This page serves as a brief exploration of the Catholic position on Concupiscence, which in short, is a word which describes man's inclination to sin. This is a subject of which there is profound difference in theology between Catholics and protestants, and so I thought it useful to explore the subject albeit a brief exposition.
There are nine occurrences of the word "concupiscence" in the Douay-Rheims Bible:
For the bewitching of vanity obscureth good things, and the wandering of concupiscence overturneth the innocent mind.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid! But I do not know sin, but by the law. For I had not known concupiscence, if the law did not say: Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence and covetousness, which is the service of idols.
But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.
Then, when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.
2 Peter 1:4
By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world.
1 John 2:17
And the world passeth away and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever.
There is one unique occurrence of the word "concupiscence" in the King James Bible.
1 Thessalonians 4:5
Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
Further Scriptural Notes
"Concupiscence" is the English translation of the Koine Greek epithumia (ἐπιθυμία). Epithumia occurs 38 times in the New Testament: Mark 4:19, Luke 22:15, John 8:44, Romans 1:24, Romans 6:12, Romans 7:7,8, Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:16,24, Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 4:22, Philippians 1:23, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, 1 Timothy 6:9, 2 Timothy 2:22, 2 Timothy 3:6, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 2:12, Titus 3:3, James 1:14,15, 1 Peter 1:14, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Peter 4:2,3, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 2:10,18, 2 Peter 3:3, 1 John 2:16,17, Jude 1:16,18, Revelation 18:14. The word "epithumia" is variously translated: desire, longing, lust, passion, covetousness, impulses, concupiscence.
337 God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work", concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day.204 On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation,205 permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God."206
374 The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.
375 The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice".250 This grace of original holiness was "to share in. . .divine life".251
376 By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man's life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die.252 The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman,253 and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called "original justice".
398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully "divinized" by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to "be like God", but "without God, before God, and not in accordance with God".279
405 Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.
416 By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.
418 As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence").
1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, "the tinder for sin" (fomes peccati); since concupiscence "is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ."67 Indeed, "an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules."68
2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God's grace he will prevail
- by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;
- by purity of intention which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptized person seeks to find and to fulfill God's will in everything;313
- by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God's commandments: "Appearance arouses yearning in fools";314
- by prayer:
68 2 Tim 2:5.
204 Gen 1:1-2:4.
205 Cf. DV 11.
206 LG 36 § 2.
250 Cf. Council of Trent (1546): DS 1511.
251 Cf. LG 2.
252 Cf. Gen 2:17; 3:16,19.
253 Cf. Gen 2:25.
279 St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua: PG 91,1156C; cf. Gen 3:5.
295 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1513.
313 Cf. Rom 12:2; Col 1:10.
314 Wis 15:5.
315 St. Augustine, Conf. 6,11,20:PL 32,729-730.
In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason. To understand how the sensuous and the rational appetite can be opposed, it should be borne in mind that their natural objects are altogether different. The object of the former is the gratification of the senses; the object of the latter is the good of the entire human nature and consists in the subordination of reason to God, its supreme good and ultimate end. But the lower appetite is of itself unrestrained, so as to pursue sensuous gratifications independently of the understanding and without regard to the good of the higher faculties. Hence desires contrary to the real good and order of reason may, and often do, rise in it, previous to the attention of the mind, and once risen, dispose the bodily organs to the pursuit and solicit the will to consent, while they more or less hinder reason from considering their lawfulness or unlawfulness. This is concupiscence in its strict and specific sense. As long, however, as deliberation is not completely impeded, the rational will is able to resist such desires and withhold consent, though it be not capable of crushing the effects they produce in the body, and though its freedom and dominion be to some extent diminished. If, in fact, the will resists, a struggle ensues, the sensuous appetite rebelliously demanding its gratification, reason, on the contrary, clinging to its own spiritual interests and asserting it control. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh."
From the explanation given, it is plain that the opposition between appetite and reason is natural in man, and that, though it be an imperfection, it is not a corruption of human nature. Nor have the inordinate desires (actual concupiscence) or the proneness to them (habitual concupiscence) the nature of sin; for sin, being the free and deliberate transgression of the law of God, can be only in the rational will; though it be true that they are temptations to sin, becoming the stronger and the more frequent the oftener they have been indulged. As thus far considered they are only sinful objects and antecedent causes of sinful transgressions; they contract the malice of sin only when consent is given by the will; not as though their nature were changed, but because they are adopted and completed by the will and so share its malice. Hence the distinction of concupiscence antecedent and concupiscence consequent to the consent of the will; the latter is sinful, the former is not. The first parents were free from concupiscence, so that their sensuous appetite was perfectly subject to reason; and this freedom they were to transmit to posterity provided they observed the commandment of God. A short but important statement of the Catholic doctrine on this point may be quoted from Peter the Deacon, a Greek, who was sent to Rome to bear witness to the Faith of the East: "Our belief is that Adam came from the hands of his Creator good and free from the assaults of the flesh" (Lib. de Incarn., c. vi). In our first parents, however, this complete dominion of reason over appetite was no natural perfection or acquirement, but a preternatural gift of God, that is, a gift not due to human nature; nor was it, on the other hand, the essence of their original justice, which consisted in sanctifying grace; it was but a complement added to the latter by the Divine bounty. By the sin of Adam freedom from concupiscence was forfeited not only for himself, but also for all his posterity with the exception of the Blessed Virgin by special privilege. Human nature was deprived of both its preternatural and supernatural gifts and graces, the lower appetite began to lust against the spirit, and evil habits, contracted by personal sins, wrought disorder in the body, obscured the mind, and weakened the power of the will, without, however, destroying its freedom. Hence that lamentable condition of which St. Paul complains when he writes:
I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-25)
Christ by His death redeemed mankind from sin and its bondage. In baptism the guilt of original sin is wiped out and the soul is cleansed and justified again by the infusion of sanctifying grace. But freedom from concupiscence is not restored to man, any more than immortality; abundant grace, however, is given him, by which he may obtain the victory over rebellious sense and deserve life everlasting.
The Reformers of the sixteenth century, especially Luther, proposed new views respecting concupiscence. They adopted as fundamental to their theology the following propositions: