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  • Raymund Schwager, SJ, in Fourvière and Fribourg
  • Dom Elias Carr CanReg (bio)

Rene Girard, Raymund Schwager, Mimesis, Scapegoat Mechanism

Three years before René Girard published La violence et le sacré, a Jesuit doctoral candidate at the University of Fribourg began a short essay entitled “Unterwegs zu einer toleranten Kirche” (On the way to a tolerant church) in April 1969 with this claim: “Hexenjadgen gab es auf die eine oder andere Weise zu allen Zeiten” (In one way or another, there are witch hunts in every age). After having asserted that it is a universal feature of human existence to elevate customs, laws, thought patterns, and other interests to absolute norms, he argued, “Im Namen dieser Normen stießen sie dann einzelne oder Minderheiten aus ihrer Gemeinschaft aus und trieben sie in die Vereinsamung und oft sogar in den physischen Tod” (In the name of these norms, individuals or minorities are cast out of the community, driven into isolation, and often even put to death). After listing representative groups that have suffered such treatment—for example, witches, Jews, heretics, and others—the young Jesuit described this activity as a “soziologischer Mechanismus,” which was fundamentally the same in all cases including in the case of the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Without using the term “scapegoat,” the author, Raymund Schwager, SJ, concisely [End Page 221] summarized major elements of Girard’s mimetic theory before it was even published.

This evidence not only supports the contention—made most recently in Matthias Moosbrugger’s dissertation, “Die Rehabilitierung des Opfers. Zum Dialog zwischen R. Girard und R. Schwager über die Angemessenheit der Rede vom Opfer im christlichen Kontext”—that Schwager should be seen as a full partner with Girard in the development of mimetic theory but also raises the question, how did Schwager arrive at these insights? As James Williams notes in his review, by showing Girard’s indebtedness to Schwager, Moosbrugger’s work underscores the value and usefulness of investigating Schwager as a thinker in his own right.1 This present article seeks to further this effort by delving into Schwager’s theological education.

Organized by locations (Fourvière, France and Fribourg, Switzerland), institutions (Séminaire des missiones de Syrie and the University of Fribourg) and their particular histories, this article demonstrates in greater scope and with new material the extent to which the concerns that Girard and Schwager shared in their subsequent intellectual collaboration were already present in Schwager’s environment and, indeed, in his first writings in 1969 (two articles including the one cited above) and in his dissertation in 1970. While it may be judged as self-evident, and therefore seemingly irrelevant, to note that everyone has a unique standpoint, it remains nonetheless true that not all locations offer the same view; some are better than others. As will become clear, Schwager’s vocation and education do help to clarify his openness and sensitivity to the potential value of Violence and the Sacred when he encountered it, presumably in 1973, because he had already come to many of the same insights, as the citation above demonstrates.


Schwager has left little written testimony about his time in Fourvière other than his licentiate thesis on St. Paul. It is necessary, therefore, to reconstruct his experience from a limited documentary record; namely, the annually published program of study, Ephemerides et Catalogus; semiannual reports that the rector, Jacques Misset, SJ, sent to the Jesuit Generals, Jean-Baptiste Janssens, SJ, and his successor, Pedro Arrupe, SJ; the memoirs from two faculty members, Jacque Guillet, SJ, and Bernard Sesboüé, SJ; and interviews with Schwager’s colleagues, Herwig Büchele, SJ, and Józef Niewiadomski. To appreciate the historical context of Schwager’s studies in [End Page 222] Lyon, it is useful to describe two frames: 1) the local frame of the Jesuits’s recent history in France, and 2) the global frame of the philosophy and organization of higher studies in the Catholic Church at that time.

As elsewhere, the Society of Jesus in France had endured many challenges after its refoundation in 1814. The Jesuit Community established in Fourvière in 1841 to provide...


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