Distinguished figures, including Chief Design Officer of Apple Inc. Sir Jonathan Ive, economist, author and columnist professor Paul Krugman, and philosopher and theologian Monsignor professor Tomáš Halík received honorary degrees at the annual Encaenia ceremony in Oxford on Wednesday.
The illustrious figures enjoyed peaches, strawberries, and Champagne before walking in procession with university dignitaries into the Sheldonian Theatre, which has been used for the ceremony since its completion in 1669.
The ceremony was like re-living a page out of antiquity. The Public Orator, professor Richard Jenkyns, presented the honorands and outlined their achievements in Latin; some in the audience who understood the language got the jokes on time while many examined the English translation.
The presentation of the honorands was poetic and the ceremony traditionally British, featuring a trumpet fanfare and choir.
This year’s honorands were the Rt Hon Lord Mance, Spanish film-maker Mr Pedro Almodóvar, economist professor Paul Krugman, Japanese architect professor Kazuyo Sejima, neurobiologist Dr Cornelia Bargmann, physicist professor Mildred Dresselhaus, theologian Monsignor professor Tomáš Halík, composer Arvo Pärt, and designer Sir Jonathan Ive.
In the audience was the Czech Minister of Culture, Mr Daniel Herman, who made the trip especially to see his good friend Monsignor Halík receive his honorary degree, a Doctor of Divinity.
“It’s a great honour for all of us and I really admire his work,” he said. “He built bridges between cultures, religions, and nations and I think it’s something very important and something very actual for this present day.”
Monsignor Halík won the Templeton Prize in 2014, worth £1.1 million, which has previously been awarded to the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa. He is known for promoting dialogue between different faiths and non-believers.
In a speech at the press conference for the 2014 Templeton prize, he said: “In today’s world we encounter a self-assured religious fundamentalism as well as a no less arrogant and equally naïve militant atheism. I regard both these extremes, which greatly resemble each other, as a blind alley of cultural evolution …
“Among believers there are many people whose faith is not a buttressed fortress but a path. They respond to the call to go deeper and deeper. And likewise, among those who do not consider themselves believers there are many who are not dwellers in the house of dogmatic atheism and who are not blind to life’s spiritual dimension.”
He himself risked his life in his hometown of Prague where freedom was suppressed during the communist era; he worked in the underground Church and studied theology clandestinely.
“The recognition from Oxford University will help him proceed his work in a new light and in a new perspective,” said Mr Herman.
In a video by Oxford University Mr Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish film-maker who was awarded a Doctor of Letters, said: “I feel so impressed I don’t deserve such a big honour.”
Following the awards ceremony, the honorands enjoyed a private garden party hosted by the vice-chancellor.