The Triumph of Saint Augustine by Claudio Coello (Museo del Prado)
The Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312 A.D. made the young religion a powerful force in the late Roman Empire. Born just four decades later in a remote province of the empire, Augustine of Hippo (354–430) achieved for Christian thought an intellectual standing every bit as dominant and enduring as the social and political influence conferred on Christianity by the first Christian emperor.
Augustine found in Christianity a collection of authoritative texts, creeds, and doctrines passed down by the church and accepted by faith; he fashioned it into a formidable, systematically articulated, deeply intelligible account of the fundamental nature of reality and humanity’s place in it. With brilliant intelligence, passionate curiosity, and remarkable rhetorical skill he turned the philosophical heritage of the ancient world to the task of expressing a new Christian philosophy, one that could stand on its own in late antiquity’s vibrant market place of ideas, and that would eventually conquer the world.
For nearly two millennia, Augustine’s ideas, insights, and arguments have profoundly shaped the Western intellectual tradition. Augustine scholar Scott MacDonald explores some of those enduringly compelling ideas.
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Faith Seeking Understanding
What is religious faith? How can believers be faithful and also intellectually responsible and deeply curious about the world? Augustine’s rich model of the relation between faith and understanding opens up the possibility of an intellectually rigorous Christianity.
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Searching for God (and Other Things)
How can you search for an understanding of something if you don't know what it is you’re looking for? But if you already know what it is you’re looking for, why would you need to search for an understanding of it? This paradox of inquiry is, in Augustine’s writings, a persistent and astonishingly fruitful puzzle. Wrestling with it leads Augustine to some of his deepest insights into human nature.
12:15 to 1:15 p.m. Break
1:15 to 2:30 p.m. Good, Evil, and Free Will
How can there be evil in a world created and governed by a perfectly good, omnipotent, omniscient God? Augustine’s account of the nature of God, good and evil, and the self-determination characteristic of rational creatures provides a perennially intriguing—and controversial—answer.
2:45 to 4 p.m. The Human Mind (and Divine Trinity)
What does it mean to be created in the image of God? What exactly is the image and what about the divine nature does it represent? Augustine’s search for the divine image in human beings yields a creative, original, and strikingly modern set of reflections on the nature and activity of the mind.
MacDonald is a professor of philosophy and Norma K. Regan professor in Christian Studies at Cornell University.
- If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
- Unless otherwise noted, registration for streaming programs typically closes two hours prior to the start time on the date of the program.
- Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from CustomerService@SmithsonianAssociates.org.
- Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
- View Common FAQs about our Streaming Programs on Zoom.