The Nation: The Berrigans: Conspiracy and Conscience

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the Nazis in 1945. For Lutheran Bonhoeffer. violent resistance was justifiable only when the government denied its divine commission and thus forfeited its claim to obedience—an extraordinary, apocalyptic moment when every act of obedience to the government became disobedience to God. Nonviolence, argued Bonhoeffer in his Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison, is the rule for normal times.

His heirs, however, are not so discriminating as Bonhoeffer. Theologian Richard Shaull, a onetime missionary in Brazil, argues more broadly that in instances of human oppression, "those most concerned for the well-being and future of man will find themselves involved" in revolution. A committee of the British Council of Churches came to a simple conclusion harking back to Thomas Aquinas: if there is a "just war," then there must be a "just rebellion" as well. In 1967, a "Message from Bishops of the Third World" —signed by 16 Roman Catholic bishops —warned that in some situations revolution might be the only answer to social evils.

Hitler's Enemies Rome's Father Bernard Haring admits instances when violence is justified, but has reservations about "violence in the name of the Kingdom of God." So, most emphatically, does French Reformed Theologian Jacques Ellul in his book. Violence. Ironically enough, Ellul traces modern "Christian enthusiasm for violence" not to Bonhoeffer but to Hitler. According to Ellul, Hitler's attacks on Christianity as a religion for the weak and cowardly inspired many Nazi Christians to join in violence for "socially just" ends. "That violence is so generally condoned today shows that Hitler won his war after all," writes Ellul, who fought with the French Resistance. "His enemies imitate him."

Even in their most recent books, the Berrigans have certainly seemed to agree more with Ellul and Haring than with those at home or around the world who practice or encourage violence. In one passage of his Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary, Philip Berrigan writes that a Christian, "on a given occasion, may tolerate and approve—but not actively join—a violent revolution." Even for such restricted participation, is this the occasion? For all the Berrigan rhetoric affirming that the times are "inexpressibly evil," the U.S. clearly has not reached that "extraordinary" moment when Bonhoeffer would call its Christians to armed rebellion, and until that moment Daniel and Philip Berrigan have a stake in admitting few exceptions. They have never been terribly worried about the sacredness of property, especially property they feel is already intended for evil use. But a Gandhi-like respect for human life has marked both the Berrigans' campaign against the Viet Nam War and their careful proscriptions against personal violence in the "resistance." Only extreme despair, it would seem, or some psychological convulsion might drive them to abandon such a position.

Collision of Conscience Whether the Berrigans are found innocent or guilty, their long-term significance will not be assessed at Harrisburg. "We will be dead, long dead, before history comes up with some kind of impartial verdict on the Berrigans," writes Jesuit William Van Etten Casey in the Holy Cross Quarterly. "But of one thing we can be certain

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