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Concupiscence (from the Latin: con-, with + cupi, cupid - desire + -escere - suffix denoting beginning of a process or state) is often defined as an ardent, usually sensual, longing. The concept is most commonly encountered in Christian theology, where it also receives the name "Fomes peccati", as the selfish human desire for an object, person, or experience. For Christians, concupiscence refers to what they understand as the orientation, inclination or innate tendency of human beings to long for fleshly appetites, often associated with a desire to do things which are proscribed.
There are nine occurrences of concupiscence in the Douay-Rheims Bible and three occurrences in the King James Bible. It is also one of the English translations of the Koine Greek epithumia (ἐπιθυμία), which occurs 38 times in the New Testament.
Catholic and Protestant beliefs
The primary difference between Catholic theology and the most of the many different Protestant theologies on the issue of concupiscence is whether it can be classified as sin by its own nature. Different Protestant denominations tend to see concupiscence as sin itself, an act of the sinner. The Catholic Church teaches that while it is highly likely to cause sin, concupiscence is not sin itself. Rather, it is "the tinder for sin" which "cannot harm those who do not consent" (CCC 1264).
This difference is intimately tied with the different traditions on original sin. Much Protestant theology 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 some Protestant traditions, 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 some Protestant traditions, 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 or Original Justice. 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 humans sin, 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 some Protestant traditions, 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.
Another reason for the differing views of Catholics and certain Protestants on concupiscence is their position on sin in general. Certain Protestants (for instance the magisterial reformers) hold that one can be guilty of sin even if it is not voluntary; The Catholic Church, by contrast, traditionally has held that one is objectively 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 early Protestant reformers did not. 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 human nature (and therefore concupiscence) is not voluntarily chosen, the Catholic Church does not teach that it is sinful; some Protestants believe that, since some sins are involuntary, it can be.
Some Protestants believe that concupiscence is the primary type of sin; thus they might refer to it simply as sin, or, to distinguish it from particular sinful acts, as "humanity's sinful nature". Thus, concupiscence as a distinct term is more likely to be used by Catholics.
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 377). The preternatural state enjoyed by Adam and Eve afforded endowments with many prerogatives which, while pertaining to the natural order, were not due to human nature as such. Principal among these were a high degree of infused knowledge, bodily immortality and freedom from pain, and immunity from evil impulses or inclinations. In other words, the lower or animal nature in man was perfectly subject to the control of reason, the will (subject to GOD,) and most importantly, GOD. Besides this, the Catholic Church teaches that our first parents were also endowed with sanctifying grace by which they were elevated to the supernatural order. By sinning, however, Adam lost this original "state," not only for himself but for all human beings (CCC 416).
According to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right: the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, and the vision of God in the next life. The Creator, whose gifts were not due to the human race, had the right to bestow them on such conditions as He wished and to make their conservation depend on the fidelity of the head of the family. A prince can confer a hereditary dignity on condition that the recipient remains loyal, and that, in case of his rebelling, this dignity shall be taken from him and, in consequence, from his descendants. It is not, however, intelligible that the prince, on account of a fault committed by a father, should order the hands and feet of all the descendants of the guilty man to be cut off immediately after their birth.
As a result of 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).
Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century 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.
Al-Ghazali in the 11th century discussed concupiscence from an Islamic perspective in his book Kimiya-yi sa'ādat (The Alchemy of Happiness). In this book amongst other things, he discusses how to reconcile the concupiscent and the irascible souls balancing them to achieve happiness. Concupiscence is related to the term "nafs" in arabic.
- 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.
- Romans 7:8, Colossians 3:5 and I Thessalonians 4:5.
- "epithumia" is also translated as wish or desire (or in a biblical context, longing, lust, passion, covetousness, or impulse). See wikt:επιθυμία.
- 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, 1Thessalonians 2:17, 1Thessalonians 4:5, 1Timothy 6:9, 2Timothy 2:22, 2Timothy 3:6, 2Timothy 4:3, Titus 2:12, Titus 3:3, James 1:14,15, 1Peter 1:14, 1Peter 2:11, 1Peter 4:2,3, 2Peter 1:4, 2Peter 2:10,18, 2Peter 3:3, 1John 2:16(twice),17, Jude 1:16,18, and Revelation 18:14.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday Publications, 1997
- 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.
- Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 1 The Theory of Moral Sentiments  Part VII Section II Chapter I Paragraphs 1–9, Adam Smith’s recounting of Plato’s description of the soul, including concupiscence
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