This book will be best appreciated by readers who know something about the stature and reputation of the author. Daniel Berrigan is a Jesuit priest, peacemaker, and poet. Beginning in the 1970s he and his brother Philip gained notoriety for their many acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. They are icons among celebrated peacemakers all over the globe. With characteristic uncompromising integrity, Daniel Berrigan draws what are to him necessary imperatives from biblical teachings. Not surprisingly, he concludes again and again in this work that there is not now, and never will be, and has never been, a just war, a necessary war, an interim war, or justification for war of any kind. He stakes his life on it, as he has done for most of his many long years.
Testimony tells Berrigan's side of the Plowshares and Catonsville Nine story. He reminisces, clarifies, broods, and preaches in this book. He shares his convictions and brooks no opposition, even as he writes convincingly about the love of God for all of life. Berrigan's poetic self is presented in his poems as well as his prose laden with sensitive, insightful, and incisive images. This book is a veritable potpourri of literary styles and musings on a common theme: war is not and cannot be the answer. No words from a bully pulpit will ever make it so.
The book begins with a Foreword by John Dear, S.J., in which he thanks the author for his lifetime of radical peacemaking. Forty-one vignettes or "chapters" in five major sections follow Dear's opening words. These short reflections offer wonderful insights into Berrigan's historical and spiritual development. In a particularly delightful section entitled "Prophets and Peacemakers," readers meet the author's heroes. We learn little known and touching details about Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Archbishop Romero, the Four Churchwomen, and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, Corita Kent, Rabbi Abraham Heshel, and William Stringfellow. Three special, if short, "chapters" are devoted to his brother Philip. Because Daniel Berrigan knew most of these famous individuals so well, he could describe Corita as someone who "seemed constitutionally unable to harbor a grievance" (118) and relate the terrible truth of Rabbi Heschel's death very shortly after it occurred, because he had been summoned by family members to join them upon their tragic discovery of the body.
Berrigan's faith is implacable. Despite prison terms, raw treatment, derision, and personal loss, his dependence upon and delight in the God of all creation has touched places in him that pass all understanding. Clearly, this man's faith is born of suffering and has been tried by fire. At the same time, he realizes that certain ecclesiastical authorities have lacked the courage and wisdom to oppose the corruption of their governments. Berrigan does not hesitate to castigate individuals whose judgment about political matters he does not share.
One of his concluding "chapters" is entitled "Our Hope in Christ." Despite all the tragedies that he both witnessed and endured, Berrigan believes that "the work of hope begins, here and now, in a most unlikely time and place. The task being—to expose and declare the lie. The lie? The claim on the part of public authority that right reason is in command, an available resource; that nuclear weapons are in effect a rational undertaking. The truth being—and only hope can announce it—that rationality, coherence, not to speak of ethical understanding, are in desperately short supply" (213). The final "chapter" is a poem called "Hope, That Intransitive Being." This man of faith begs the Christ to "rain rain on us untamed unconstrained your wildfire storm of hope" (227).
I can hardly wait to use this book in my graduate course, "Religion, Politics, and Policy."