Thomas Oden, in his enthusiasm for the unity of the faith in Africa — both North and sub Saharan, got me to thinking the other day about what color Augustine was. We can’t be sure, but the ethnic judgments made about Augustine are often shaped by bias. Was he Berber? Probably. So, since Oden’s quest in How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is to engage scholars in Africa and in Europe and in the USA to explore the nature of African Christian faith, he has to define “Africa” and discuss such topics.
I can’t speak for Africans — North, sub Saharan, South Africa or otherwise. But, I’m especially keen on hearing what Africans have to say about the proposals of Oden. Do sub Saharans recognize Augustine and Athanasius as Africans? That sort of thing.
His conclusion, after editing 28 volumes in the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Bible, is this: “if it a text was written in Africa, it will be treated as African” (69).
Oden complains that too many Africans today are caught up in European debates — Rousseau, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud — and not enough in their own past — Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine.
Oden’s theory is this: the flow was south to north (Europe) and not north to south (Africa). E.g., Irish monasticism is an Egyptian movement that moved from Egypt to Ireland to Europe and then back — in altered form — to Africa.
And Oden wants there to be a pan-African ecumenical sharing of responsibility into these questions. The word “Africa” originally referred to what we today call “Tunisia” and to anything west of Egypt, but Egypt and sub-Sahara are all today part of “Africa.”
And, finally, Oden dedicates the rest of his life to the rediscovery of the African shaping of the Christian mind, to disseminating the information, and to encouraging young Africans to the intensive study of the original sources of African theology.