Friday's children : an examination of theologies of martyrdom in the light of the mimetic theory of Rene Girard.
The thesis looks in detail at different understandings of the phenomenon and
significance of Christian martyrdom, with a view to what is needed for an adequate
doctrine of martyrdom for the present day. My primary methodological tool will be the
'mimetic' theory associated with the cultural anthropologist Rene Girard, which looks
at the interrelations between culture, religion and violence. I work, therefore, with two
aims in view: firstly, an enhanced doctrine of martyrdom, and secondly, an assessment
of the utility or otherwise of mimetic theory when applied to a particular area of
In a preliminary first chapter, I establish the theological context within which
questions about martyrdom are to be raised, namely the doctrine of atonement. I
provide a survey of recent reflection on the principal metaphors of atonement (victory
over demonic powers, justice, sacrifice), and indicate how this approach may be of
hel p in constructing a theology of martyrdom.
The second chapter offers a description and definition of Christian martyrdom
by way of an extensive historical survey, drawing upon biblical, martyrological and
'patristic sources. I show how this 'classical' doctrine of martyrdom contains a number
of problematic aspects. A discussion of twentieth-century reflections and reworkings of
the theme of martyrdom reveals further complexities for an adequate doctrine. It is these
aporias, I contend, which require a fresh theoretical approach- namely, that of mimetic
theory- if an adequate doctrine is to be worked out.
Chapter Three introduces the mimetic theory associated with Girard and
developed for systematic theology by the Swiss Jesuit, Raymund Schwager, and
essays a critical assessment. I contend that mimetic theory opens up two
methodological options for a reflection on martyrdom: a radical hermeneutic of
suspicion, and the basis of a 'dramatic' theology.
On the basis of these two options, therefore, the discussion of the final fourth
chapter addresses the aporias of the theology of martyrdom. I confirm here the abiding
importance of martyrdom for systematic theology, while making explicit the criteria
(drawn from mimetic theory and other sources) by which a non-pathological,
'authentic' theology of martyrdom may be affirmed.
The preceding discussions are illustrated by means of two Appendices, which
look in more detail at selected scriptural passages and early martyrological texts.