Daniel Berrigan arouses strong emotions in Catholics and non-Catholics alike. What some see as purity and depth of conviction, others regards as muddleheadedness. Thus his acts of civil disobedience — burning draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, and his subsequent underground flight from the law — have been praised as heroic and damned as foolish. Even those who share his convictions have often questioned the effectiveness of his tactics. What, besides getting him a two-year jail sentence, did his desperate move accomplish? Of what use to the antiwar movement was Berrigan behind bars?

Berrigan himself seems of two minds as he reflects on this issue in Lights on in the House of the Dead, his prison diary. Sometimes he regrets the "quick win" mentality that precipitated the Cantonsville action: "We had not done our homework, we had not reckoned the cost of our undertaking, we had deceived ourselves about our strength, our spiritual resources, our self-understanding . . . " Along these same lines: "We concocted a theory of social change, radical and rapid, populist and innocent — a theory persuasive only to those who have never engaged history, and its powers and dominations, in a fight to the finish."

Yet elsewhere he strongly affirms the validity of his prophetic witness: "One can only say: in a bad time, almost any move toward sanity, moral clarity, community is a move of import. It is important to continue saying, whether from jail or underground or courtroom or theater, that the war is the first moral issue in America today." The nub of the Berrigan view is exposed in these words: "We do not have to be good politicians . . . are only called to be men and Christians. A simpler game, which in the long run will be found to have included the former one as well."