Step-by-Step: On the Way to the Rehabilitation of the Sacrifice in the Correspondence between Raymund Schwager and René Girard
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On the Way to the Rehabilitation of the Sacrifice in the Correspondence between Raymund Schwager and René Girard

Karin Peter and Nikolaus Wandinger, James G. Williams, and Mathias Moosbrugger give in their essays in this volume of Contagion some basic information about the correspondence between these two “beautiful minds”: René Girard and Raymund Schwager. I would now like to go “step-by-step” along the way of some selected letters, and this only insofar as they discussed the question of sacrifice.1 Going this way the reader can get an idea how these two men were dealing with each other. These excerpts show on the one hand the dynamic of their correspondence, on the other hand the different positions of the partners. Girard is not a theologian, so he shows uncertainty with regard to theological questions. Schwager is firmly convinced from the beginning that the mimetic theory can be reconciled with the Church’s teaching. He also has a clear opinion regarding the life of Jesus and the meaning of this life for the subject matter that he discussed with Girard. From the very beginning of his theological way he seems to have a clear opinion on sacrifice issues. In the discussion with Girard he tries to integrate this view into the conceptual world of the mimetic theory. [End Page 67]

It was Raymund Schwager who initiated the correspondence on April, 4, 1974, and it was also he who started the discussion about the question of sacrifice in 1977.2 He had just finished the first version of Must There Be Scapegoats?3 It was his first great book to be inspired by Violence and the Sacred. He tried to develop a new hermeneutic of the Bible presenting a clear distinction between the texts containing violent images of God and the texts with a new, revelatory power. Here he concentrated his attention on the so-called “Cursing Psalms,” on the Songs of the Suffering Servant, and, of course, on the Gospels. Surprisingly he also subsumed the Letter to the Hebrews under these texts. And in his letter to Girard from January 31, 1977, he wrote precisely about his view, which he thought to be also the perspective of Violence and the Sacred: “One particularly interesting point: your analysis of sacrifice accords very well with the epistle to the Hebrews, which appears to be saying the opposite.” Girard himself, who was working on his “third great book” at this time and involved in the discussion with M. Oughourlian and G. Lefort, seemed to be confused.4 As we all know, in Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, the English version of Des choses caches, he abandoned the Letter to the Hebrews, seeing in it a backslide into the sacrificial logic. So he wrote to Schwager on February 12, 1977: “I am looking forward to seeing what you have to say about the epistle to the Hebrews. I am not sure what I think about this.” During the summer of 1977, Girard and both his interlocutors transformed their dialogue into the book. On September 1, 1977, Girard mentioned this to Schwager and repeated once more his conclusion about the revelatory character of his own theory: “I am more and more persuaded that the whole thesis of the mimetic character of the scapegoat and anthropology is going in the direction of the complete dissolution of the sacrificial, which respects and moreover justifies in a relative and historic manner the reading of medieval theology, which is still sacrificial. It seems to me, that with this (mimetic) reading, all the great dogmas of the first councils emerge reinforced and better integrated.” After Schwager’s book was published, Schwager immediately sent a copy to Girard and waited impatiently for his copy of Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. He received it at the end of February 1978 and started to read it. He was excited and also shocked. The book confirmed his own position in regard to the hermeneutic of the Bible. There was just one question that remained unclear, or very clear in an opposite direction. So he wrote a long letter to Girard...