René Girard and the Letter to the Hebrews

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., of Sancrucensis, points our attention to a new blog, Spoils of Egypt. Semi-pseudonymously run by Coëmgenus, Spoils of Egypt has already posted an interesting piece “Against René Girard.”

We admit that Girard’s philosophy is, well, not particularly known to us, except in very broad strokes. Something to do with memes, we think. But, since Girard’s recent passing, we have seen, in various places, memorials placing him in a Christian context. Coëmgenus’s piece begins,

The death of René Girard has been followed by the flood of eulogy one expects for an author so often cited, a professor beloved of so many students, and a thinker so effectively popularized.

Much of that appreciation, I’m sure, is merited. Girard was nothing if not thought-provoking, and he gets plenty of mileage out of the few idées fixes that run through all his writing. (His key concept of “mimetic desire” strikes me as one that may bear great fruit for psychology and politics alike, and at any rate will keep the grad students busy for a long while.)

But among his disciples, René Girard is not only praised as a critic or as an interesting writer, but as a kind of theologian, as a sage whose anthropological key has deciphered the secret meaning of Christianity. His practice of the Catholic religion, and his personal loyalty to the Church, were commendable, and do nothing to refute this view. Girard himself suggests that he held such an opinion of his career — but it’s wrong, and wrong enough that those who would recommend Girard to Christians do him no service by repeating it.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Read the whole thing there. As we say, we are probably not qualified to make such a sweeping assessment of Girard’s philosophy.

One point struck us as an interesting point for jumping off, however. In criticizing Girard’s approach to substitutionary atonement, Coëmgenus makes this point:

In every language and in every rite, Christians have viewed the eucharist as a sacrifice, typologically tied to the offerings of Melchizedek and of the Jewish priests, and figuring the perfect sacrifice of the Passion. This typological connection is everywhere in Christian thought. When the Church repeats Christ’s words — “this is my body, given for you” — this is taken to refer equally to the cross and to the liturgy, which are understood together to be the perfection and seal of the finite sacrifices offered by those who had not yet heard the Gospel.

The difference between this and Girard’s view is vast — for him, the Cross is not the perfection of sacrifice but its final refutation, an absurdity and an offense designed to convince us of the fatuity of all sacrifice. Christ’s Passion saves us not because he is offered in our place, or as a propitiation to the Father, but because it teaches us to set aside the myths of sacrifice and the economy of violence they entail. It is not Christ’s blood, but his instructive witness, that saves.

(Emphasis supplied.) It seems to us that one could profitably read Girard through the Letter to the Hebrews, which is a sustained, dense explanation of the nature of Christ’s priesthood and his sacrifice. Perhaps someone has already done this.