When Plagiarizing is Okay

August 26, 2019 | Miles Christi

He who sings prays twice.

I’ve heard that phrase attributed to at least a dozen different saints: St. John Bosco, St. Philip Neri, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine, St. Theresa of Calcutta.

And it’s only one in a collection of sayings and stories that we accredit to any one of God’s holy ones at any given time. In high school, this always annoyed my skeptical mind.

He who sings prays twice. A good bit of critical thinking inclines us to think that none of them really said it. But common sense tells us that all of them did.

St. Columbkille, the patron saint of plagiarizers (and of the parish I was baptized in), was an Irish monk that snuck into monasteries to copy the manuscripts of Sacred Scripture that a couple of clerics with doubtful motives wanted to keep in their own (private) hands. He recognized that the personal benefit of a few churchmen was too great a price to pay compared to the salvation of souls. “When I found your words I devoured them”, says the prophet Jeremiah. We can piously believe that St. Columbkille prayed, “I found your words and I copied them.”

There are times when God wants us to be copiers. Every Christian is called to seek out what is good, true, and beautiful and recreate it in his very soul. Each of God’s creations are models. Does it surprise you that it is your God-given duty to recreate in your soul something of the fortitude of an old oak? Or the innocence of a childhood friendship? Or the austerity of the stars?

Then plagiarize.

St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4: 8-10)

And don’t settle for the mediocre. If you copy, copy the best: the virtues of a soul in grace. Imitate the saints. Make their experiences your own. Their ecstatic love for God, their severity and boldness, their humility and compassion: make it your own. The Final Judgement is the only exam where the ones who fail are those who don’t copy.

All holy thoughts have God as their Author.

And we, children of God, are called to be His most devout plagiarists.