“The Development of Mater Ecclesia in North African Ecclesiology”
Peper, Bradley M.
The image of mater ecclesia became one of the most popular and enduring ecclesial metaphors during the patristic era. Since its introduction in the late second century, early Christian writers continuously employed mater ecclesia as an image characterizing the corporate identity of the church. This dissertation traces the development of the maternal metaphor in North African Christianity, where it was most frequently utilized. By examining how North Africans represented the church as a mother in light of their ecclesiological concerns, this dissertation demonstrates that the metaphor of mater ecclesia primarily functioned as a symbol for group membership and represented a tangibly discernable boundary, separating the saved from the damned. As such, this study concludes that the appellation of mater ecclesia, as developed in North African ecclesiology, was more polemical and exclusive in its meaning and function than previously considered. The implications of this, especially with regard to the disappearance of mater ecclesia in modern Catholic ecclesial discourse, are also discussed.