Glory to God for All Things

The Pillar and Ground of Hypocrisy

RelativiteitA growing feature of the modern world is the disconnect between members of the Church and the teaching of the Church. A recent New York Times article noted a deep divide between what American Catholics believe and what their hierarchy teaches. It’s not just a Catholic phenomenon – it’s a feature of the modern Christian landscape. There is no lack of blame in this growing disconnect. Individualism, relativism, post-modernism – pretty much every possible modern philosophy and cultural trend (including my own favorite hobby-horse, secularism) can be pointed to as a culprit in the chasm between the teaching of the Church and the beliefs of the faithful (sic).

The New York Times piece focuses rather strongly on the social teaching of the Catholic Church, viz. abortion, same-sex unions, etc. Western cultures have recently embraced the cause of same-sex unions, with the Church left twisting in the wind. Though there is a continued debate in Western cultures surrounding these issues, public opinion has clearly shifted, with the strongest pro-union sentiments being among the young.

The position of the Church has been deeply undermined by very high-profile scandals within the ordained clergy and hierarchy alike. It is difficult for hierarchs to speak authoritatively about the teaching of the Church on sexual matters when they have been so publicly compromised in their own behaviors. Of course, it is true that scandals represent the actions of only a few. But the weak response to such scandals over the past number of decades has tarnished the entirety of the hierarchy. While the Church is changing (it would seem) and addressing these crimes in a more open and forthright manner – it is still the case that the Church had to change – and that the change was brought about through civil suits and insurance claims. It is hard to see this change as a triumph of the gospel.

I have heard this growing disconnect described as a break with the Church’s teaching. It is easy to point to the deposit of the faith (which is generally quite clear on matters of personal conduct) and demand that people accept the Church’s authoritative teaching. But the teaching office of the Church can never be restricted to the passing on of information. The teaching of the Church is either embodied or it is no teaching at all.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

Orthodox priests in the Russian tradition, are given a cross at their ordination. On the back is inscribed 1 Tim. 4:12:

..Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Without such an example there can be no teaching.

I have written before that Christ Himself warned that scandals were bound to happen. He also offered dire warnings for those by whom the scandals come.

It is less than clear to me (as an Orthodox priest) that Rome is currently able to make the case for a celibate priesthood. In many ways, its removal of celibacy from the context of monasticism has changed the context of the original canons concerning celibacy. Monasticism may have existed from the earliest days of the Church. It is clear that it became a significant phenomenon only the the latter half of the 3rd century. Celibacy as a rule for bishops does not become a fixed canon until the 7th century. But even then, its context (in the East) is that bishops will also be monks. To this day, a priest, whether widower or simply unmarried, cannot become a bishop without first being tonsured a monk. It is many times only pro forma, but the form at least preserves the intention.

It is not a mystical cult of celibacy that informed the early canons. The practical questions of unencumbered freedom (no young family to care for) and fears of property rights (heirs demanding Church property), as well as the well-formed life of piety nurtured within monasticism that gave rise to the canonical institution of monastic bishops. It is certainly the case that the canon did not intend to create a career of institutionalized unmarried men apart from monasticism.

In the Church’s scandal-weakened condition, it is very difficult for it even to make the case against same-sex unions or abstinence outside of holy matrimony. Indeed, it is difficult for the Church to teach on the subject of sex at all. None of this is the fault of the teaching (I’ve expressed my reservations regarding priestly celibacy above), when viewed from the realm of content. But the scandal which we now endure (in the original sense of the word) is not found within the teaching: it is found within our lives.

My mind wanders to conversations with teenagers. There adults are often confronted with questions of “why?” when we seek to offer guidance or issue rules. “Because I said so!” is the weakest of all responses, followed closely by, “Do what I say, but don’t do what I do!” It is difficult to understand (for a layman) why a priest who has molested children should be slapped on the wrist and simply transferred, while a divorced and remarried layman is forbidden the cup (except he gain an ecclesiastical annulment). Explanations will and do fall on deaf ears.

The integrity of Christ’s teaching requires integrity of its teachers. This is the case universally, regardless of what group of Christians is being described. No group of Christians is free of scandal. We live today under the withering gaze of an indifferent and frequently hostile public. Early Christians gained converts through the integrity of their martyrdoms. Modern Christian groups are hemorrhaging members through the failure of integrity. Civil suits and insurance rules are the wrath of a culture brought down upon the heads of Christians for misplaced institutional loyalties and the refusal simply to do what is right.

And in the midst of this, the Catholic Church elects a Pope. I wish them well and pray for grace that we may all embrace the integrity of the gospel. There is no “good of the Church” apart from the commandments of Christ. Despite the differences among Christians, we swim in the same small pool watched by the same school of sharks. May we learn to swim well – or even to walk on water!

Note to readers: I do not wish to engage in a discussion of the pro’s and con’s of the Church’s teaching on sexual matters. It is beside the point of this article.

35 Responses to “The Pillar and Ground of Hypocrisy”

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  1. Steve says:

    Father, I was blessed to listen to a homily this evening. -Delivered by a priest with 30 years experience in the missions. Two things remain firmly embedded in memory:

    Firstly, that mankind derives psychospiritual meaning through a trinity of relationships. In descending order, these are:

    (i) FGod to man. The perfect shape of which is always “ecclesiological” – Christ (the divine image) is the first and last (only) prototype.

    (ii) Man to himself. The divine image of a perfect ecclesiology needs to be actualised through fasting and prayer.

    (iii) Man to humanity. Participation in achieved Eucharistically (through acts of charity).

    Said priest had no major complaints to report, save for the mountain of food that is discarded which could be used to feed the 870 million undernourished people in the world today (WFP figures 2012).

  2. Dino says:

    Thank you for your thought-provoking insights Father!
    We are facing growing problems indeed.
    I was reminded, however, how the saints have acquired the undeniable knowledge (through their experience) of the following axiom:

    “Christ is the solution to every problem.”

    He is also the solution to the above outlined issues: I (everyone of us) must become closer, more permanently and tightly united to Him.

    Early Christians gained converts through the integrity of their martyrdoms. Modern Christian groups are hemorrhaging members through the failure of integrity.

    May we become liberated from futile attachments and become one with Him so that His name be glorified…

  3. fatherstephen says:

    Dino,
    Yes. Some have substituted institutionalized Christianity (of any sort) as though it saved or as though it was Christ Himself. And not being changed by Christ, they carry us into scandal. Or having fallen into scandal (which can happen to anyone – witness St. Peter), they do not repent but seek to “manage” the problem. The problem, as you state, is being without Christ. And the answer is the converse. There is no substitution for keeping the commandments. They will not destroy us or harm the “institution.”

  4. Purity isn’t beside the point. Priests are to “Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

    The war on the priesthood, expressed in the media’s obsession with priests as sex offenders, is an attack on Christ’s image as the Pure One.

    Pure is the present night, in which the Pure One appeared, Who came to purify us! Let our hearing be pure, and the sight of our eyes chaste, and the feeling of the heart holy, and the speech of the mouth sincere!

    The present night is the night of reconciliation; therefore, let no one be wroth against his brother and offend him!

    This night gave peace to the whole world, and so, let no one threaten. This is the night of the Most Meek One; let no one be cruel!

    This is the night of the Humble One; let no one be proud!

  5. drewster2000 says:

    Thank you for this article, Fr. Stephen. It’s not the first time you’ve spoken on publicly difficult issues. I find that the scandals in the church combined with the scorn of the public leave teachers, priests and all church leaders feeling weakened in their ability to speak the hard truths about things like marriage and the priesthood. Predictably they fear the spotlight for them and the people they serve.

    When these topics come up, it does indeed feel like North America is the mission field that Africa and other places never have been. In fact it almost gets more comfortable going over there and feeding the hungry.

    I also believe the scandals and public scorn causes these same public leaders to become divided – trusting smaller and smaller groups around them as public figures go down and examples of integrity dwindle. This calls for brave ones to perform martyrdom in a whole new sense, continuing to walk with integrity even though they may end up walking alone.

    This is tough because walking alone is not how we were meant to function; we are creatures built on relationships. I do believe God does give grace for the task to those who would follow Him and not Man, but it’s always a tricky path lest one fall into delusion and lose one’s way.

    May God have mercy! He does! (grin)

  6. Steve says:

    Beautifully put Alice!

  7. elizabeth says:

    it is not the case that the sexual scandal in the rc church represents the actions of the very few. almost every hierarch, at some point, chose protecting the secrets of rapists over protecting the safety of children, which severly undermines the moral credibility of the entire institution.

  8. leonard Nugent says:

    The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church.

    To me monks should be monks and the hierarchy should be married. The amount of scandal in the Roman Catholic Episcopacy nearly causes me to dispare. Both church’s have this one wrong

  9. fatherstephen says:

    Elizabeth. I wouldn’t begin to argue with that. As noted, there is so much blame to go around. The scandals have been deeply shameful and their damage has (I think) only begun to be felt.

  10. Steve says:

    Leonard, if I may: I think that’s the point. The Church is the Church when she finds her true identity (as Holy Mother) in the Trinity of Holy Persons.

  11. Dino says:

    Leonard,
    there is also another reason why the Orthodox Church has wisely dictated that the Episcopate must come from the Monastic ranks: a Bishop is supposed to not be in the “purification stage”, or even in the “illumination stage”, but at the final stage of “glorification” – something usually striven for from a young age in the most conducive and dedicated environment possible, dedicated to just that (monasticism).

    Drewster,
    If Lot, Elijah and the majority of Saints thought at times that they were walking alone, -and our Lord far more so on the way to Golgotha-, we must go through that too…

  12. fatherstephen says:

    Leonard,
    I have no problem with the monastic requirement for bishops – though I think its original intention – that they be monastics – should be observed more carefully. I lived with a married hierarchy among the Anglicans and it populated the Church with careerists, and tempted every priest to fancy the purple as some point (myself included). I thought it was corrupting, and much prefer the Orthodox world. The Orthodox canons, however, presuppose and exalt (if you will) a true, ascetical Christianity, marked by great prayer and fasting (and not simply celibacy – indeed – celibacy may be the least of things for a true monk). It is the presumption that the leaders of the Church should be taken from among the most devout that says that what is needed is not great administrators or charismatic personalities, but prayer, humility, discernment and true knowledge of God. There is great wisdom in the canons. I cannot say that I feel the same way about Rome’s celibacy canons. England’s priest were married up until they were overthrown by the Normans in 1066 and continental Catholicism was imposed in that realm. It has been a troublesome canon for Rome for most of its history (the canon’s history). The Middle Ages were marked by at least as much scandal as we know at the moment – and – as far as we know – ever since. It just doesn’t seem to have worked out. It’s defense flies in the face of experience, I think. But I’m Orthodox…

  13. PJ says:

    Even on the continent, it was a long while before priestly celibacy was universally enforced. Especially in the countryside, priests kept wives well into the 13th and even 14th centuries. This was especially true in the “younger” Christian realms, such as Norway.

    To my mind, there would be no fewer scandals if priests could marry. After all, the vast majority of priests abide by their vows, and really there are no more scandals in the Catholic Church than in any other church. It’s just that Catholic scandals draw more media scrutiny because ridiculing and condemning Catholicism has been a national pastime since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

    Also, the media is full of secular liberals and the Catholic Church is — even now, despite our transgressions (and they are legion!) — one of the few obstacles standing in the way of total moral anarchy, which is the fervent desire of so many self-styled “modern people.”

    The celibate priesthood is an important sign of contradiction in an age of rampant sexual confusion and promiscuity and impurity. It is, for instance, a clear example to homosexuals that they can find joy apart from sex, through friendship with Christ and fellow man.

    The celibate priesthood is also a symbol of immense eschatological and Christological importance: it makes manifest the marriage between Christ and His Church.

    Honestly, I find the Orthodox position the most peculiar: a married presbyterate and a celibate episcopate seems somewhat arbitrary. I don’t mean any disrespect. I’m frankly ignorant as to the origin of this unique dynamic. It just seems that it should be one way or the other. But then I’m Catholic … ;-) Perhaps one of you will enlighten me as to the provenance of this practice.

    I wouldn’t choose priestly celibacy as a hill to die on. It is, in the end, a discipline, not a doctrine or dogma. But I think people both inside and outside the Church are too quick to dismiss it as problematic and unhealthy.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to derail the conversation. Just my 2(ish) cents.

  14. Anastasia says:

    Not disagreeing re priestly celibacy, but I fail to see how letting someone marry a woman addresses the problem of homosexual pedophilia.

  15. leonard Nugent says:

    Anastasia one of the reasons I didn’t become a roman Catholic priest is because I really like girls and ended up married to one!

  16. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    The Provenance was the Quinisext Council (5-6th). I.e. an Ecumenical Council. The priestly celibacy in the West came later. The Orthodox practice is the earlier practice and was not uniquely Eastern.

  17. fatherstephen says:

    Anastasia, homosexuality and pedophilia are very different topics. Homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexuals. Both are dangers – including married men.

  18. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Excellent timing for this one. I very recently wrote an essay about St. Chrysostom’s “On The Priesthood” & I addressed the issue of how our hierarchy are failing to be the examples they are supposed to be.

    FWIW, Protestantism also has its issues with sexual abuse among its leadership (both ordained & lay) that makes the RC scandals pale in contrast. It is virtually unknown because there is no one to compile the numbers so to speak & the media is unaware of it (for the time being). Just as the RC & EO (yes, we have our issues) have often kept skeletons in the closet, so too have the Protestants.

    The teaching of the Church is either embodied or it is no teaching at all…The integrity of Christ’s teaching requires integrity of its teachers.

    Yes! Thank You :-)

  19. leonard Nugent says:

    Fr Stephen and Anastasia it seems that among the married clergy in the Orthodox church the doesn’t seem to be a pedophilia problem of either sort. Although I’ve asked many of my friends if they knew any married Roman Catholic men who they think would make a good Roman priest. I honestly can’t think of any

  20. drewster2000 says:

    Dino: “If Lot, Elijah and the majority of Saints thought at times that they were walking alone, -and our Lord far more so on the way to Golgotha-, we must go through that too…”

    I don’t disagree, but my point is that this is not natural – and therefore not easy. Walking alone is not how we were created. The Fall turned the world on its head. To follow Christ you must learn to look at the world upside-down and inside-out.

    Count the number of people you mentioned above and then hold that number up to the population of the world – present and past. The scales are totally swayed to those who live in close relation to other human beings because that’s the way we were made.

    I don’t disagree that walking alone is what we must do and what we’ve been called to as Christians. But that doesn’t make it any easier. In reference to the original post, those in the public eye are not simply walking alone, but they are also flying in the face of public opinion, a salmon swimming upstream in a river of violent currents.

    It is good and honorable, but it is truly a martyrdom that is in one sense much harder that being burned alive at the stake for a few hours. Call the process purification if you will, but it can also be called hell and these people (Fr. Stephen not excluded) deserve all the support we can give them.

    We are not in disagreement, but the cost should not be easily dismissed. It is a lonely journey and a tricky path – that must be walked – but God have mercy on us all.

  21. Dino says:

    drewster,
    you are completely right. Though we are created for togetherness, that is now only truly achieved through following the One who preached the Cross, (and part of the Cross is this seemingly “walking alone”), however, it is to those that walk that way that God’s Grace bestows community with all that exists.

  22. Dino says:

    sorry: communion with all..

  23. RiverC says:

    Hmm, was my comment earlier, deleted?

    It seems to have disappeared.

  24. PJ says:

    Father,

    The truth may be a little more complicated than that. Although marriage originally existed in the western clergy, there prevailed from the earliest centuries a strong tendency toward enforcing total continence. This prejudice against sexual activity among the clergy is prominent in many of the greatest western fathers and evident in the local synods of the Latin church.

    This is documented at least as early as the Council of Elvira, which occurred in 305 AD:

    “We decree that all bishops, priests and deacons in the service of the ministry are entirely forbidden to have conjugal relations with their wives and to beget children; should anyone do so, let him be excluded from the honour of the clergy.”

    A decade later, the First Council of Arles stated:

    “Moreover, (concerned with) what is worthy, pure, and honest, we exhort our brothers to make sure that priests and deacons have no relations with their wives, since they are serving the ministry every day. Whoever will act against this decision, will be deposed from the honor of the clergy.”

    Shifting from Europe to North Africa, that other great realm of Latin Christianity, the Council of Carthage, at the end of the 4th century, reiterated that those deacons, presbyters, and bishops who are married are to abstain from relations with their wives.

    Leo the Great wrote that although married men who are raised to the clergy should not send their wives away, neither should they continue as spouses, but rather live as brother and sister: “In order for the union to change from carnal to spiritual, they must, without sending away their wives, live with them as if they did not have them, so that conjugal love be safeguarded and nuptial activity cease.”

    This sentiment must have existed outside the west, too, even if it was not as strong. St. Jerome, having lived in the east for a long while, wrote in his Letter to Vigilantius: “What would the Eastern Churches do? What would Egypt and the Apostolic See do, they who never accept clerics unless they are virgins or continent men, or if they had had a wife, if they give up matrimonial life?”

    And the Greek Epiphanius wrote, “It is evident that those from the priesthood are chiefly taken from the order of virgins, or if not from virgins, at least from monks; or if not from the order of monks, then they are wont to be made priests who keep themselves from their wives, or who are widows after a single marriage. But he that has been entangled by a second marriage is not admitted to priesthood in the Church, even if he be continent from his wife, or be a widower. Anyone of this sort is rejected from the grade of bishop, presbyter, deacon, or subdeacon.”

    Now what is a marriage without the conjugal embrace. The one-flesh union, and its attendant fertility, is the very heart of the sacrament. A marriage without nuptial love is hardly a marriage at all.

    The rulings of these early councils set in motion a chain of logic which inevitably leads to the conclusion that clerical celibacy should be the norm.

    Priestly celibacy is not a medieval novelty. It is deeply rooted in the tradition of the church, especially the western church, and arose organically out of a desire for a holy and devoted clergy. The councils are popes who finally enforced the universal prohibition on clerical marriage — before or after consecration — were all of a reforming spirit, and they typically looked back at patristic and earlier synodal decrees for their support.

    Basically, it’s a very complicated issue. I refer interested parties to “Priestly celibacy in patristics and in the history of the Church,” which was commissioned by the Holy See and is available on the Vatican website. It is stuffed full with historical references to the writings of the fathers and the decrees of ancient synods. Interestingly, it is written by an eastern Catholic: one Roman Cholij, Secretary of the Apostolic Exarch for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain.

    It’s really a fascinating matter.

  25. fatherstephen says:

    RiverC,
    Yes. Deleted. Keeping us off the side-track of sexual issues as much as I can.

  26. fatherstephen says:

    PJ, You’re correct. I’ve greatly over-simplified. It is fascinating. It’s interesting that this early tendency took the course it did in the West while taking a different course in the East. My children rejoice that we’re in the East. I have one of those “clergy families.” 2 of my daughters are married to priests. One of those priests is the son of a priest and brother of a deacon. The other son-in-law is the son of protestant missionaries (of several generations). My own family (father’s side), included 50 ordained men in America between 1730 and 1917. My father and grandfather were not clergy. I was surprised to find out about the 50 ordained. Apparently the tree from which I fell was in a clergy orchard.

  27. RiverC says:

    Ah, thanks for letting me know.

    I guess the point here is that you need a constructive approach; However I’d like to say that hypocrisy is treated by the dominant culture at the moment as the worst sin (from a culture that doesn’t believe in sin, even.)

    It then follows that whoever has the strictest morals will be the worst hypocrite, as morals are ideals which are rarely fulfilled completely and usually if so, through repentance and not through complete and unerring adherence. Christians will have to simply weather the storm on this one as they make an effort to better themselves by prayer, asceticism and the help of the Spirit.

    If I had a suggestion on this of any merit, it would be that one should be cautious of the framing of the issue. This isn’t to say Christians should ‘reframe’ abuses as something else, but ensure that abuses are framed properly as failings requiring repentance of the individual and not as features of the religion or institution. I think in this regard perhaps the Catholics failed. But then again, given the prevalence of mass media ‘rewriting’ it’s hard to imagine that they would have fared better even if the priests had been properly defrocked and the parents given the option to press charges without the church retaliating.

    Then, maybe it follows that you want to be uninvolved with anything that orbits around the mass media – I feel as though blogs are questionable but perhaps rogue enough to not be drawn into the sphere of ‘the medium is the message’. Twitter and Facebook are in my mind, things to be cast aside as rubbish. I can only see them being used as a means to promote a business or venture. Note, I’m 30 years old – my college was (IIRC) the fourth college to be added to Facebook back when it was a college thing only.

    I recall someone telling me that as soon as the reporter has your story, it isn’t your story any more. Those in journalism and the arts tend to act purely in the role of advocate these days, and there is a near 100% chance the ideology they advocate is in opposition to Christ, or at least, intentionally in opposition the Christians.

    If Christians cannot slip up without being belayed by their errors, then they can have no traction in that culture at all. I would wonder if Christian handling of such issues is driven by fear of cultural reprisal; they know if they appear even slightly spotted they will be covered in pitch by sundown.

    That fear needs to disappear, I believe.

  28. leonard Nugent says:

    Dino what you say about the bishop needing to be at the final stage of “glorification” is most certainly true. However this wisdom is wiser than St Paul’s admonition to Timothy

  29. PJ says:

    Father,

    50!? Wow! That’s incredible.

    I fear that, were the Catholic Church to repeal its canons mandating priestly celibacy, in a generation the celibate priest would be extinct. Maybe that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. But perhaps it would have consequences we could never imagine. I just don’t know if our culture is mature enough for such a radical change. We’ll see how the increasing host of married Anglican priests integrate into Catholic life.

    Are celibate priests common in the Orthodox churches in America? How many of that number are American born and bred?

  30. Dino says:

    RiverC,

    “It then follows that whoever has the strictest morals will be the worst hypocrite, as morals are ideals which are rarely fulfilled completely and usually if so, through repentance and not through complete and unerring adherence. Christians will have to simply weather the storm on this one as they make an effort to better themselves by prayer, asceticism and the help of the Spirit.”

    astutely exposes “secular Pharisee-ism”, it seems that the secular Pharisee’s hypocrisy is that of seeing everything through “hypocrisy spotting goggles” except for his self.

  31. Michael Bauman says:

    Modern hypocrisy does not use a moral standard. It uses an ideological/political standard and is prehaps best expressed by Pres. Obama when he said that sin was going against his own beliefs and values.

    Real hypocrisy is where one effects a facade of Godliness and virtue when one neither posssess them or attempsts to gain them through humility, obedience and repentance.

    In effect, modern hypocrisy is the reverse of Biblical hypocrisy as modern hypocrisy says that if one does not follow and attempt to realize one’s own passions, he is a hypocrite.

    The Transvaluation of All Values articulated by Nietzche.

  32. Dino says:

    Indeed Michael!

  33. RiverC says:

    I concur. In a sense, Christ did this once (Transvaluation) but it was an effort to align those in the world to what is Real – the pagans valued virtue, but their concept of virtue was distorted. The Jews likewise valued virtue, but many had come to value the appearance of virtue over its reality. They had it worse because they ought to have known virtue from the scripture, but distorted it.

    Our world does not value virtue at all. It seems to have a concept of hypocrisy, but it is at once so watered down as to be banal and on the other hand rarefied into an ideological weapon. The last form seems to be a Post-Modern outgrowth, as in Critical Thinking and Deconstruction the bottom line is that there is no objective truth, simply readings of a text. This implies all signification of a text is opinion and an expression of will and power. Given that, it is impossible to interpret what is meant when the term is used except to understand that it is a form of negative connotation and projection. Aside from an attempt or a striving towards a fixed, external meaning, all words will become chimerical and used as a tool until their built up meaning is exhausted, much like a fossil fuel.

    This is why I believe framing is important and so is dis-association from mass media. Otherwise there can be no witness; even the pure can be interpreted as sinners so long as ‘sin’ retains residual emotional content.

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