Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Coptic Church and Coptic Christianity

As I finished my Coptic Class today, I noted this comment in a review by Philip Phan of The Lost History of Christianity by Penn State's Philip Jenkins on the Religion and Ethics PBS site:

In Egypt, which was conquered by the armies of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As in 640, not only did the Coptic church survive, but it continues, even today, to be the faith of at least 10 percent of the population. After discounting a number of explanations, Jenkins concludes that the key factor is “how deep a church planted its roots in a particular community, and how far the religion became part of the air that ordinary people breathed.” Whereas the Latin church of North Africa was essentially a colonial faith, appealing mainly to urban elites, the Coptic clergy translated their doctrine and practices into the idioms readily grasped by ordinary people, both city dwellers and rural peasants. Thus, despite persecutions, the Copts survived and their patriarchate spread Christianity up the Nile, deep into Africa to Nubia in present-day northern Sudan, which remained a Christian kingdom into the 15th century, and to Ethiopia (which also had contact with Syriac Christians), where the local church remains in communion with the see of Alexandria to this day. The lesson Jenkins draws here—although some might well be discomfited by the terms with which he articulates it—is that “for churches as for businesses, failure often results from a lack of diversification, from attaching one’s fortunes too closely to one particular set of circumstances, political or social.”

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