The Imputation of Holiness
By denying what
we affirm, we affirm what we deny
Ostensibly, we esteem ourselves neither holy nor
Indeed, we are much more likely to say, “I am a sinner,” than, “I
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 holy
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
How can we succeed in
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
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, the objectivity of truth cannot
obtrude itself 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, we 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 with it.
The real question involves the question itself. Why.
Why are we asking the question of others, or more importantly,
why are we asking it of ourselves? Something is amiss.
God alone is holy
It is worth repeating: God alone is holy.
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.