Carl Schmitt was a Nazi. So I do not know what to do with Rene Girard’s use (in The One by Whom Scandal Comes) of his thought. Schmitt got into some trouble with the Nazis for trying to combine his support of the Reich with Catholicism. But, after the war, he did not fully renounce his Nazism.

He wrote about the concept of katechon (in The Nomos of the Earth).  This is a Greek word used in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 to mean the one who restrains the antichrist. In Schmitt sometimes this means Great Britain and the USA, who opposed Hitler. But, in the end, it seems mostly to mean the Roman Empire continued in the Church of Rome. Perhaps Schmitt’s idea was that Rome would have sufficiently restrained the destructive tendencies in Nazism.

Just like my reaction to Martin Heidegger, also a Nazi, my reaction to Schmitt is: Why are we listening to a freaking Nazi?

Anyway, Girard says that katechon is a useful concept for understanding what has happened in history since Jesus. Before Christ, through the myth of the scapegoat and ritualized violence societies temporarily achieved order and restrained evil. Since Christ, this has been ineffective. At least in the West, animal sacrifice has gone away and liberal democracy and humanistic ideas have undermined blood feuds, lynchings, and banishment.

The role that these things had in the past now gives way to law, due process, and checks and balances in the interest of minimizing violence. So katechon, apparently conceived as state power, has replaced mimetic violence as a principle of temporary order.

Satan was cast down but there is still something that restrains him. Whether Girard thinks the Roman Catholic Church plays a main role in the katechon, I cannot tell. He does say that the power of the Church to make people do anything has largely gone away. So I do not see how it would work to restrain evil. I think of Stalin’s question: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” But perhaps moral influence is part of the katechon.

I don’t know what the passage in 2 Thessalonians means. It is pretty obscure. It refers to something the ancient Thessalonian church knew, but which is a mystery to us. My best guess would be that Paul (or his companion, the prophet, Silas), steeped in 1st century Jewish apocalypticism, taught that an angel, perhaps the archangel Micheal, stood over against Satan and restrained him. Concretely, Paul might have thought the restraining angel intervened to cause the mad emperor Caligula to die before he could attempt to put his image in the Temple.

But Christian thought from the Tertullian on has connected the katechon to Paul’s call to obey and respect the governing authorities who “bear the sword” (Romans 13:4). It seems to be this line of thought that inspires Schmitt and Girard. For Girard, it means the use of violence to restrain violence and, for those who do not believe in violence because of Christ, functions at least to bring about the least possible amount of violence.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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