Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns.The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them (Joel 2:3).
This Scripture is describing the Muslim invasion and destruction of North Africa.
By 300 AD, North Africa was the most important province of the Roman Empire and was teeming with cities:
By the third century, there were five or six hundred cities. Two hundred of them were in the rich farmlands of northern Tunisia. In places there were no more than six or eight miles apart, and in the valley of the River Bagradas (Medjerda) there was almost a kind of ribbon development along the main road from Carthage to Theveste (Tebessa). (Raven, Rome in Africa, p. 101).
Carthage—the second largest city in the western Roman Empire—was the center of the Roman province of Africa and a major breadbasket of the Empire.
By 300 A.D., Christianity was the dominant religion in North Africa as paganism was just about to be completely overthrown:
By this time Christianity had taken a firm hold in North Africa. The Church had survived persecution under Severus, Decius, and Valerian, and was ceasing to be the religion of a poor minority. In contrast to the emptiness of pagan literature of this period there were the vigorous works of Cyprian, Arnobius, and Lactantius. The Church was making its impact felt on all classes and in the farthest corners of the Roman provinces in Africa. (Frend, The Donatist Church, p. 3)
Naturally, the Roman Emperors were insanely jealous that more and more people were not worshipping them as divinities.
In 303, the last great Empire wide pagan persecution began and North African Christians were ordered to hand over the Scriptures to be burned.
This last pagan persecution was in the planning stage for at least 40 years prior to 300 A.D., as a very friendly ecumenical mood prevailed among the pagans:
In the Roman cities the Emperor’s orders appear to have been carried out firmly but not without tact. For the previous forty years Christians and pagans had lived side by side in relative peace. The Church had become almost an established institution. At Cirta (modern Constantine), the capital of the province of Numidia Cirtensis, the magistrate told Bishop Paulus to produce the lectors who were responsible for looking after the Scriptures. The reply was ‘Everybody knows them’. At Apthungi (modern Henchir Souar, in Tunisia), the chief magistrate, the Duumvir Alfius Caecilianus, and the bishop Felix appear to have been on friendly terms, and indeed the official did not know of the existence of the Emperor’s edict until he was told it by the Christians themselves. (Frend, The Donatist Church, p. 4).
The main target of the pagans was the New New Covenant . . . and the histories of Christ….All of the great books portraying the Mount of Olives as the site of the Resurrection were systematically destroyed.
Roman Emperors Diocletian and Galerius ordered all the Christians in North Africa to hand over the Scriptures for burning.
They were also ordered to burn incense to the statues of the Caesars.
Many refused to give up the Scriptures and worship Caesar, so Christian blood flowed like a river.
Constantinean “Christianity” began in 313 AD
The last great persecution ended when Constantine became Emperor of the West. Together with Emperor Licinius, he issued an edict of toleration called the Edict of Milan.
This edict of toleration did not apply to Christians who would not join his new imperial “Christianity.”
This edict excluded many of the North African survivors of the persecution. Those surviving Christians referred to people who handed over the Scriptures as traditores (traitors) and insisted on their rebaptism.
Emperor Constantine presided over the Council of Nicea in 325.
He condemned the surviving Christians in North Africa because they refused to join his new “Christian” Roman Empire.
From then on, North African Christians were called DONATISTS after a popular Christian leader named Donatus.
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (currently called Iznik, Bursa province, Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, although previous councils, including the first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, had met before to settle matters of dispute. It was presided over by Hosius, bishop of Corduba who was in communion with the Pope. Wikipedia
The North African Christians were first condemned a the Council of Arles for rebaptizing those who handed over the Scriptures during the persecution.
Later they were also condemned by Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea.
Donatus Magnus (circa 273-355) was a GREAT Christian leader who ordered the rebaptism of traditores (traitors) who turned over the Holy Scriptures to the pagan magistrates. He was the Saint Martin Luther of North Africa:
Very little is known about this remarkable man, who in Africa came to hold a position not unlike that achieved by his contemporary, Athanasius, in Egypt. In Donatus’ case the Catholic damnatio memoriae has been particularly effective. His literary works have not survived, we know little of his background, his personal appearance, his friendships, and his way of life., We do know that he was a great orator and leader of men; wherever he went the enthusiasm was such as to be remembered fifty years after his death. In an age when religious controversy took something of the place occupied by ideological conflict in providing an outlet for popular discontent, Donatus was a dominating figure. (Frend, The Donatist Church, pp. 153-154).
Many of the BISHOPS who attended the Council of Nicea were traditores and Donatus demanded that they be rebaptized before admittance to the Christian Congregation.
Constantine was FURIOUS that anybody would withstand him, and actually contemplated invading North Africa with his legions.
From then on, the Vatican referred to the Christians of North Africa as DONATISTS. We see this again at the time of the Reformation when the Reformed Christians were called LUTHERANS or Protestants instead of Catholic Christians.
Augustine was appointed bishop to destroy the North African Christians!!
Despite the terrible persecution under the Emperors, Christianity rapidly recovered in North Africa, so Augustine was appointed a bishop in Hippo Regius to fight them with pen and ink.
A prolific writer, his main job was to convince the survivors of the Diocletian persecution to join the church of Rome. He influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius (modern-day Annaba, Algeria), located in Numidia (Roman province of Africa). He is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity for his writings in the Patristic Era. Among his most important works are The City of God and Confessions.
He derisively referred to the North African Christians as DONATISTS.
After his baptism and conversion to Christianity in 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory.
When the Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Church as a spiritual City of God, distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. The segment of the Church that adhered to the concept of the Trinity as defined by the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople closely identified with Augustine’s City of God. en.wikipedia.org
Now let the proud and swelling necks of the heretics raise themselves, if they dare, against the holy humility of this address. Ye mad Donatists, whom we desire earnestly to return to the peace and unity of the holy Church, that ye may receive health therein, what have ye to say in answer to this? You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? (Augustine, Against the Donatists, Book II, ch. III).
Every trick in the Roman arsenal was used to make the Christians conform but most of the them remained steadfast adherents of Apostolic Christianity.
Despite the multiplicity of words written against them, the Christians still held steadfast to the Scriptures and the Lord kept adding to his Congregation.
Augustine was the most powerful and influential teacher of the Latin church. He was the originator of the Filioque and most of the false doctrines that emerged from that church can be traced right back to him.
Some of these false doctrines include: original sin, infant baptism, purgatory, clerical celibacy, predestination.
By the time of Pope Gregory I, the Christians of North Africa continued to multiply.
Pope Gregory I commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was pope of the Catholic Church from 3 September 590 to his death in 604. en.wikipedia.org
The Pope was ALARMED, and despite their bitter rivalry, he asked Emperor Mauricius for military help.
Here is a quote from The Donatist Church:
By 596 the situation had become even less favourable. A further letter from the pope to Columbus (not Christopher) repeats the story of the spread of Donatism, but in August Gregory wrote to the Emperor Mauricius himself. The Imperial commands against the Donatists were being disregarded ‘by carelessness or connivance’. The bribes of the Donatists ‘so prevail in the province that the Catholic Faith is publicly put up for sale’. The exarch, far from taking action himself, was complaining of bishops who brought these things to his notice. The emperor’s personal assistance was requested, ‘to issue strict orders for the punishment of the Donatists and to arrest with saving hand the fall of the perishing’. Whether this appeal was successful or not we do not know. Except for Bishop Paulus’ repeated effort to have his case heard in Rome, there is no further literary record of Donatism. We are left with the impression of the movement resurgent and triumphant in southern Numidia, and then there is silence. (Frend, The Donatist Church, p. 312).
Old Rome saw the Christians of North Africa as a greater threat than the Eastern Empire in Constantinople.
The rise of Islam to destroy the North African Christians
By the year 600, the Lord’s Congregation was triumphant over all her enemies. North Africa—comprising over 600 cities—was the richest part of the Roman Empire. The city of Rome itself was dependent on North Africa for her daily bread. With the rise of Islam, Europe became permanently separated from the Continent of Africa.
Muhammad was born around 570 in the city of Mecca, located on the Arabian Peninsula. Both of his parents died before Muhammad was six and he was raised by his grandfather and uncle. His family belonged to a poor clan that was active in Mecca politics.
A wealthy Arabian lady who was a faithful follower of the pope played a tremendous part in this drama. She was a widow named Khadijah. She gave her wealth to the church and retired to a convent, but was given an assignment. She was to find a brilliant young man who could be used by the Vatican to create a new religion and become the messiah for the children of Ishmael. Khadijah had a cousin named Waraquah,, who was also a very faithful Roman Catholic and the Vatican placed him in a critical role as Muhammad’s advisor. He had tremendous influence on Muhammad.
‘Teachers were sent to young Muhammad and he had intensive training. Muhammad studied the works of St. Augustine which prepared him for his “great calling.” The Vatican had Catholic Arabs across North Africa spread the story of a great one who was about to rise up among the people and be the chosen one of their God.
‘While Muhammad was being prepared, he was told that his enemies were the Jews and that the only true Christians were Roman Catholic. He was taught that others calling themselves Christians were actually wicked impostors and should be destroyed. Many Muslims believe this. amredeemed.com
Muhammad began his bloody career of conquest around the year 630. Beginning around 660, his successors conquered Egypt and later invaded North Africa. Millions died by the sword of Islam and the whole province became a wilderness.
After conquering all of North Africa, the Arabs crossed into Spain in 711. Their main target in Spain was the Goths, who baptized by triune immersion, and refused to join the church of Rome.
In 711, they invaded Spain in order to destroy the Goths.
The Arabs stayed in Spain unto January 1492, when Portuguese Christopher Columbus was about to follow a map to the New World.
The Moors surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella in January 1492, after occupying Spain for 781 years!!
Portuguese Columbus sailed in August 1492. The surrender of the Moors freed up the Spanish army for redeployment to the New World. This allowed for the redeployment of the Spanish army to the New World just in time to block the English, French and Dutch colonization.
The Arabs lay siege to Constantinople
The year was AD 678, 46 years after the death of the prophet Mohammed. Now the Mohammedans, determined to bring the light of Islam to Arabia and beyond, were streaking across the whole of the Middle East like a comet. Their statecraft, as it turned out, was as basic and unyielding as their faith. Those who would not answer the call of the muezzin would be treated, instead, to the sword.
For years, the Muslims had successfully managed to nibble at the borders of the Byzantine Empire. In turn, first Lebanon, and then Syria were lost, absorbed forever into the Arab world. By the early 670s they were ready to start westward. Working their way across the Anatolian peninsula in what is now Turkey, the Arab forces were relentless, insatiable, and seemingly unstoppable. With their sights firmly fixed on the West, the Saracens (from the Greek Sarakenoi, a corruption of the Arabic word Sharqiyun, meaning “Easterners”) began gobbling up bits and pieces of territory, as they edged ever closer to the real prize: Constantinople.
Catching sight of the numerically inferior Byzantine navy, which could now be seen gamely sailing out to meet this threat, the men of the mighty Islamic armada must have been convinced that this jihad was going to be a cakewalk. If indeed any of them even noticed the single bronze tubes jutting out from the prows of each of the Byzantine ships, they paid them no mind. They were about to receive the surprise of their lives.
As the Byzantine ships drew closer and closer, looking like nothing so much as sheep coming to the slaughter, the Saracens, far from being concerned, drew themselves up and prepared, no doubt with great relish, to pound the tiny flotilla into splinters. Then, something extraordinary happened, something never before seen in the history of warfare, for it was the Saracens, and not the Byzantines, who went to the slaughter.
Suddenly, from out of the mouths of those innocuous-looking bronze tubes came the dragon’s own breath, pressurized jets of liquid fire that shot across the water in short, volcanic bursts, immolating soldier, sailor, and ship’s timber alike. The flames, which literally engulfed everything they came into contact with, could not be extinguished. Like modern napalm, these flames stuck to everything they touched. The hapless Saracens ran about the flaming decks burning like Roman candles. Those who fell overboard, or in their unspeakable agony threw themselves over the side, found that even this was not enough to staunch the flames. Instead, the afflicted men continued to burn in the water, their blackened bodies bobbing around in the sea like so many cloves of burned garlic. warfarehistorynetwork.com
The besiegers were barbecued with this Greek Fire:
The Saracen ships carried heavy siege engines and huge catapults; but the fortifications along the Marmara and the Golden Horn were proof against their assaults. The Byzantines, moreover, possessed a secret weapon. To this day we are uncertain of the composition of ‘Greek fire’. Whether it was sprayed over an enemy vessel or poured into long, narrow cartridges and catapulted against its objective, the results were almost invariably catastrophic: the flaming, oil-based liquid floated upon the surface of the sea, frequently igniting the wooden hulls of the ships and causing an additional hazard to those who tried to jump overboard. For long the Muslims refused to admit defeat; only after the fifth year did the battered remnants of the Saracen fleet turn about and head for home. In 679 Muawiya sulkily accepted Constantine’s offer of peace, which demanded the evacuation of the newly-conquered Aegean islands and an annual tribute. A year later he was dead. Constantine, on the other hand, was at the height of his popularity. He had inspired his subjects with the morale to withstand five years of siege by a power hitherto considered irresistible, and in doing so he had saved Western civilization. Had the Saracens captured Constantinople in the seventh century rather than the fifteenth, all Europe—and America—might be Muslim today. (Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium, p. 101.)
The siege turned out to be a total failure, with thousands of Arab casualties.
The 2nd Arab siege of Constantinople occurred in 717
The Second Arab siege of Constantinople in 717–718 (98–100 AH) was a combined land and sea offensive by the Muslim Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate against the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. The campaign marked the culmination of twenty years of attacks and progressive Arab occupation of the Byzantine borderlands, while Byzantine strength was sapped by prolonged internal turmoil. In 716, after years of preparations, the Arabs, led by Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik, invaded Byzantine Asia Minor. The Arabs initially hoped to exploit Byzantine civil strife and made common cause with the general Leo III the Isaurian, who had risen up against Emperor Theodosius III. Leo, however, tricked them and secured the Byzantine throne for himself. en.wikipedia.org
Roman Emperor Leo III led the heroic defense of the city:
For forty years the setback at Constantinople rankled with the Umayyad caliphs in Damascus. It remained inconceivable within Islamic theology that the whole of humankind would not, in time, either accept Islam or submit to Muslim rule. In 717 a second and even more determined attempt was made to overcome the obstacle that hindered the spread of the Faith into Europe. The Arab attack came at a time of turmoil within the empire. A new emperor, Leo III, had been crowned on March 25, 717; five months later he found an army of 80,000 men dug in the length of the land walls and a fleet of 1,800 ships controlling the straits. The Arabs had advanced their strategy from the previous siege. It was quickly realized by the Muslim general Maslama that the walls of the city were invulnerable to siege machines; this time there was to be a total blockade. The seriousness of his intentions was underlined by the fact that his army brought wheat seed with them. In the autumn of 717 they plowed the ground and planted a food supply outside the walls for harvesting the following spring. Then they settled down to wait. A foray by the Greek fire ships had some success but failed to break the stranglehold. Everything had been carefully planned to crush the infidels. (Crowley, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. p. 13).
Constantinople finally fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453
Thanks to the Muslims, Old Rome was finally able to eliminate her Eastern rival in 1453. After fighting heroically for 1000 years, the Empire finally came to an end. The Latin church fought ferocious battles to overthrow the Eastern Roman Emperors. Finally in 1453, they used the Ottoman Empire to conquer Constantinople. After that defeat, the Orthodox church moved to Russia, and Moscow became known as the 3rd Rome.
Crowley, Roger. 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. Hyperion, New York, 2005.
Frend, W.H.C. The Donatist Church. A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa. Oxford University Press, London, 1952.
Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997.
Raven, Susan. Rome in Africa. Routledge, London & New York, 1993.
Copyright © 2009 by Niall Kilkenny