My Lecture Topics for BYU Education Week This Year

I’ve been asked to speak at BYU’s Education Week in August again this year and, wanting to do something new, have proposed four lectures.  I was asked to send in capsule summaries of the four lectures for approval, but have been a bit distracted recently and nearly forgot to do it.

But I’ve just written them up, and here they are.  I hope I’m not too late:

Constantine the Great
In this illustrated first lecture, I will discuss the life and legacy of Constantine I, the great general who ruled the Roman Empire from 306 A.D. to his death in 337 A.D.
Famous as the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, he and his then-co-emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which proclaimed a policy of toleration for all the religions of the Empire.
He also convened the famous First Council of Nicaea, or Nicene Council, which essentially established the mainstream classical doctrine of the Trinity, and moved the capital of the Empire eastward, from Rome to a town called Byzantium that was soon renamed “Constantinople,” or “the city of Constantine.”  (It is now known as “Istanbul,” and is one of the greatest, and most favorably situated, cities in the world.)
Eusebius of Caesarea
This second lecture will discuss the life and work of the bishop of Caesarea, on the coast of Palestine, who died in 339 AD.  He was one of the foremost historians, biblical interpreters, and polemicists of the first several Christian centuries, and is, in fact, often called “The Father of Church History.”
His most famous works are his Ecclesiastical History, The Preparation of the Gospel, and The Life of Constantine.  He was a great backer and partisan of the Emperor Constantine, and was thoroughly embroiled in the ecclesiastical politics of his day.
Athanasius and Arius
In this third lecture, I will provide an illustrated biography of St. Athanasius the Great (d. A.D. 373), who is chiefly remembered for his central role in the conflict with Arius and Arianism that led to the great Nicene Council (and the Nicene Creed) of A.D. 325.  (Athanasius was only twenty-seven at the time.)  It was at this council that the doctrine of the Trinity was worked out.
His life is very dramatic, with more than seventeen years of his forty-five-year service as bishop of Alexandria spent in one or the other of five exiles.  But he was also one of the foremost writers of the first centuries of Christianity.
Sometimes described as Athanasius Contra Mundum (“Athanasius against the World”), he is called “The Father of Orthodoxy” by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is counted as one of the four “Great Doctors of the Church from the East” in the Roman Catholic Church.
Justinian and Theodora
This fourth and concluding lecture will focus, with illustrations, on Justinian the Great, who ruled the Roman Empire from Constantinople from 527 A.D. to his death in late 565 AD, and on his wife, Theodora, who reigned with him until her death in 548 AD.
They were the ultimate “power couple” of their day, with something of the atmosphere of today’s Hollywood—she had been a courtesan before they married—and, because of his high energy, he was sometimes called “the Emperor who never sleeps.”  Their story is exceptionally dramatic and often controversial
Justinian sought to recover the full greatness of the Empire and to regain control of the Latin West.  He also rewrote classical Roman law, creating the so-called Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of the civil law in many European countries.  Moreover, Byzantine culture flourished under his rule, creating many great works of art, including the great church of Hagia Sophia in the capital (which still stands today and which was, for many centuries, the center of Eastern Christianity) and the brilliant mosaics of Ravenna, in Italy.
In the end, though, even Justinian could not permanently reconnect East and West, and I will conclude with a brief discussion of the causes and effects of the Great Schism of 1054 A.D., which formalized the division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church that we know today.

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