J. Matthew ASHLEY, Kevin F. BURKE, Rodolfo CARDENAL, editors. A Grammar of Justice: The Legacy of Ignacio Ellacuria. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2014. pp. 282. $25.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-086-0. Reviewed by Moni MCINTYRE, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282
Sixteen eloquent male contributors celebrate the legacy and memory of theologian and martyr Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J. in this volume. The book contains four separate Parts: (I) “The Prophetic, Liberating Praxis of Faith”; (II) “Ellacuria and the Dynamism of a new Theological Method”; (III) “The Publics of Church and Academy in the Theology of Ellacuria”; and (IV) “Ellacuria and Justice in an Unjust World.” Each Part consists of four chapters with surprisingly little repetition. While each essay sheds light on a given topic, at least two of the contributions may be especially challenging for those with little background in philosophy.
Jesuit Kevin Burke’s Introduction opens the book with a recapitulation of the life and times of Ellacuria and the other martyrs until that fateful November day in 1989 when an assassination squad brutally took their lives at the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador. Whether or not readers can recall that day, Burke hastens to point out that “in the remembrance of the martyrs we are not only or even primarily remembering the past; rather, we are remembering the future for which the martyr lived and died” (xi). This theme of future direction characterized Ellacuria’s life, and so it resonates throughout the book even to the last page of the Conclusion where J. Matthew Ashley describes how Ellacuria’s life “became and remains ‘good news’ in a world desperately in need of it” (268).
While the title of the book clearly alludes to John Henry Newman’s essay entitled “Grammar of Assent,” two chapters in particular may also remind the reader of Newman’s Idea of a University. Ellacuria’s tenure as President of UCA inspired contributors David Ignatius Gandolfo and Robert Lassalle-Klein to analyze Ellacuria’s model of a university in the context of the United States and in a globalized world respectively. Current university presidents would do well to ponder at least these chapters of this very thoughtful book.
Steeped in an informed Christian commitment to social justice in the Jesuit tradition of the Gospel, Ellacuria brilliantly relied on and developed the thought of his mentors and friends, including philosopher Xavier Zubiri, theologians Karl Rahner and Marie-Dominique Chenu, and such liberation theologians as Jon Sobrino and Gustavo Gutierrez. Contributors develop and approach from different angles such concepts of Ellacuria’s philosophy and theology as the church of the crucified people, the concept of common evil, the civilization of poverty, and historical reality. One emerges from this study with a profound respect for a man of deep and honest faith who refused to be caught up in religious language that did not reflect “the praxical character of theology” (Chapter 5). Ellacuria’s theology placed the poor and oppressed at the center; indeed, they are the crucified people. As Sebastian Pittl states, Ellacuria rails against the “most influential and effective grand narrative . . . capitalist neoliberalism” (244) because it decenters the exploited and marginalized. In one essay after another, Ellacuria’s obvious and consistent fundamental option is for the liberation of the Salvadoran poor of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. More than thirty years later, his rationale for this commitment rings true and challenging for our times.
Ashley, et. al. offer an introduction to the life of a man not well known in many circles today. In fact, liberation theology itself seems to lack much recognition in these times. The editors of this book present compelling reasons why this state of affairs ought not remain. I look forward to using this text in a graduate course on Nonviolent Social Change.