You are on page 1of 13

Black Spirituality:

A Roman Catholic Perspective

Cyprian Davis, O.S.B.

Another day when a council was being held in Scetis, the Fathers
treated Moses with contempt in order to test him, saying, "Why
does this black man come among us?" When he heard this, he kept
silence. When the Council was dismissed, they said to him, "Abba,
did that not grieve you at all?" He said to them, "I was grieved, but
I kept silence/'
Benedicta Ward1
Why is it that you can rarely get a negro to embrace anything of
Christianity but its animality . . . and that after generations of
Christian worship and instruction, he falls back to the worship of
Obi? Why is it that you can scarcely get a single Christian thought
into the negro's head, and with him religion is almost sure to lapse
into a groveling superstition? Why, because he is a degenerate
Orestes A. Brownson*
Introduction: Is There a Black Spirituality?
Spirituality is now a well-worn word. And well-worn words like well-used
coins are often indistinct in meaning and fluctuating in sense. Spirituality is
an abstract noun relating to the inner lives of people as reflected in their
religious expression. The expression of this inner life is reflected in such things
as prayer—both public prayer and personal prayer and all that that entails
regarding mysticism, contemplation, and personal religious ex-
perience—asceticism or self-discipline in terms of penance and an un-
derstanding of virtue; devotions or popular religious practice; and spiritual
ideals, especially as embodied in recognized religious heroes, such as holy men
and women, the saints.
Some, including many Roman Catholics, may cavil at the term black
spirituality. To many it would seem like dredging up old stereotypes. To
others it would be the granting of a second-class spirituality. Many would see
it as the residue of a separatist mentality that so transformed
blacks—especially black youth—in Africa and in the African diaspora in the
days of négritude and civil rights.
For the historian—and this paper is written from that point of view—as
well as for the social scientist, all religious activity is part of a cultural

tradition. There is a black cultural tradition. It is found wherever there are
large black communities as well as within Africa. They are widely divergent.
They are strikingly similar. For the purpose of this paper, we shall accept the
reality of a black cultural tradition, one quite divergent but with striking
similarities and, above all, one conditioned by similar historical phenomena.
A parallel case may explain. We speak easily of medieval spirituality, that
is, the expression of interior life and devotion during the Middle Ages. We
speak easily of schools of spirituality, such as Cistercian spirituality, meaning
the religious expression of the Cistercians in the twelfth and thirteenth cen-
turies. But we also speak of "Russian spirituality/' We can speak of the major
characteristics of religious expression among the Russian people as a totality.
We can talk about the use of the "Jesus Prayer "; the popular impact of monks
on the society, such as the "staretzy"; the importance of the Liturgy; the
originality of the liturgical music; the major places of icons in religious life on
all levels; certain characteristic saints, such as the martyrs to non-violence,
Saints Boris and Gleb; .the theme of kenosis; and the presence of the Holy
Fools throughout Russian history, among others. All of these things would
characterize Russian spirituality. The striking thing is that none of these
things—with the exception of Saints Boris and Gleb—are peculiarly Russian.
Icons are found in Greece and Egypt. Holy Fools have a long tradition in the
East and also in Egyptian monasticism. The Jesus Prayer came to Russia via
Greek monasticism. What makes it Russian? All of these elements are seen
manifested by the Russian people during their history. Certain elements recur
over and over. There is a Russian flavor; there is a Russian accent.
In the same way it is valid to speak of an African cultural tradition with
many mutations, but inasmuch as it is expressed in Christian forms and with a
Christian spiritual understanding, there is the expression of an authentic
black spirituality. This paper will suggest certain characteristics.
What is a Roman Catholic Perspective?
For my own purpose, this paper will consider a Catholic perspective as a
frame of reference whereby to view the phenomenon of black spirituality. To
put it more specifically for this purpose: What do I as a Catholic see within the
black religious experience as being part of the Catholic religious tradition?
In order to answer that question, I will look at the following elements in
the black religious experience: the liturgical/sacramental awareness, the ex-
perience of prayer, ascetic ideal (virtues), devotional or popular religious ex-
pression, and the concrete manifestation of the spiritual ideal in holiness of
life, for example, the saints.
Historically, a given spirituality is described by outsiders or observers
AYflmining the phenomena. This is mainly true because the very word
spirituality is unknown before the contemporary period. In this past year a

Black Spirituality: A Roman Catholic Perspective
Review and Expositor

group of black Catholics of all ages and backgrounds came together to ar-
ticulate their own spirituality as black Catholics. The last part of this paper
will be a summary of their expression.
Black Spirituality: The Experience of Prayer
In the beginning was God,
Today is God,
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is a word which comes out of your mouth.
That word! It is no more.
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.
JohnS.Mbiti 8
This is a prayer of the Pygmy people. Some would consider them to be the
most primitive of the African peoples, living deep in the rain forests, having no
structured form of government. This prayer, it seems to me, however, presents
an understanding of God that is awesomely profound.
Since Vatican II, Roman Catholics have begun to speak reverently about
non-Christian religions. Today, with the growth of an indigenous clergy in
Africa, a real dialogue has begun between Christians and the members of the
traditional religions of Africa. One of the results of this dialogue should be a
better understanding of the roots of black spirituality.4 Religion permeates the
traditional African culture. Prayer is the rhythmic accompaniment of
traditional African life. All of the characteristics of the prayer of black people
in this country or in predominantly Catholic South America and Central
America are already present in the religious traditions of Africa.
Religion is a public, communal experience. I think that it can truthfully be
said that if the African is "notoriously religious/' the African is also essen-
tially liturgical. The songs and the shouts of American blacks have their roots
in the music of black Africa. The dance is an essential part of the religious
culture of every African people; rhythmic body movement is part of black
religion in the black Christian observance in the New World. Today in many
black Catholic churches in this country rhythmic body movement such as
hand-clapping or dancing is part of the Sunday liturgy. In a liturgy that closed
the meeting of the black Catholic Clergy Caucus in December of 1978 in
Dayton, Ohio, I witnessed one of the most moving examples of a Catholic
Mass in which the dance was reverently and movingly executed. The of-
ficiating clergy and the acolytes made their entrance in a reverent dance
movement, and this rhythm and bodily movement was maintained with
reverence and grace throughout the liturgy.

This aspect of dance as prayer was best described by Jean Leclercq in a
citation he made in an article on African monasticism:
If one evening one could go into a convent of Poor Clare nuns
recently established in the Cameroons one would assist at a form of
adoration that would be a real innovation for us Europeans. Before
the Blessed Sacrament is exposed the sisters sing the Liturgical
Hours to the rhythm of the local music that is very lively and they
accompany their prayer with sacred dance. With the exception of
the prioress the forty members of the community are all afri-
cane Music and dance, in fact, are for the African soul essential
modes of expression. How could these young women who wished to
consecrate their whole life, to God in a cloistered convent forget
this?.. . . Many young women hesitated to «iter a community of
contemplatives because they only knew the European form of
monastic life and they did not fed it was suitable to their spiritual
needs. But now that the contemplation has become in some way
" African" they have overcome their doubts, and the requests for ad-
mission into this convent increase daily.6
In the same article Leclercq gives examples of a type of meditation sung
aloud. It is a form of repetitive prayer, proclamation, and response. He gives
examples of reflective meditation which is spontaneous in response to spiritual
reading to the assembled community. There is also a form of a dialogue be-
tween the speaker ami the audience—the same dynamic that is part of "black
preaching' ' in the United States—in which the congregation responds aloud to
the preacher's sermon. Leclercq draws the conclusion that in Africa today, for
the newly developing indigenous monasticism, the word—spoken, then
remembered, and finally repeated—-is at the center of monastic spirituality
just as it was in ancient Egyptian monasticism.6
The importance of the word is clearly seen in black spirituality. Scripture
with its images, its language, its cadences, and its stories is found in black
religious music and even in black secular music. The word is preached and
heard and then given response. The word is used for prayer. The word is ex-
pressed in dance and body movement. In keeping with this emphasis on the
word in black spirituality, it would be a valuable study to sift through the
language of black preachers, black spirituals and gospel music, and black
literature to see what words are used in reference to God the Father, Christ,
and other religious ideas. I suspect that there would be a high frequency of
words suggesting power and might in reference to God the Father and a high
frequency of words denoting kingship and sovereignty in relation to Christ.
There is one last characteristic of black spirituality as manifested in public
prayer that is important, and that is ecstasy. Black religious worship, both
Christian and traditional, tends to be ecstatic. The music and the rhythm may

Black Spirituality: A Roman Catholic Perspective
Review and Expositor

induce ecstasy, but the notion of "spirit-possession" is very strong. Ecstatic

religion is by no means foreign to the Catholic spiritual tradition. It has,
however, rarely been completely trusted by Church authorities. Delusion is
easy; excess even though spiritual is often disorderly. It is for this reason that
black Catholicism in the Caribbean and in South America developed a dual
visage. One was for Catholic worship; the other, for "spiritual" worship. I
would submit, however, that the same spiritual awareness is present in both.
There is a sense of divine power, a sense of the sacramental reality of all of
nature, and a sense of God's immanence.7
Two major views seem to characterize virtue and discipline in black
spirituality: (1) religion is a public matter, not a private affair, and (2) religion
must be concerned with social conditions and the plight of others. That is why
I would like to characterize the virtue that is uppermost in the African
spiritual tradition as hospitality. Community means that there are no more
strangers. Privatized spirituality has never characterized black churches in
the United States, whether Protestant or Catholic. This is due in part to the
relative poverty of most blacks in the New World, but it also results from
persistence of African tradition where there is a great sense of family. And it
does characterize black spirituality.
Religion is a public matter, and so is the piety that forces the religious
black man or woman to testify publicly to his or her belief. This might be
thought of as a specifically Protestant practice. I know through experience,
however, that it is manifest among black Catholics as welL8
Another element in black spirituality is the element of joy, which is related
to ecstasy and yet is somewhat different. Black religious worship is usually
joyful, even exuberant. The basic idea is that joy and enjoyment are important
components of religious worship and, by extension, of the spiritual life.
In this regard, the Catholic tradition in both the East and the West has
also been one of joy. Manifestations of joy are culturally conditioned, but the
notion of festival, fiesta, carnival, and the Feast of Fools—I do not mean to say
that all of these elements are equally valuable—are part of the Catholic
tradition. In medieval Europe the manifestations of public piety ran the
gamut of emotions—unbridled joy to unbridled sorrow. In fact, medieval
spirituality on the popular level was an emotional release—extremes of joy and
sorrow, dancing in church, and self-flagellation.
Black spirituality is also an emotional release. It too moves from
unrestrained joy to the experience of suffering expressed in song and
sometimes in tears. Tears are an important part of medieval prayer;9 tears are
openly displayed in black worship when the occasion demands it. Black
spirituality does not inhibit natural emotions so much as channel them. There
is a stream of Catholic spirituality that easily does the same, for example,
Francis of Assisi and Franciscan spirituality.
Black Holiness
There are three black saints and one black American candidate for
sainthood that I should like to mention briefly, precisely because they are cour
crete examples of the ideal of black spirituality from a Catholic perspective.
AU were black, shared a common cultural heritage and Cathdic faith, and were
remarkably similar in their spiritual makeup though from different ages and
différait continents.
Saint Moses the Black was martyred about A.D. 407 in the Desert of
Scete. He belongs to that generation of desert hermit monks which arose after
the death of Saint Anthony, ca. A.D. 355. Moses, probably a Nubian, was
definitely black. He had been a slave and was large in stature and very strong.
His mast»- found him too much to handle, and Moses went into the desert,
where he lived the life of a bandit. Notorious for his exploits, he was suddenly
converted and became a monk. Eventually he became a leader among some of
the hermits and was ordained a priest.
Moses was perhaps the most renowned among the black monks of Egypt.
We know there were others, although we have no statistics regarding race in
the sources.10 The only literature that we have from him is the cycle of
apophthegmata, "sayings," attached to his name,11 some of which reveal a
certain bias against Moses because of his color.12 This teaching is much the
same as that of the other desert monks, except when the question of color
enters in. There Moses shows himself as an example of humility. He accepts
the reproaches of others by saying nothing.18 What is perhaps even more
important, however, is that a black man, by the hospitality, the humanity, and
the wonderful humility he displayed in his sayings, helped set the tone for that
remarkably human monastic spirituality of the Egyptian desert. The
spirituality of Africa is at the basis of Christian spirituality in both the East
and the West, not only because of Saint Moses, but because of Egypt and the
other African nations where Christianity flourished long before it reached
northern Europe.14
Saint Benedict the Black was born in Sicily in 1526 and died in 1589. His
parents were descendants of African slaves, a reminder of the large numbers of
African slaves found in the Latin countries of southern Europe at the end of
the Middle Ages. Benedict became a member of a small eremitical group that
followed the Rule of Saint Francis. In fact, Benedict, though never a priest—it
seems he never learned to read or write—became a superior in the group. Pope
Pius IV (1559-1565) invited the group to amalgamate with one of the larger
groups of Franciscan friars. Benedict entered the Observant branch of the
Friars Minor and soon became a superior in the convent where he had been the
cook. After his term of office he again became the cook, but his renown for his
acts of charity and his position as counselor and advisor to many outside the
community continued. At his death he was widely acclaimed for his sanctity.

Black Spirituality: A Roman Catholic Perspective
Review and Expositor

Even though he was not officially canonized until 1807, he was already
venerated publicly in Spain and in the New World as well as in Sicily.
St. Benedict the Black also suffered taunts and insults regarding his color
when a youth in Sicily. The interesting thing, however, is that he undoubtedly
had sudi qualities of leadership that he was recognized both by his brethren
and the surrounding community. His holiness was expressed by his practical
exercise of charity.18
Saint Martin de Porree was born in 1579, the illegitimate son of a Spanish
nobleman and afreedblack woman originallyfromPanama in lima, Peru. He
died in 1639. Trained as a youth to be a barbar surgeon, he became a donatas in
the Dominicanfriaryin Lima and later was admitted to vows as a Dominican
lay brother. Ulis was unusual because at that time no Indian, black, or in-
dividual of mixed racial parentage could enter the clergy or religious life in the
Spanish colonies. This prohibition did not exist from the beginning but was
the gradual result of several factors. Martin probably was admitted because of
his father's influence. Martin served as infirmarían to the friars, but he became
a sainüy social worker for aD the poor and oppressed of Lima.
Popular hagiography has presented Saint Martin as a remarkable worker
of miracles. Stories circulate regarding his humility which quote him as calling
himself "mulatto trash" and offering himself to be sold as a slave by his
superior to relieve thefinancialdifficulties of his community. Whatever the
merit of these studies, they are not to be found in the official written accounts
sent to Rome just after his death for the purpose of furthering his
canonization. What does emergefromthe historical accounts is the picture of a
man who spent his days in tireless service as an infirmarían to his brethren and
as a very practical agent for charity to blacks, Indians, and Spaniards. He
organized thefirstfoundling hospital in the New World. He was tireless in his
service during the day, but the documentation attests to his extraordinary
practice of {»rayer, including mystical experience, at night. Martin lived this
sort of life for forty years—with little support or understanding from his
brethren, it might be added. Here again practical charity and intense prayer
coupled with leadership are major characteristics of his holiness. In this way
he was similar to Benedict the Black. He was also similar in that after his
death there was a tremendous popular devotion to him in both Latin America
and North America. He was not canonized until 1962."
Pierre Toussaint was born a slave of French planters in Haiti in 1766. He
died in New York City in 1853, having accompanied his slave mistress to New
York when a young man in 1878. Shortly before leaving Haiti, the slave
population rose up and drove the Frenchfromthe island. Toussaint was one of
the many black Catholics who came to the eastern seaboard from Haiti.
Although a slave, he exercised the trade of hairdresser, becoming hairdresser
for many of the aristocratic women of New York. He also secretly supported
his mistress by his earnings. She did not free him until she was on her
Pierre Toussaint became renowned for his practical charity to both blacks
and whites. He exercised this charity out of his own earnings and with great
tact. At the same time he rose early to attend Mass each morning before begin-
ning his work. He was quiet, gentle, and extremely devout. It is hard to
measure the impact that he had on the black community to which he belonged,
but there is a great deal of documentatimi relating to his spiritual impact on
the white community of influence and means. When he died, he left a
reputation for sanctity. The memory of his life finally resulted in the in-
troduction of his cause for beatification by Cardinal Codee of New York in
These four examples of holiness among black men are not sufficiently
large to draw definite conclusions about black spirituality as manifested in the
lives of black saints. I believe, however, that some tentative conclusions might
be made. First of all, slavery in one way or another was part of the experience
of each of tJiese men. Either tiiey themselves or their parents had been slaves.
Second, each of these men suffered personal attacks on account of their race or
skin color. Third, each of these men served in some leadership capacity for
others, even when it meant that others depended upon them no matter what
their legal or social status. Fourth, each of these men exercised an apostolato
of charity. This was an exercise of help to the poor and weak in some tangible
way. Even stories of Moses the Black, who dwelt in the desert, speak of
hospitality and mercy to sinners. Finally, prayer is an outstanding feature of
each person's spirituality. These five qualities characterize in many ways
contemporary black spirituality: the memory of slavery and its suffering, the
memory of racial injustice and the contempt of others, an intense experience of
prayer, the importance of practical measures of charity in a community
context, and finally, an inner-directed spiritual life with great stress on per-
sonal inner strength.

Black Catholic Perspectives on Spirituality

A Black Spirituality Weekend composed of some fifty to sixty par-
ticipants from black Catholic parishes in Baltimore was held at the Manresa
Retreat Center near Annapolis, Maryland, in mid-Lent of last year. The
principal organizers were an Oblate Sister of Providence from Baltimore and
the Jesuit Fathers at Manresa. The participants expressed their own
spirituality in a series of small group discussions. Illese experiences were
compared in two or three general sessions. The atmosphere was relaxed and
spontaneous; people talked very freely. At the end of the session a panel of
experts tried to summarize and put in order what they heard in the meeting.
The free-wheeling discussions tended to cluster around the following

Black Spirituality: A Roman Catholic Perspective
Review and Expositor

subjects or concerns: family (community), prayer experience, scripture, value

of emotions, and surrender.
Family (Community)
Family is where one learns to pray. God teaches us how to pray, but family
members teach the prayers. One participant remembered a grandmother who
always prayed about everything and used to say: "Everything must be
seasoned with prayer." Family is where one keeps in touch with one's roots,
the black heritage, a heritage that is fundamentally spiritual.
The cross is part of the communal identity of blacks and Catholics. Crisis
brings closeness. One member expressed the awareness that our common
history has made us value the fact that as black Catholics we identify
blackness with being a spiritual people. There is a sense of solidarity with all
black people as a spiritual people.
Prayer Experience
It is important to have a personal relationship with God. Prayer is a
reaching out to God. Prayer is letting go. Prayer is using one's own words.
Prayer is leaving time to reflect. Spontaneous prayer is part of the black
spiritual tradition. It is important to experience the Lord, to pray "with the
heart/' to talk with Jesus and to let God talk to us. Hence, it is important to
have silence in prayer. Thanksgiving to God and praise of God are very im-
portant also. The prayer experience was referred to as "basking in the
Presence of the Lord."
It is important to see God everywhere, especially in nature, as in a tree.
Prayer should be done everywhere, not just on one's knees. Prayer is a
realization of dependence upon God.
It is important to train the young about the Bible: "Walk them through
the Bible." There is power in the word. The Bible should be important to all
Values of Emotion
God is present in all of our experience. All emotions are valuable. They are
given by God. Joy is important. It is often coupled with sadness. We should
find joy in everything, even in death as well as on the simplest of occasions.
Joy helps us understand the "communion of saints." A sense of humor is also
very important.
The human dimension is important in spirituality. Being spiritual does not
make one less human. Frustration and anger must be dealt with. One can learn
to profit from both. Blacks have a highly developed sense of touching.
Touching is important. Healing comes through touching.

One must "let go and let God." One deals with anger andfrustrationby
"letting God take control." Instead of anger, one must learn to accept the will
of God. One must learn to surrender to God before there is inner healing.
Surrender is the basis for a life of prayer. Even in the midst of sadness, there
must be inner peace. The real success in life is to achieve peace of mind or
interior peace.
My conclusions may be somewhat subjective. We often hear what we want
to hear. At the end of the weekend, I was struck with certain themes that came
across to me. No doubt they struck me because of my own history and
situation. At any rate, they can serve as an ending to this paper and a
beginningtoour discussion.
As a black Catholic middle-aged monk, I saw the following as major
characteristics of black spirituality:
1. It is contemplative. Inner peace is important. Spontaneous joy is
also valuable. The experience of God as being everywhere
possible and listening to God are recurring themes.
2. It is human. One's humanity is a value. Emotions are to be used.
The body is a good thing. Body and soul form a whole. Both as
one are to be used in prayer.
3. It is biblical. Scripture is to be savored and experienced: "Walk
through it." The word is something powerful. Scripture is always
4. It is surrender to God. There is a definite contrast between this
notion of surrender and the ideas of modern Western man about
control. Modern people, meaning white people, wish to be in
control in their own lives and in nature, hence the importance of
competition and the value of aggressiveness. The weekend im-
pressed upon me the fact that, even in the United States today,
many blacks have an outlook on creation that is more African
than Western. There is a feeling that we must live in harmony
with all things and that ultimately we are in God's hands.
Benedicta Ward, ed. and trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical
Collection (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 117.
* Orestes A. Brownson, "Abolition and Negro Equality/' in The Collected Works of Orestes
A. Brownson, ed. Henry F. Brownson (New York: AMS Press, [1907]), XVII, 559.
' John S. Mbiti, The Prayers of African Religion (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Obis Books, 1975), p.
See Les Religions Africaines Traditionnelles: Rencontres Internationales de Bouake (Paris,
1962). For two examples of a spiritual depth present in two priests of a traditional religion, see
the article, "Animisme en savane africaine," by Amadou Hampate' Ba, pp. 33-55. The works of
John Mbiti are important for background in understanding African traditional religion for a
Christian; see esp. African Religions and Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubjeday & Co., 1970).

Bloch Spirituality: A Roman Catholic Perspective
Review and Expositor

A work long out of date and yet seminal for all subsequent revisionist thinking regarding the
values within traditional African religion is by the Belgian priest, Placide Tempels, Bantu
Philosophy, trans. Colin King (Paris: Presence Africaine, 1959).
'Jean Leclercq, "Le Monachisme africain d'aujourd'hui et le monaschisme antique,"
/wufton, 38 (1965), 46.
•Ibid., p. 49.
In Europe I knew a Haitian priest who in his doctoral dissertation sought to reevaluate the
practice of voodoo and its religious significance. Other Haitian priests are doing the same. Un-
fortunately, I have no ready access to their studies. For a study that attempts to take seriously
the practice of voodoo, see Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti (New York:
Chelsea House, 1970).
• As a freshman student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., I always took the same
bus to the university. The trip was on a bus mainly filled with blacks. Once an elderly black
woman who frequently took the same bus and had noticed me inquired about my destination and
my plans for the future. I told her I planned to become a priest. There in the midst of that
crowded bus, she expressed joy about the fact that there would be more black priests, and then
she gave a public profession of her faith as a Catholic. She was a domestic, but wherever she
worked she insisted upon time off on Sunday to go to Maes. Her faith was the most precious
thing that she had, and she put it before everything else. She knew that her employers did not
like it, but that was the way it had to be. The woman then promised to pray for me. I think she
must have. I certainly never forget her. At the time I was embarrassed. I now think of her with a
certain pride.
See, for example, The Life of Saint Adaiard by Paschasras Radbertus, in Allen Cabaniss, ed.
and trans., Charlemagne's Cousins: Contemporary Lives of Adaiard and Wala (Syracuse, N.Y.:
Syracuse University Press, 1967), p. 40:
So great a man was (Adaiard) that of himself he could truthfully declare, "I am wounded
with love." If he had not been wounded by love, he would not have repeatedly bemoaned
the misfortunes of all. He wept indeed every day once or twice at least, at matins and at
vespers. This perpetual fire in him did not fail from the altar of his spirit, but burned
perennially with devotion. There he became a sweet holocaust to the Lord; there victims
were immolated, especially in the night, for he was ever watchful in prayers He bathed
everything first with tears so it would burn more purely to the Lord. Never have I found a
man in whom there was so great a fountain of tears and such profound sighing.
The Rule of Benedict takes it for granted that a monk will pray with tears. See, for example, The
Rule of St Benedict in Latin and English with Notes (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1981),
pp. 216-217.
See the translation of Historia Monachorum by Norman Russell, The Lives of the Desert
Fathers (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1981), p. 75.
The life of St. Moses is taken from Robert T. Meyer, ed. and trans., Palladius: The Lausiac
History (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1965), pp. 67-70. For a translation of the
apophthegmata, see Ward, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pp. 117-121.
As, for example, the one cited at the beginning of this paper. In the early monastic
literature of the desert, the demons were always pictured as black men and women or referred to
as Ethiopians.
" See the apophthegm cited at the beginning of the paper. There is another apophthegm of
Moses in the same vein.
Both Ethiopia and Nubia are ancient black countries whose spirituality must be discussed
in order to give a full view of black spirituality. The discovery of the immense riches of black
Christianity in the ruins of Nubia (the Sudan) has still not been exploited or made generally
available. Whatever the riches still to be analyzed reveal to us, we have a witness to a great
Christian tradition in black Africa. At the same time it must not be forgotten that Egyptian
Christianity is more African perhaps than it is Greek.

See Giuseppe Morabito, "Benedetto il Moro, Santo" in Bibtiotheca Sanctorum, II, 1103-
"See the Acta Sanctorum: Novembris (Paris, 1910), III, 108-125; Sadoc M. Bertucci,
"Martino di Porree, Santo," inBibUotheca Sanctorum, Vili, 1240-1245.
A new biography of Pierre Toussaint has been written by Ellen Tarry, The Other
Toussaint' A Modern Biography of Pierre Toussaint, a Post-Revolutionary Bloch (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1981). This work is not at all scholarly. In fact, it is semi-fictional and is not much
better than the older work by Arthur and Elisabeth Odell Sheehan, Pierre Toussaint- A Citizen of
Old New Yorh (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1955). The Sheehans' work is somewhat patronizing.
Toussiant could not possibly be black after they finish with him. Tarry should have treated
Toussaint on a higher level than that of an edifying story for high school students. The man
deserves to be taken seriously. In fact, this is what Catholic writers generally do with black
saints. They make them too good to be true. They do not take them seriously. They make no
effort to be scientific about holiness when it comes to blacks!

^ s
Copyright and Use:

As an ATLAS user, you may print, download, or send articles for individual use
according to fair use as defined by U.S. and international copyright law and as
otherwise authorized under your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement.

No content may be copied or emailed to multiple sites or publicly posted without the
copyright holder(s)' express written permission. Any use, decompiling,
reproduction, or distribution of this journal in excess of fair use provisions may be a
violation of copyright law.

This journal is made available to you through the ATLAS collection with permission
from the copyright holder(s). The copyright holder for an entire issue of a journal
typically is the journal owner, who also may own the copyright in each article. However,
for certain articles, the author of the article may maintain the copyright in the article.
Please contact the copyright holder(s) to request permission to use an article or specific
work for any use not covered by the fair use provisions of the copyright laws or covered
by your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. For information regarding the
copyright holder(s), please refer to the copyright information in the journal, if available,
or contact ATLA to request contact information for the copyright holder(s).

About ATLAS:

The ATLA Serials (ATLAS®) collection contains electronic versions of previously

published religion and theology journals reproduced with permission. The ATLAS
collection is owned and managed by the American Theological Library Association
(ATLA) and received initial funding from Lilly Endowment Inc.

The design and final form of this electronic document is the property of the American
Theological Library Association.