Carthage (episcopal see)

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The episcopal see of Carthage, the great city restored to importance by Julius Caesar and Augustus and in which Christianity was firmly established by the 2nd century,[1] great to be the most important in whole of Roman Africa and continued as a residential see until the start of the second millennium.

Earliest bishops[edit]

Some accounts give as the first bishop of Carthage Crescens, ordained by Saint Peter, or Speratus, one of the Scillitan Martyrs.[2] Others speak of Epenetus of Carthage (per Hippolytus on the Seventy Apostles)[3] The account of the martyrdom of Saint Perpetua and her companions in 203 mentions an Optatus who is generally taken to have been bishop of Carthage, but who may instead have been bishop of Thuburbo Minus. The first certain historically documented bishop of Carthage is Agrippinus of the late 2nd century. Also historically certain is Donatus, the immediate predecessor of Saint Cyprian (249–258)[2][4][5][6][7][8][9]


By this time, the bishop of Carthage already exercised authority over the Church in the Roman province of Proconsular Africa in the broadest sense (even when it was divided into three provinces through the establishment of Byzacena and Tripolitania), but also, in some supra-metropolitan form, over the Church in Numidia and Mauretania. The provincial primacy was associated with the senior bishop in the province rather than with a particular see and was of little importance in comparison to the authority of the bishop of Carthage, who could be appealed to directly by the clergy of any province.[4]


Cyprian himself had to face opposition within his own diocese over the question of the proper treatment of the lapsi who had fallen away from the Christian faith under persecution.[10] Donatism became a serious problem in the 4th century and was not got rid of even through the Conference of Carthage of 411, which decided in favour of the Catholic side.[2]

Successors of Cyprian until before the Vandal invasion[edit]

The immediate successors of Cyprian were Lucianus and Carpophorus, but there is disagreement about which of the two was earlier. A bishop Cyrus, mentioned in a lost work by Augustine, is placed by some before, by others after, the time of Cyprian. There is greater certainty about the 4th-century bishops: Mensurius, bishop by 303, succeeded in 311 by Caecilianus, who was at the First Council of Nicaea and who was opposed by the Donatist bishop Majorinus (311–315). Rufus participated in an anti-Arian council held in Rome in 337 or 340 under Pope Julius I. He was opposed by Donatus Magnus, the true founder of Donatism. Gratus (344– ) was at the Council of Sardica and presided over a council at Carthage in 349. He was opposed by Donatus Magnus and, after his exile and death, by Parmenianus, whom the Donatists chose as his successor. Restitutus accepted the Arian formula at the Council of Rimini in 359 but later repented. Genethlius presided over two councils at Carthage, the second of which was held in 390. The next bishop was Saint Aurelius, who in 421 presided over another council at Carthage and was still alive in 426. His Donatist opponent was Primianus, who had succeeded Parmenianus in about 391.[2]

Bishops under the Vandals[edit]

Capreolus was bishop of Carthage when the Vandals conquered the province. Unable for that reason to attend the Council of Ephesus in 431 as chief bishop of Africa, he sent his deacon Basula or Bessula to represent him. In about 437, he was succeeded by Quodvultdeus, whom Genseric exiled and who died in Naples. A 15-year vacancy followed, and it was only in 454 that Saint Deogratias was ordained bishop of Carthage. He died at the end of 457 or the beginning of 458, and Carthage remained without a bishop for another 24 years. Saint Eugenius was consecrated in around 481, exiled, along with other Catholic bishops, by Huneric in 484, recalled in 487, but in 491 forced to flee to Albi in Gaul, where he died. When the Vandal persecution ended in 523, Bonifacius became bishop of Carthage and held a council in 525.[2]

Last resident bishops of Carthage[edit]

After the Byzantine conquest of Africa under the leadership of Belisarius, Bonifacius was succeeded by Reparatus, who held firm in the Three Chapters Controversy and in 551 was exiled to Pontus, where he died. He was replaced by Primosus, who accepted the emperor's wishes on the controversy. He was represented at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 by the bishop of Tunis. Publianus was bishop of Carthage from before 566 to after 581. Dominicus is mentioned in letters of Pope Gregory the Great between 592 and 601. Fortunius lived at the time of Pope Theodore I (c. 640) and went to Constantinople in the time of Patriarch Paul II of Constantinople (641 to 653). Victor became bishop of Carthage in 646. At the beginning of the 8th century and at the end of the 9th, Carthage still appears in lists of dioceses over which the Patriarch of Alexandria claimed jurisdiction. A letter of Pope Leo IX in 1054 mentions a "Bishop of Africa" called Thomas, who is deduced to have been archbishop of Carthage because he spoke of having held a council of his four suffragans. Under Pope Gregory VII, Cyriacus of Carthage appealed for help in view of the lamentable state of his diocese.[2]

Later developments[edit]

In 1843, the Vicariate Apostolic of Tunis was erected in Tunisia.[11] Its territory corresponded to that of the then French protectorate of Tunisia, and was thus much larger than that of the ancient see of Carthage. Nevertheless, in 1884, the vicariate was made an archbishopric and given the name of Archdiocese of Carthage. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII acknowledged the archdiocese in 1893 as the see of the Primate of "Africa".[12] From then until 1964, the Annuario Pontificio presented the see of Carthage as "founded in the 3rd century, metropolitan see of Proconsularis or Zeugitana, restored as archbishopric 10 November 1884".[13]

In July 1964, pressure from the Tunisian government under President Habib Bourguiba, which was in a position to close down all the Catholic churches in the country, forced the Holy See to accept an agreement of the type known as a modus vivendi, a term that literally means "a way of living". This particular agreement was unofficially described as instead a modus non moriendi ("a way of not dying"). By it, all but five of the country's more than 70 churches were handed over to the state, including what had been the cathedral of the archdiocese, while the state, for its part, promised that the buildings would be put only to use of public interest consonant with their previous function.[14][15][16]

In view of the changed situation, the Holy See considered the ancient see of Carthage as no longer restored to residential status, and listed it thenceforth as a titular see. The residential archdiocese's territory became that of the Territorial Prelature of Tunis, established on 9 July 1964. The first archbishop of the titular see, Agostino Casaroli, was appointed on 4 July 1967. The Annuario Pontificio of that period described the titular archiepiscopal see of Carthage as "founded in the 3rd century, metropolitan see of Proconsularis or Zeugitana, restored as an archiepiscopal see on 10 November 1884, titular archbishopric 9 July 1964".[17] The history of the territorial prelature was given as "founded 9 July 1964, previously an archbishopric under the name of Carthage founded 10 November 1884".[18]

The Prelature was elevated to Diocese in 1995. In 2010, it was promoted to Archdiocese. The summary of the history of the residential archdiocese of Tunis now given in the Annuario Pontificio is: "archbishopric under the name of Carthage 10 November 1884; Prelature of Tunis 9 July 1964; diocese 31 May 1995; archbishopric 22 May 2010."[19] The ancient see of Carthage, on the other hand, being no longer a residential bishopric, is listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see in the same publication as distinct from the modern see of Tunis. As a summary history of the titular see of Carthage it states: "founded in the 3rd century, metropolitan see of Proconsularis or Zeugitana, restored as an archiepiscopal see on 10 November 1884, titular metropolitan see 9 July 1964".[20]

The cathedral of the archdiocese of Tunis is the Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul. What was the cathedral of the archdiocese of Carthage, the Saint Louis Cathedral (Carthage), is owned by the Tunisian state and is used for concerts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matthew Bunson, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (Infobase Publishing 2009 ISBN 978-1-43811027-1), pp. 97–98
  2. ^ a b c d e f Joseph Mesnage, L'Afrique chrétienne, Paris 1912, pp. 1-19
  3. ^ Thomas Kelly Cheyne and John Sutherland Black, ed. (1903). "Epaenetus". Encyclopaedia Biblica.
  4. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Carthage". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  5. ^ François Decret, Carthage chrétienne, Bibliothèque CLIO
  6. ^ "Cartagine" in Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani (1931)
  7. ^ Anatole Toulotte, Géographie de l'Afrique chrétienne. Proconsulaire, vol. I, Rennes-Paris 1892, pp. 73-100
  8. ^ Stefano Antonio Morcelli, Africa christiana, Volume I, Brescia 1816, pp. 48-58
  9. ^ Pius Bonifacius Gams, Series episcoporum Ecclesiae Catholicae, Leipzig 1931, p. 463
  10. ^ Hefele, A History of the Christian Councils, Bk II, Chapter II
  11. ^ Cheney, David M. "Archdiocese of Tunis". Dioceses. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Primate". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  13. ^ Annuario Pontificio 1964 (Vatican Polyglot Press 1964), p. 95
  14. ^ "Closing Down the Churches", in The Tablet, 8 August 1964. Retrieved 16 November 2014
  15. ^ Modus vivendi entre le Saint Siège et la République Tunisienne
  16. ^ The life of the Catholics from the time of Bourguiba to now
  17. ^ Annuario Pontificio 1969 (Vatican Polyglot Press 1969), p. 578
  18. ^ Annuario Pontificio 1969 (Vatican Polyglot Press 1969), p. 767
  19. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 759
  20. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 860

Coordinates: 36°48′01″N 10°10′44″E / 36.80028°N 10.17889°E / 36.80028; 10.17889