Sacrifice

We come now to the third of Paul's metaphors. Paul, and the other writers of the epistolary part of the New Testament, lived in a world where cultic sacrifice was still practiced, and it was a natural move to use this imagery to reflect on Christ's death. Opinions vary on how central it is to the New Testament, but what cannot be denied is the grip it has exercised on the Christian imagination. More than any other metaphor it has spoken to the guilt people feel and makes the point, as emphatically as possible, that forgiveness is costly.

In recent years the theory of sacrifice which has generated most comment is that of René Girard. He reads the cross in terms of the scapegoat ritual which, though it is embedded in the account of sacrificial practices in Lev. 16, is not properly speaking a theory of sacrifice. It shares with animal sacrifice the fact that death is often involved (though not actually in Lev. 16), and that it is recounted in the texts as a divinely instituted way of dealing with sin. Girard, a cultural anthropologist, argues that all human cultures are built on mimesis, and this fact is what lies at the root of violence. We all want the same things, but we cannot all have them, and violence is the result. If we want any evidence that this thesis is no piece of academic trifling we need look no further than Susan George's The Lugano Report, a sober and chilling account of what is necessary for the preservation of capitalism in the twenty-first century (George 1999).8

In Girard's view the scapegoat mechanism arose as a means of dealing with mimetic violence. At regular intervals a victim - originally a human, later an animal - would be selected on whom the aggression of the community was poured out. The entire community would participate in killing this victim, venting all its pent-up aggression, and thus delivering the community from random violence until the next time round. The theory is speculative, but what is not speculative is the way in which scapegoating has in fact operated in communities throughout the world. Scapegoating, psychologists have made clear, is a very common way of dealing with guilt. When we know ourselves to be guilty we deal with it by blaming someone else, and turning aggression upon them. The history of the Jews in Europe between the tenth century and the twentieth can largely be understood in these terms. Girard's claim is that Christ understood this mechanism, and exposed it. When he speaks of revealing "things hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13: 35), he is talking about the secret of violence, the scapegoat mechanism. Jesus himself dies as a scapegoat, but in doing so exposes it once and for all, thus opening up the possibility of a new order without violence.

Does the New Testament confirm Girard's reading? Martin Hengel has demonstrated the importance of Isa. 53 for understanding Christ's death, and this text seems to use scapegoat imagery in speaking of the Servant as "bearing the sins" of others. Girard's claim, however, is that what we find in the New Testament is a demystification of such imagery, until we reach the Epistle to the Hebrews, when the counter-revolution begins. This counter-revolution made possible the scape-goating practice of Christian communities right up to the twentieth century.

Implausible as some aspects of Girard's reading remain, he provides the incalculable service of highlighting the violence implicit in sacrifice. The rhetoric of sacrifice insists that the moral order is damaged if sin is not "paid for." In this it agrees with visceral responses to crime.9 Criminals must "pay" for what they do, and, according to the same retributive logic, Christ "paid the price for sinners due" and thus balanced the moral accounts of the universe. It is this logic which lies behind the most famous treatise on the atonement ever written, Anselm's Cur Deus Homo?, which appeared within a year or two of the preaching of the First Crusade. Anselm effectively marries sacrificial and forensic imagery. In his world an offender had to make "satisfaction" to the offended party, and the amount of satisfaction depended on the social status of that party. Since God is infinite, the amount of satisfaction needed is infinite. Since the offender is humankind, only a human being can make it: hence the need for a "God-man." Colin Gunton argues that the logic of this is to abolish the need for human satisfaction, since all penance falls short, and the "gift" exceeds every debt (Gunton 1988). Neither Anselm himself, however, nor the judges who listened to assize sermons for a thousand years, ever saw this implication, and in debates on hanging in Britain bishops remained some of the most resolute defenders of the death penalty (Potter 1993).

The nineteenth-century histories of doctrine have given Anselm a place which he scarcely deserves in terms of his traceable influence through the

Middle Ages and Reformation. At the same time, the fusion of forensic and sacrificial images has exercised a unique power on the Western mind. Popular preaching, both Catholic and Protestant, urged guilt upon its hearers and then absolved it, resulting in a tangible sense of freedom or release.10 By his death Christ pays the cost of my sin. The believer is urged to reflect on this, and in particular upon the part he or she has played in that death. In this way the understanding of salvation has been individualized, and the connection of salvation with the kingdom has been lost.

Independently of Girard, the theologians based at the Departmento Ecumenico de Investigaciones (DEI) in Costa Rica have also followed up the connection between sacrificial views of the atonement and violence.11 Franz Hinkelammert argues that law, not mimesis, is what lies behind sacrifice. It represents an approach to reality uninterested in reconciliation. What we call "structural sin" represents an insistence on legal process. This is precisely the view which lies behind Anselm. However, in scripture we constantly find the need and possibility of forgiveness emphasized. In the Lord's Prayer the petition to be forgiven debt recognizes, with Anselm, that our debt is unpayable, but instead of insisting that therefore we need the death of Christ, it is met rather by forgiving others their debts (Hinkelammert 1992). Hinkelammert applies this to the debts "owed" by poor countries to Western banks. Anselm's principle establishes the need for them to go on paying. As he points out, what this amounts to is an insistence on human sacrifice. As opposed to this is what he calls the "Abra-hamic paradigm" in which human sacrifice is once and for all abjured, and forgiveness put in its place.

Elsa Tamez follows Hinkelammert, but brings his critique into relation with justification (Tamez 1992). She argues that Paul's experience of imprisonment taught him at first hand the immorality of "due process of law." What he has in mind in his use of the language of justice is God's justice, the opening up of a new kind of space in which we proceed otherwise than by legal maneuvers. The God who justifies teaches us reconciliation for the sake of a more just world (p. 113). Christ's death does not endorse law but subverts it.

The Anselmian theology of sacrifice rests on an argument for the costliness of forgiveness. Another way of understanding this, however, is in terms of what it costs not to be consumed by bitterness, resentment, and rage, in the face of injustice. What did it cost Jesus, or better, what life practices enabled Jesus to say, on the cross, while being tortured to death, "Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23: 34)? These two construals of the costliness of forgiveness ground two quite different political practices. On the one hand we have the kind of appeal to the sacrifice of Christ which we have seen used, completely cynically, by Andrew Ure, where the cross is turned against itself, and used as part of an oppressive ideology. On the other hand we have a schooling in forgiveness which allowed, for example, the Sandinistas to forgive their former torturers. Such a preparedness takes us on to the last of Paul's metaphors: reconciliation.

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