“Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”– Hans Urs von Balthasar
“The appeal to tradition is not a mere remembrance of the past; it involves rather the recognition of a cultural heritage which belongs to all of humanity. Indeed it may be said that it is we who belong to the tradition and that it is not ours to dispose of at will. Precisely by being rooted in the tradition will we be able today to develop for the future an original, new and constructive mode of thinking.– Pope Saint John Paul II, Fides et Ratio
“A false prophet is not one who predicts false things, but one whose guiding principle is not true … one who fondles the spirit of the age…. He takes up the cause of generous ideas just when these are beginning to rot; he enters the field of action just at the moment when such engagement promises more advantages than dangers.” – Henri de Lubac
“Our gratitude for the gift of ourselves must tend toward fashioning our whole existence into a word of thanksgiving. It will remain a lifelong task; but that does not mean that it should be abandoned as impossible.” – Hans Urs von Balthasar
Recently Patrick Coffin released on YouTube and his website an interview with Gil Bailie recorded in the Fall of 2019. For those who know and follow our work the 80 minute interview offers a kind of primer as Patrick Coffin asks Gil to help him and those unfamiliar with the work of René Girard get a toe hold on mimetic theory and the history and breadth of Girard’s influence.
It is encouraging to see a growing awareness among Christians of the relevance of Girard’s work. However, as secular intellectual and social movements in the West move more intentionally toward a post-Christian (some say even anti-Christian) milieu, the specifically Christian sources and associations in mimetic theory tend to be either ignored or expurgated.
Our efforts over the past decade to provide a bridge between the Catholic theological tradition and mimetic theory have largely focused on making this connection explicit. While we believe there is a fundamental link between the Christian gospel and mimetic theory, not all students of mimetic theory see this. Girard himself, while acknowledging its Biblical sources, did not consider his theory to be a Christian apologia but emphasized its scientific basis. The mimetic hypothesis can be viewed as a tool which is useful in various applications. There are students of Girard’s work who provide unique perspectives on various fields of study from economics to brain science without any reference to Christian faith. On one level mimetic theory provides a diagnostic tool for the understanding of human relations and the origins of human culture. That one of the universal components of culture is religion (and in its earliest manifestations – religions of blood sacrifice) is one of mimetic theory’s most banal insights. That the Paschal drama of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the source of the West’s relentless quest to find innocent victims to defend has been extraordinary and transformative.
Perhaps the unease some people experience as our Judeo-Christian heritage disappears over the horizon motivates them to look for ways to understand this situation. To see, on one hand the alphabetic confusion of sexual identities and gender fluidity as a crisis of distinctions and on the other hand, the West’s secular hostility to expressions of Christian virtue as ‘the Gospel casting out the Gospel’ may clarify the dynamics but does not address the dysfunction. Girard never suggested that his work could or would result in a world of less rivalry and conflict. On the contrary, as Gil Bailie has noted, especially for those who are resistant to sacramental grace exposure to mimetic theory may only make them more adept at the multifarious ‘games people play’.
“A great many modern theologians succumb to the terrorism of modern thought and condemn without a hearing something they are not capable of experiencing even as ‘poetry’ any more – the final trace in the world of a spiritual intuition that is fast fading. So Paul Tillich dismisses in the most peremptory way the theme of the virgin birth because of what he calls ‘the inadequacy of its internal symbolism.'” – René Girard
This excerpt from the Hoover Institute’s Uncommon Knowledge series in which Peter Robinson interviews René Girard was recorded in 2010. We make it available at this time of year in celebration of the Christmas feast which also coincides with the anniversary of the birth of René Noël Théophile Girard.
The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country … the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. – C. S. Lewis
Gil Bailie has recently been reflecting on this from the perspective of the reciprocal gaze between a mother and her newborn child, especially the mother’s loving smile:
While cynics see the crass commercialism of the Christmas gift giving season, and the sentimental are drawn to the stories of Santa and the reindeer, or the manger with its shepherds and angels and wise men, there is a more primitive sense that goes to the reciprocal nature of gift giving. This sense comes from the multiple associations of the word ‘gift’. The substantive sense of ‘gift’ is ‘that which is given’, but in order for it to be meaningful it requires both a giver of the gift and one to whom the gift is given. This little word expresses the fundamental relationship that constellates the ground of human experience (and from a theological perspective the heart of the trinitarian nature of God as the lover, the beloved and the love that unites them.) At Christmas we share in this divine and generous reciprocity in our own funny ways and in varying degrees of ineptness by exchanging gifts.
Some find the particularity of the Gospel stories equally ludicrous and preposterous. But faith finds in them true stories of the One who gives the gift of Himself to the world, the expression of all that love can do while blessing the freedom of the beloved. No amount of pious sentimentality or snarky cynicism, yawning apathy or hostile opposition can obscure this beating heart at the core of Christmas. I hope that you find this gift in your life and treasure it above all else.
There is so much for which we are grateful today: our families, our friends, our faith, and for all those who have inspired us and encouraged our efforts. We thank God for such blessings and we thank you for your friendship and your many kindnesses.
“In an age when the Church was persecuted from within, as was the case with the Arian crisis in the fourth century, St. Hilary – the Athanasius of the West – made the following encouraging statement: ‘In this consists the particular nature of the Church, that she triumphs when she is defeated, that she is better understood when she is attacked, that she rises up, when her unfaithful members desert her’ (De Trin. 7,4)”
– Archbishop Athanasius Schneider, Christus Vincit