34: The Gospel in Carthage

To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you

2 Corinthians 10:16

Carthage, situated in modern Tunisia, destroyed twice and rebuilt once, is now reduced to a mere archeological site. The excavations testify to the existence of two great civilisations which made Carthage and its hinterland one of the greatest and wealthiest societies in the ancient world.

Established by the merchants of Tyre and Sidon, Carthage rose to be a power capable of rivalling the Roman republic. It became evident that the two powers could not co-exist and as a result the cities locked together in combat. Hannibal, the African leader, famously took his soldiers mounted on elephants across the Mediterranean into Spain, crossing the Alps and into Italy. After three Punic Wars the Romans gained the upper hand and so Carthage was destroyed in 146 BC.

Julius Caesar subsequently built Roman Carthage, which became a most prosperous city, surviving for more than 500 years until it was sacked by the Vandals and then finally destroyed by the Moslem forces in the Seventh Century.

God had an infinitely wise purpose in establishing the Roman Empire with its ability to create civilisation, excellent trading routes, a unified language and centuries of peace. Christian missionaries followed these routes planting congregations in the great centres of the Empire.

Historians are unsure as to how or when the Gospel came to this part of the North Africa but we do know that Tertullian, whom we have already met in these articles, was converted in Carthage before the end of the Second Century. Some believe it is highly probable that Christianity came to the Carthaginians before the end of the First Century. The Gospel made rapid progress in this region because by 258AD Cyprian assembled a Synod of eighty-seven bishops, each representing several congregations.

What is particularly fascinating is the contribution that Africa made to the spread of the Gospel. The oldest Latin version of Scripture originates in this region and was the basis for Jerome’s more famous work, “The Vulgate”. Latin Theology began in Carthage with the writings of the accomplished Tertullian. It would continue to make significant progress into the Fifth Century with an even more famous and influential African leader, Augustine of Hippo. That was before the Vandals and Moslem hoards would sweep away the last remnants of Roman Africa but not before God had accomplished His purposes.

Fly abroad, thou mighty Gospel!
Win and conquer, never cease;
May thy lasting wide dominion
Multiply and still increase.
Sway Thy scepter,
Saviour, all the world around!”

William Williams

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