FBA FRSE is a scholar in the field of Christian ethics
The first recorded meeting on the topic of Christian ethics, after Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Great Commandment, and Great Commission , was the Council of Jerusalem , which is seen by most Christians as agreement that the New Covenant either abrogated or set aside at least some of the Old...
. He has made contributions to political theology
Political theology or public theology is a branch of both political philosophy and practical theology that investigates the ways in which theological concepts or ways of thinking underlie political, social, economic and cultural discourses....
, both contemporary and historical.
O'Donovan is currently the Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the School of Divinity, New College, Edinburgh
New College was opened in 1846 as a college of the Free Church of Scotland, later of the United Free Church of Scotland, and from the 1930s has been the home of the School of Divinity of the University of Edinburgh...
, a position which he has held since the summer of 2006 (and which had been vacant since July 2005 when the former holder the Rev'd Professor William Storrar left to head up the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton
Princeton is a community located in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. It is best known as the location of Princeton University, which has been sited in the community since 1756...
). At New College he is also an associate director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues
The Centre for Theology and Public Issues is a research centre based in New College, the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Founded in 1984 by Duncan B. Forrester, CTPI promotes Christian theological reflection and research on important public issues. CTPI research is global in...
. Previously O'Donovan was Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology
The Regius Professorship of Moral and Pastoral Theology was founded at the University of Oxford in 1842; the initial title was Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology.*1842-1873 Charles Atmore Ogilvie*1873-1885 Edward King*1885-1892 Francis Paget...
and Canon of Christ Church
Christ Church or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England...
at the University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...
(1982–2006). Before that he taught at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (1972–77) and at Wycliffe College
Wycliffe College is an Anglican Church of Canada seminary federated with the University of Toronto. It is evangelical and Low church in orientation. On the other hand, the University of Toronto's other Anglican college, the University of Trinity College is Anglo-Catholic in outlook. While being an...
, Toronto (1977–82). His doctoral thesis on the problem of self-love in St Augustine was completed under both Henry Chadwick
Henry Chadwick KBE was a British academic and Church of England clergyman. A former Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford — and as such also head of Christ Church, Oxford — he also served as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, becoming the first person in four centuries to have headed a college at...
at Oxford and Paul Ramsey at Princeton. He is a past President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics.
In 2001 he delivered the Stob Lectures
The Stob Lectures are annual lectures given at the Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in memory of Henry J. Stob. The subject matter usually includes ethics, apologetics, and philosophical theology.- Past Lecturers :...
at Calvin Theological Seminary
Calvin Theological Seminary is a seminary affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and closely tied to Calvin College, though each institution has its own board. Rev...
, in 2007 he delivered the New College Lectures at New College, University of New South Wales
New College, University of New South Wales is a residential college, located in the UNSW campus in Sydney, Australia. It was founded in 1969 as part of the work of the New University Colleges' Council...
, and in 2008 he delivered a lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton Theological Seminary is a theological seminary of the Presbyterian Church located in the Borough of Princeton, New Jersey in the United States...
upon receiving the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life.
O'Donovan is an ordained priest of the Church of England, and has been active in ecumenical dialogue as well as serving on the General Synod. He has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 2000 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 2009. He has held distinguished visiting lectureships in the Universities of Durham
The University of Durham, commonly known as Durham University, is a university in Durham, England. It was founded by Act of Parliament in 1832 and granted a Royal Charter in 1837...
and Cambridge, the Gregorian University in Rome, McMaster University
McMaster University is a public research university whose main campus is located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The main campus is located on of land in the residential neighbourhood of Westdale, adjacent to Hamilton's Royal Botanical Gardens...
in Hamilton, Ontario, St. Patricks College
St Patrick's College, Maynooth is the "National Seminary for Ireland" , and a Pontifical University, located in the village of Maynooth, 15 miles from Dublin, Ireland. The college and seminary are often referred to as Maynooth College. The college was officially established as the Royal College...
, Maynooth, the University of Hong Kong, and Fuller Theological Seminary
Fuller Theological Seminary is an accredited Christian educational institute with its main campus in Pasadena, California and several satellite campuses in the western United States...
, Pasadena, California.
In 1978 he married Joan Lockwood O'Donovan. They have jointly authored two books on the history of Christian political thought. He has two sons: Matthew and Paul.
Resurrection and Moral Order (1986)
This work provides a first attempt to defend the objectivity of Christian moral claims from the challenge of 'anti-foundationalism
Anti-foundationalism as the name implies, is a term applied to any philosophy which rejects a foundationalist approach, i.e. an anti-foundationalist is one who does not believe that there is some fundamental belief or principle which is the basic ground or foundation of inquiry and knowledge...
' (pvii) which O'Donovan tends to refer to as 'historicism
Historicism is a mode of thinking that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context, such as historical period, geographical place and local culture. As such it is in contrast to individualist theories of knowledges such as empiricism and rationalism, which neglect the role of...
'. O'Donovan distinguishes himself from Alasdair MacIntyre
Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre is a British philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology...
by opposing neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics
Virtue ethics describes the character of a moral agent as a driving force for ethical behavior, rather than rules , consequentialism , or social context .The difference between these four approaches to morality tends to lie more in the way moral dilemmas are...
(p18) and by arguing that MacIntyre's adoption of a more historical perspective cannot avoid ethical relativism (p221-222). O'Donovan's alternative is to ground an ethic of obedience in a natural moral order. Importantly, however, a 'true understanding' of this moral order can only be achieved 'in Christ' (p14-15 and 89).
The Desire of the Nations
The Ways of Judgment
- The Word in Small Boats: Sermons from Oxford (Eerdmans 2010) ISBN 0-8028-6453-8
- A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM 2009) ISBN 0-3340-4210-0
- The Ways of Judgment (Eerdmans 2005) ISBN 0-8028-2920-1
- The Just War Revisited (CUP 2003)
- Common Objects of Love (Eerdmans 2002)
- The Desire of the Nations (CUP 1996) ISBN 0-521-66516-7
- Peace and Certainty (Eerdmans 1989)
- Resurrection and Moral Order (IVP 1986, 2nd ed IVP/Eerdmans 1994)
- On the Thirty-Nine Articles
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are the historically defining statements of doctrines of the Anglican church with respect to the controversies of the English Reformation. First established in 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the nascent Church of England as it related to...
(Paternoster 1986 and SCM 2011)
- Begotten or Made? (OUP 1984)
- The Problem of Self-Love in Saint Augustine (Yale 1979) ISBN 0300024681
Essays and Articles
- From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought edited with Joan Lockwood O'Donovan (Eerdmans 1999) ISBN 0-8028-4209-7
- "Prayer and Morality in the Sermon on the Mount" Studies in Christian Ethics 22.1 (2009): 21-33.
- "Judgment, Tradition and Reason: A Response" Political Theology 9.3 (2008): 395-414. This is from a Special Issue of Political Theology on The Ways of Judgment.
- Bonds of Imperfection: Christian politics past and present, edited collection with Joan Lockwood O'Donovan (Eerdmans 2004) ISBN 0-8028-4975-X
- A Royal Priesthood? A dialogue with Oliver O'Donovan ed. Craig Batholomew et al. (Paternoster 2002). O'Donovan provides a short response to every paper in this edited collection.
- "The Natural Ethic" in Essays in Evangelical Social Ethics ed. David F. Wright (Paternoster, 1978) ISBN 0-8536-4290-7
- Christian Moral Concepts
- Christian Social & Political Thought
- Contemporary Ethical Questions
- St. Augustine's Moral & Theological Thought