Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Daniel Joseph Berrigan, December 14, 2005

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Friendship with Merton

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Partial Transcript: When did you first hear of Thomas Merton?

Segment Synopsis: Berrigan first heard of Merton from his book the Seven Storey Mountain, after which he wrote directly to Merton. Berrigan says they began interacting more after a discussion over the dangers of nuclear war. Berrigan had no preconceived notions about Merton and goes on to describe Merton's personality and says The Seven Storey Mountain was intriguing to him because it described a world he hadn't known about. He describes how they helped each other during crises in their lives, and how there was a common understanding about the great social questions of the time.

Keywords: Contemplatives; Freedom rides; The Seven Storey Mountain (Thomas Merton)

Subjects: Authors; Buddhism.; Celebrities; Censorship; Christian teachers.; Christianity.; Church.; Civil rights movements; Civil rights movements--United States--History--20th century.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Religion.; Social justice; Syracuse (New York); Teachers; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:06:18 - Berrigan and Merton as members of the peace movement in the Catholic Church

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Partial Transcript: And for those viewers who don't know it, or shouldn't be surprised by it I suppose, what was the position of sort of the mainstream Catholic church and where were you all in relation to that, were you right there in the middle, or were you a bit on the margins, or

Segment Synopsis: Berrigan says with regards to the peace movement, they were alone within the church. He helped start the Catholic Peace Fellowship, and he doesn't think either of them radicalized the other. Berrigan he says his chief influence was his brother. He and Merton had friction over a self-immolation incident in front of the UN. Merton thought that if this was what was coming from his membership in the Catholic Peace Fellowship, he wanted no part of it.

Keywords: Anti-war movements; Antiwar movements; Black men; MLK; Martin Luther King Jr.; Protests

Subjects: Buddhism.; Christian teachers.; Christianity.; Church.; Communism; King, M. Luther (Martin Luther), 1899-1965; Master and servant.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Religion.; Self-immolation; Social justice; Suicide; United Nations; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:12:28 - Peace Summit / Abbot James Fox and Merton

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Partial Transcript: I'm going to skip back a few years from that--coughing--can you describe, uh, what I'll call somewhat flippantly, uh, the the peace summit that you all held at his, uh, hermitage, who came, uh, what was the agenda, what came from that?

Segment Synopsis: Berrigan says the peace summit was held in the actual Gethsemani building, organized by him and Merton. Berrigan describes Abbot James Fox, saying he was a complicated figure in his and Merton's lives. He discusses how the Abbot and Merton seemed bound to clash because they were both strong personalities but they had very different life experiences. Merton had a strong passion for personal freedom that caused him to chafe under the Abbot's authority.

Keywords: Catholic monks; Dom James; Ecumenism; Interfaith dialogue; Interreligious dialogue; Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican; Second Vatican Council; Trappist monasteries; Trappist monks; Vatican II

Subjects: Abbots; Buddhism.; Catholic Church; Catholics; Christian teachers.; Christianity.; Church.; Fox, James, Abbot of Gethsemani, 1896-1987; Mental discipline.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries; Protestants; Religion.; Trappists

00:19:55 - Merton serving from a distance

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Partial Transcript: Um, did you ev, ever ask Merton why he chose to become uh, an American citizen and did he ever regret that?

Segment Synopsis: Berrigan briefly discusses the context surrounding Merton becoming an American citizen. Berrigan references a concept of Merton's: "You will not survive America unless you undertake a discipline of prayer and sacrament." He thinks Merton gave a lot of help during the peace movement. He trusted Merton to do his service from a distance rather than at the frontline. Merton felt that being at the margin was an advantage, but Berrigan felt like they were creating a new center.

Keywords: Christian violence; Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Thomas Merton); Drafts; Peace movements; Trappist monks

Subjects: Buddhism.; Catholic church; Catholics; Christianity.; Church.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monks; Nonviolence; Religion.; Religious; Trappists

00:27:00 - Merton as a star of the monastery / Merton in the hermitage

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Partial Transcript: When did Merton seem most fulfilled to you?

Segment Synopsis: Berrigan says it was hard for him to judge Merton's mood because he saw him infrequently. He thinks the hardest thing for Merton was to give up writing projects and this was the worst time of his life, but the rest of his life he was doing well. He thinks the monastery was using him because he was a star and generating money for them. Berrigan discusses Merton's hermitage and how the physical labor was hard for him. Berrigan discusses Merton trying to balance seclusion and visitors.

Keywords: Catholic monks; Potable water; Seclusion; Trappist monasteries; Trappist monks

Subjects: Asia; Bangkok (Thailand); Buddhism.; Catholic church; Catholics; Christianity.; Church.; Hermitages; Hermits; Master and servant.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries; Religion.; Spirituality; Trappists

00:33:25 - Merton's end of life and legacy

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Partial Transcript: What of, what of Merton's writing appeals to you the most?

Segment Synopsis: Berrigan discusses reading the British edition of Seven Storey Mountain. Berrigan discusses Merton's romantic relationship, stating that the Abbot handled the situation well. Berrigan thinks about whether there is someone active today who reminds him of Merton and states that Thích Nhất Hạnh reminds him of Merton's integrity. He thinks Merton's legacy is sound.

Keywords: Buddhist music; Catholic monks; Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Thomas Merton); Evelyn Waugh; Religious music; Religious musicians; The Seven Storey Mountain (Thomas Merton); Trappist monks

Subjects: Buddhism.; Buddhist chants; Buddhists; Catholic church; Catholics; Christianity.; Church.; Diaries--Authorship.; Gregorian chants; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Nhất Hạnh, Thích.; Religion.; Religious; Sacred music; Students.; Trappists