By denying what
we affirm, we affirm what we deny
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 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
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.
How can 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 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.
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
We participate in God’s Holiness — and only insofar
as we participate in God Himself.
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 evil.
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 short ...
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 ...
Boston Catholic Journal