Saint Augustine of Hippo was perhaps one of the most influential men the Christian church has ever known. Born in the middle of the fourth century, Augustine's conversion, life and work are a testimony to how Jesus Christ saves sinners. We would be found in sore error to ignore his impact, not only on Christendom, but also on the world as we know it.
Because he has had such an impact on the Western world, it is quite understandable that almost every available portrait has depicted him as a white man. The portrait to the left I took from Wikipedia. According to Carl F. Ellis Jr., however, the portraits are inaccurate.
Ellis writes about the Gospel in Africa: "Great early scholars like Augustine, Tertullian and Origen were Black men from Africa. Augustine was a major influence on John Calvin. So the Reformation theologians have the African church to thank for a great deal of their theology."
He adds in a foot note: "Scholars B.F. Wright and M. A. Smith have confirmed that Augustine was born of African parents. Actually, Augustine, Tertullian and Origen were brown North Africans and not Black sub-Saharan Africans. They have been classified as Caucasian by some. However, if these men had been Americans they would have been classified as Black, and it is the American classification that I use here."
As I sit here, I am asking myself, Why are you writing this post? After some thought, I have a few reasons.
First, most portraits of a man that we both revere and reference do not represent the truth. Second, as I learn about African-American history, I learn more about my brothers and sisters who are [ethnically speaking] different than I am. Learning more helps me to love more.
Third, it helps me stay away from the racial superiority complex that pervades our culture. When seeing the African-American culture in its broader historical context, we learn that in every culture there are both areas to serve and to be served. I am reminded of the movie Radio. The town thought they were serving him, but it was Radio who was changing the town.
Finally, I just think it is an interesting fact worthy of passing on. St. Aug was a black man.
So far, Ellis's book Free At Last? The Gospel in the African-American Experience, has been thoroughly insightful, humbling, informative, repentance-producing and encouraging. I would recommend the book to anyone.