Apostolicity and Ethnicity in Early Libyan Christianity -- By: Thomas C. Oden

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 167:666 (Apr 2010)
Article: Apostolicity and Ethnicity in Early Libyan Christianity
Author: Thomas C. Oden


Apostolicity and Ethnicity in Early Libyan Christianity*

Thomas C. Oden

* This is the second article in a four-part series, “Early Libyan Christianity,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship, February 3-6, 2009, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Thomas C. Oden is the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology Emeritus, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.

Among those known to be present at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 were Bishop Secundus from the Libyan city of Ptolemais and Bishop Theonas from the Libyan city of Marmarica. Bishops from other Cyrenaica cities such as Tauchira, Barca, and Boreurn also attended the council. In Boreum (Boreion, modern Bu Grada), near the southernmost point of the Gulf of Sirta, the bishop in 325 was Sentianus, who attended the council. From Tobruk (then called Antipyrgos or Antiphra) was Bishop Serapion, who attended the council, as did Bishop Titus from Paraetonium.1

Among those known to have been present at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus of 431 were bishops from the Libyan cities of Oea, Diasthis, Barca, and Tauchira. In this way Libya contributed to the earliest forms of emergent ecumenical consensus, when conciliar decisions were being made elsewhere (Gaul, Antioch, Nicea) following the African (Carthage and Alexandria) pattern, with deliberate attention to analysis of pertinent Scripture texts, respectful consultation, and prayer for unity.

With the few exceptions of insurgents like Arius, the ordinary believing Christians of Cyrene were on the whole honored to be viewed as beloved and cared for by the bishop of Alexandria, who

was viewed early as the successor to Mark and leader of the wider African diocese of Mark, who was thought to be from Libya.

Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria regularly wrote letters of counsel to the bishops of Libya. Among these letters were those he wrote to Basilides of the Pentapolis, and Ammonius of Hesperides (Benghazi/Berenice). During the time he was bishop of Alexandria (248-265), Dionysius was exiled under Decius and Valerian to the Libyan desert. Dionysius of Alexandria wrote a discourse on Ecclesiastes addressed to Bishop Basilides of the churches of the Pentapolis about this time.2 But who was Basilides?

Basilides was a little-known governor under Roman rule who, having become a bishop of the Pentapolis, was martyred in Libya. (He must be distinguished from the early Gnostic writer Basilides.) This was when the Persians were waging war against...

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