Black Catholicism Newsbriefs:

If you’re a Western Christian, your spiritual ancestry is African

Western Christianity is fundamentally African, in the way that Eastern Christianity is fundamentally Greek.

Most Eastern churches — whether they worship in Romanian, Bulgarian, or Old Slavonic — recognize that their ritual and devotional forms largely come from fourth-century Constantinople, where the liturgy was rendered in Greek.

Western churches will acknowledge that their own roots are Latin, but few of us in those Western congregations know that our Latin roots are African.

We call ourselves Roman Catholics, and the city of Rome was indeed preeminent in authority through the first three centuries of Christian history. The popes ruled from Rome.

But the religious culture in that city, like the religious culture just about everywhere west of the Holy Land, was Greek. The Christians in Rome offered their liturgy in Greek, just as the Christians in Athens did.

In everyday business and conversation, ordinary Romans spoke the local language, Latin, which was the native dialect of the people in the region of Latium. But Greek remained the language of cosmopolitan activity: international trade and diplomacy, for example, and Catholic faith.

Strangely enough, it was far from the capital city that a vigorous Christian Latin culture first developed.

Carthage was the great administrative and commercial center in the Roman province of Africa. At the end of a century-long war, it had been annexed by Rome and refounded as a Roman colony. The Italian soldiers and merchants who settled there spoke one or another dialect of Latin and were much less interested in Greek than their faraway rulers were.

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