This is one of the most significant books that I have read. Begotten or Made? has changed how I think about human activities like artificial procreation, abortion, and transexual surgery.
In this book, O’Donovan taught me almost nothing new but showed me how old and stable truths of Scripture—which we call Nicene Orthodoxy—applies to some of the deepest questions of human experience.
For this reason, Begotten or Made? has significantly deepened my faith. I can think of only a few books that have done the same. And it was not because of something novel, as I noted, but because of something old.
The Nicene Faith symbolizes biblical teaching when it says of the Son that he is begotten, not made. Humans beget other humans physically while God remains the Maker. By an analogy that removes the physical aspects, the Father eternally begets the son, not makes him, since being made is an aspect of creaturehood.
This logic made deep sense to the Nicene Fathers. By extension, so did the notions of persons and natures. Being unsatisfied by the common Greceo-Roman descriptions of men being souls or minds or something of that kind, early Christians realized they needed language to describe Christ (or tri-personal God) that both named ongoing identity without requiring that this identity had its own nature.
Hence, the word person in this ancient idiom identifies a person without necessarily implying the various qualities that make up a person (which we call this personality today). This language, precise as it was, allowed for Christians to say that the Father, Son, and Spirit as persons are included in the one nature of God.
By implication and later by explicit argument (as in Boethius), human persons are persons not because they have some quality about them—the ability to calculate numbers or whatnot—but because they have stable identities as persons. That is almost impossible to affirm today, since it feels entirely obvious to us that a person has qualities that make up a person.
And now we know why we tend to speak of fetuses as persons when they are viable, or how specific brain function ability is.
It is why we think it okay to beget children in mechanical wombs (or lease one of a living creature) with two donor gametes that belong neither to the eventual mother nor the father. It is why we experiment with fetuses in labs.
It is why we have no ability to speak of what a fetus is unless we use biological and material rationale.
Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten not Made? has deepened my understanding of biblical Christianity, of God and Christ, and showed how this Scriptural teaching applies to some of the most difficult moral matters of our age.
Disclaimer: While I purchased the book, I should note that I am a board member with the Davenant Institute (the publisher of this work), and I am co-chair of its publishing committee, although I had no hand in the production of this particular work.