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Posted January 16, 2005

Book: Testimony: The Word Made Fresh
Author: Daniel Berrigan
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, pp.227
An Excerpt from the Foreword:

Encouraged by our friends and editor Robert Ellsberg, I read through many of Dan’s [Berrigan’s] files — his talks, essays, poems, and reflections — and culled these testimonies, including excerpts from that 1982 Jesuit conference talk entitled “An Ethic of Resurrection.” Most of these writings have never before been published. Together, they offer an eloquent appeal to the truth of Gospel nonviolence.

Dan’s testimony is as good as Gospel witness can be, ranking with the sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., the Catholic Worker columns of Dorothy Day, the essays of Thomas Merton, the pastoral letters of Oscar Romero, and the courtroom statements of his brother Philip Berrigan. They inspire us to give our own testimony, to take new risks for the Gospel, to cross the line in opposition to imperial warmaking, to become witnesses to the resurrection. When I read his reflections on Isaiah or Jesus, his essays on Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, his analysis of the culture’s “normalizing” of death or the church’s violation of its vocation to resist evil, I feel “cut to the heart” as the crowds did when Peter first spoke about the resurrection. Like them, I ask, “What can I do? How can I take another step on the road of discipleship? What testimony can I give to this world of war and nuclear idoltry?

Dan’s testimony comes at that perfect time. I hope every Christian across the land will read it, share it with others, take it to heart, and recognize here a modern translation of an old story. I hope we will all act on Dan’s testimony and become witnesses to the resurrection by dedicating our lives to the abolition of war, injustice, violence, poverty, the death penalty, and nuclear weapons.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Love your enemies? The Word of God in our midst? But we were at war!

The moment the war was launched, we all became realists. The Word of God might apply elsewhere [or elsewhen] or to simpler times or to one-to-one conflict or to pacifists and religious [whoever these latter might be; for the most part they were mum as the others.]

Love your enemies — a strange command, when you think of it. It is like the text of a drama, written with a mysterious ink. When the play is staged, the text disappears. It is in a sense self-canceling. You say it aloud, act it out and are struck by the tremendous, curt implication.

The enemy disappears!

Love, and then enemies. The two cannot coexist, they are like fire and ice in the hand. The fire melts the ice, or the ice extinguishes the fire.

The fire wins out [at least in the Gospel text]! The verb love transforms the noun enemies. The enemy is reborn by the power of love.

Astonishing. Now the enemy is a former enemy, and a present friend, brother, sister, lover even. Talk about rebirth!

Love, you, the enemy, and lo, the enemy vanishes where he stood.

Also, it is not the opponent who undergoes a dazzling transformation, but myself as well, who against all expectations has learned love in place of hatred, who had once been stuck in the same plight as my enemy. Together we made a frozen mirror image, awful, redundant, implacable. I was the enemy of my enemy. A sound definition of hell.

Break the mirror! Christ commends, and confers, a mutual rebirth. Now for the hard part. If, according to Christ, there can be no just war because enemies have been transformed by love, something else follows.

No humans, not even those armed and at war against my country, can be regarded as legitimate targets. Christians may not kill, period. Christians may not be complicit in killing, period. May not hurl napalm at children. Many not bury alive in the desert the nameless soldiers. May not launch the smart bomb against women and children in the shelter.

Are women and children the enemy? No sane person would declare so [But we are not all sane.] Are the soldiers the enemy? The just war theory says so. But Christ denies it. He has granted the soldiers, too, a kind of deferment, an exemption from killing and being killed.

Table of Contents:

I. They Shall Beat Their Swords Into Plowshares

1. Courage is a verb: in other words, do it!
2. We are filled with hope: the tale of the plowshares eight
3. In better hands than our judges’
4. Hiroshima and the Church of the blind Gods
5. The cause is the heart’s beat

II. The Way, The Truth, And The Life

6. The face of Christ
7. The “I Am” sayings of Jesus: In Christ, God imagines God
8. Love your enemies: there is no just war; the Gospel is always relevant
9. Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman
10. You shall love
11. John the Baptist sends inquirers
12. Christ before Pilate, witnessing to the truth

III. Prophets and Peacemakers

13. The long loneliness of Dorothy Day
14. Martin Luther King Jr. and the arm of justice
15. Thomas Merton, friend and monk
16. Archbishop Romero, the four churchwomen, and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador
17. The colors of Corita Kent
18. The Promised Land of Rabbi Abraham Heschel
19. William Stringfellow and the eschaton
20. The faithful witness of Philip Berrigan
21. Poems for Philip in prison
22. Homily for my brother, Philip Berrigan

IV. Sermons and Homilies

23. Keeping the flame alive: Maccabees and the fire of peace
24. Three youths and the fiery furnace
25. Learn a lesson from the fig tree
26. The world as machine, the world as vine
27. Love one another as I have loved you
28. Living as though the text were true
29. The Gods of the millennium

V. Christians in a Warmaking State

30. The prophetic, peacemaking church
31. Prophecy
32. The handbook on Christian refusers
33. The trouble with our state
34. A chancy encounter with an angel
35. The strange case of the man who could not please anyone
36. The Catholic Bishops approve Bush’s war [November 2001]
37. The faith that seeks justice and makes peace
38. Advent
39. Our hope in Christ
40. An ethic of resurrection
41. Hope, that intransitive being