In ‘Strafe für fremde Schuld’ Harald Maihold uncovered how a doctrine of surrogate punishment in the legal treatises of the Salamanca school gradually gave way to the principle of guilt. This meant that punishment eventually could only be inflicted upon a culprit and no longer upon an innocent. We will use René Girard’s philosophy of (the disruption of) scapegoat mechanisms and sacrifice to develop a coherent interpretation not only of how this institution of surrogate punishment functioned, how it selected its victims and the way it was legitimated, but also of the theology that formed its background. We argue that most of what surrogate punishment is about can be grasped in two words: sacrificial logic. The elimination of surrogation from criminal law would then correspond to the rejection of this logic, an evolution which could be interpreted as a desacralisation or secularisation of criminal law under the influence of the upcoming principle of guilt
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