A Sermon for Laetare Sunday (O’Donovan, 2006)

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, that we may walk in them. (Eph. 2:10) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the last theological work he laboured at before his imprisonment and death, the Ethics, wrote, pregnantly and provokingly, “It would seem that the knowledge of good and evil is the goal of all our ethical thinking. The first job of Christian Ethics is to get rid of that knowledge.” I don’t presume to understand everything that he may have meant by that. But one thing, at least, strikes me as true and profound: we have to be persuaded to let go the confident posture of an agent who projects him or herself into being by deciding upon the good and realising it. Read full text here

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Archbishop Rowan Williams. Pro Ecclesia (O’Donovan, 2003).

I remarked to John Macquarrie, as we ambled up Oxford’s Cornmarket early in 1984, that it seemed we had found him a worthy successor as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity. “Ay, it will be fine,” the ironic Scot replied, “if only he’s out of jail at the time!” For the young professor designate, still Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, had just been newsworthily arrested accompanying his students on a protest sit-in at an American military base. To the theology faculty, however, it seemed there had been a conservative turn with the appointment: in comparison with Maurice Wiles’ hesitations over orthodox trinitarianism or the project of existentialist “translation” urged by the earlier Macquarrie, this disciple of another Scots theologian, Donald Mackinnon, bore the promise of a new generation of Anglicans who did not think it the business of theology to make Christian faith less offensive to modern man, but rather to expand modern man’s imagination to the dimensions of trinitarian faith. Orthodoxy, as he described it in Arius, is “a ‘making difficult’ of a gospel buried under the familiarities of folk piety.” Read full text here

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A Right To Health? (O’Donovan, 2010)

If we refer to it as a slogan, that need not be in a pejorative sense.   It means simply that “the right to health” does useful duty as a shorthand reference.   A cluster of concerns are summed up compactly;  it gestures out towards a whole line of argument remaining to be traced.   If we discuss “the right to health” as a slogan, we do not discuss anything we are actually doing or proposing to do.   We do not discuss redistributing resources or maximising choice.   We discuss how we think and speak about what we are doing and proposing to do – though since the “how” has an effect upon the “what”, our discussion may be of practical importance, not merely a philosophical indulgence.   A slogan is a tool of communication, and the question we may put to it is what and how it communicates.   A slogan, too, is intended to communicate with some immediacy, catching the attention of those who might not be attending.   It therefore tends to be artful, and with the art goes an element of simulation and dissimulation, one thing highlighted, another left in the background.   A feature of the slogan’s art is a shocking impudence.   A…

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Oral Evidence to Evangelical Alliance Faith and Nation Commission, (O’Donovan, 2003)

I thought that the best point to start off on would be the nature of the purity of the church. I take it that the purity of the Church is something that is an inescapable practical concern to all Christians in obedience to the word of God. We purify ourselves as he is pure. And the question that I think underlies the issues at stake here is how we understand the purity of the Church for which we are bound to strive in prayer, in self-criticism and self-examination, first, before we venture onto critique of actions and structures. And I’d like to say that I understand the purity of the Church to be a prophetic notion, first of all concerned with the purity of the Church’s speech. It has to do with the Church’s willingness to be a vehicle of the speech of God to all men and women. And the issue of obedience in the realm of pure speech comes down to our willingness to muffle, to compromise, to evade what God may be saying to us because it’s too uncomfortable for ourselves, too uncomfortable for our society, or to speak it would threaten our cause or whatever. The…

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Freedom and its Loss: Hopes and Fears for the Political Order. Gore Lecture (O’Donovan, 2002)

“Freedom” is a term with a range of meanings, and tonight we shall need to notice three of them. First and most formally, it is the power to act, the ownership of one’s behaviour that distinguishes intelligent agents from creatures of instinct. This is a power of individual human nature, and the assertion of freedom in this sense always imports some kind of individualism. We know the freedom-as-defiance of the existentialist philosopher – or of the teenager who refuses to get out of bed in the morning. But freedom so asserted is abstract and unproductive. To give the term a moral significance, we must understand it in terms of the orientation of individuals to society. Read full text here

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Government as Judgment (O’Donovan, 1999)

The democracies that emerged victorious from the Second World War tried to entrench human rights as a defense against the cruel politics of power. In so doing, however, they created a major problem of self-understanding, a cleft running deep through the heart of democratic theory. Democracy and human rights are not identical things, so it is necessary to ask whether they can coexist. It seems that the answer depends on two contingent factors: how the democratic societies conduct themselves, and what rights human beings assert. You cannot champion “democracy and human rights” without quite quickly having to decide which takes precedence between them; and since either of those terms, and not just one of them, may from time to time be used as a cloak for self-interest and tyranny, there is no universally correct answer. That is the underlying problem of coherence in contemporary Western ideology. Read the full text here

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Morally Awake? Admiration and Resolution in the Light of Christian Faith. New College Lectures (O’Donovan, 2007)

This series of 3 lectures was given in New College, Sydney in September 2007 Lecture One – Waking http://www.newcollege.unsw.edu.au/downloads/File/multimedia/pdfs/f7177163c833dff4b38fc8d2872f1ec6.pdf Lecture Two – Admiring http://www.newcollege.unsw.edu.au/downloads/File/multimedia/pdfs/6c8349cc7260ae62e3b1396831a8398f.pdf Lecture Three – Resolving http://www.newcollege.unsw.edu.au/downloads/File/multimedia/pdfs/d9d4f495e875a2e075a1a4a6e1b9770f.pdf

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Common Objects of Love – Stob Lectures (O’Donovan, 2001)

Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community “A people, we may say, is a gathered multitude of rational beings united by agreeing to share the things they love.” So Augustine famously challenged the classical definition of a republic articulated by Cicero, replacing an idealist understanding of organized social life with a realist one, which would allow for radical criticism without dissolving the political phenomenon altogether. My purpose in this year’s Stob Lectures is not to explore the expository questions surrounding Augustine’s proposal, nor to discuss the merits of realist and idealist political theories. It is, rather, to exploit the understanding that Augustine holds out to us, by reflecting on a range of common moral and social phenomena characteristic of life in late-modern society, and holding them up to the light of his suggestion. These are audios (RAM) of the 3 lectures Objects of Love The Augustinian thesis that the primary mode of knowing is loving. Our experience of knowing the world. Agreeing to Share Communication as the basis of society. Material and intellectual communications. Representation. A Multitude of Rational Beings United The problem of representation in our age. The eschatological overheating and trivialization of communications

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