Petteruti Lounge, in the Stephen Robert ‘62 Campus Center
A lecture by Sarah Byers (Boston College)
Free and open to the public
New research on Augustine allows us to make progress in answering who was right in the still-unresolved and famous debate between Dominicans and Jesuits concerning who has the best Catholic account of how human freedom and divine grace interact. Exactly how does God’s grace effectively bring about someone’s conversion to Christianity, while also incorporating human freedom? In post-Reformation Europe, this became a virulent public controversy from 1581 until 1607, when it was halted by order of Pope Paul V because it seemed intractably inconclusive. Though some of the parties to this debate wrote commentaries on Aquinas and referred to themselves as Thomists, the debate dealt with questions not explicitly addressed by Aquinas, and in any case, the prevailing assumption on both sides was that Aquinas and Augustine substantially agreed on the theory of grace. Contemporary advances in research on the Hellenistic philosophy used by Augustine allows for a more thorough understanding of Augustine’s philosophical psychology, and consequently of how he thinks grace acts upon and with the human mind, than was available to the Dominicans and Jesuits of that time. In particular, the ‘conversion scene’ of Augustine’s Confessions, which is the most famous passage in his influential corpus, can now be better understood. It turns out that the Dominican position has more to recommend it as an authentically ‘Catholic’ position, because it is more akin to Augustine’s position, who is the greatest Father of the Church and the Doctor of Grace.
Sarah Catherine Byers is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Boston College. She is the author of Perception, Sensibility, and Moral Motivation in Augustine, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, and numerous articles in the history of philosophy.