(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Isaiah, a mixed-genre work, combines Daniel Berrigan’s modern poetic rendering of selected passages from the book of Isaiah with personal reflections on the text. Berrigan is a Jesuit priest and longtime activist and war resister, and his commentary originates in scripturally based contemplative prayer, formal and informal scripture study, and his experiences as a war resister and prisoner for peace combined with the impressions of an accomplished poet.

To fully savor Berrigan’s insights, familiarity with his biographical background is essential. The introduction, accompanied by one or more of the suggested readings, fulfills this need. As a Plowshares movement activist, he has engaged in liturgically influenced damage to components of nuclear weapons, which launched an international movement of more than fifty civil disobedience actions since 1980. From Isaiah’s time to the present, he sees war as a constant situation, a practice that denies God. Trust in weapons and murder, he argues, directly disrespects God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer. Isaiah briefly enjoyed a measure of popularity, but prophets are discarded by governments when their message challenges conventional power, an experience shared by Isaiah, Jesus, and the Plowshares activists, many of whom profess a radical Gospel Christianity grounded in Christ’s command to love God and each other, including enemies.

In chapter 1 Berrigan explains that God teaches ethics through visions and pronouncements of prophets, who express the highest standard of love. God speaks through the powerless, the poor, and outsiders because the powerful confuse their evil designs with justice and goodness. Isaiah’s clarion call to remake swords into plowshares maintains its validity over the centuries for people of faith because war making repeats the crime of Cain: killing one’s sibling. The Ten Commandments, Christ’s law of love, and Paul’s understanding of the church as the mystical body of...

(The entire section is 812 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Berrigan, Daniel. No Bars to Manhood. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970. A classic introspective account of Berrigan’s shift from liberal dissent to nonviolent resistance to war. Includes the author’s reflections on Scriptures, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mahatma Gandhi, and others.

Berrigan, Daniel. Testimony: The Word Made Flesh. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004. An essential collection of poems, essays, and sermons that explore Christianity in a “war-making state.” Includes Scriptural reflections and portraits of modern peacemakers.

Dear, John, ed. Apostle of Peace: Essays in Honor of Daniel Berrigan. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996. Celebratory essays by Berrigan’s friends and family. Most pertinent are the religiously revealing essays by John Dear, Molly Rush, Walter Wink, and Peter-Hans Kolvenbach.

Klejment, Anne. “The Berrigans: Revolutionary Christian Nonviolence.” In Peace Heroes in Twentieth-Century America, edited by Charles DeBenedetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. A useful brief analysis of social and religious influences on the brother peacemakers, the evolution of their activism, and their influence on American society.

Labrie, Ross. The Catholic Imagination in American Literature. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. Includes an essay on Berrigan’s earlier writings, especially his poetry. Credits his emphasis on Christian engagement with the world and his challenge to uncritical patriotism.

Labrie, Ross. The Writings of Daniel Berrigan. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1989. An insightful analysis of Berrigan’s evolution as a poet, writer, and activist. Uses biographical context to flesh out the meaning of Berrigan’s works.