The Xiphias Gladius Project

Xiphias Gladius is also the scientific term for “Swordfish.”

The Xiphias Gladius Project.  It sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but it’s not.  “Xiphias Gladius”, a phrase taken from the Greek and Latin words for “sword”, is the name of a team of Neocatechumenal academics dedicated to researching and teaching the theories of Rene Girard,  a French-born American academic.  Girard is famous for his theory of religious anthropology called “Mimetic Desire.”  I will describe this theory and it’s great danger after I describe how we stumbled upon the issue and discovered the Xiphias Gladius team.

The members of this group currently consist of  Desiderio Parrilla Martínez, Angel Barahona Plaza, David García-Ramos Gallego and David Gallego Atienza de Frutos.  In addition to their membership in the Neocatechumenal Way, all four men were educated at the same university, la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and one of them, David Atienza, is a professor at the University of Guam and an invited Professor at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary (RMS) on Guam.  Click here or here or here or here to see some of the work of the Xiphias Gladius team.

A recently ordained priest for Guam, when asked about his interests, told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, “…my favorite philosopher is Rene Girard.”   Our new priest almost certainly learned about Rene Girard’s teaching at the RMS on Guam.  Here’s the evidence:  First, we found that the web site for the Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores Catholic Theological Institute for Oceania, the theological institute erected provide philosophical and theological for the seminarians, has embedded some peculiar meta keywords in it (click the image to enlarge it):

San Vitores Institute Keywords

These keywords, meant to attract internet search engines, are dominated by words associated with Girard and his Mimetic Theory.  How did they get there?  Our best guess is that they were put there by David Atienza de Fruto, a member of Xiphias Gladius, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Guam, and an invited Professor at the Institute.  It is almost certain that Dr. Atienza taught Girard’s thought at the RMS in Guam.

There are significant problems with Girard’s interpretation of the Gospels.  We also know from their Curriculum Vitae’s (CVs), that at least three of these men have taught philosophy and ethics at Redemptoris Mater seminaries around the world.  They undoubtedly teach and espouse these problematic theories because the Gospels are central to Girard’s thinking and he considers the Gospels to be the ultimate undoing of the scapegoat mechanism, which I will briefly describe below.

What’s the Problem?

Rene Girard

In a nutshell, Girard posits that we learn what to desire by imitation, and as we compete for our desires, violence can erupt.  Our communities and societies have controlled this violence by projecting it onto a scapegoat outside the community.  Once the scapegoated enemy has been eliminated, some peace returns for a while.  Ancient sacrificial religions with sacrifices and prohibitions originated as an attempt to ritualize this “scapegoat mechanism” and control the violence.   For a more complete overview, see the Raven Foundation, or Imitatio, or  better yet, the Girard Reader.

Girard, as I mentioned above, has applied his theory to the Gospels, and therein lies the problem.  In a chapter entitled, “A Non-Sacrificial Reading of the Gospel Text” of his 1978 book, “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” Girard said:

There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that the death of Jesus is a sacrifice, whatever definition (expiation, substitution, etc.) we may give for that sacrifice.”

“First of all, it is important to insist that Christ’s death was not a sacrificial one. To say that Jesus dies, not as a sacrifice, but in order that there may be no more sacrifices is to recognize in him the Word of God.”

“I would reply to your first question by reminding you that violence, in every cultural order, is always the true subject of every ritual or institutional structure.

Girard asserts that the death of Jesus was not a sacrifice and that violence is at the root of all religious ritual.  As I lay out in my piece,  “Excuse me, may I ask a question?”, this fits in very well with the teachings of Kiko Arguello, the founder and leader of the Neocatechumenal Way.  Arguello’s antipathy toward natural religion, with its altars, priests and sacrifices, is especially evident in the first volume of the Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way.

What does the Church actually teach about this?

The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) teaches, “He (Christ) offered Himself for us as a sweet odor (that is, a pleasing sacrifice) to the God and Father.”  The Ecumenical Council of Trent (1545), in its authoritative teaching on the Sacrifice of the Mass, presupposes that Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice, calling it an “oblation” on the “altar of the cross.”  None of the other 19 Ecumenical Councils of the Church have contradicted these teachings, including the Second Vatican Council.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the Church’s teaching nicely:

Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”, and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.  First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”  By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who “makes himself an offering for sin“, when “he bore the sin of many”, and who “shall make many to be accounted righteous”, for “he shall bear their iniquities”.  Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father. {CCC 613-615]

 What do the Sacred Scriptures say?

Sacred Scriptures, contrary to Rene Girard’s assertions, are replete with evidence that Christ’s death was sacrificial:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.Matthew 26:27-28 NJB   Jesus used sacrificial words such as “body”, “blood”, “poured”, “offered” and “given” at the Last Supper.  Moreover, when he lifted the cup and spoke of the “blood of the covenant” he was echoing Moses’ words when he sealed the Old Covenant with a sacrifice on Mt. Sinai.  (Exodus 24:8)

The next day, he saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29 NJB

…and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up for us as an offering and a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God.Ephesians 5:2 NJB

Throw out the old yeast so that you can be the fresh dough, unleavened as you are. For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is, Christ;1 Corinthians 5:7 NJB

God appointed him as a sacrifice for reconciliation, through faith, by the shedding of his blood, and so showed his justness; first for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand;Romans 3:25 NJB

 What does this mean?

God’s perfect mercy and his perfect justice intersect in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is not “Pharisaical” to speak of God’s justice, because it is one of His perfections.  The Church makes clear that  Jesus’s sacrificial death made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.  Satisfaction, that is, recompense, expiation, reparation, or restitution, is tightly bound up with God’s justice.  Perfect though He is, and lacking nothing, His justice still demands satisfaction.  The attempt to resolve the difficulties of reconciling God’s mercy with His justice by ignoring the demands of His justice, results in tremendous distortion in our understanding of salvation, the Eucharist, sacramental Confession, and even Purgatory.  This misunderstanding may well cause us to be unable to appropriate all of the graces that God has planned for us, and that’s pretty dangerous.


Tags:  Camino Neocatecumenal, Cammino Neocatecumenale

7 thoughts on “The Xiphias Gladius Project

    1. Yes, I saw this as I was preparing my piece on Girard and Xiphias Gladius. Didn’t Fr. Cantalamessa, in that same homily or same day, compare criticism of the Church’s approach to the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups to the worst examples of anti-Semitism? The Zenit article failed to mention that…He was a bit off his game that day, wasn’t he? And the Holy See had to do quite a bit of damage control because of it too, no?

      But let me make a few points about the issue at hand:

      1) It is true that in his old age Girard has backtracked a bit, acknowledging what at least two Ecumenical Councils have taught, that Jesus’ self-offering could be considered a sacrifice. How gracious and accommodating of him! St. Paul wasn’t in the dark after all! Quite a few of his followers, however, are still behind and have not yet made that leap.

      2) Girard’s theory on the origin of religion, ritual and sacrifice is terribly insufficient, and, in my opinion, should only be applied in certain cases. For example, the first two sacrifices in the book of Genesis, Abel’s and Noah’s were thank offerings, and were made by grateful men attempting to return to God a portion of what was His. Were the gestures of Abel and Noah rooted in violence and the scapegoat mechanism? Or how about Hannah offering her son Samuel back to God, thus losing him? In addition to thank offerings, Girard fails account for sacrifices and associated meals that sealed covenants.

      3) One can agree with Girard that Christ’s passion does reveal our violent natures to us without rejecting the doctrinal statements of Ecumenical Councils or even St. Anselm’s expiatory interpretation of the passion.

  1. chuck, this is vastly more serious than the money and property fights going on. i hope you’ll all be able to root out the doctrinal errors you find, and hopefully by working together with the seminary teachers, as people who are seeking truth. i would expect seminary professors would welcome any public discussions. if they wouldn’t, then it’s a sign they really do have some kind of agenda.

    1. Hafa Adai Rey d,

      While the primary purpose of the Thoughtful Catholic Blog has little to do with the Neocatechumenal Way, I promise you that every post I do on that subject will be center on taking a critical look at some portion of their teaching. The more I dig, the more that I discover that Kiko Arguello’s movement is a morass of half-truths.

      1. Fr. Enrico Zoffoli, an Italian Passionate Theologian and spiritual writer, author of many books, back in the 90s got his hands on Kiko’s secret catecheses and publlished two very critical book on them. He actually found 36 heresies in them. The books are not tranlated into other languages. He is the bet noire of the Neocats. Mention his name and they become upset.

  2. In essence, Rene Girard is half-right. Wrong to say that
    Christ was not a sacrifice, but right to say that Christ
    ended the old ways of animal sacrifice. It’s strange that
    someone as intelligent as he cannot see this, that it is
    precisely Christ’s sacrifice which made all other forms of sacrifice irrelevant to God, indeed condemnable. This is
    why the Talmud records God’s refusal of sacrifices performed by Jewish rabbis in the temple after A.D. 30. This is also why
    the veil of holy of holies in the temple was torn asunder.

    1. Thank you, RD. I’d love to see the cite to your Talmud reference. Sacrifices, however, were still happening at the Temple right up until it’s destruction some 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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