A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present

Article excerpt

A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present. By Elizabeth Isichei. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc. 1995. Pp. c, 420. $19.95 paper.)

There has been a need for a comprehensive introduction to the history of African Christianity ever since that continent emerged from its colonial condition to consist of a body of self-governing political communities. Such a history has now been produced by Prokssoi Isichei in this well-researched volume, which has managed to cover the intended extent of both place and time in a way which is both eminently readable and most convincing.

The author demonstrates how Africa played an important role in the Mediterranean church of patristic times and how a connection with that era has survived in the continuing history of the monophysite Churches of Egypt and Ethiopia. The Christian tradition in most of sub-Saharan Africa, however, began a thousand years after patristic times with the advent of Portuguese imperialist involvement in the southern Western and Eastern coastal areas of the continent, and continued with other European (mainly French and British) missionary initiatives which at first accompanied and then superseded the trade in African slaves. The author does not gloss over the involvement of Christian clergy and laymen, Capuchins for example and pious Protestant merchants, in the early slave trade. It seems that the acquisition and selling of baptized slaves did not meet as much ecclesiastical censure as the temptation to sell them to purchasers from rival denominations. In what she terms "a distant forerunner of black liberation theology' Professor Isichei quotes the seventeenth-century petition to Rome by Loureno da Silva, a black Catholic layman, which resulted at that time in a series of Vatican propositions which would have made the slave trade "unworkable" but which we not put into practice because of the perceived commercial "need. …