Towards a Theology of Political Authority: An Examination and Critique of Oliver O'Donovan's Conception of Political Authority

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Oliver O’Donovan is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant political theologians writing in English. His political theology has as its central task the recovery of a theological understanding of political authority: a “theology of political authority.” He contends that Western liberalism risks degeneration on account of its abandonment of the theological horizon that facilitated its achievement in the first place—the understanding that political authority finds its origin and normative model in God’s kingly rule over history. Political theology, he maintains, must look to the political norms of Israel and the transformative impact of the Christ-event in order to understand both the nature and telos of political authority.

This thesis examines and critiques O’Donovan’s conception of political authority, with particular focus given to the definition of political authority that he believes is revealed through the Davidic monarchy, the claim that successful regimes hold political authority via the work of divine providence and the idea that the Christ-event restricts the legitimate function of secular government to judgment alone.

I argue that O’Donovan fails to demonstrate that these theses are “authorised” from Scripture in the way that he claims theopolitical proposals must be. Moreover, I contend that the ontology of political authority is unstable and inconsistent across his oeuvre, and that it was a mistake to ground it exclusively in the providential order of history in his seminal book The Desire of the Nations.

I propose that grounding the ontology of political authority in the created order, as defined by O’Donovan in his book Resurrection and Moral Order, can provide a more compelling account of the bene esse of political authority as Christ’s redemption of the natural good of political authority.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Cameron, Andrew, Principal Supervisor
  • Pickard, Stephen, Co-Supervisor
  • Broughton, Geoffrey, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2018


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