Dialogue on Sacrifice and Orthodoxy: Reflections on the Schwager-Girard Correspondence
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Dialogue on Sacrifice and Orthodoxy
Reflections on the Schwager-Girard Correspondence

My friendship with René Girard and Raymund Schwager has been of utmost significance for my life and work; therefore it is an honor to share some of my reflections on their correspondence. I should point out that I know René Girard much better than I knew Raymund Schwager. I first met Girard in 1987, and I have been with him many times in the classroom, in seminars, in his home, and on the telephone. However, I do feel that in 1991 I became a friend of Raymund Schwager quickly in a deep spiritual way. This friendship continued and deepened until his death in 2004, even though I saw him and conversed with him far fewer times than with Girard. I have treasured my friendship with both of them and learned much from both about being human and being Christian.

There is a certain irony in the convergence of the life paths of René Girard and Raymund Schwager. Girard’s father “suffered from the Jesuits” in his schooling (undated letter written between January 10, 1986, and May 18, 1986).1 He became very anti-clerical, and he placed his children in secular schools. René himself, though baptized and confirmed in the Roman [End Page 47] Catholic Church, became an agnostic until his conversion experience in 1959. On the other hand, although Schwager attended a public school in the beginning, he attended Catholic schools from the age of 13 (he attended a Capuchin boarding school) and became a Jesuit novitiate at the age of 17.2 A Jesuit priest was Girard’s theological guide! Or it would be more accurate to say that they guided one another in their passionate quest to understand and propagate the truth of the Christian faith. Schwager’s biblical and theological knowledge were exactly what Girard needed to further his project of showing that the Bible is not antiquated mythology but is witness to the unveiling of the God of love beyond conflict and violence, a revelation fulfilled in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Girard comments in one letter that minds such as Schwager’s are indispensable to the way he is pioneering (letter of August 19, 1976). Indeed, it is fair to say that Schwager and Girard were indispensable to one another.

Tone and Personal Characteristics of the Letters

The tone of the letters is in general one of gratitude that each felt for the other. Even as this gratitude and growing warmth progressed, the boundaries of respect were kept in place, especially on Schwager’s part. It is interesting that they do not use the familiar pronoun tu to one another until after Girard requests it in a letter of April 13, 1984. He says, “Would it bother you if we say tu to each other?” Thus it was about ten years after their initial correspondence and nine years after they first met that they began to se tutoir! That is very striking to an American reader! Indeed, although they began to se tutoir, Schwager never used Girard’s given or Christian name in the extant correspondence, addressing him as “Sir” or “Dear friend,” whereas Girard began addressing his friend by his Christian name (“Dear Raymund,” “My dear Raymund”). This matter that seems so trivial in this academic context is nonetheless framed by cultural and personal factors that become quite complex. My inferences from this question of personal pronouns and the use of personal names are two: (1) Girard had become Americanized, having resided in the United States since 1947; and (2) although Schwager reciprocated Girard’s friendship and warmth (he closes his letter of January 28, [1978], “With all my affection”), he came out of a European Catholic sense of boundaries and hierarchy. Moreover, Girard was not only older but also, for Schwager, his master, his teacher.

Schwager’s work and intentions through the 1970s and 1980s presented him with challenges and conflicts that must have been very wearing for him, [End Page 48] and not the least of these burdens, which he gladly bore, was to publicize and clarify and enhance the work of Girard (see letters...