John Dear's Foreword to Daniel Berrigan's
new book, TESTIMONY
BY JOHN DEAR
In September, Orbis Books is publishing an exciting new collection of
writings by longtime peacemaker Daniel Berrigan called "TESTIMONY:
The Word Made Fresh." The book was edited by John Dear, and features
Dan Berrigan's unpublished writings about the Plowshares movement, his
essays and homilies about Jesus, his reflections on Philip Berrigan, Thomas
Merton, Dorothy Day, Dr. King and William Stringfellow, and his conclusions
about Christian life and witness in these dark times of the American empire.
To order "Testimony," call Orbis Books at 1-800-258-5838, or
order it Amazon.com or your local bookstore.
Here is the Foreword by John Dear:
Around the time I entered the Jesuits in the early 1980s, the New York
province of Jesuits organized a conference on nuclear weapons in New York
which featured several generals, “just war experts” and Daniel
Berrigan. This was the age of Reagan, who joked into what he thought was
a “dead” microphone that “the bombing of Russia will
begin in five minutes.” For a brief time, church leaders debated
the “issue” of war and peace as the Catholic bishops prepared
to publish a “balanced” letter upholding the just war theory
and nuclear deterrence while tolerating some unknown philosophy called
The generals gave their speeches and the Jesuits applauded. The just
war theorists outlined the conditions in which Christians could dismiss
the Sermon on the Mount and support war, even the use of nuclear weapons--and
the Jesuits applauded.
Then Daniel Berrigan spoke.
“The Christian response to imperial death-dealing is in effect
a non-response,” he said. “We refuse the terms of the argument.
To weigh the value of lives would imply that military or paramilitary
solutions had been grotesquely validated by Christians. There is no cause,
however noble, which justifies the taking of a single human life, much
less millions of them.
“‘Witness of the resurrection’ was a title of honor,
self-conferred by the twelve apostles,” he continued. “They
were called to take their stand on behalf of life, to the point of undergoing
death, as well as death’s analogies--scorn and rejection, floggings
and jail. This is our glory. From Peter and Paul to Martin King and Oscar
Romero, we are witnesses of the resurrection. We want to test the resurrection
in our bones. To see if we might live in hope. We want to taste the resurrection.
May I say we have not been disappointed.”
His words were like a bolt of lightning in the dark night of war. I remember
reading them in the Jesuit newspaper a few weeks after I entered the novitiate.
They struck me with the force of power, authority and truth. He seemed
to make the Word of God fresh all over again. This is what Christianity
is about, I realized, saying “No” to the crucifixion of humanity,
and “Yes” to God’s way of nonviolent love. Here is a
modern version of the ancient testimony of Peter and Paul.
Dan’s testimony left everyone at the conference dumbfounded. There
was little applause. The Jesuits walked away, resentful that Dan had spoiled
their military consultation by bringing up that small, impractical, irrelevant
matter of--the Gospel.
The word “testimony” has a noble history in our Christian
tradition. After that first Pentecost, the early apostles took to the
streets and gave testimony to “what they had seen and heard.”
They were “witnesses.” As witnesses, they were arrested, put
on trial, hauled before judges and forced to testify to the reason for
their illegal actions. Throughout Christian history, the saints and martyrs
have been hauled in courts to give testimony to the truth. Testimony remains
a basic requirement for Christian living in times of violence, war, and
Daniel Berrigan has spent his life offering testimony to the truth of
Gospel nonviolence and witnessing to the resurrection. In courtrooms,
jail cells, before the media and large audiences, on street corners and
in retreat houses, to friends and opponents, from Catonsville to King
of Prussia, from Sharpeville to Selma, from Vietnam to El Salvador, he
has proclaimed the Word of God: “love your enemies, do good to those
who hate you, blessed are the peacemakers, put down the sword.”
His life fits into the Acts of the Apostles, one of his favorites, with
its rhythm of arrests, jails, courtroom scenes and eloquent testimony.
In 1968, Dan shocked the world with his brother Philip and the Catonsville
Nine, by burning draft files with homemade napalm in a dramatic act of
nonviolent civil disobedience. Since then he has continued to be a lightning
rod of truth, an apostle of peace, a prophetic sign of God’s judgment
on our culture of war. In 1980, Dan, Phil and the Plowshares Eight hammered
on an unarmed nuclear nosecone sparking the first act of nuclear disarmament,
the first of over eighty such “Plowshares actions,” fulfilling
Isaiah’s vision of “swords into plowshares.” Dan has
published over fifty books, including an unprecedented series of scripture
commentaries on the Hebrew Bible seen through the lens of Gospel nonviolence.
Today, Dan continues to teach, lecture, lead retreats, write poetry, and
offer his testimony to peace. With our friends in New York City, he risks
arrest repeatedly against U.S. warmaking, especially at the notorious
S.S. Intrepid, a museum displaying U.S. weapons of mass destruction in
the New York Harbor.
This book offers a powerful, shining testament of peace and nonviolence
to a world of war and violence, a strong and soothing word of hope to
a world of despair, a bright spotlight in a world of darkness. Here Dan
tells us, like those first disciples, what he has seen and heard. He stands
as a modern day “witness to the resurrection.”
Encouraged by our friend and editor Robert Ellsberg, I read through
many of Dan’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 our imperial warmaking, to become “witnesses
to the resurrection” ourselves. 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
Dan’s testimony comes at the 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. Every Christian should
welcome Dan’s testimony, share his hope, and risk the resurrection
in their own lives. If we take Dan at his word, if we take the Word of
God seriously as he has done, we too will become peacemakers, and be the
blessed sons and daughters of God. We too will not only contribute to
the disarmament of the world, but to God’s nonviolent transformation
of the world.
Nothing could be more meaningful. Dan’s testimony pushes us to
the great work at hand. It is a word we all need to hear. It may help
Thank you, Dan, for your testimony, your life, your friendship. You
make the Word of God believable.
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