Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holy Willie Syndrome

A person can get some great quotes, by snipping out little bits of the Bible:
"... No one who is begotten by God commits sin...."
(Part of 1 John 3:9)
Oh, wow! Does that mean that once I'm baptized and saved and all that, I can do any damned thing I want, and it won't be my fault?

No, I really don't think so.

A Little More Detail

That 'no one ... commits sin" is from from today's first reading, 1 John 3:7-10:
"Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God. 4 In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother."
(1 John 3:7-10)
It's possible, if not reasonable, to take that snippet from 1 John 3:9 and decide that "righteous" people can do no wrong. And, of course, that "whoever sins" is irrevocably condemned to Hell.

If that doesn't seem compatible with loving each other: I agree, and I've been over that before. ("Loving Neighbors: No Matter What" (May 10, 2011))


Being part of a self-described little band of 'spiritual elite' can, I suppose, be reassuring. Not to me, though. I want to be "righteous," but not self-righteous. There's a difference.

Let's see what that footnote says:
"A habitual sinner is a child of the devil, while a child of God, who by definition is in fellowship with God, cannot sin. Seed: Christ or the Spirit who shares the nature of God with the Christian."
(Footnote 4, 1 John 3)
Okay: clarifying "sinner" as being a "habitual sinner" helps, a bit. As usual, there's more. Quite a lot more, including something earlier in that book:
"If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, 3 and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
(1 John 1:8-10)
Again with the footnote:
"Denial of the condition of sin is self-deception and even contradictory of divine revelation; there is also the continual possibility of sin's recurrence. Forgiveness and deliverance from sin through Christ are assured through acknowledgment of them and repentance."
(Footnote 3, 1 John 1)

Being 'Biblical,' Getting a Grip

I could take those two selections from 1 John, say 'the Bible contradicts itself,' and be considered 'intelligent' in some circles. That kind of trouble I don't need. I've posted about the particular judgment before.

Or I could decide that my cultural background and personal quirks are 'divine inspiration,' latch on to my favorite verses from the Bible, and claim that God is on my side. Again, that kind of trouble I don't need. The idea is to be on God's side, and that's another topic.

I don't doubt that folks who say women must wear dresses, because the Bible says so, are sincere. I also think they missed some important points. Which is part of the reason why I don't rant about the Bible ordaining that the zoot suit shall be worn by men forevermore. And that's definitely another topic. Topics.

I have to take the Bible seriously. It's Sacred Scripture, inspired writing, and true. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101-108)

But I don't worship a book. I worship God. Who is the Bible's author. (Catechism, 105) As a Catholic, I'm required to read the Bible; use my brain; and pay attention to what my Lord's outfit has been saying for the last couple of thousand years. (Catechism, 109-133)

"Repent!" and More

I'm a convert to Catholicism, so I'm probably more likely use words like "repentance," or "repent," than a cradle Catholic. Repentance is important, but I get the impression that the Church wants us to be aware of the process: contrition; penance; and reconciliation.

The rules are simple: love God, love my neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31) Also that everybody is my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-30; Catechism, 1825)

I think the reason the Church 'makes stuff complicated' is that folks keep trying to weasel out of the simple, but challenging, rules. Yet more topics.

I put links to part of what the Church says about sin, contrition, and all that, under Background, near the end of this post.

Holy Willie's Prayer

Folks getting wild ideas, based on that "... No one who is begotten by God commits sin...." Biblical snippet is nothing new.

Robert (Rabbie) Burns wrote the words of "Auld Lang Syne." He also wrote "Holy Willie's Prayer:"
"...In 'Holy Willie's Prayer,' he [Burns] lays a burning hand on the terrible doctrine of predestination: this is a satire, daring, personal, and profane. Willie claims praise in the singular, acknowledges folly in the plural, and makes heaven accountable for his sins!..."
(Life of Robert Burns, " The Complete Works of Robert Burns," Allan Cunningham (1855), via
I put the full text of "Holy Willie's Prayer" at the end of this post.1 The Catholic Church 'believes in' predestination, by the way. But not the 'Holy Willie' sort:
"To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination,' he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: 'In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.'395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396"
(Catechism, 600)
That's the sort of detail that I think is interesting, even fascinating. But since God's God, and I'm not: that sort of 'predestination' may not make much practical difference in my daily decisions.

Holy Willie Syndrome

The phrase, "Holy Willie syndrome," has been around for well over a decade. At least. I think it's a catchy phrase for describing a particularly arrogant, blind, sort of hypocrisy.

Truth as lifestyle choice helps a person avoid hypocrisy. (Catechism, 2468) And that's yet again another topic.

It's Faith and Works

I rely on the mercy of God and the sacrifice my Lord made at Golgotha for my salvation. (Luke 24:46-47; Catechism, 602-603, 1424) But I'm expected to do something with the life I've been given, too. (James 2:12-26; Catechism, 1021, 1915, 2199)

Those bits from the Bible and the Catechism aren't all that's been written about acting as if God matters: but they're a start.

Related posts:
  • Sin
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1846-1869)
    • Is an offense against
      • Reason
      • Truth
      • Right conscience
        (Catechism, 1849)
      • God
        (Catechism, 1850)
    • May be forgiven
      (Catechism, 976-983)
  • Contrition
    (Catechism, 1451-1454)
    • "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again"
      (Council of Trent (1551): Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum 1676 (1965), quoted in Catechism, 1451)
  • Penance
    (Catechism, 1422-1484)
    • Part of an ongoing process of conversion
      (Catechism, 1425)
  • Reconciliation
    (Catechism, 1420-1484)
    • With God
      (Catechism, 1468)
    • With the Church
      (Catechism, 1469)
  • There's more
    • Lots more

1The "Pope" quoted by Robert Burns is Alexander Pope (1688-1744). "And sent the godly in a pet to pray" is from A. Pope's poem, "The Rape of the Lock." Here's Robert Burns' take on one sort of 18th century religion:
"Holy Willie's Prayer

" 'And send the godly in a pet to pray.'--Pope.


"Holy Willie was a rather oldish bachelor elder, in the parish of Mauchline, and much and justly famed for that polemical chattering, which ends in tippling orthodoxy, and for that spiritualized bawdry which refines to liquorish devotion. In a sessional process with a gentleman in Mauchline--a Mr. Gavin Hamilton--Holy Willie and his priest, Father Auld, after full hearing in the presbytery of Ayr, came off but second best; owing partly to the oratorical powers of Mr. Robert Aiken, Mr. Hamilton's counsel; but chiefly to Mr. Hamilton's being one of the most irreproachable and truly respectable characters in the county. On losing the process, the muse overheard him [Holy Willie] at his devotions, as follows:--

"O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell,
Who, as it pleases best Thysel',
Sends ane to heaven an' ten to hell,
A' for Thy glory,
And no for ony gude or ill
They've done afore Thee!

"I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an' grace
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place.

"What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation,
I wha deserve most just damnation
For broken laws,
Five thousand years ere my creation,
Thro' Adam's cause?

"When frae my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me in hell,
To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain'd to their stakes.

"Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a' Thy flock.

"O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an' swearers swear,
An' singin there, an' dancin here,
Wi' great and sma';
For I am keepit by Thy fear
Free frae them a'.

"But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust:
An' sometimes, too, in wardly trust,
Vile self gets in:
But Thou remembers we are dust,
Defil'd wi' sin.

"O Lord! yestreen, Thou kens, wi' Meg--
Thy pardon I sincerely beg,
O! may't ne'er be a livin plague
To my dishonour,
An' I'll ne'er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.

"Besides, I farther maun allow,
Wi' Leezie's lass, three times I trow--
But Lord, that Friday I was fou,
When I cam near her;
Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true
Wad never steer her.

"Maybe Thou lets this fleshly thorn
Buffet Thy servant e'en and morn,
Lest he owre proud and high shou'd turn,
That he's sae gifted:
If sae, Thy han' maun e'en be borne,
Until Thou lift it.

"Lord, bless Thy chosen in this place,
For here Thou hast a chosen race:
But God confound their stubborn face,
An' blast their name,
Wha bring Thy elders to disgrace
An' public shame.

"Lord, mind Gaw'n Hamilton's deserts;
He drinks, an' swears, an' plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony takin arts,
Wi' great and sma',
Frae God's ain priest the people's hearts
He steals awa.

"An' when we chasten'd him therefor,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
An' set the warld in a roar
O' laughing at us;--
Curse Thou his basket and his store,
Kail an' potatoes.

"Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray'r,
Against that Presbyt'ry o' Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord, make it bare
Upo' their heads;
Lord visit them, an' dinna spare,
For their misdeeds.

"O Lord, my God! that glib-tongu'd Aiken,
My vera heart and flesh are quakin,
To think how we stood sweatin', shakin,
An' p-'d wi' dread,
While he, wi' hingin lip an' snakin,
Held up his head.

"Lord, in Thy day o' vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by 'em,
Nor hear their pray'r,
But for Thy people's sake, destroy 'em,
An' dinna spare.

"But, Lord, remember me an' mine
Wi' mercies temp'ral an' divine,
That I for grace an' gear may shine,
Excell'd by nane,
And a' the glory shall be thine,
Amen, Amen!
(Holy Willie's Prayer (1785), from "Poems And Songs Of Robert Burns," Robert Burns (1855) via


Brigid said...

Missing an article here: "Who is Bible's author."

Uh, what? "that for folks keep trying to weasel out of the simple"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Oops, found & fixed. Thanks!

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