The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

The Role of Heretical Christianity in the Rise of Islam

Although North Africa enjoyed the blessing of the presence of Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage and Augustine of Hippo, the impact of these great Catholic leaders was unable to maintain a long-lasting effect. The influence of Vandal Arianism supplanted Trinitarian Catholicism to the point that when the Muslims invaded from the East, there was no sufficient, theological base in the North Africans to resist the new Islamic heresies. Through a series of events, over a couple of centuries, the Byzantine people, and their Catholic culture, had become undesirable to the North Africans. When Vandal Arianism arrived on the scene, the North Africans were emotionally and psychologically prepared to have their Catholic dogma replaced. They did not specifically seek it out, but they were unprepared to repel the Vandal Arian heresy. Upon the acceptance of Vandal Arianism, the North Africans rejected Chalcedonian Christology and therefore, had no problem with the Islamic idea that Jesus was only a great prophet and that Mohammed had come as an even greater, and final, prophet. It was this religious difference between North Africa and the rest of Europe and southwest Asia, rather than any economic or socio-political differences, that opened the door for Islam to nearly eradicate Christianity from northern Africa.

Vandal Arianism developed in the Teutonic regions of northern Europe where Christ was viewed as a step above the average man, rather than a “second degree” God as he was viewed in Hellenic Arianism.  Jesus was a hero, a commander, or king, but not God like the divine All-Father.  This is as clearly heresy as the Hellenic version, albeit distinctive in the details.

In the early 430’s, the Teutonic general, Geiseric moved down through the Iberian Peninsula across the Straits of Gibraltar into North Africa.  By 439 he had conquered North Africa from present-day Mauritania to Tripoli in Libya.  He had become “master of North Africa”.  As surely as modern politicians show favors to those who will be favorable to advance their campaign, Geiseric, a Vandal Arian, promoted his religion in all the cities of his dominion.  Things were much easier for adherents to Vandal Arianism than for those who maintained the Trinitarian Catholic faith. Many clerics were exiled to Italy and the treasures of the local churches confiscated for Arian use.  To portray Geseric and his successors as merely religious zealots would be to oversimplify the matter, for politics played an important role in establishing their rule over the Berber people of North Africa.  With little to no religious allegiance to Rome or Constantinople, a North African ruler could count on that much more fidelity from his constituency. These anti-Catholic moves by the North African leaders, as well as some dumb moves by the Byzantines and Catholics themselves, solidified the shift from Trinitarian Christianity to Vandal Arianism.

Mohammed crafted his vision in 610 A.D., and within 80 years of his death in 632 A.D., his followers had spread the Muslim religion and kingdom throughout the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa and Spain.  Although the Byzantine generals and troops put up a fight every step of the way, the Arian predisposition of the Berber peoples in North Africa made them prime candidates for conversion to the Muslim faith.  This predisposition to a subordinate Christology aligned them more closely with an Islamic view of Jesus than a Catholic one.  The Quran refers to Jesus as a Prophet and the son of the virgin Mary but also says that Mohammed was a greater servant of God than Jesus. The Vandal Arian heresy had primed the pump for the next greater one than Jesus to come along.  As C.J. Speel surmises,

“Conversion from Teutonic Arianism, the faith of the bulk of North Africa’s population from ca. 450 to ca. 670 A.D., to Islam was an easy step.  In Teutonic Arianism Jesus was not God; neither was He the “Second degree” God of Arius, a philosophical logos.  He was a great tribal leader, or healer, or commander, an historical figure, a man who was manifested as the Son of God. Islam did not seriously alter this picture of Jesus; it simply added another and even more distinguished figure—the Prophet of Mecca to whom was revealed in most recent times the will of God.”

By 698 A.D. Carthage had fallen to Muslim invaders and has not yet risen from the ashes.  This is not simply an accounting of things that happened a long time ago on a continent far, far away.  We are not only concerned for the conversion of North Africans to Christianity, but we must take note of the current state of Christianity in our own land.  If a shift from the Trinitarian Catholic Faith of the historic creeds of the church is a tell-tale sign of what is coming, then we need to hang on tight.  This ride is about to get a lot bumpier.

For example, we are not too far removed from the Republican Mormon that was offered to us for consideration last November.  He was weighed in balances and found wanting, but the sobering thing is that he accomplished being the last “conservative” on the scale.  What are conservative Americans attempting to accomplish if a Mormon is the man for the job?  Trinitarian Christianity cannot be anywhere but on the fringes of American culture if Mitt Romney made it as far as he did.  Not to mention the support he received from overtly Christian organizations like Billy Graham’s, who removed Mormonism from its list of cults on their website a few months before the election.  “Christian” leaders like Joel Osteen, the pastor of a Houston church, with about a million members, says that “Mitt Romney is a believer in Christ like me.”  If Osteen was the exception rather than the rule, it would be different, but American Christians bought it hook, line and sinker, and sent Romney up against Obama.  As least the Vandal Arians imposed the rule on the North Africans as their conquerors, as opposed to the GOP, who has willingly traded Nicaea and Chalcedon for some golden plates found buried on a hill in New York.

This is not meant to be a harsh judgment of folks who view the General Election as a zero-sum game, and therefore felt compelled to vote for one of the two options, however abhorrent the choices were.  It’s not the individual’s vote in November that is as disconcerting as the fact that Romney was ever considered viable by the conservative populace.

I did not intend for this to end up being a rant about last November as much as a recognition that America is following in the footsteps of the North African culture, which has not known Christendom for over 1300 years.  She walked away from orthodoxy and God let her keep walking.  America is just a flash in the pan compared to many cultures, and we’ve already walked away.

Speel II, C.J. “The Disappearance of Christianity from North Africa in the Wake of the Rise of Islam.” Church History 29, no. 4 (1960): 379-397. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3161925. Accessed February 1, 2013.

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4 thoughts on “The Role of Heretical Christianity in the Rise of Islam

  1. Very interesting Marc, thank you!

  2. Gnawing on the jaw-bone of language together transforms our lives from glory unto glory after the mature Man. Marc’s antithetical javelin, based on the Holy Trinity, strikes between the bones and the marrow of pseudo-saviors, conservatives and liberals in the Church who had rather die than bow the knee to the law of our Lord. Though crippled Christians fall and fail, the Truth will prevail. Jesus came to save the world and He will do it through our words, the gospel preached and our living letters. More tasty words, please. Dad

  3. “Upon the acceptance of Vandal Arianism, the North Africans rejected Chalcedonian Christology and therefore, had no problem with the Islamic idea that Jesus was only a great prophet and that Mohammed had come as an even greater, and final, prophet.”

    I can’t help but notice the over simplicity of this article to the point of error. While I agree Islam has Arianism deep in its foundation. The spread of Islam was not because of weak Christianity in North Africa, it was by the power of the sword. You need to read more about the Coptic Christianity’s struggle with Islam. As the first frontier, Christians in Egypt suffered most from Islamic persecution.

    Your article completely ignores the presence of a strong Orthodox Christianity in Alexandria. That the primary opponent to Arius was Athanasious of Alexandria. I simply find it outrageous to claim there was “no theological base” in North Africa by the time Islam invaded.

  4. Marc Hays on said:

    MR, Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to voice your thoughts. It is very possible that I have over simplified in some ways. Perhaps I used the term “North Africa” too many times without proper qualifications. However, in my defense, I do not believe the scope of this article ever made it far enough east to involve the Coptic Christians. I mention Geiseric’s conquest into Libya, the fall of Carthage in 698 A.D., and the Berber people, who are generally understood to have settled North Africa to the west of the Copts. I do not mention Athanasius because I was not focused on his region of Africa. Perhaps if you have the time, you could check out C.J. Speel’s article on JSTOR (referenced at the end of my article.) I’m sure he will be much more explicit than I have been. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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