Basilides, an Alexandrian teaching in the early second century C.E., was considered the father of Christian Gnosticism. He taught the idea of the Trinity and of a pre-existent Supreme Being who through a Demiurge carried out Creation. This latter idea can be found in both the Memphite Theology and Platonism. Missing from Basilides’ doctrines are the multiple souls of traditional Afrikan thought. Instead, a Platonic dichotomy characterizes his notion of two souls, with one soul dominating the other.
Valentinus taught his brand of Gnosticism in Egypt and later in Rome. His school was the most popular in Egypt and it attracted much attention in Rome. He expressed the idea that the disciples were a sort of initiatory school in which Christ taught them the Word. This is consistent with the following biblical quotation from Luke 8: 10, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Valentinus claimed to have received his teachings from a student of Paul named Theudas.
Tertullian was born in Carthage around 155 C.E. He was the first to popularize Latin in Christian literature. A Montanist, believing Jesus would return in his lifetime, he lived a strict life of prayer, fasting, celibacy and regarded martyrdom as a most honorable service. Tertullian taught that seven unforgivable sins excluded Christians from the church — without the hope of readmission — namely murder, idolatry, theft, apostasy, blasphemy, fornication and adultery. He also popularized the ideas of the Trinity, baptism, the Lord’s Prayer and repentance.
Origen, the most noted student of Valentinus, whose ideas later would be at the root of the Arian controversy, was a native Egyptian whose father, Leonides, Roman officials had murdered for making new converts. Origen’s writings and teachings were popular during his lifetime (186 C.E. to 255 C.E.). He taught the doctrine of reincarnation, advocated martyrdom in the cause of Christ, and subjected himself to extreme asceticism, practicing long periods of fasting, sleep deprivation, poverty, and ultimately self-mutilation. Origen went so far as to cut off his testicles, heeding the words of Matthew19: 12.
An ordained presbyter (which could be a minister, pastor or elder depending on the context) like Origen, Cyprian was once a wealthy Carthaginian lawyer who upon his conversion to Christianity renounced his wealth and later became the Bishop of Carthage around 250 C.E. In these early centuries, the three centers of Christian power were Alexandria, Egypt; Antioch, Syria; and Rome, Italy. These three powerful centers began to exert control over lesser sees (jurisdiction of a Bishop). The original religious authority, which passed from Jesus to Peter to the Apostles and their students, was the basis of church unity and the power it exercised over the years. Cyprian argued (to no avail) for the equality of sees — despite location — since they were all connected to a disciple or Apostle and had a common bond.
Born in Libya, Arius was an ascetic Christian presbyter and priest in Alexandria, Egypt. His teachings were based on the biological reality of the chronology of father and son. Arius argued against the trinity, stating that the father gave birth to the son thereby he preceding the son; consequently the Son could not be coequal or equivalent to the Father. In effect, Arius believed there was a time before the Son of God, when only God the Father existed. As many Afrikans easily identified with this concept, many were attracted to Arianism, as it was called. As Arianism grew it presented a problem in the growing church as it was in direct conflict with the most powerful sect of early Christianity (the Orthodox). The First Council of Nicea was convened in large part to squash “Arianism.”
Born in Upper Egypt, Athanasius (296-373 C.E.), called the “Father of Orthodoxy,” was to become Bishop of Alexandria in 319 C.E. During his lifetime the Arian controversy was the dominant issue. Arius, an Egyptian presbyter, challenged Origen’s idea that the Son of God was an eternal generation, arguing Christ’s inception was fixed in time and, therefore, could not be a timeless generation. Athanasius argued that to believe the Son was not eternal, violated the idea of eternal salvation. One reason the Council of Nicea met in 325 C.E. was to resolve this controversy. Despite the Nicene Creed, which upheld Athanasius’ position, the controversy continued for many years. Athanasius established the current twenty-seven (27) New Testament books that make up the present canon of the Bible. He also issued an order purging all “heretical” writings.
Augustine is considered the most influential Father of the Church. He lived from 354 C.E. to 430 C.E. Born in Tagaste, Numidia (North Afrika), he later served as the Bishop of Hippo, Afrika. Before his conversion to Catholicism he was a student of philosophy, astrology, and Gnosticism. Early in Augustine’s ministry as Bishop, Pelaguis, a British monk, challenged the idea of Sin, a pillar of the Church laid down by Paul. Pelaguis advanced that Grace could be obtained without going through Christ and that living a moral life was sufficient. Part of the doctrine of Christianity postulated that (original) sin enters humanity through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. It was passed down, causing us all to be born in original sin. The Grace of God forgave Original Sin only if one accepted Christ. Augustine staunchly defended Paul’s premise, becoming a steadfast opponent of Gnosticism and Arianism.