Concupiscence

Concupiscence

[kon-kyoo-pi-suhns, kong-]
Modern definitions of Concupiscence: an ardent, usually sensuous, longing; a strong sexual desire; lust. In Christian theology, concupiscence is selfish human desire for an object, person, or experience. Although the idea of concupiscence is Latin in origin, it has been co-opted and our understanding of it has been developed by Christianity. Based on conflicting ideas of original sin, Catholics and Protestants have ideas of concupiscence that also contradict one another. For Catholics the term has two meanings. In its widest sense, "concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific sense, it means a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason. For Protestants, concupiscence refers to what they understand as the orientation, inclination or innate tendency of human beings to do evil. "Concupiscence" is derived from the Latin word concupiscentia meaning "a desire for worldly things."

There are nine occurrences of the word in the Douay-Rheims Bible: Wisdom 4:12, Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8, Colossians 3:5, Epistle of James 1:14, James 1:15, 2 Peter 1:4, and 1 John 2:17.

There are three occurrences of the word in the King James Bible: Romans 7:8, Colossians 3:5 and I Thessalonians 4:5.

A Theory on The Difference Between Catholic and Protestant Views

The primary difference between Catholic and Protestant theology on the issue of concupiscence is that Protestants consider concupiscence to be sinful, whereas Catholics believe it to be highly likely to cause sin, though not sinful in itself.

This difference is intimately tied with the different traditions on original sin. Protestantism holds that the original prelapsarian nature of humanity was an innate tendency to good; the special relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was due not to some supernatural gift, but to their own natures. Hence, in the Protestant view, the Fall was not the destruction of a supernatural gift, leaving humanity's nature to work unimpeded, but rather the corruption of that nature itself. Since the present nature of humans is corrupted from their original nature, it follows that it is not good, but rather evil (although some good may still remain). Thus, in the Protestant view, concupiscence is evil in itself.

Catholicism, by contrast, teaches that humanity's original nature is good (CCC 374). This condition is referred to as original righteousness. After the Fall this gift was lost, (see original sin) but in the Catholic view, human nature cannot be called evil, because it still remains a natural creation of God. Despite the fact that sin usually results, Catholic theology teaches that human nature itself is not the cause of sin, although once it comes into contact with sin it may produce more sin, just as a flammable substance may be easily ignited by a fire.

The difference in views also extends to the relationship between concupiscence and original sin. In the Protestant view, original sin is concupiscence inherited from Adam and Eve. It is never fully eliminated in this life, although sanctifying grace helps to eliminate it gradually. Since concupiscence is not evil in the Catholic view, it cannot be original sin. Rather, original sin is the real and actual sin of Adam, passed on to his descendants; rather than remaining until death (or in the case of the damned, for all eternity), it can be removed by the sacrament of baptism. (For more information, see original sin.)

Another reason for the differing views of Protestants and Catholics on concupiscence is their position on sin in general. Protestants (or at least the magisterial reformers; some modern-day Protestants would not accept this position) hold that one can be guilty of sin even if it is not voluntary; Catholics, by contrast, traditionally believe that one is subjectively guilty of sin only when the sin is voluntary. The Scholastics and magisterial reformers have different views on the issue of what is voluntary and what is not: the Catholic Scholastics considered the emotions of love, hate, like and dislike to be acts of will or choice, while the Protestant reformers did not. The Bible specifies that attitudes as well as actions may be sinful. By the Catholic position that one's attitudes are acts of will, sinful attitudes are voluntary. By the magisterial reformer view that these attitudes are involuntary, some sins are involuntary as well. Since man's nature (and therefore concupiscence) is not voluntarily chosen, Catholics do not consider it to be sinful; the reformers believe that, since some sins are involuntary, it can be.

Protestants believe that concupiscence is sinful, indeed, they believe it to be the primary type of sin; thus they most often refer to it simply as sin, or, to distinguish it from particular sinful acts, as "man's sinful nature". Thus, concupiscence as a distinct term is more likely to be used by Catholics.

Catholic Teaching on Concupiscence

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that Adam and Eve were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice" (CCC 375, 376 398), free from concupiscence (CCC 337). By sinning, however, Adam lost this original "state," not only for himself but for all human beings (CCC 416). As a result of this original sin, according to Catholics, human nature has not been totally corrupted (as opposed to the teaching of Luther and Calvin); rather, human nature has only been weakened and wounded, subject to ignorance, suffering, the domination of death, and the inclination to sin and evil (CCC 405, 418). This inclination toward sin and evil is called "concupiscence" (CCC 405, 418). Baptism, Catholics believe, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God. The inclination toward sin and evil persists, however, and he must continue to struggle against concupiscence(CCC 2520).

Concupiscence and Sensuality

Thomas Aquinas described two divisions of "sensuality": the concupiscible (pursuit/avoidance instincts) and the irascible (competition/aggression/defense instincts). With the former are associated the emotions of joy and sadness, love and hate, desire and repugnance; with the latter, daring and fear, hope and despair, anger.

References

  • Dictionary.com, "concupiscense": http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=Concupiscence&x=0&y=0.
  • Robert Merrihew Adams, "Original Sin: A Study in the Interaction of Philosophy and Theology", p. 80ff in Francis J. Ambrosio (ed.), The Question of Christian Philosophy Today, Fordham University Press (New York: 1999), Perspectives in Continental Philosophy no. 9.
  • Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, and Dermot A. Lane, eds., The New Dictionary of Theology (Wilmington, Delaware : Michael Glazier, Inc., 1987), p. 220.
  • New Advent (Catholic Encyclopedia), "Concupiscence". http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04208a.htm.

See also

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