For years I've been a fan of Andrew Hamilton's writing. I admire particularly his ability to bridge the gap between secular and religious realms. He allows a broad readership to enter the world of Catholic theology and practice and church history, and also draws out the spiritual dimension in secular events and issues.
So I was delighted back in June to read an article in Eureka Street in which he explained the rationale behind his writing. It garnered a large and enthusiastic response, with more than 40 comments posted.
Hamilton's address to the Melbourne College of Divinity centenary conference in July on the subject of public theology provided an opportunity to take this a step further. His videoed talk, and the accompanying interview, allow readers to see and hear him explain his work.
Hamilton is first and foremost a Jesuit priest. He joined the order in 1957, studied Arts at the University of Melbourne, and was among the first Catholic students to graduate with a Bachelor of Divinity from the Melbourne College of Divinity. He undertook post-graduate studies at Oxford, his thesis being on the theology of the great fourth century Doctor and Father of the Church, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.
He has been teaching theology and church history since 1976 at the United Faculty of Theology (UFT), one of the member colleges of the Melbourne College of Divinity. The UFT is an ecumenical effort, run jointly by the Jesuits, Uniting Church and Anglican Church.
Besides teaching, his other great love is writing and publishing. He works at Jesuit Communications Australia, and has contributed extensively to its stable of magazines and publications, including Eureka Street, Australian Catholics and Madonna, and to many other theological and religious journals.
As Hamilton stated in his June article, 'My publishing hero is Dorothy Day', the outspoken American social activist who founded the Catholic Worker. It's fitting then that Hamilton marked the 30th anniversary of Day's death with an article on her significance.
At the recent launch of Peter Steele's latest book of poetry, Hamilton reflected on his longterm urge to write: 'When Peter and I joined the Jesuits together, we were boys really, both with writing in the blood.'
Comparing his own style with Steele's more expansive and poetic sensibility, he said, 'I wanted to strip down words in order to speak as briefly and clearly as possible of what I could say. I was happy to be silent about what I could not say.'
He has an abiding interest in social justice and refugee issues, and has worked with the Laotian and Cambodian Catholic communities in Melbourne. For years he's been a keen cyclist, riding his bike in inner city Melbourne between his various work places.
What comes across in this video, behind an unassuming exterior, is a man who is quietly forceful, highly intelligent, with deep insight. In this era when communication and understanding among different groups in society is vital, it's important to have people like him who are learned and faithful to the traditions of their tribe, and able to articulate them with clarity, generosity and openness to other points of view.
Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.