Repentance on a Sunday for What One Has Done on Saturday

Thomas R. Ybarra? Contributor to Life Magazine? Victor L. Berger? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Individuals who attend church services without sincerity have long been criticized with the following sardonic description:

Those who repent on Sunday,
For what they did on Saturday,
And plan to do again on Monday.

I have been unable to determine who first said this. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI was printed in the humor magazine “Life” in 1905, and the author was unidentified:[ref] 1905 December 14, Life, Volume 46, Number 1207, A Definition, Quote Page 746, Column 2, Life Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

A Christian is a man who feels
Repentance on a Sunday
For what he has done on Saturday,
And is going to do on Monday.

This theme has a long history and QI conjectures that the above verse was inspired directly or indirectly by lines in a poem published in the eighteenth century. Details are given below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1797 a periodical called “The Monthly Epitome” printed extracts from a comical poem titled “The Grumbler’s Petition” which included the following lines. The same concept of misbehavior during the week combined with disingenuous repentance on Sunday was presented:[ref] 1797 April, The Monthly Epitome, Volume 1, Paul Positive’s Prison Amusements, Extract: The Grumbler’s Petition, Start Page 283, Quote Page 283, Printed for W. Clarke, New Bond Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

A worthy orthodox divine;
Six days and nights in riot spent,
I’ll bless the seventh and repent;
Then start again on Monday morn,
Nor rest till Sabbath day return.

—No—my good grannum us’d to say,
That there will come—a judgment day!
“Well, then with lawyers I’ll resort,
And, like a spectre, haunt the court;”

In 1807 “Monthly Literary Recreations” printed the same lines from “The Grumbler’s Petition”. Hence, the joke continued to circulate.[ref] 1807 October, Monthly Literary Recreations, Or, Magazine of General Information and Amusement, Volume 3, Number 16, Section: Blossoms of Poetry, The Grumbler’s Petition, Start Page 302, Quote Page 303, Column 1, Printed for B. Crosby and Co. Stationers’-Court, London. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

In 1885 the “Sunday-School Journal for Teachers and Young People” addressed this issue with a strong concern for wayward parishioners. The periodical suggested that incorrect behavior should be halted with a change of heart.[ref] 1885 October, Sunday-School Journal for Teachers and Young People, Volume 17, Number 10, Methodism in the Lessons of the Fourth Quarter by Rev. D. A. Whedon, D.D., Start Page 290, Quote Page 291, Column 1, Published by Cranston & Stowe, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

And who has not seen great devoutness in church on Sunday followed by great worldliness, frivolity, and sin on Monday? The lesson demands reform, not by abolishing the worship, but by stopping the sin, beginning with a radical change of heart.

On December 14, 1905 the verse under investigation was printed in “Life” magazine in a section with other pieces of humor. Author names were given for some items, but this item was unsigned. A few days later on December 18 the verse was reprinted in the “Salt Lake Telegram” in Utah with an acknowledgement to “Life”:[ref] 1905 December 28, Salt Lake Telegram, A Definition, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

A Christian is a man who feels
Repentance on a Sunday
For what he has done on Saturday,
And is going to do on Monday.

In January 1906 the piece was reprinted in other newspapers, e.g., the “Sullivan Evening Times” in Sullivan, Indiana[ref] 1906 January 3, Sullivan Evening Times, A Definition, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 6, Column 3, Sullivan, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref] and “Daily Free Press” of Carbondale, Illinois.[ref] 1906 January 18, Daily Free Press, A Definition, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Carbondale, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref] The source was listed as “Life” magazine.

Several important quotation references have ascribed this verse to Thomas Russell Ybarra who was a U.S. writer and poet born in Venezuela. A 1909 book titled “The Christian” was cited to support this ascription in “The Times Book of Quotations” (2000), “The Yale Book of Quotations” (2006), and the “Oxford Dictionary of Quotations” (2009). The instance in “The Christian” was nearly identical to the version published in “Life” several years earlier. However, the third line was slightly different:[ref] 2000, The Times Book of Quotations, Quote Page 126, Column 2, HarperCollins, Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Verified on paper)[/ref][ref] 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Thomas Russell Ybarra, Quote Page 844, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) [/ref][ref] Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Editor Elizabeth Knowles, Entry: Thomas Russell Ybarra, Oxford Reference Online, Print Publication Date: 2009, Oxford University Press. (Accessed April 14, 2014)[/ref]

1905: For what he has done on Saturday
1909: For what he did on Saturday

QI believes it may be necessary to reevaluate the linkage to Ybarra. Perhaps Ybarra saw the issue of “Life” magazine or one of the periodicals that reprinted the verse and included the words in his book. Alternatively, he may have created and submitted the item to “Life” for publication, but QI has found no evidence to support this latter hypothesis.

In 1918 the book “A Cyclopedia of Twentieth Century Illustrations” reprinted the verse and commented negatively. The author saw the item in a comic weekly and thought the joke was inaccurate and not humorous:[ref] 1918, A Cyclopedia of Twentieth Century Illustrations: New Pictures of Truth from Current Events and Recent Inventions and Discoveries, for the Use of Preachers, Sunday-School Teachers and Christian Workers by Amos R. Wells, Repentance: A Joke That Isn’t Funny, Quote Page 333, Column 2, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

A Joke That Isn’t Funny.

Not long ago I saw—perhaps you did—the following quatrain. It appeared in one of the very best and most admirable of the comic weeklies. I could scarcely believe my eyes as I read it…

In 1931 a letter writer in a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper presented an instance with a different phrasing and ascribed the words to someone named Victor L. Berger:[ref] 1931 June 5, Capital Times (Madison Capital Times), Voice of the People: Opinion titled “How the Little Ones Are Frozen Out” by Tommy Topkins of Milwaukee, Quote Page 24, Column 2, Madison, Wisconsin. (The typo “churchgoes” was replaced with “churchgoer”) (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

As the late Victor L. Berger has been wont to say: “The average churchgoer is a man who has repentance on a Sunday, for what he has done on a Saturday, and is going to do on a Monday.”

In 1948 a version of the four lines was submitted to the “Boston Herald” of Massachusetts, and it was printed with the title “A Christian Is a Man Who Feels” and credit to T. R. Ybarra.[ref] 1948 June 27, Boston Herald, Favorite Poems by Marjorie Mills, A Christian Is a Man Who Feels by T.R. Ybarra, Quote Page 38, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

In 1961 the “Ludington Daily News” of Michigan printed a variant without attribution that referred to a “moral man”:[ref] 1961 December 9, Ludington Daily News, Case’s Column: A collection of odds and ends, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Ludington, Michigan. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

A moral man is a man who feels
Repentance on a Sunday
For what he did on Saturday
And intends to do on Monday.

In conclusion, QI believes that the quotation was crafted for the humor magazine “Life”, but the precise identity of the creator is not known. QI suggests that one should credit “Life” magazine. The support for ascribing the verse to Thomas R. Ybarra is currently inadequate.

Image Notes: Cathedral Door from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay. Calendar from OpenClips on Pixabay.

(Special thanks to Tim Keune who is preparing a book and has been working to clarify the provenance of many quotations including the one examined here. His query led QI to formulate this question and initiate this exploration.)

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