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Terry wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Was St. Augustine of Hippo negroid?
  • In other words, was he of a major human racial classification, traditionally distinguished by:
    • physical characteristics such as brown to black pigmentation
    • often tightly curled hair, and
    • included among people who are indigenous to Africa?

Christian art images mostly depict him more like Santa Claus, white with a long beard.

from Florida
Feast of St. Augustine

  { Was St. Augustine of Hippo negroid meaning someone classified as with these attributes? }

Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Terry —

I don't know. I have read that possibly he was, but the very darkest Negroes would have been the only ones so noted at the time. North Africans, Ethiopians, and Egyptians were not black in that degree.

Also many other groups, including Romans and Greeks, had curly hair and darker skin so I don't think it made a notable difference back then.

Mary Ann

Fr. Francis replied:

Dear Terry,

I cannot give an absolute answer. There is one absolute thing we know and that's Saint Augustine was African. Having said that however, we need to look at the history of the area of North Africa, extending from the Atlantic to Egypt; especially of the specific Roman province of North Africa.

As you may or may not know, the general population (pre-Arabic) of Northern Africa was a variation of "Caucasian" that used to be called "Hamite" [from Noah's third son, Ham]. While certainly Negroids from south of the Sahara were known and interspersed among the population, the general population would have been "Hamite" Caucasian. At the time of Augustine, these people would have been in the southern areas of North Africa, in the outback portions of the Roman Provinces, although certainly intermarried with the later more "civilized" settlers of North Africa. These people are still in North Africa today. We call them the Berbers of North Africa.

Hundreds of years B.C. (Before Christ) Phoenecians, a Semitic People from Tyre and Sidon, in what is now Lebanon and mentioned many times in the Old Bible, closely related to the Lebanese of today, set up an empire in North Africa centered on the City of Carthage, in what is now Tunis. The empire extended from the borders of Cyrene (Libya) all the way to what is now Morocco and included all of Spain and Portugal. They were great navigators and tradesmen, and for a good period of time, their empire rivaled the rising Roman power. You might remember the story of Hannibal. He was a Carthaginian general who led an invasionary force against Rome bringing elephants and his army over the Alps into Italy and almost succeeded in conquering Rome!
Rome destroyed the Carthaginian Empire, burning Carthage to the ground and making all "her" lands Roman provinces.

Concerning your question my point is, a good portion of the native population of northern Africa had Phoenecian blood in them and spoke what was known as Punic. They were Semitic and looked a great deal like the Lebanese of today.

Finally, we come to the Latin-speaking Romans. Not only did Rome conquer Carthage, but the Romans loved what became their province of North Africa. As part of their pensions, Roman soldiers were given lands in North Africa and all along the southern coastline of the Mediterranean. What is not well known is, that for a period of about a century and a half, Greek, not Latin, became the common language of the Roman Empire, including being the main language of the capital — Rome (roughly from 50 A.D. to 200 A.D.). It was the Roman Province of North Africa that kept Latin going and, known in that location, to show political superiority over the Punic people and language.

Now to bring some conclusion to the answer to your question.

From Augustine's own writings, we know that his father was a Roman official of some level meaning. He had at least some Latin (Italian) blood in him. His mother seems to have been perhaps part Latin and part Punic. They definitely were not from the "Hamite" peoples of the "outback" because Augustine, coming in contact with them, could not understand them or identify with them.

Terry, I have attempted to give you the best answer to your question from my reading of and about Augustine, however I don't believe there is anyone who can give you a definite answer,
Yes or No. He was African—North African, which even today is distinct from the sub-Saharan African. This does not limit us to wondering about an African Church even from sub-Sahara.
The Church was already thriving in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea by the time of Saint Augustine. Greatly influenced by and under the tutelage of the Church in Alexandria Egypt, founded by Saint Mark, the Church still thrives in these lands.

The Gospel, Terry, is meant for all peoples and languages. The Church is truly Catholic: universal, and united in:

"One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, with one Father of us all Who is over all and in all." (Ephesians)

and united at one Altar-table of the Eucharist — we though many, are made one.

Father Francis

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