The very first African worthy of recollection in a “Dictionary of African Christian Biography” is the relatively unknown Simon of Cyrene, who is recalled as the one compelled by the Roman authorities to assist in the crucifixion of Jesus by carrying His cross to the place of execution. We can interpolate, from the consistent Synoptic record of the presence of this person and by the gentilic which defines him, not merely his place of origin but also his relative age, and from his name itself that he was most probably a Hellenized Jew who had come to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival.
But it is also noteworthy, that, when the memory of this historical event from 7 April 30 A.D. was first structurally narrated at a time some three decades later by Mark the Evangelist, this same Simon was then uniquely identified by reference to his two sons, Alexander and Rufus (15:21; Carrington 1957: II. 206). Of these two the role of the former within the incipient Christian community cannot be certainly identified (though one might consult Acts 19:33 or 1 Timothy 1:20 or 2 Timothy 4:14), while that of the latter seems most likely among those now “eminent in the Lord” to be greeted at Rome (Romans 16:13; Carrington 1957: II. 150). A “Rufus,” identified only as “bishop of Thebes,” is included in the list of the “seventy” attributed to Hippolytus [ANF V (1885) 256].
Whether identifiable or not, it is to be recalled that some like these three, along with a number of others from “those parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene” recorded among early Christians by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (2:10), form a constituent core within the church of the first generation. That we learn so little more than names may be regrettable, but within that little, the brief memories and glimpses of family connections tell us something of how the faith came to be spread to another continent.
Clyde Curry Smith
ANF V 1885 Hippolytus, translated by Stewart Dingwall Fordyce Salmond, in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Volume V, pp. 255-256.
Carrington 1957 The Early Christian Church, by Philip Carrington. Cambridge: At the University Press. 2 volumes.
This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.