O'Donovan, Oliver

O'Donovan, Oliver

Oliver O'Donovan (b. 1945), is an ordained Anglican moral theologian who is currently Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology, Edinburgh University, having previously served many years as Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University.


internet resources

Stob Lectures 2001 - 'Common Objects of Love'

"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.

  • Objects of Love: The Augustinian thesis that the primary mode of knowing is loving. Our experience of knowing the world. [audio, .RAM]
  • Agreeing to Share: Communication as the basis of society. Material and intellectual communications. Representation. [audio, RAM]
  • A Multitude of Rational Beings United: The problem of representation in our age. The eschatological overheating and trivialization of communications. [audio, RAM]

New College Lectures 2007 - Morally awake?  Admiration and resolution in the light of Christian faith

“Complain as we might about the absence of moral behaviour in life today, we have to work to advance it. We need to hand one another along through the moral leadership we show, or through how we support it in others” - Robert Coles, Lives of Moral Leadership. 

Much has been said about the need for moral judgment, foundational values and ethical practice in business, public and personal life.  Oliver O'Donovan one of the world’s leading Christian ethicists addressed this topic by exploring the concept of 'moral wakefulness'; the mind alert to shape decisions and actions.  The experience of moral wakefulness is universal, and ways of describing the experience, and the philosophical puzzles they pose, are legion.   How do we overcome the constant tensions that arise between the objective and subjective, valuing and deciding, “good” and the “right”?   Professor O’Donovan believes that Christian faith can shed light on this commonest and yet most mysterious of human experiences. Professor O'Donovan explored this topic in three lectures over three nights:

  • Waking: The metaphor of wakefulness is constantly drawn on in the Gospels to focus the heart of moral sensibility. How does the invocation of God serve to make the moral stance conceivable to us? [PDF] [MP3]
  • Admiring: Moral attentiveness to the world is a task of affective intelligence, of “admiration”, not merely of “cognition”.    What kind of coherence and order do we suppose in our world and how do assertions about a “Word of God” serve to underpin that coherence? [PDF] [MP3]
  • Resolving: How can we make the transition of reason from what is the case to what we are to do?   How may we intelligently “frame” an action to perform without arbitrariness? [PDF] [MP3]

Sexual Ethics

The Question of "Gay" Carers, Latimer Comment [PDF]


Political/Social Ethics

Government as Judgment, First Things, April 1999

Freedom & Its Loss: Hopes & Fears For the Political Order, Gore Lecture,  Nov 2000.

Establishment [PDF, submission to EA Commission on Faith & Nation]

Transcript of verbal evidence to EA Commission

Grotius' De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra, Theological Studies, Sept 2003

Setting An Agenda For Political Theology, Lecture and Q&A, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, May 2007 [video]

Judgment, Tradition & Reasons: A Response, Political Theology, 2008 [PDF]. Response to nine articles on Ways of Judgment


Sermons on the Subjects of the Day

A monthly Fulcrum series
of seven sermons for the web by Oliver O'Donovan

These were subsequently published as The Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion


  1. July 2006: The Failure of the Liberal Paradigm

  2. August 2006: The Care of the Churches

  3. September 2006: Ethics and Agreement

  4. October 2006: Scripture and Obedience

  5. November 2006: Hermeneutic Distance

  6. December 2006: Creation, Redemption and Nature

  7. January 2007: Good News for Gay Christians


Archbishop Rowan Williams, Pro Ecclesia, Winter 2003.

The Only Poker Game in Town: Reflections on the Windsor Report



Sermon at Consecration of Tom Wright as Bishop of Durham

The Way of the Word [PDF], Sept 2003, Winnipeg

The Saviour Enters In, April 2004

Recquisitioned by the Word, Sept 2005, Islington

A Sermon For Laetare Sunday, Mar 2006

St Mark, Violence & The Discipline of Reading, April 2006


Text of interview with O'Donovan at Calvin

Brent Waters, Profile, Catalyst Online, April 2008.


Reviews of O'Donovan Books

Ways of Judgement

William C. Placher, Christian Century, Oct 2005


Writing on O'Donovan

David Field, Notes on Desire of the Nations [47pp PDF with paragraph summaries and quotations]

Nine excellent high-quality articles engaging with Ways of Judgment, Political Theology, 2008

Topic: O'Donovan, Oliver


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Disciples of Oliver O'Donovan on Facebook

19/12/2008 23:32
Facebook Group with wonderful photos of the unveiling of the WWOO'DD? T-Shirt


Bonds of Imperfection

Bonds of Imperfection
    Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics, Past and Present By Oliver O'Donovan and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004 ISBN 080284975X, 9780802849755 324 pages

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