[Radio National Main Page] Radio National
with Margaret Coffey
on Sunday 23/04/00



All Christian doctrine is directly or indirectly a reflection on Easter, the day of Jesus' resurrection. The New Testament writers and early Christians had a profound sense of life as testimony (and death as testimony), communicating and witnessing to th e good news of resurrection - news designed not so much for consolation and security as concerned with facing in to the violence in all human beings. In the risen Jesus the meaning of God and the meaning of humanity overlapped.

On Easter Sunday Enc ounter explores these ideas - it is a reflection on Testimony.

Details or Transcript:

Coffey  Hello, I'm Margaret Coffey with Encounter. Today Encounter is taken up with Testimony. It's Easter, the Christian feast of testimony, of bearing witness and giving witness.

Music   James MacMillan "They sa w the stone had been rolled away." Scottish Chamber Orchestra (cond) Joseph Swensen BIS-CD-1019

Reader  Gospel of St Mark (Extracts from Chapter 16)
(Trans Richmond Lattimore, "The Four Gospels and the Revelation" Minerva 1980)

And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, where the sun had risen. And they were saying to each other: Who will roll away the stone for us, out of the door of the tomb? Then looking again they saw that the st one, which was very large, had been rolled away _____

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and panic had hold of them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Reader   The necessary fir st moment in the resurrection event is one of absence and loss.

(Quote from "Resurrection - Interpreting the Easter Gospel" by Rowan Williams, Morehouse Publishing 1982)

Coffey   Xanana Gusmao in 1995.

Gu smao   The memory of my people's sacrifices and the suffering of my guerillas, the awareness that no sacrifice which I could make could compare with the sea of blood which has washed over Easter Timor or the mountain of bones which has been formed in my homeland .. all of this reminds me that I must not give up __

Coffey   Xanana Gusmao in 1990.

Gusmao   All the atrocities you hear about outside are only very small part of what actually ha ppens in East Timor. They are assassins, inhuman, and everything that is East Timorese is to be destroyed and violated, oppressed and killed.

Coffey   Xanana Gusmao in 1999.

Archive   _ Xanana Gusmao, tears in his eyes __

Gusmao  I appeal to friendly countries to take immediate measures to help us, to save lives, to save my people.

Reader  The empty tomb silences us. There is, it seems, more to be said; yet it is by no means clear what can be said.

Coffey  Terry Veling.

Veling   Listen I was thinking of this word testifying or testimony: one of the things that I think prompted Levinas [Coffey: Emmanuel Levi nas, philosopher] in much of his writing or reflection is that he is a survivor, a survivor of the Holocaust. You know when you think about it he survived the deaths of not just one or two or three or four but of millions of people. Even more personally h e survived the death of his mother, his father, his brothers, his wife's parents, and so I think deeply inscribed within his thought there is this question which seems to plague every survivor: what right do I have to survive or to live, when so many have died? And so for him the question of survival becomes the very essence of the question of life or of being, what right to I have to be in the face of the other person's suffering and death. And he says himself that the burden of survival and the question of being could only be answered for him, and I'm going to quote him here, when he says the burning of my suffering and the anguish of my death were able to be transfigured into the dread and concern for the other man/person.

Music &nbs p; Alfred Schnittke (arr. Kronos Quartet) "Collected Songs Where Every Verse is Filled with Grief"
(perf) Kronos Quartet

Archives   Montage of news clips re stolen generation from archival tapes.
Coady   Testimony as I use the expression is the basic source of our understanding and knowledge of the world around us. I take it to be the source of information that we get from other people, so that what is testified to is not just w hat happens formally in law courts and so on but what people tell each other when they are conveying information about the world they live in. And this form of information has been recognised in philosophy in the past but I think it has never been fully a ppreciated just how fundamental a source of information the word of others is. And when it has been appreciated that it is very wide ranging and significant it hasn't been fully understood how deeply enmeshed it is in our intellectual structures. My line on this is that testimony is just as fundamental a source of information as individual perception, individual memory, individual inference. Our whole world of understanding, belief and knowledge is founded heavily on our reliance on what other people tell us.

Reader   (Extract from the Gospel of St Mark, Ch 16)

Mary Magdalene went and told the news to those who had been with him, who were mourning and weeping; and they, when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, did not believe her. After that he appeared to two of them as they were walking. It was in another form and they were on their way into the country. And they too went back and told the news to the others; but neither did they believe them. Later he a ppeared to the eleven themselves as they were at dinner, and he had blame for their lack of faith and the insensitivity of their hearts, because they had not believed those who had seen him risen form the dead. And he said to them: Go out into the whole w orld and preach the gospel to all creation.

Veling   It seems to me that for Levinas the only justification if you like for being, for surviving, for living is when we somehow can transform the anxiety over our own life, and our ow n existence and transfigure that in to a concern for the life and the death and the existence of my brother, my sister, my neighbour, or the phrase he would often use from the Hebrew Scriptures, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. That seems to me wha t he kind of says in a nutshell, you know.

Coady   Yes I mean what people call in the legal context hearsay also counts as testimony on the definition I adopt. Of course there are differences between the sort of circumstances and t he sort of context in which we get direct testimony from somebody who has observed the event themselves and those other contexts in which we get information from somebody who hasn't observed the event themselves but who has had it second or third hand fro m other people, indeed of course a great deal of the information we get from other people we do get from testimony chains of one sort or another. There are interesting questions about whether the reliability of a witness is diminished by the fact that the witness is not a first hand witness to what they are talking about. I argue in my book on testimony that the unreliability of hearsay has been greatly exaggerated. I mean of course it is sometimes unreliable but very often hearsay is a very reasonable so urce of information about the world.

Music   Van Morrison "Moondance" Exile 559 440-2

Byrne  I was for a long time a dental therapist and really quite happy in the Collins St environment going to the Me lbourne Cup and all these sorts of things and no interest in Third World politics, any sort of politics, so I was dragged kicking __.

Coffey   Louise Byrne worked for ten years as an activist on behalf of East Timor.

Arch ive   (Jose Ramos Horta speaking at the Canberra Press Club in 1991.)
We are here today, 1991, December 1991, exactly 16 years after Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975. But how many massacres took place in East Timor? No-one can deny to me as an East Timorese who lost relatives, two brothers, a sister, who lost countless cousins, who lost entire family friends, who I know that villages where I grew up and lived most of my life since I was born in East Timor, no longer exist on the map. How many indigenous ethnic tribes that were simply wiped out of the face of the earth in the past 16 years? Where are the people of …., where are the people of ……., where are the people of the tiny hamlet of …&helli p;.? How many countless villages that simply no longer exist?

Byrne  I think once you are made to understand something by someone as powerful and passionate .. then you do take it on without too many questions. I think most of the activists or people in Australia working on East Timor all during that period, if you trace them back you mostly get them to Jose telling them about the country.

There is a feeling of truth about a story teller, I think it comes through, there is spirit thing. I mean I have had .. there is a feeling, it's unavoidable when truth is there in the story so you respond to it.

Coady   My line on this is that testimony is just as fundamental a source of information as individual perception, individual memory, individual inference.

Gusmao  We're prepared to resist for as long as necessary. We're prepared to accept our own extermination as long as Jakarta thinks there is only one way to solve this problem, that t here exists only the use of force to make us surrender.

Music   Olivier Messiaen "Vocalise"
from the CD Mystic 449-377-2

Veling    Levinas often will quote from midrash or from Talmudic comment ary but one of them which caught me eye .. he cites a midrash on the verse from Isaiah 43.10 which says: You are my witnesses says the Lord, and according to the midrash this means, if you are my witnesses I am God, but if you are not my witnesses I am no t God.

Coffey  Augustine, preaching in Hippo at the Easter Vigil, around 412.

(Insert in foll speech)

Reader   The blessed apostle Paul said, "You are all children of the light and children of the day ; we do not belong to the night or the darkness. And so let us not sleep like the rest do, but let us keep awake and be sober. Because those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. Let us, however, who are of the day, be so ber."

Undoubtedly it is not this night which begins with the setting of the sun, but the one which begins with the setting of mankind; not the one ended by the first glimmer of dawn, but the one ended by the renewal of the soul.

And so with the aid of all these lamps shining during this night, let us stave off the sleep of the body in this solemn vigil; but against that sleep of the heart, we ourselves ought to be lamps shining in this age of the world as the night.

Coffey   In his book on St Augustine, Garry Wills calls Augustine's Confessions, The Testimony. What Augustine means by Confession is better said in the word Testimony.

Wills   To confess is to bear witness, not only against y ourself but abut others, and not only accusation but to say well I recognise the reality of such and such, for instance, Augustine says the stars confess their creator or his predecessor in Africa said that jewels confess the lady, that means bear witness to the fact that she is a lady. And a lot of his scriptural language is a bearing witness to God and a lot of that has nothing to do with confessing sin. At the deepest meaning he echoes the Gospel of St John, that the Holy Spirit in us confesses to the Father, that we are swept up in to the internal testimony to Glory of the Trinity itself contemplating itself. And we become part of that when the Spirit speaks in us.

Music   "To the Holy Spirit" from Hymnody of Earth (c omp & arrang) Malcolm Dalglish (perf) The Oolites
1997 Oolitic Music OM 1111

Wills   He thinks of God as one and God is everywhere and God is in his enemies and all he has to do is bring out the God in them and they will res pond to that. You have to remember that he didn't think of creation as kind of God sending out something separate from him. God is present constantly creating or the thing would fall in to nothingness. It's not even as if God's creative power were an elec tric charge going through things and if it is ever interrupted it may stop. It's not that they would simply stop, they would disappear. Everything is held in to being by a positive act of God. Well if you take that attitude it is very hard to see anything as truly alien from you because God is there, a continual Niagara pour.

Coffey   So therefore giving testimony is a dynamic ongoing task to the ongoing presence and action of God?

Wills   Right, it is rec ognising what is happening. That's what you're doing God. You know the kind of ransom theory of redemption is that the Son offered himself to die in place of the guilty people. Augustine didn't like that idea because for one thing it makes the Father the kind of ruthless tyrarch exacting these punishments. His attitude was, we have left God, and God comes after us, that we are the lost sheep, he is the good shepherd, though he has a lot of Scripture behind him on that. And he says the only way that God ca n capture us is to come out on the hunt and become one with us and he has all kinds of musical analogies and things to show that we are retuned to God by way of the entering of the word in to flesh, in to community, in to history so that it is not enough for God to create the world, he has to enter it in a brand new way. There is a wonderful little poem, actually it's a poetic play, by Chesterton - he's often very Augustinian in his insights - about a monk who sees a puppet master who has these life size puppets and he tells these wonderful stories with them and he confesses to the monk, I'm not happy, I live with these people and none of them are really alive, they can't talk back to me. Then the monk prays and the second act of the play starts all over again and this wonderful little romance all of a sudden starts going wrong - the lover gets drunk and doesn't show up and he fights with his best friend, the puppets now have a will it their own and everything starts going wrong. Finally at a crisis where the two most likeable people are about to kill each other, the puppet master sweeps aside the curtain above the stage where he had been manipulating the strings and says "Stop! I'm coming down."

Music  Bells from Kronos Quartet CD 7559-79457-2

O'Donnell   Well may be there is a story about Augustine that makes sense in that framework. One day in church Augustine was presiding and they read out a scriptural text in which the words literally r ead were something like : I confess to you Lord - and what Augustine noticed was that all over the church when those words were read out loud, people were instinctively beating their breasts in the traditional Christian gesture of regret and repentance an d in his sermon he says but weren't you listening, that was Jesus talking in the Gospel and he surely didn't have any sins to be forgiven, and Augustine's point was that his notion of confession was broader than simply acknowledging what you have done wro ng. It included both what you have done wrong and also as it were what God has done right. And so for him confession could be optimistic, up beat, affirmation and approval of a divine order in the universe

Reader   (Quote from Rowa n Williams' "Resurrection")

The resurrection of Jesus, in being a restoration of the world's wholeness, is equally a restoration of language; what is created in the community of the resurrection is a vision capable of being articulated in word and image, communicated, debated and extended.

O'Donnell   Augustine is remarkable in his time and since then for the way he thought reflectively about how language actually works and why language doesn't work much of t he time. His confessions are a book in which he tries to find a voice. I've argued that in the years he was in his late 30s and his early 40s, in the years before the Confessions, when he was first a priest and then a bishop, he had found himself up again st a kind of writer's block. There were half a dozen books that he started in those years and couldn't quite finish and I interpret that as a failure to find a voice, to find a way to speak that he thought was worthy enough of his new religious profession and I think the Confessions are the book in which he figured out how to speak as it were, figured out what he has to say to God and his fellow man and he found that out by finding out how to use God's words back to God. Much of the Confessions and much o f Augustine's writings consist of biblical language re-purposed in the author's own words. He felt somehow more confident that when he was quoting, echoing, alluding to Scriptural texts he was closer to an authentic use of language than he was when as an heir as he would say of the Tower of Babel he spoke on his own authority. He was very conscious of the fact that he had been in his earlier life, a professor of language, a professor of Latin in fact and describes himself in those days as a mere hawker of words.

 "Machine for Making Sense: On Second Thoughts"
Tall Poppies Records TP034
Jim Denley, Chris Mann, Rik Rue, Amanda Stewart, Stevie Wishart

O'Donnell  I mean you have to always rememb er that Augustine was very much a public figure. He was somebody who was known to most of the people who knew him for the way he could stand up in public and give a speech. Now the fact that you call it a sermon doesn't make it not a speech, it is a speec h given in a particular time and a particular place. Of all ancient writers we know there are more transcripts of speeches by Augustine surviving than any other orator, far away more than Cicero or Demosthenes let's say. And it even has the advantage that much of that material was taken down by stenographic transcript, by scribes who were sitting there in church as he spoke and it was that vivid conversation between Augustine, the book that he knew well, the biblical book and the people in front of him th at was the vehicle of most of his power and influence. We know him from his books but we have both an advantage and a disadvantage compared to people who saw him face to face. He must have been a powerful presence in a variety of ways when you cranked him up and turned him loose in church.

Coffey  Augustine, preaching in Hippo at the Easter Vigil in 399.

Reader   Yes, there are visible faces which I, also visible in body, can see; but through what I can see I am addressing what I cannot see. Inside me I am carrying a word conceived in my heart, and I wish to bring forth in our ears what I have conceived in my heart. I want to tell you what's inside me, to bring out into the open what's hidden. I look around for some means by which it can reach your mind. First of all I accost your ears, as being the door of your mind; and since the word have conceived in my heart is invisible, and I can't present it to you directly, I provide a kind of vehicle for it - sound . I place what's hidden on what's manifest, and I arrive at your hearing.

Music   "Visitatio Sepulchri" (comp) James MacMillan
Scottish Chamber Orchestra (cond) Ivor Bolton
Catalyst 09026 62669 2

Coffey   Was that something shared by early Christians, the view that life, death itself, was testimony?

O'Donnell   I think witness is probably the right word. Witness is a way of creating an identity for yourself. If you simply showed up - the Woody Allen line, 90 per cent of life is showing up - showing up didn't count. There needed to be some way of affirmation, involvement, participation. The evolution of Christian liturgy is the evolution of forms and ways in whic h people declare and make present what they were doing and what they were standing for. Testifying, bearing witness, standing up in one public forum or another was a constant issue of that kind of self-definition until you get to a period rather after Aug ustine's lifetime when people could take for granted that people they dealt with in every day life were all of the same community that they were.

Coffey   Augustine was speaking in a context where there were a great many unbelieve rs and also at a crucial time in his life - not a product of settlement and repose?

O'Donnell   Oh no, not at all, not at all. He never enjoyed that kind of settlement or repose. The one thing that Augustine could never imagi ne fully was what it would be like to live in a world which was all Christian and that had writers like Augustine in it. In other words where somebody like himself became a dead authority figure, with five million words of his books surviving, that people would read for generations afterwards. He had much less reading material other than Scripture from his Christian forebears and he imagined and theorised a world in which Christianity was always at risk and it's an irony that he then becomes an authority figure for a long period of history when Christianity did not feel itself similarly at risk.

Coffey  He of course feels personally at risk - I like the quote from his sermons ... he is writing in progress, not writing in the manner of the Scriptures, not reliable in other words?

O'Donnell   Well I think that gets at a central thing about the Confessions. This is a man aged about 42, becomes bishop of a somewhat beleaguered Christian church in Africa, he ha d when he became bishop the second largest church in town, the other was of what he regarded as schismatic, the Donatist faction. He becomes bishop and I think he clearly feels uncomfortable at suddenly being the authority figure, God's representative, th e icon looked up to somehow and the Confessions are a place he works through with himself what it is like to be an authority figure on the one hand but imperfect and conscious of imperfection on the other hand. I think there he makes his peace with himsel f and the writer's block I spoke of a few minutes ago disappears

Reader   (Quote from Rowan Williams' "Resurrection")

And when the risen Jesus appears to give us back our speech, when the sense of meaningfulness an d affirmation seizes us again, ... the language given us is that of self-knowlege, penitence, and that of preaching and absolution......

Coffey   But what is at issue is that I see but what I hear in testimony depends on some share d understanding, upon our meanings held in common.

Coady   Well that's certainly an important part of it. I mean Testimony is linguistically mediated in a way that perception is not. So testimony is keyed to language and understand ing of meanings in a very significant way. I don't think that means that it is not fundamental and basic. It means of course that you have to use perception in order to get testimony in the sense that you have to hear what people say or see what they writ e but there is a kind of grasping of the realities that are behind the language used by someone when they talk to you that is very akin to perception at any rate and I think that kind of grasping is built in to the way that language is a communal construc tion for us. So I think that linguistic fact doesn't count against the fundamental and basic nature of testimony as a source of information.

Music   "Psalom" (comp) Arvo Part
Kronos Quartet "Lachrymae Antiquae&quo t;
Nonesuch 7559 79457-2

O'Donnell   If Augustine were writing a theory of language and there are bits of it that he does, he would say on the one hand that most language consists of speaker talking to audience, thinking o f words to convey a message to audience. But prayer for him is something different. Prayer consists of language that God has in some form given him to say out loud - and it's important to imagine him speaking out loud - so that the words he speaks will ch ange him, the speaker, rather than the listener. I mean it was common practice in the early Christian period for monks of one kind or another to memorise and recite the entire Psalter, all 150 songs in a single day, and even the standard medieval liturgic al practice of the monasteries expected you to recite the entire Psalter once a week and if you lived in a particularly austere community which means that you wouldn't do much speaking outside of church services, it means that gradually the words of the o ld Hebrew psalmist, translated more or less adequately in to Latin, became most of the language that you yourself ever used and spoke. Augustine wasn't quite to that extreme, but for him, finding language that was divinely authorised and uttering it was n ot a way of telling God something that God didn't know already but was rather a way of finding out what it was you said when you talked to your God. And over time the speaking of that kind of language became second nature and gradually changed him. So ins tead of language changing the person who listens it becomes a model of language which changes the person who speaks.

Coffey  So that, for example, an apology uttered, ultimately changes the person who utters?

O'Do nnell   Well I think in our common use of language we probably sense something of that. I think you've seen or known situations where somebody says I want him to apologise to me .. it doesn't make any difference to me but I just want to hear him say it, as a way of saying that to get those words out of somebody means a change in the somebody rather than any transaction or gift that is actually handed by the somebody to the recipient.

Music   Tavener (comp) "Chris t is Risen!" from "The
Protecting Veil" (perf) Yo-Yo Ma and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Archive  (from an ABC radio current affairs report)
What is the magic word? What is the magic word?
Can’t yo u say sorry to the Aboriginal people?
It’s not reconciliation. Bullshit. I don’t
believe in reconciliation. Why don’t we do it? Why
don’t we do it? John Howard’s not game to say sorry
to the stolen generation, the lost generation. It’s
crap - we are not lost - we were stolen, we were
stolen, from the people.

Coffey   I want to ask you about the role of trust - well testimony doesn't work without a certain level of trust.

Coady   No ... not only has testimony been considerably neglected in the philosophical tradition, both in the European and Anglo tradition, but it is not only that testimony has been neglected but also the notion of trust has been neg lected and they are very intimately connected. There's a sense in which I think our reliance on the word of others, although we moderate it in various ways with criticism, with checking and so on, does involve a very fundamental trust in other people, the sort of trust that you know children when learning the language and being inducted in to an intellectual world, rely upon very extensively. As you grow older you develop techniques of criticism of this trust and you realise that trust is often misplaced - I don't want to be naive about trust, I think there are a lot of people now having rediscovered trust make it sound just a wondrous fabulous thing that we should be in to all the time. I think there is a certain amount of moderation needed on that. Trus t is not always a virtue but trust is nonetheless very basic in the whole business not only of epistemology but also of ethics. It has been investigated a lot by women philosophers who think that trust has been one of those things neglected in the politic al and ethical tradition that has been dominated by the idea of self-interest.

Reader   (Quote from Rowan Williams' "Resurrection")

The pivotal point is this: death is normally a drastic severing of relations, deat h isolates; but for Jesus, it is through death that a new and potentially infinite network of relations is opened up.

Veling   I think one way we can look at the word testimony is if we link it with a trial, being in the box. And I think in some ways Levinas sees us as people who are people who are on trial, as much as he sees himself in some sense on trial or charged with a guilt of survival. In this way it is his existence that is being questioned or interrogated. So he stan ds in the box as one who has to answer. So it is a very extreme scenario that he paints but I think the reason he does this is because he feels that we are all so "I" centred, we are so concerned with our own ego and authentic subjectivity and o ur culture is so individualistic and so on and so on and philosophy has tended to operate that way very much centring thinking and answers in terms of the "I" who thinks. He wants to break that, he wants to somehow - how can I get through that a nd so what he does is this other extremity where it is not the "I" declaring its existence but it is the "I" who is in the witness box and is being interrogated and has to answer so he places the "I" in the position of answer ability or responsibility.

This then leads to his other notion of testimony: when we say here I am it is not a declaration of my existence or an assertion but rather a response and for him whenever you find people who say Here I am you know as a r esponse, then you know that something has called them, something has called that response in to being. And so whenever you find people saying here I am you are in the presence of the other. That Here I am testifies to the fact that there is an other in my life aside from my self. There is an other who is calling forth a response or an answer. Who is that other for Levinas. Pre-eminently it is the other person, pre-eminently. If we were just to look around in our lives and say, where is the other, one of t he most obvious expressions, one of the most obvious places we relate in terms of the other, is the other person. And so every person is in a sense another person to us. Levinas will talk about the face of the other and you know sometimes when I'm caught in a bustling street, there are all these faces, none of them has any real impact on my life, they are all strangers that just pass me by. But I do recall once being in Jerusalem and there was this beggar who sat there on this cobble-stoned street and all of a sudden in the midst of this crowd of faces and of anonymity she, her face just stood out, there was a sort of speaking to me and was looking at me ....

Music   Van Morrison "Moondance" 

Byrne  ;  __ going to the Melbourne Cup and all these sorts of things and no interest in Third World politics, any sort of politics, so I was dragged kicking __.

Veling   His other classic phrase is I suppose, he says "I am as if I had been chosen", which is very Jewish theme, but what he's meaning by that is my existence is not something I choose and have control over and I craft on my own account. Rather my existence is always given to me by the other who calls my exi stence into being.

Byrne  My background there was country but this big kind of thing because you had to go to boarding school so you had to look for other little marginals - I remember doing that at boarding school, looking for som eone else who didn't have a friend.

When I first met the community here they were a little group quite unattached to mainstream society .. they helped themselves, that comes from their cultural history .. being self-sufficient and not looking beyo nd their own group .. and I thought that one area of political activity that wasn't really being touched on was to present them first of all to the media and then to the Australian public with some shadows to the face you know, some depth, rather than jus t victims of war which you tend to categorise .. you can be removed from victims, reach out and put your hand in your pocket but you are not actually moved to consider them as people and so I thought we need to that because the political rhetoric is empty .. because there was nothing under it to feed it, no live stories, there was no real people.

Music   Olivier Messiaen "Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum"
(perf) The Cleveland Orchestra, (cond) Pierre Boulez

Veling   ___all of a sudden in the midst of this crowd
of faces and of anonymity she, her face just stood out, there was a sort of speaking to me and she was looking at me ....

__and if I walk past that person, you know I am re sponsible for helping that person if you like. But on the other hand, that face is also a very commanding face and is higher than me and this is where he can link the face of the poor one with the face of the Most High.

Coady   The re's several different roles for testimony in religion I think. Any of the religions that rely upon revelation and are religions of the book have a sort of investment in the idea that something or another has been told to them either by the founder of the religion or ultimately by God in some way - but certainly by a whole of people who say that this happened t us at a certain time in history and so forth. So there is that sense which is like the common garden sense of testimony but connected with things about what happens in history. There's another sense, rather more attenuated but still very interesting in which we talk about people's testimony in a faith context, meaning something like the testimony of their lives or their dedication in their lives an d we see the way people might talk abut the testimony of Nelson Mandela's life. All those years in prison and so on and this is a very interesting and somewhat elusive notion but there is something real going on nonetheless I think. Partly what is going o n we think of testimony as providing evidence of something and we convey, we move that idea to the way of these people's living and what they've done provides evidence of a certain kind. Now is it evidence just of the sincerity of their beliefs, certainly that, but I think we're inclined to think that it is more than that, that it is actually evidence of the truth or validity of their beliefs. And there's no doubt I think that people are struck and impressed by the lives, or the deaths - you know the mart yrdom of some people - as somehow kind of speaking to the truth of what they were dying for or living for. One way in which this operates is that there is a certain kind of fidelity that people show in their lives, a fidelity to a certain vision, fidelity to certain values, which is like the sincerity condition in testimony, the way you expect people who are telling you things to be sincere about it .. but it seems to go a little beyond that, to something or other about giving some kind of evidence for th e truth of what they stand for. And at the borders of that particular sort of problem I think I'll stop. I'm not really sure what more to say about that but certainly that is a usage of the term which is connected with the central usage that I'm intereste d in but just what it tells us exactly in the end I'm not sure.

Reader   The face - weakness, demand, already begging, but also a strange authority, defenseless yet commanding, calling out to me, I am who am responsible for that mi sery.
(Quote from Emmanuel Levinas)

Veling   Well you see Levinas' philosophy could be criticised for being a bit excessive, or a bit wild, or a bit unreasonable but if you think about religious traditions and how we exemplify s ome of the best people in those traditions, be it Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, there are saints in those traditions and usually what we find in those saints is exemplary people of response.

Again one of Levinas' very extreme formulations is that w e are responsible even for people who persecute us, people who oppress us .. so there's Mandela who spent a quarter of a century of his life in jail and when he's freed he takes some responsibility for his oppressor and as he says in his book in all those long years in prison he realised that it wasn't just the freedom of his own people, the oppressed, but it also involved the freedom of the oppressor as well. So he didn't just flip the tables, you know. 7 6002 Well you see ...

Gusmao&nb sp;  (Shouts of "Viva Falintil". Reader: It was a welcome befitting the man tipped to be East Timor's first president _.)

For reconciliation to become effective we will proclaim general amnesty for all political crimes committ ed until now. This decision is measured, one taken after careful consideration. This act of generosity transcends our emotions, heals wounds, and elevates the soul of our people.

Now we will look at the future because the future means love, means h ope, means peace between people, between countries.

Veling   I mean it sounds awful to say doesn't it - I mean that's kind of the sense of obligation that Levinas would want to try and evoke through his writings but mainly to try a nd displace or to try and shock the very confident ego .. but if I were to put a positive gloss on it where it wouldn't be just this perpetual sense of duty and obligation and weight, I would say the positive gloss is that Levinas is saying that our life spins, it actually spins around this gravitational pull of giving of loving of being for each other, that it's fundamentally structured that way. And particularly when you think that he came out of the experience of the Holocaust, it's hard to imagine how he got to that.

Reader   (Quotes from Rowan Williams' "Resurrection")

The necessary first moment in the resurrection event is one of absence and loss.

The empty tomb silences us. There is, it seems, more to be said;........

The return to language requires an act of faith

Coffey   In Encounter you heard quotations from Rowan Williams' book, Resurrection, and archival recordings of Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta and Louise Byrne spoke about her activism on behalf of East Timor. You heard Garry Wills whose book on St Augustine was recently published by Weidenfield and Nicolson, and James O'Donnell who has written a commentary on Augustine's Confessions or Testimony. To ny Coady spoke about Testimony. Terry Veling spoke about the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas about which he has written for the theology journal Pacifica. Jan Friedl and Robert Grubb were the Reader.

Both transcripts and cassette copies of this prog ram are available and you can read the text on the Radio National web site: abc.net.au/rn .. follow the links to Encounter.

Technical Production: Garry Havrillay. I'm Margaret Coffey.??

Further information:

Augustine of Hippo
James O'Donnell maintains this fascinating website.

Guests on this program:

Professor A. J. (Tony) Coady, Professor Philosophy, University of Melbourne

Terry Veling, Ass Professor of Pastoral Theology, University of St Thomas, Houston

Garry Wills

James J. O'Donnell, Professor of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Louise Byrne


Author: A. J. Coady
Publisher: Oxford - Clarendon Press, 1992
ISBN 0-19-824786-9

"In the Name of Who? Levinas and the Other Side of Theology" in the journal Pacifica, October 1999, Vol 12, No 3
Author: Terry Veling

Saint Augustine
Author: Garry Wills
Publisher: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1999

The Works of Saint Augustine, A Translation for the 21st Century - Sermons
Author: translation and notes by Edmund Hill OP
editor John E. Rotelle,OSA
Publisher: New City Press, New York (202 Cardinal Road, Hyde Park NY 12538) ISBN 1-56548-055-4
This is a multi-volume set of translations which includes in its most recent volume (Part III, Vol 11) "Newly Discovered Sermons", sermons located in 1989. The translation is vigorous and contemporary and the notes helpful. The sermons are fascinatin g to dip in to.

resurrection - Interpreting the Easter Gospel
Author: Rowan Williams
Publisher: Morehouse Publishing, 1982
ISBN 0-8912-1615-1 (paperback)

Rowan Williams is the Anglican Archbishop of Wales and former Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University.

Presenter & Executive Producer:
Margaret Coffey

Margaret Coffey

Encounter is broadcast on Sunday at 7.10am, repeated Wednesday at 7.10pm, on Radio National, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's national radio network of ideas.
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