The Imputation of Holiness
we esteem ourselves neither holy nor wise.
Indeed, we are much more likely to say,
"I am a sinner", than, "I am holy."
We recognize a terrible presumption in the
latter statement, and the even greater likelihood
that our uttering this would be a clear
sign that we, indeed, are not holy –
even as we secretly relish what we
publicly repudiate: being esteemed holy.
We are so clever, so subtle in our pretensions
that we ourselves inwardly hold
it to be true — by virtue of our repudiating
it. By denying what we affirm, we affirm
what we deny.
Truly holy people do not deem themselves
I do not deem myself holy
Therefore I must be truly holy
It is logic itself — in its most seductive
... and subreptive ... form. This form of
reasoning is called Modus Ponens.
The problem with this type argument, however,
is that while the form is indeed
valid, it does not, simply for this reason,
give us warrant to hold that the statements
within it are necessarily true. In this
case, the form of the argument
is completely valid — it is sound reasoning.
However, while it is the case that the first
premise is true, it is also the case that
the conclusion is false.
The argument presented above is really a
paradigm for Catholics. And the great deception
within it is not so much that we succeed
in deceiving others, but that we succeed
in deceiving ourselves.
Now, we must think on that a moment.
We deceive ourselves. It is almost
an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. How
can we succeed in deceiving ourselves? One
cannot deceive without being aware of the
deceit ... right? This is the great deception.
We deceptively deceive ourselves.
It is, in other words, deception as a duplexity:
it is a double negative, A negation of a
negation – which is always its opposite:
an affirmation. "I am not "not-X" – which
is to say, "I am X". It is a false negation.
It is the mere appearance of a
negation, and that is why it is the greater
deception. It is not that we simply deceive
others by appearances (in this case, in
the the form of words), but by another and
involuted turn of appearances we attempt
to deceive ourselves.
Of course, it never comes off. It remains
an oxymoron. While we may have succeeded
in our attempt to deceive others, we also
recognize that we have attempted – and failed
– to deceive ourselves. We believe
ourselves holy although we are not. In fact,
we sometimes even honestly strive to believe
that we are not holy ... but even
that effort itself only serves to reinforce
our belief that we are holy. After
all, who but one holy, would seek to think
themselves otherwise? One who is holy. It
is circular, and because it is, truth cannot
enter into the closed confines circumscribed
by that self-perpetuating circle of deception.
We nevertheless ascribe holiness to others
(and deem this a virtue, a kind of largesse)
– but in reality do not, or seldom, sincerely
believe it. We are reluctant to concede
to others what we do not possess ourselves.
The circle of deception grows wider, consuming
others in that incessant consumption of
itself. "So and so is holy ...
but ..." We distrust holiness
because we are not genuinely acquainted
The real question involves the question
Why are we asking the question
of others, or more importantly, why are
we asking it of ourselves? Something
God alone is holy
It is worth repeating: God alone is
Only inasmuch as we participate in God Himself,
do we participate in holiness. We do not
possess it. Another does not possess it.
Neither ever will. Only God does. We can
only participate in that holiness
that is pre-eminently
Perhaps an analogy will suffice:
We are not what we participate in. It is
distinct from us even as we participate
in it. A golfer is one who participates
in golf, in the activity of golfing. But
he is not "golf". We may even understand
his identity as a golfer as descriptive
of who he is, and even what
he is. To some extent this is true. He
is a golfer: that is to say, the
"what" and the "who" of the golfer is, to
a greater or lesser degree, tethered to
the activity in which he participates. But
remove the ball and the club and he is no
longer a golfer. Whatever else he is,
he is not a golfer because he no
longer participates in golf. While it
is an activity into which he enters,
in which he participates, the activity is
not the man.
In much the same way it is absurd of us
to conceive of holiness as a possession,
as something which can be predicated of
us in an ontological sense, that is to say,
in and of ourselves, or, for some, through
meritorious association. We cannot secretly
pride ourselves on our holiness (which,
notwithstanding, we methodologically deny).
We have none. None of our own.
We can no more pride ourselves in its possession,
than disdain another for lacking it.
It is not ours. It is not theirs. It is
God's. And He participates it to Whom
He wills – and even then ... even then,
it is not their possession.
We participate in God's Holiness
– and only insofar as we participate in
This frightful arrogance that presumes to
judge of itself and others – this audacity
to impute holiness to oneself or to others
as something commendatory
– as though it were rigorously acquired
and assimilated, much as we acquire and
assimilate learning – as though it were
possessed in part from a greater
whole to which it either measurably contributes
or from which it substantivally derives
– this immense hubris goes beyond deception,
and encroaches on something ancient and
How often Jesus admonishes us not to judge!
Of ourselves or others! Nor does He delimit
the terms, confining them to pronouncements
of perdition only. We have no credentials
to judge whatever ... on any terms!
Not concerning others. And not concerning
ourselves. But most especially not concerning
ourselves – and eminently concerning our
own presumed holiness.
The Publican had it right. He had nothing
and he knew it. The Pharisee judged both
the publican and himself and found himself
wrong before God on both counts. He thought
he knew what was holy and believing himself
to possess it, set the benchmark for sanctity
before which the Publican fell woefully
If it is your wish to make pronouncements
on holiness then go to Him Alone Who Is
Holy. But do not be hasty. Those eager to
be magistrates in the Courts of the Almighty
must themselves pass through the dock before
they go to the bench...