to be called brothers of St. Joseph in Senegal. Some of those that finished in the Holy Ghost seminary were the first African priests outside the Portuguese realm. Mother Javouhey through this contributed immensely to the growth of Christianity in Africa.

Of mention worthy is Fr. Liberman the son of a pious ruler who opened a novitiate for his society of the holy heart of Mary. The idea is to announce the holy gospel and establish God’s kingdom among the poor and most neglected people and at the service of the whole Negro race and African evangelization.

After few difficulties, a field of apostolate was opened. The importance of his pioneer work in Africa exceeds by far the foundations of the two missions in Senegal and Gabon and pastoral care of the Negro population.

4.3 The Impact of SMA (Society Of African Missions) And Their Missions To Nigeria, Dahomey And Ghana.: Melchior de Marion Bresillac (1813-1859), a French missionary bishop from India, was invited to begin with a seminary for missionaries, which grew to what is called the society of African Missions, based in Lyons. Meanwhile, he was invited by a French merchant to travel to Dahomey (present day Benin) mainly for full cult and for instruction of Dahomey at large. But because of Dahomey’s unhealthy climate, they suggested as a less dangerous place Sierra Leone where urgent calls for priests are coming. In 1858, the Vicariate of Sierra Leone was erected. But because of the protestant domination of the area and the epidemics of smallpox and fever, he opted for Dahomey. But he succumbed to his sickness seven weeks after arrival, accustomed to the grave also by his companions.

4.3.1 The key players

Most of the SMA missionaries who contributed immensely to the missionary work were Father Planque, Padre Antonio, Fr. Matthew Ray, and Fr. Zappa, Bishop Shanahan, Fr Lutz etc. They were the major key players. Planque almost did everything himself: directing the missions, recruiting personnel and raising funds. As a result of this concentration of control, there was a long delay in founding an Irish province, which would have provided badly needed English-speaking missionaries for Nigeria and Ghana. Lacking teachers and Finance to build higher schools, the mission failed to educate African Catholic elite. In Padre Antonio there was the opening of the mission in Lagos which gave the S.M.A their first permanent foothold in Africa. It hosted also an agricultural school, and the sisters ran a domestic science school. Ivory Coast was later taken over by the S.M.A from the Holy Ghost Fathers who had so far failed to evangelize it. It was Fr. Matthew Ray who was sent to open a mission in this French colony (1893). He was followed by Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles (1898), though critically affected by death toll and the colonists’ hostile attitude. By 1906, it was Fr. Zappa who converted the whole Igbo area to an erected five parishes, after strict resistance from the Igbo race.


From the above excursus one cannot really deny Africa its early encounter with Christianity. Christianity has been a traditional part of the dynamic African landscape for over 2000 years. A clear cut proof of this can be seen in the analysis of John Baur beginning form Africa’s earliest encounter with Christianity, through Egypt, till the call for “evangelization of Africans by Africans” by African indigenous missionaries. One may say that the history of Christianity began from Africa and developed in Africa, owing to the fact that the founder of Christianity (Our lord Jesus Christ) sojourned in Egypt, and also the significance of the Alexandrian school to Christianity cannot be left out. The school of Alexandria provided Christianity its major theological tools for some encapsulations on faith and morals. We cannot also lose sight of the fact that most of Christian theologies were developed by African theologians. Though still, the majority of later Christianising in Africa is unfortunately linked to the enslavement and colonialism form the Europeans.

Some have argued that if Africa can boast of its first and earliest encounter with Christianity, why is it that it has not taken deep root. From the above expositions, one can see the efforts of the early missionaries to strengthen Christianity both in Africa and outside the shores of Africa, but the truth stands that African Christianity from its early beginning, has been besieged by heresies, Islamic conquests, secularism, disunity, in fact Christianity has been plagued with the history of European conquest and today it is yet to escape that legacy and had become an agent of true liberation.

None of the epochs are free from problems. But most of these problems either led to the decline of Christianity or even served as bedrock to the foundation of Christianity. Africa’s first encounter may not have lasted due to Islamic influences, I think the influence of the third and second encounter had lasting influence in the African history of Christianity. So one can only owe the European missionaries for Africans second and third encounter with Christianity, but the methods of their conversion can be said to be questionable. Borrowing from Redemptoris missio no. 5 “The church’s universal mission is born of faith in Jesus Christ”. But it is a glaring fact that most of the so called European missionaries did not have in mind the message of the gospel, but took it as an easy way to colonialism and trade.

Finally, I can say that the history of Christianity cannot be perfectly ended without the mention of African influence and also Christianity in Africa cannot be perfectly strengthened if not for the intervention of African missionaries, at the later stages of history


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