Another understanding of the way in which salvation works, linked to this understanding of forgiveness, is suggested to us by the great hymn of Phil. 2: 5ff., which understands the cross as demonstrating the "solidarity of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty" (Hengel 1986: 180). Hengel argues this, correctly in my view, on the grounds that bringing slavery and the cross together (Phil. 2: 7-8) would have been understood in only one way in the first century. Paradoxically, this way of reading the cross plays no part whatever in the history of Western atonement theology until the twentieth century (though it is foreshadowed in Negro spirituals). Only since the publication of Moltmann's The Crucified God in 1973 has it become mainstream, and even then it is contested. Moltmann is, of course, responding to the Holocaust, and to the ruminations of the Frankfurt School on the darkness of history. Is it not the case, they ask, that the torturers, the administrators of the concentration camps, are effectively the victors of history?12 No, Moltmann answers, because from the cross we learn that God is alongside the gassed and the murdered. "God in Auschwitz and Auschwitz in the crucified God - that is the basis for a real hope which both embraces and overcomes the world, and the ground for a love which is stronger than death and can sustain death" (Moltmann 1974: 278).

The perception of solidarity as a political factor of the first order is probably traceable to the labor union struggles of the nineteenth century, though we find the reality of such solidarity in the accounts of earlier class struggles, going as far back as Spartacus. It becomes fundamental for liberation theology, especially in light of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It implies a quite different understanding of power, a move from the passive - the victims, who are acted upon - to the active, where unity is strength. It licenses a reading of history which is not the history of "great men" (sic) but of peoples' movements, constantly put down, constantly arising in another place and another form.

Part and parcel of this is a new reading of church history as a history of the poor and lowly who from the start found strength in the crucified savior. For these people, in one form or another crucified throughout history, a savior who was not crucified would have nothing to say. This leads to a quite different understanding of Constantine's motto. Far from "taking the cross," it harks back rather to the perception of the first centuries that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." This in turn rests on rituals of remembrance, as martyrs have a significance only when their stories are told. As such, church history is not an academic matter, but a site of ideological contest, in itself deeply political. Thus the cult of saints of the high Middle Ages, with the elevation of spurious saints (St. George!), can be understood as a way of turning the critical power of martyrologies. Some forms of pentecostalism have the same effect today (Berryman 1996). Despite this, as E. P. Thompson and Norman Cohn have demonstrated, alternative memories continue to sustain the struggle of the poor.

It is important to distinguish this account of redemption from the patristic and medieval idea of Christ as a victim. The first stanza of the sixth-century hymn "Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle" ends:

Tell how Christ, the world's Redeemer,

As a Victim won the day.

Victimhood here was Christ's willing assumption of sacrifice. From this starting point a mysticism of suffering developed which understood pain as something positive, an identification with the crucified Christ (Spivey 2001). The Latin American theologians have documented how important this has been in South America, and how it has bred fatalism and political passivity (Sobrino 1978). The theology of the crucified God, by contrast, looks to a future state of shalom. It seeks peace and justice now, including the conversion of the persecutor, the godforsaken and dehumanized who operate the systems of terror, but also hopes for the vindication of the victim in the new creation. It offers a hope for the "last days," which acts proleptically here and now. The cross, then, has been taken from the isolation of the sacrificial theory, and understood as lying at the heart of the ongoing life of the triune God, open to history, open to vulnerability, actively seeking the salvation of the godless and godforsaken.

In hoc signo vinces. The cross began as a political symbol and remains one. In a world where the poor are routinely sacrificed on the altars of corporate capital, it speaks of the once-for-all abolition of all sacrifice; in a world where the poor are disproportionately imprisoned and executed, it calls all judicial punishments into question; in a world of manifold alienations, it is a standing proclamation of the possibility of reconciliation; in a world dominated by the powers, it continues to provide, as it did for the first-century communities, a critique of their delusionary assumptions. In this sense it is possible to agree with the ancient tradition of the church: Ave crux, unica spes.


1 Thompson's father lost his faith in India and wrote a play, Atonement, which protested the death penalty, racism, and the penal doctrine of the atonement. This must have affected his son's later attack on Methodist understandings of the atonement.

2 This is the view of two of the most sophisticated commentators on the relationship. See Comaroff and Comaroff (1997), xv.

3 The Council of Sens in 1141 condemned Abelard's teaching on the atonement, among other teachings, but was not prescriptive.

4 The claim that religious practices or beliefs generate certain political outcomes is of course unprovable, but for evidence see Spivey (2001), ch. 4.

5 I am not sure if there is any instance of a female slave buying herself out.

6 Kelly argues that the sacrificial idea is dominant, if any one is.

7 I have tried to follow this story through in some detail in God's Just Vengeance (Gorringe 1996).

8 George extrapolates from contemporary corporation policy to provide a fictional account of what measures would be needed for the survival of capitalism in the next century, before turning to analysis.

9 In Britain in 1993 two boys, aged ten and eleven, abducted, tortured, and murdered a two-year-old, Jamie Bulger, leaving him on a railway track to be run over by a train. Popular indignation at their release has been high, on the grounds that they have not "paid" for what they did.

10 See the examples in Thompson (1968), ch. 11, and James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).

11 A meeting between these theologians and Girard was, however, held in Sâo Paulo in 1990 and the proceedings published as Sobre idolos y sacrificios (San José: DEI, 1991). I am indebted, in the next two paragraphs, to the work of James Grenfell, "The Theme of Justice in Latin American Liberation Theology," unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2000.

12 Moltmann refers especially to the first volume of Max Horkheimer's Critical Theory (1968).


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